Thinking across Cultures

By Donald M. Topping; Doris C. Crowell et al. | Go to book overview

And third, these findings suggest one of the ways that literacy contributes to thought. It does so indirectly. Perhaps some advantage for thinking comes from the use of the visual-spatial modality implicated in writing that may, in some yet unknown way, help to linearize thinking. Perhaps some advantage also results from the use of the medium of writing over the medium of speaking. It is widely acknowledged that arguments are more easily evaluated when they are written than when they are spoken, and it is widely experienced by writers that what seemed like a good idea when casually discussed falls to pieces when one tries to lay it out in writing. And there may be some way by which skilled reading and writing create an awareness of language which then transfers to our perception of spoken language as the skills hypothesis discussed earlier suggests.

But the primary way that literacy contributes to thinking, I have argued, comes in two stages: first, the evolution of a metalanguage for talking about text, for forming text, for developing commentaries, for quoting and paraphrasing and otherwise characterizing the talk, writing and thought of others. This evolution occurs primarily in somewhat specialized, even technical domains such as science, law, philosophy, and government. The second stage involves the acquisition of this specialized "standard literate language, primarily in the course of schooling, especially during the later school years. It is the acquisition of the concepts expressed by these terms that allows assumptions to be recognized as assumptions and inferences as inferences and that gives to thought those special properties that we associate with literacy.


ACKNOWLEDGMENT

The author gratefully acknowledges the support of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, the Spencer Foundation, and the Ontario Ministry of Education through its Block Transfer Grant to OISE.


REFERENCES

Biber D. ( 1986). Spoken and written textual dimensions in English: Resolving the contradictory findings. Language, 62( 2), 384-414.

Chafe W. ( 1985). Linguistic differences produced by differences between speaking and writing. In D. Olson, N. Torrance, & A. Hildyard (Eds.), Literacy, language, and learning: The nature and consequences of reading and writing (pp. 105-123). Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

Eisenstein E. ( 1979). The printing press as an agent of change. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

Evans-Pritchard E. ( 1937). Witchcraft, oracles and magic among the Azande. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.

Fish S. ( 1980). Is there a text in this class? The authority of interpretive communities. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

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