[Lingtyp] Is written language a separate modality?

Joo Ian ian.joo at outlook.com
Wed Jan 2 08:05:28 UTC 2019

(Sorry for multi-posting)

On second thought, some deaf Indonesians may also leaen spoken Indonesian, through lip reading and speech training. My mistake. But my argument still holds that there still may be deaf Indonesians who never learn how to lip-read or speak, but may nevertheless become fluent in written Indonesian.

Ian JOO (주이안)

From: Joo Ian <ian.joo at outlook.com>
Sent: Wednesday, January 2, 2019 4:01:44 PM
To: lingtyp at listserv.linguistlist.org
Subject: Fwd: [Lingtyp] Is written language a separate modality?

Dear David,

Thank you for your insight. However, I would not agree that learning spoken Indonesian is necessary for learning written Indonesian - the deaf Indonesians are a clear counterexample, as they never would have learned spoken Indonesian.

Ian JOO (주이안)

From: Lingtyp <lingtyp-bounces at listserv.linguistlist.org> on behalf of David Gil <gil at shh.mpg.de>
Sent: Wednesday, January 2, 2019 3:56:30 PM
To: lingtyp at listserv.linguistlist.org
Subject: Re: [Lingtyp] Is written language a separate modality?

Dear all,
On 02/01/2019 10:19, Joo Ian wrote:
I would like to ask everyone if you agree on the idea that written language is not simply a representation of spoken language, but a distinct modality (similar to how sign and spoken language are different modalities).
I would say yes and no, but more no ...

It seems that there is a general consensus that a written language is simply the “shadow” of a spoken language. But I am not sure if this is exactly the case.
You are right that this is not exactly the case.  Case in point:  Social media in Indonesia (and presumably other places as well) has innovated all kinds of conventions that are purely orthographic: they have a life of their own, beyond the language that they "come from".  Emoticons are just one small aspect of this.  if you "just" know Indonesian, but are not familiar with these conventions, you won't be able to follow a Facebook conversation "in Indonesian".

But here's the rub:  knowing Indonesian isn't a sufficient condition for understanding such a Facebook conversation, but it's most definitely a necessary condition.  Such orthographic systems are still derivative from the spoken language, the way a ludling might be, or, for that matter, the way signed versions of spoken languages, such as Signed English is.

But this is NOT the case for real sign languages.  A sign language such as ASL has nothing whatsoever to do with any spoken language; you don't need to learn English to learn ASL, and for the most part it won't help you that much to do so.  So the analogy between written language and sign language is of only limited validity and is potentially misleading.

-- David Gil Department of Linguistic and Cultural Evolution Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History Kahlaische Strasse 10, 07745 Jena, Germany Email: gil at shh.mpg.de<mailto:gil at shh.mpg.de> Office Phone (Germany): +49-3641686834 Mobile Phone (Indonesia): +62-81281162816

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