In the Western academic tradition, inquiry into the influence of literacy on human intellectual processes can be traced to the dawning of the modern science of linguistics. Ferdinand de Saussure's Course in General Linguistics (1916/1959) established foundational approaches to understanding what he called the semiological facts of any human society, including the distinctions of diachronic versus synchronic language studies, paradigmatic versus syntagmatic approaches, linguistic register studies, and the key distinction between written and oral language. Contrastive inquiries into the foundations of orality and literacy have been taken up in various ways by Jousse (1925), Luria (1976), Lévi-Strauss (1966), and Goody (1977), providing initial insight into the characteristic cognitive patterns of non-literate people without formal academic education and a basis for understanding the transformations engendered by the advent of literacy and academic learning. Contributing to this line of work were classics-oriented scholars like Parry (1971), Lord (1975), and Havelock (1963), who explored the structure of what was often termed “oral literature,” discovering distinctive characteristics supporting memorization, social stability goals, and mythological functions in works of high orality, and emphasizing the profound historical effect of alphabetic literacy on the functioning of mind and society. In the sociological domain, McCluhan (1964) provided a rich theoretical map of the irrevocable and unavoidable effects of the media of communication, including orality, writing, the printing press, and electronic media, on human cognitive, social, and emotional structure.
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© 2012 Selection and editorial matter, Susan M. Gass and Alison Mackey; individual chapters, the contributors.