Ferguson 2003

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Competing Concepts of Literacy in Imperial Contexts: Definitions, Debates, Interpretive Models

"I attempt to explore some of the ways in which our views of early modern empires and their literacies are not only shaped (as they must inevitably be) by our own historical position but also deformed (in ways they needn't continue to be) by inadequate reflection on some of the investments in empire that we, as modern writers and readers, share (in part) with some of our educated forebears." (31)

much literacy scholarship produced in modern universities "has had the expansion and/or the decline of empire as a major condition of production" (32)

  • us (literate) vs. them (illiterate)

flashcard literacy (36)

until c19, "literature" and "literacy" used interchangeably to denote being well-read and ability to read/write (39)

how do interpretations of literacy affect performance? see e.g. pg 40

"Great Divide" theories -- orality vs. literacy (44) -- often "read like slightly secularized narratives about the Fall of Man", with it being both liberating and damning (45) (Levi-Strauss)

"culturalist view" (Derrida)

Levi-Strauss/Derrida debate; lessons to learn:

  • "the epistemological problems of ethnocentrism are central and inescapable whenever we undertake to analyze literacy in cultures distant from our own in time and/or in space" (52)
  • "one cannot simply pay lip service to the methodological problem presented by one's own historical, and in many cases professional, investment in a particular view of literacy" (54)
  • Derrida's concept of arche-writing has more implications for understanding literacies of the past, present and future than have been fully explored (55)
"one should stop using the dyad writing/nonwriting (or literacy/illiteracy) to make a heuristic division between 'them' and 'us,' ignoring all the different kinds and degrees of literacy -- products of various subcultures and also of demographic hybridizations -- that have existed in most societies, including those of early modern Europe and our own." (57)

clergy and literacy (63ff.)

"In some recent studies of medieval literacy, scholars write women out of the picture simply by pronouncing so authoritatively on medieval culture that it becomes difficult to think about groups including women who might have contested -- in practice and/or in theory -- the definitions of literacy made visible by institutions such as the Church and the monarchical court." (66)

late medieval/Ren "seem not to have considered either reading or writing as valuable skills necessary for their ways of living. ... access to written documents for most people, ranging from nobles to peasants, usually depended on hearing texts read and/or commissioning clerks to write them, without being able to read or write themselves" (68) -- reliance on written texts "coexisted, if uneasily, with widely held attitudes of scorn for clerks and their skills"

literacy and the law; showing you could read == being clergy == chance of pardon through benefit of clergy (70); c.f. "plea of the belly", pregnant women could get lesser sentence

mixed media literacies (72)'

"Instead of distinguishing broadly between 'preliterate' and 'literate' societies, as historians and anthropologists sometimes do without examining the teleological assumptions in the former phrase, and instead of describing entire societies on the grounds that they possess 'craftsman's literacy' as opposed to 'mass literacy,' I suggest that we construct our narrative of historical change on more finely calibrated analyses of how in a given society different kinds of knowledge, transmitted in different forms, gain and lose prestige in part through changes in institutions, economic structures, and governments, but in part also through struggles over cultural meaning carried out in various sites with various kinds of traces." (73)

"literacy as a site of social contest, of complex negotiations" (73)

statistics tell us little (76ff.)

no "direct," "uncontaminated" evidence of early modern literacies (81)

Sociolinguistic Matrices for Early Modern Literacies: Paternal Latin, Mother Tongues, and Illustrious Vernaculars

"A history of standardization as a heterogeneous set of discourses in which ideas about speech and writing influenced practices in both domains, and vice versa, must relinquish neatly linear dating schemes. At the same time it must deploy a highly skeptical attitude toward evidence pertaining to relations between rpescriptive texts and actual social practices in populations divided by gender, social status, religion, and many other factors influencing how people use languages and -- equally important, from my perspective -- how people feel that language use works as a mark of social difference." (85)

clerkly discourses created a "standard"; such that many speakers of say English "found themselves in the odd situation of not knowing what some of their countrymen referred to as their mother tongue" (85-6)

late med/early mod: Latin slowly being replaced by "imperial" languages used by clerks working for monarchies and modeled on Latin (86)

unskillful literacy -- "partial or imperfect kind of literacy for people defined chiefly as readers, not writers, by educated men in creating texts in a grammaticized vernacular" -- "vision of reader-consumers adumbrated by writers deeply attached to an old idea of Latinity but also invested -- for economic, political, and theological reasons -- in reaching an audience that lacks more than a smattering of Latin" (87)

diversity of languages in early mod Europe (90ff.)

problem of dialect (92ff.)

