Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Language Visible

I was heartily enjoying David Sacks' euphonic introduction to the letter V in his book Language Visible, 2003, otherwise known as Letter Perfect. I particularly thought of how this book would stand as a reflection of its decade with the smooth segue from Churchill's Victory sign into Bush's W.

I had been reading up on V because I am still absorbing the import of Canada's Victory Nickel. I also feel obliged to pay homage to Sack's book as a example of a contemporary abecedarium.

However, my euphoria evaporated with dispatch when I left off grazing through the garden of letters and gave my undivided attention to the introduction. Ouch.

What is the point in a website like Pinyin Info if an author can still get away with a statement like A Chinese symbol is primarily not phonetic; it does not operate by conveying sound? p. 3 Doubtless someone else has pointed out this little detail - yes the Chinese do represent speech with their writing sytem. So I moved on.

Because the memorization step is simple enough
for five- and six-year-olds, the whole process with
an alphabet can be completed before students reach
working age. The learning need not interfere with
the living. This crucial fact has made the alphabet
historically the vehicle of mass literacy
. p. 5

Does he assume that there is no more to literacy than memorizing the letters of the alphabet? Albertine Gaur, among others, dealt with this issue in the 80's.

However, there was another person writing in the 80's on this topic. M.A. Powell, a cuneiform scholar, wrote an article in a journal called Visible Language.

The inescapable conclusion is that the introduction
of the alphabet, by itself, has had little effect upon
the reduction of functional illiteracy, and thus its
importance in the history of human development
has been overestimated, whereas that of cuneiform
has been underestimated.
I will take Visible Language over Language Visible any day when it comes to writing systems and literacy.


Blogger language said...

the alphabet, by itself, has had little effect upon the reduction of functional literacy

Shouldn't that be "illiteracy"?

--language hat

8:53 AM  
Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

Right I guess I will have to edit this post. Thanks.

9:08 PM  

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