By Naomi S. Baron
From pen-and-parchment to the e-mail revolution, language specialist Naomi Baron indicates how know-how impacts the way in which we converse and write, and how we train our youngsters to take action. The fine--and disappearing--distinction among spoken and written English is on the center of this enticing publication, which incorporates a number of interesting anecdotes describing the lengthy trip From Alphabet to Email, in addition to a few scary meditations at the way forward for language and literacy.
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Additional info for Alphabet to Email: How Written English Evolved and Where It's Heading
Oral contracts necessitated live witnesses. 4 In fact, the very words referring to speech and writing in the classical world fail to separate the two. Neither Greek gramma nor Latin littera distinguished between ‘sound’ (speech) and ‘letter’ (writing). To have a literate culture (as opposed to literacy within an oral culture), you need the means for disseminating the written word. Athens lacked such technology. ”5 Similarly, there was no system for making copies of documents and easily distributing them to distant readers.
It was the end of the eighteenth century, soon after the British had established themselves in India. Two Englishmen were talking nearby. An argument ensued, and one shot the other dead. The only witness was the Brahmin. The incident was brought to court, and the Brahmin was called to testify. Explaining (in Sanskrit) that he hadn’t understood the meanings of the words that passed between the two Englishmen, he could nonetheless report what they said. He then proceeded to relate, from memory, the precise conversation, spoken in a language he did not know.
These are the questions motivating the historical journey that’s about to begin. As with most travel, looking at a roadmap before setting out may prove useful. 24 Alphabet to Email Alphabet to Email argues that in the course of the language’s history, the relationship between spoken and written English has come nearly full circle. Throughout the Middle Ages, written English predominantly served transcription functions, enabling readers to re-present earlier spoken words or (oral) ceremony, or to produce durable records of events, ideas, or spoken exchange.