The role of educational level, literacy, and orality in L2 learning

Martha Bigelow, Jill Watson

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

13 Scopus citations


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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Routledge Handbook of Second Language Acquisition
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages15
ISBN (Electronic)9781136666896
ISBN (Print)9780415479936
StatePublished - Jan 1 2013

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2012 Selection and editorial matter, Susan M. Gass and Alison Mackey; individual chapters, the contributors.


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