Pragmatics of script

Nishaant Choksi
Indian Institute of Technology, Gandhinagar
Table of contents

Early formulations grounded linguistic science in the study of “speech” (Bloomfield 1933; De Saussure 1959 [1916]; Sapir 1933). Important thinkers like Saussure claimed the study of linguistics would banish what he believed to be la tyrannie (the tyranny) of writing, and he, along with stalwarts like Leonard Bloomfield, are said to have “effectively removed writing from the agenda of linguistics” (Weth & Juffermans 2018: 6). The logocentric ideology underlying structural linguistics subsequently influenced fields ranging from anthropology to philosophy and cultural studies (Derrida 1976). Even those scholars who challenged many of the core structuralist tenets, such as those working in the ethnography of “speaking” tradition (Hymes 2004 [1971]; Bauman & Sherzer 1974), continued to privilege the spoken modality as the primary site of analysis. Yet a small minority of scholars working within these traditions attended seriously to graphic form. Among linguistic ethnographers, Basso (1974) argued that in letter-writing among American university students, graphic devices such as punctuation, boldface, italics, underline all have particular semiotic functions analogous to the way pitch contour or gesture mediates communication in spoken interaction. Tedlock (1995) employed elements associated with writing, such as spacing and punctuation within his transcription to analyze pitch, pauses, and vocal gestures in Zuni verbal art. Similarly within the structuralist tradition, Harris (2000) developed a framework in which writing and the graphic form establish the basis for what he calls an “integrational linguistics.”

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