Re: Writing, language, & consciousness

Ronald Kephart (rkephart@OSPREY.UNF.EDU)
Sat, 5 Oct 1996 11:36:19 -0400

In message <> "Jesse S. Cook III" writes:

> Too bad Cambridge University Press didn't know about your "personal
> experience learning a variety of languages, and also designing an
> orthography" for the Creole English of Carriacou, Grenada. If they had,
> they might have put Aymara and Kreyol in place of Spanish, but I doubt it,
> for obvious reasons.

I'm not sure what to make of this. Are you saying that I am lying about Aymara
and Kreyol, and my own work as well? See, for example:

(1) The chapter by Yapita (I think it's "Alphabets for indigenous communities")
in The Aymara Language in its Social and Cultural Context, ed by M J Hardman.
Univ. Press of Florida, 1980 (I think).

(2) Ann Pale Kreyol, by A Valdman. Creole Institute, Indiana Univ. (date?).

(3) "Reading creole English does not destroy your brain cells", by R Kephart.
Pidgins, Creoles, and Nonstandard Dialects in Education, ed by Jeff Siegel.
Applied Linguistics Association of Australia, 1993.

Or are you saying that a reference work such as a dictionary or encyclopedia can
never be wrong? I have nothing but respect for David Crystal, but in this case
*Cambridge* is mistaken in citing Spanish as an extreme example of grapheme to
phoneme regularity.

> Ah. They are not "representations" after all. But now we are back to the
> "bioprogram" bit; I thought we laid that one to rest sometime ago.

The "representations" was yours; I was quoting you. My point was that speech
and sign are NOT "representations" of language, but rather realizations or
manifestations of language. And as for laying the bioprogram bit to rest, I
don't think so.

> Quite true--up to the time when the Greek alphabet began to take hold. How
> many words, do you suppose, have been coined originally in their written
> form as opposed to those that have been coined originally in their oral form
> since, say, Galileo Galilei's time? Written language today stands on its
> own to the same extent as speech. As you very well know, speech is very
> conservative; most of the inovation and change going on in language today is
> in written form.

Regarding change, speech is far more innovative than writing, which is a
conservative force. This is especially obvious in English: our spelling has not
yet adjusted itself to the Great Vowel Shift, for heaven's sake! It's also true
for Spanish, where in Latin America the single phoneme /s/ is still spelled
three different ways: <s, z, c>. And as for the coining of new words, that
happens first in speech before the words are written down, don't you think?

> Wrong! This is what I said "bullogna" to: "Languages, such as
> Proto-Indoeuropean, [that] we can reconstruct from historical and
> contemporary evidence and [that] existed prior to written representation,
> were just like contemporary languages: they were not on a different level of
> language-ness."

How, then, were they different? What aspect of language-ness did they lack?
They had: phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, and pragmatics.

If you say they lacked "writing" then you are wrong, because writing is not an
aspect of language-ness. Writing is a way of representing language, it is not
part of the language bioprogram. If it were, it would be 200,000 years old,
instead of only about 6,000.

Ron Kephart
University of North Florida