Signs of Writing (1996)

   •Roy Harris

Hardcover: 216 pages
ISBN: 0415100887

This was the first book in over forty years to offer a new general theory of writing. It re-examined basic questions that had long been obscured by the traditional assumption that alphabetic, syllabic and ideographic notations were merely visual substitutes for speech. It treated writing as an independent mode of communication, based not upon the replacement of oral signs by visual signs, but upon the use of spatial relations to connect events separated by time. In this perspective it can be shown how musical, mathematical and other forms of writing obey the same principles as verbal writing. These principles apply to written texts of all kinds: a sonnet, a symphonic score, a signature on a cheque and a supermarket label. Moreover, they apply throughout the history of writing, from hieroglyphs to hypertext.

– ‘the modern debate on orality and literacy appears in a new light on Harrisís principles’: John Chadwick in Times Higher Education Supplement

– ‘a provocative and suggestive book which will need to be considered seriously by anyone who wishes to account for writing in the future’: Tony Bex in Journal of Literary Semantics

– ‘Few will come away from the experience of reading Signs of Writing indifferent to Harrisís insights’: John Pier in Style


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