Grammatological Studies : Writing and its Relation to Speech

Abstract: This work addresses the problem of how writing is related to speech and how our notions of language are related to writing principles such as ‘the alphabetic principle’. The target of the study is the concept of ‘phonography’ (sound-writing, sometimes called ‘glottography’). This has been used in several theoretical works on writing, often with the assumption that the existence of phonographic systems somehow proves that the purpose of writing is to represent speech. From a functional approach, that is, from a theoretical base where language (of whatever modality) is seen as crucially dependent on actual communicative events, the notion that writing is representational in nature is criticised. Three areas are investigated: 1. the origin of the phono+graphic type of writing (also treated are the origin of spoken language and the medium-dependency of language); 2. the relation between alphabetic writing and notions concerning the structure of language in general and of particular languages; 3. the relationship between phonographic methods of reading old scripts and the prevailing phonocentrism. In all three areas it is found that the possibility of indicating pronunciation of written texts by phonographic means has been overinterpretated in favour of the prevalent representational view. The investigations conducted here present new perspectives on how phonography is to be understood in that they demonstrate how it has contributed to the development of the means for human expression, to the historical development of writing systems, to the historical development of concepts about language.