LINGUIST List 7.1018

Fri Jul 12 1996

Disc: Written syntax & language equality (last posting)

Editor for this issue: Ann Dizdar <>


  1. George Elgin, Suzette Haden Elgin, written syntax & language equality

Message 1: written syntax & language equality

Date: Sat, 22 Jun 1996 19:44:36 CDT
From: George Elgin, Suzette Haden Elgin <>
Subject: written syntax & language equality
 Brief notes on Benji Wald's most recent long posting....

First, I know he is not elitist -- certainly not. However, to tout
"the durability of a written message" in opposition to "the wild
changes associated with mouth-to-mouth dissemination" in the context
of a letter about inequality of languages *is*, in my opinion,
elitist. I suggest a good long look at the number of typographical
errors in scholarly books these days, and a good long thought about
the extraordinary pains many oral cultures take to get orally
"disseminated" information absolutely right. It is the print medium
that is guilty of "wild changes," and of not giving a faint damn.

Second, the fact that written language, at least for English, leaves
out most of the emotional information, is indeed obvious; it is also a
terrible impoverishment. Whether it is efficient depends on what part
of the message you are most interested in getting across to the

Third, whether you learn more from an hour lecture or from an hour
reading depends on sensory preferences and learning styles, not solely
on the format of the language.

Finally, there is the comment about literate societies being the ones
that move to "complex syntax, squashing sentences together into
clauses" and the like. My Navajo consultant, in teaching me about the
proper format for telling stories, insisted that with each new
sequence it was obligatory to condense all of the previous ones into
the new one by multiple embeddings. This made "The Boy Who Cried
Wolf" extraordinarily complex syntactically.

Suzette Haden Elgin

PS: I am someone who reads his postings all the way through. How else
can you find out what's in them?
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