Conference The Idea of Writing: Beyond Speech?

ImageDisplay24-25 October 2014

Leiden University Institute for Area Studies (LIAS)

Ferdinand de Saussure’s concept of writing as encoding of speech has since long been modified, and on some points rejected. Writing is so much more than speech, and so much less at the same time. ‘Less’, because writing never seems to capture all the information transmitted by oral expression, such as intonation, volume, facial expression, gestures, and the sheer context of speech, including e.g. people present (listening or not), or the weather, at the time of speaking. ‘More’, because writing makes up for being such a poor speech substitute by means of its own intrinsic properties, such as materiality (hence, a promise of permanence), material and visual context (e.g. palaeographic embellishment, impressive monumental context), and by simply being a system of its own. Writing is a systematic code with visual appeal. It wants to be read; potential readers feel attracted by its appearance and the system they suspect behind it. Even if not acquainted with the language encoded, or with the rules of the writing system, people feel the urge to decipher.


Wolfgang Behr (University of Zurich)
Tazuko van Berkel (Leiden University)
Erik Boot (The Netherlands, Independent Researcher)
Zev Handel (University of Washington, Seattle)
Reinhard Lehmann (Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz)
Kyra van der Moezel (Leiden University)
Ludwig Morenz (University of Bonn)
Oliver Perrin (United States, Independent Researcher)
Alex de Voogt (American Museum of National History, New York)



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  1. […] Conference: The idea of writing. Beyond speech?  […]

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