[Lingtyp] Fwd: Is written language a separate modality?

David Gil gil at shh.mpg.de
Wed Jan 2 08:19:34 UTC 2019


My response would be that a deaf person who knows how to read and write 
in an oral language DOES "know" that language, to a very considerable 
extent.  What you know when you know a language is an abstract system of 
rules that underlies both speech and writing but exists independently of 
both of these manifestations of language.  Granted, a deaf person who 
can read and write an oral language will be missing out on more 
substantial aspects of the language (most of the phonetics and 
phonology) than a hearing but illiterate person. But still, a deaf 
person who can read and write Indonesian cannot but know lots of the 
language, rather like a contemporary hearing scholar of Ancient 
Sumerian.  In contrast, a deaf signer of ASL does not have his or her 
linguistic competence anchored in any spoken language, such as English — 
sign languages are not parasitic on or derivative from any spoken 
languages. (Though there can be all kinds of contact between signed and 
spoken languages, but that's a separate issue.)


On 02/01/2019 17:01, Joo Ian wrote:
> 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.
> Regards,
> Ian JOO (주이안)
> http://ianjoo.academia.edu
> *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
> -- 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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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
Office Phone (Germany): +49-3641686834
Mobile Phone (Indonesia): +62-81281162816

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