[xmca] No Firewalls

From: bb (xmca-whoever@comcast.net)
Date: Wed Aug 30 2006 - 10:04:52 PDT

I think this is a very interesting discussion -- the differences in meanings we make of what Halliday has written. ( I have no idea what these differences are in terms of information, so I can't go in that direction.) Anyway, I recall several of Halliday's texts in which he distintly does not "allow Cartesian dualism ... by saying that "ideal" phenomena are distinct from, and in no way linked to, material ones. " Also I, personally have not made that claim, having accepted the material/ideal two-foldness notion discussed in "Cultural Psychology". Rather, I've only asserted that the cline of instantiation figure was about theoretical relationships.

Anyway, I've spent some time participating in an elementary classroom, where the children, who were fluent in spoken english, were learning to write, and some of them were struggling in doing so. I was curious about why they could be fluent one way, and have so much difficulty the other. This brought me to Halliday's work on the differences between the two, which I think is now relevant to this discussion. I've included a section from Halliday's writing on these differences between spoken and written english, in which his recognition of the materiality of language is explicit, where medium influences grammar (especially lexical density) which influences meaning making processes.

The source is 'Spoken and Written Language', 1989, pp 80-82, and there is a table with written and spoken paraphrases in left and right columns. I've had to place them first and second in this one-column email format, separated by short rows of dashes. Keep in mind that when he discusses 'modern technology', the date is 1989. I appreciate his cultural and historical perspective near the end.

"If we compare pairs of wordings that are paraphrases of each other, one typical of writing, the other typical of speech, we find regular patterns such as the following:


     Every previous visit had left me with a sense of the futility of further action on my part.

     Violence changed the face of once peaceful Swiss cities.

     Improvements in technology have reduced the risks and high costs associated with simultaneous installation.
     Opinion in the colony greeted the promised change with enthusiasm.


     Whenever I'd visited there before, I'd ended up feeling that it would be futile if I tried to do anything more.

     The cities in Switzerland had once been peaceful, but they changed when people became violent.

     Because the technology has improved it's less risky than it used to be when you install them at the same time, and it doesn't cost so much either.

     The people in the colony rejoiced when it was promised that things would change in this way.

The basis of the distinction is this. Written language represents phenomena as products. Spoken language represents phenomena as processes. And this corresponds to the difference between written and spoken discourse.

Each code represents reality as being like itself. A piece of writing is an object; so what is represented by written language is also given the form of an object. Hence visit, sense, futility, action, violence, improvements, costs, installation, opinion, change, enthusiasm are all nouns.

But when you talk, you are doing; so when you represent by talking you say that something happened or something was done. Hence had visited, had ended up feeling, tried to do, had been, has improved, install, doesn't cost, rejoiced, change are all verbs.

We can express the same thing from the point of view of the reader or listener. When you read, the text is presented to you synoptically: it exists, spread out on the page. So you are predisposed to take a synoptic view of what it means. Behind it is a tableau—like the pictures from which writing originally evolved. When you listen, the text is presented to you dynamically: it happens, as waves travel through the air. So you are predisposed to take a dynamic view of what it means. Behind it, things are happening—the visual analogue is a film, not a painting.

With modern technology, the distinction is being blurred. We have tape repeaters and transcribing machines that enable us to listen to small chunks of speech, say two to five seconds of it, over and over again, so that it becomes just another kind of thing. And on the other hand, with computers, much of our reading matter is now fed to us in the form of moving text, line following line up the screen with only two or three lines visible at a time; here written text has turned into a process.

So the period of our semiotic history which began with the invention of printing in the Tang dynasty in China, and reached Europe just in time for the Renaissance, a period in which speech and writing were pushed very far apart by the application of technology to writing, may now be coming to an end. At least one of the factors that has led to the difference between spoken and written language, the effect of the medium on the message (to hark back to McLuhan's formulation in the 1960s), may now be disappearing; not that the medium will cease to have an effect, but that in both cases—both speech and writing—the nature of the medium itself has begun to change.

This is not, of course, the only factor involved; there are also differ­ences between what tends to be written about and what tends to be spoken about, reflecting the different functions of speech and writing in our culture. But these are changing too. And just as in the past, when new demands are made on language so the language changes in response to them, as in the centuries after the age of Chaucer in English, now that once again we are making language work for us in ways it never had to do before, it will have to become a different language in order to cope. Exactly how this will happen—and whether we need to inter­vene with some language planning in order to help it to happen—is one of the fascinating problems confronting linguistics today."

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