Two Functions of Social Discourse: From Lope de Vega to Miguel de Cervantes
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At the inevitable risk of oversimplification, I propose to approach as directly as possible a broad and complex question: how are we to view in an orderly way the many different social functions of language, both oral and written? I will begin with the premise that oral language, analyzed abstractly by structuralists as a "semiotic system," is more concretely the human race's characteristic and fundamental social institution; normally acquired within the primary context of the family, language makes it possible for families and schools and other social organizations to exist and to function, articulating themselves, perpetuating themselves and developing historically. Purely mechanical inventions, such as the wheel, seem not to depend on language; but human families, tribes, city-states, and nations both constitute and are constituted by their verbal discourse. And the invention of writing, the "technologizing of the word," as it has been aptly characterized by Walter J. Ong, went hand in hand with an economic, social, and cultural revolution.
Oral Tradition, 2/1 (1987): 249-59.
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