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February 25, 2008

EL 336 McLuhan and the Alphabetic Culture

"Any society posessing the alphabet can translate any adjacent cultures into its alphabetic mode. But ths is a one way process. No non - alphabetic culture can take over an alphabetic one; because the alphabet cannot be assimilated, it can onlty liquidate or reduce." ( McLuhan pg 63)

This was a surprising point in The Gutenberg Galaxy. While I would like to think that a non alphabetic culture (oral culture) can dominate, I really do not think it could. Yes, there are important aspects of non alphabetic culture, as i stated in my ex 2 essay the radio news culture is one of them. When I think about my own personal experiences with the alphabet ( wow that sounds funny) I can relate to the alphabet taking over a non oral culture. Since this course is having us look at those experiences, I look to my dabbling in American Sign Language. Gotta love that Seton Hill language credit eh? While the culture of the deaf is not oral in the way, people with hearing think of oral; it does take on it's own alphabet and sentence structuring system. Of course, as in hearing culture, the first hing you must learn to sign is the alphabet. You go from there with learning spelling, words, and forming sentences in manuscript form. The hearing societies alphabet has been tweeked in some ways to adhere to the deaf and then made into their own language. Here is where I see McLuhans theory may be correct. The alphabetic culture in this case has only furthered another culture. Could it have been vice versa?

Posted by RachelPrichard at February 25, 2008 5:32 PM


Sign language uses patterns of motion to establish meaning. While it does relate to the alphabet of the written word to some degree(there are signs for each individual letter, after all), I don't think that's where its roots really are. Rather, sign language encompasses a unique system of symbols that can be easily recognized and (with practice) memorized.

Posted by: ChrisU at February 26, 2008 9:52 AM

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