It’s 2 A.M., Do You Know What Your RNA is Doing?—A. Real Scientist-Person Babel Vol I, No 3 Contents Sociohistorical Linguistic Semiotics and Systemic Theory—Lynn Poulton

The Priority of Written Language

One of the principle tenets of modern American linguistics is the priority of spoken as opposed to written language. This priority is understood both as importance as an object of study and as temporal precedence. Temporal precedence is further taken to include both ontogenetic and historical precedence; that is, as students in introductory linguistics classes are repeatedly told, children learn to understand speech and to speak themselves before they learn to read and to write, while historically (more properly prehistorically), the story goes, humanity had already been speaking for tens of thousands of years by the time writing was invented.

It is this last conclusion, that speech historically antedates writing, that I intend to rip to shreds, leaving only a few orts of bone and tissue of size sufficient to interest scavenging birds. For there is no ritualistic canard in any of the sciences which is more abominable than this one, more contrary to the principles of science, more of a return to the dangerous anti-empiricism against which enlightened society has so arduously battled. Consider: the oldest testimony we have of spoken language comes in some written texts which are far from the earliest texts available. And if we look at the spread of writing across the globe, we find that in ancient times, the first things written were always purely written texts, usually financial records or legal codes. Only later would a society start recording in writing the existence of spoken language. Thus, the historical record quite plainly supports the claim that the development of writing preceded the development of speech.

In truth, the belief that speech antedates writing is based entirely on the single a-priori assumption that ontogeny recapitulates phylogenya dimwitted notion if ever there was one. If ’twere so, we would have to claim that children learn to climb trees before they learn to walk upright, which is pure balderdash. No, there is no basis for the primitive ideology of the speech firsters, except for their prideful inability to admit their most grievous fault.

In conclusion, I would like to add that recent research has indicated that we might soon be able to go beyond what this paper has done and slaughter yet another of these linguistic sacred cows. Briefly, it seems likely that writing precedes speech ontogenetically as well as historically. By the time he is six years old, the average child can read and write his native language quite fluently. Unfortunately, he has not yet acquired the motor skills necessary to permit physical instantiation of his writing capacity. As for reading, parents rarely attempt to communicate worthwhile information to toddlers by means of flashcards, so that the child’s reading ability is essentially wasted. Of course, by the time the child reaches kindergarten, he has learned all sorts of bad language habits from years of using the speech mode of transmission (everyone knows that writing is purer than speech). Hence the difficulty in getting children to learn how to write; oral-audial fluency has sabotaged their natural manual-visual capacity.

It is obvious from the incontrovertible arguments presented above that we do our children a great disservice in forcing them to adhere to the foolish speech-first program of language learning. I would suggest, therefore, that readers of this paper dedicate themselves to two tasks: ridding linguistics of its antiquated theories of the temporal priority of spoken language, and insuring that our children’s development is no longer warped by such strange notions. Ultimately, we may also be able to abandon the ridiculous idea that speech is more important than writing as an object of linguistic analysis.

Andreas Paplopogous Salonika, Greece

It’s 2 A.M., Do You Know What Your RNA is Doing?A. Real Scientist-Person
Sociohistorical Linguistic Semiotics and Systemic TheoryLynn Poulton
Babel Vol I, No 3 Contents