A History of Writing and Literacy                                             

This course is designed to give the history of writing systems, and to explore the various social meanings that writing can have in different contexts. It discusses the emergence of script, the development of script technologies, and the social consequences of mass literacy. This is is a lower-division elective course aimed at sophomores. It aims at a broad audience and might be cross-listed with linguistics.

Midterm = 30%    
Paper      = 30%    
Final       = 40%                                    

Research paper: the student should find a text to examine for its social meaning. The text can be a book, or it can be a piece of graffiti, a letter, a handbill. No webpages! The student should explain this text in light of the themes discussed in this course. Describe the choices the author made: what writing technology, which script and style?  What is the language of the text? Why did the author make these decisions?  What is the effect of the text on the reader? What is the meaning of the text in its social context? You may pick a text which you do not have personal access to (e.g. graffiti on Egyptian pyramids), but you must provide a picture of such text with your paper.

Week 1

M            Intro to course Writing vs. speech History of Writing vs History of Literature      
W            Origins of writing
Sumer, America China? Indus valley? bogus claims     
F              Sumerian technologies Clay tablets Rebus principle    

Week 2

M            Phonecian/Semetic Omitting vowels Later vowel markers                                           
W            Borrowed literacy
Egypt, Babylon Cherokee alphabet 
Arabic calligraphy [slide show]                                                        

 “middle-egyptian grammar” (I-III)                     http://www.oocities.org~amenhotep/language/
 “Egyptian Hieroglyphics In Australia”          

Week 3

M            Chinese characters Radicals as semantics A complicated syllabry?          
W            Kana, Hangul syllabries Chinese Character usage in modern
Korea, Japan
F              Asian Calligraphy [slide show]        

DeFrancis The Chinese Language Fact and Fantasy 1-22, 77-203. Total = 49 pages.           

 Week 4

M            The alphabet: Greece Latin, Cyrillic. Diacritics, new letters         
W            Medieval Latin who could write? Scribe, holy text                        
F              The medieval book Social role of Latin, Holy Hebrew, Arabic     

Brian Stock the Implications of Literacy 19-59 = 40 pages

Week 5

M            The spread of Literacy. The role of school. Why learn to read?
W            Social class and literacy. Latin vs.
“Vulgar” languages.
F            Gutenberg and the Reformation.
Literate Protestants? 

Istvan Toth Literacy in Early Modern Central Europe, 47-145 = 98 pages

Week 6

M            Literacy and “progress.” Enlightenment Reformers, Soviet language planning      
W            Genres of Writing The letter, diary. “Writing for the shelf” Women and writing                    
F              Midterm                               

David Vincent Literacy and popular Culture, 20-52; Roger Chartier Correspondence p. 1-22  = 54 pages

Week 7

M            The novel. Serialization Authors as superstars                             
W            New audiences for books 19th cent. Mass literacy Working class readers?
F              Literacy and Nationalism. The “middle classes” Clerks and literacy.         
E. Weber Peasants into Frenchmen “la papier qui parle,” 452-70; Brooks When
Russia learned to Read 268-295 = 45 pages 

Week 8

M            Language Planning and Language purity       
W            Script simplification
China, Turkey. Missionary codifiers
F              Advertising. Typeface and fashion                 

 Benedict Anderson Imagined Communities, 37-46; 67-99 = 43 pages

Week 9

M            Script and Formality: Handwriting vs. printing              
W            Graffiti “tagging”, Claiming public space                        
F              Rune Enthusiasts Ideological alphabets?       

Sue Walker Typography & Language; Armando Petrucci Public Lettering,  “The Signs of No” 117-126.

Week 10

M            Ideal languages: Enlightenment dreams, Artificial languages     
W            Universal symbols, Icons as reading?             
F              Graphology, Writing and Personality