Annual Review of Applied Linguistics

Language and Technology

Language and Literacy: what writing does to Language and Mind

David R. Olson

With the ascendance of new information technologies, the significance of writing has, it seems, slipped from view, in spite of the fact that the conceptual and cognitive implications of the newer technologies is a matter of enthusiastic speculation rather that serious research. On the other hand, it is now reasonably well established that the invention of the first “information” technology, namely writing, has had a profound effect on the ways in which we think about language, the mind, and the world, effects which have taken millenia to unfold. “Effects” is perhaps too strong a term as it is less a matter of how technology affects people than a matter of the ways in which people in different cultures have used and applied the technology and the ways they have altered the technology to suit their purposes. In the West, some of these uses have involved institutional change; thus, to make use of a technology such as writing requires the development of monasteries, schools, and other institutions. Indeed, some of the cognitive effects we usually attribute to schooling are better thought of as consequences or implications of literacy.