Rethinking Writing (2000)

   •Roy Harris

Hardcover: 254 pages
ISBN: 0826457983

The traditional Western view of writing, from Aristotle down to the present day, has treated the written word as a visual substitute for the spoken word. Ferdinand de Saussure was the first thinker to provide this traditional assumption with a reasoned basis by incorporating it into a more general theory of signs. In the wake of Saussure’s work, modern linguistics has ignored or marginalized writing in favour of the study of speech. As in all literate societies, however, speech in turn is interpreted by reference to whatever writing system happens to be in general use. This puts in place an educational system which ensures that the more literate members of society maintain superiority over the less literate. Rethinking Writing argues that this scale of priorities obscures the fact that writing is a far more powerful mode of linguistic communication than speech ever could be.

– ‘He not only provides some important insights about how writing works, but also alerts us to how our familiarity with writing leads us to view language in a distorted way’: David Olson in Language in Society

– ‘There’s something robustly, almost shockingly down-to-earth about the arguments that Harris advances in this book, even if they are also sufficiently radical in their challenge to our preconceptions about alphabets and the way writing systems work as to ask to be read more than once’: John Sturrock in Times Literary Supplement


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© Roy Harris, Emeritus Professor of General Linguistics, Oxford, 2010-2015