giovedì 10 dicembre 2009

Olson, The world on paper

This work was published in 1994 and it seems to close a long series of studies about orality and literacy flowing from the Toronto School. It is an interesting, but the author seems now and then distracted by his own theses.

Just to be more specific: Olson claims that writing systems "provide a model for language and thought" (p. 68) and that "writing far from transcribing speech tends to provide a model for that speech" (p. 78). This is of course true, on many levels (I have seen for myself how difficult it is tro persuade Italian students that in the standard pronounciation of words like sciame there is no i... they "hear" it). However, on the whole, this is also a pretty marginal fact. Writing does not necessarily entail clear models for language, and much less for thought. Conversely, perhaps you don't need writing in order to study facts of language: it is not certain that even Pāṇini , i. e. the founding father of linguistics, was living in a literate society. The Devanagari alphabet and the Hangul of Korea were clearly planned after a careful study of the sounds of the relevant languages, while in the Greek case we have only a partial planning. And so on.

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