The Gift of the Gab

Olson’s article “Writing and the Mind” looks at the importance of language acquisition and its relation to traditional ideologies of literacy. Olson’s statement of “rather than writing providing a cipher on speech, writing serves as a model for speech” could hold more true (106). Writing provides us with the capability to convey information to others, but it lacks the ability to portray intonation, stress, etc. In fact, writing structures, and in this case I’m specifically referring to alphabetic structures, offer challenges in interpreting text too literally and in a manner that was not intended by the original author (121-122). For example, if one were to write “Who are you?”, one could read the sentence literally as a question, or they could interpret the question in a sarcastic tone, thus changing the meaning of the rest of the text.

For me, this was one of the most important findings in the text as I think it’s something that future educators need to take into account when thinking of how to teach literacy to students, especially students of other cultures or English is not their first language. Students who are learning English as a second language may have greater difficulty due to the writing structures implemented in their first language. The fact that logographic structures not only provide information such as subject-object-verb, but can also infer politeness can prove challenging when learning the pronouns and subject-verb-object sentence structure of English. I also believe that teachers have to take cultural and socioeconomic factors into account when teaching writing, or rather how students process words. For example, a student who has been raised to place importance on family, and who may come from a lower socioeconomic standing could interpret a sentence that involves two people deciding how to evenly split a piece of pie, differently from someone who may not have these factors at play in their life. If you ask whether a student would prefer the majority of the cake or just a small sliver of cake may provoke different answers depending on the student. I’m not sure if this makes sense right now, but my point is that interpreting words and sentences can vary depending a students cultural understanding of the sentence.

The other area of this article that I found extremely relevant was it focus on the importance of speech. While writing provides and opportunity to document information and thoughts, I think that our culture has shifted to where we place more importance on “writing” and not enough importance on speaking. As previously stated, speech allows for a variation in formality, politeness, intonation, stress, etc. As stated towards the end of the article, writing lacks a certain complexity that one can only find in speech in the sense that “it does not provide much of a model for what the speaker meaning by it or, more precisely, how the speaker or writer indented the sentence to be taken” (122).

Author’s note: I’m sorry if none of this makes sense. I’ve been drinking Thermaflu and I think my thoughts are not coming out very clear.


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