Tower of Babel (linguistic diversity is bad) vs. Pentacost (linguistic diversity can be revelatory); "Looking at the matter from a different angle, however, we can see 'diversity of tongues' and multiplicity of media -- oral, written, and, eventually, printed -- as the components of a complex imperial culture that changed over time, but not in a way that simply supports the idea of an epochal shift from 'oral' to 'literate' societies, much less from oral to literate 'mentalities.' The societies in question were more various, across times as well as spaces, than such generalizations suggest, even when the generalizations are granted some causal force in shaping history." (95)

post-Norman conquest, Anglo-Saxon replaced by Latin as a language of record; Latin spread, competed with Anglo-Saxon, written French and eventually Chancery English; switch from Anglo-Saxon to Latin changed the structure of literacies characteristic of A-S and Norman England (Clanchy's argument) (97-8)

c12-c16, french associated with sexuality, upper-clss bodies, romance, seductive superficiality of "fashion" (100

books giving vernacular language lessons in French directed at adult women (100)

colinguisme: from Balibar; association of certain state languages within an apparatus of languages in which they find their legitimacy and their working material (101)

first four dictionaries in English, aimed at explaining "hard words" to female readers (105) -- from Fleming's work

vernacular languages -- learned at home, not mediated by texts, learned orally by imitation; "associated in late medieval and early modern texts with feminine language uses and genres, as well as with mothers and nurses wrongly exercising pedagogical authority" (107)

clerks -- Latin as having "qualities of fixity, authority, and power" equated with its grammar (108)

"Because language standards exist at the level of ideology before (and arguably after) they are thought by historians actually to have come into existence, the historiography of standardization is fraught with problems." (114)
"Insofar as modern historians of the language adopt the perspective as well as the metaphors of early humanist scholars -- especially the metaphors of a competition among 'noble' languages, which transfer to the realm of clerkly labor the glamour of aristocratic warfare -- standard histories of the standardization of language work to distract attention from the messier, often quieter, ways in which certain languages or linguistic practices disappear, or at least disappear form areas of culture considered important." -- need to pay attention to ideologies of gender and status (116)

early modern educators wanting to "replace and somehow incorporate" the mother tongue and in doing so "drastically decrease the authority of mothers, nurses, and female teachers" (117)

vernacular language "should thus be seen, however counterintuitively, as a kind of ideological back-formation, a product of political and economic as well as professional-intellectual interests tied to the emergent phenomena we now call nation-states" (119)

  • figured as "female subject to be improved by the hand of the male writer" (122)

Thomas Wyatt, "Whoso list to hunt" as translational (122ff.)

"Subtending the pervasive idea that the vernacular is like female 'nature,' an entity in need either of protection from foreign contamination and/or of improvement -- sometimes by 'borrowing' words from other tongues, sometimes by being rules through grammar, sometimes by retrieving 'old' words from the past -- is the idea that educated men should devise artful ways to cultivate the vernacular as if it were a colonial territory." (125)
"process whereby a male-authored book takes the place of a female teacher who used oral means of instruction" (128)
"Dante's treatise points to an emergent clerkly investment in addressing but also controlling readers who were 'like women' i nthat they lacked full literacy, defined as command of the paternal language; defective with respect to clerks, as women in general were held (by Aristotelians) to be defective with respect to men, such readers were both threatening and desirable as subjects riper for instruction." (129)

grammar as cornerstone of ideal language in early modern Europe

Discourses of Imperial Nationalism as Matrices for Early Modern Literacies

Benedict Anderson, print-capitalism (135-6)

Empire; "What is an empire or a nation in transitional-era England or France, if we take into account, in our definitions, the views of those who may dispute the monarch's definition?" (143)

"partial literacies" -- "a capacity to receive instruction in the vernacular -- an inferior language for 'imperfect' people, but a language nonetheless being modeled on Latin and intermittently seen as useful for national administrative and propaganda purposes. Such a literacy entails submissive reception of discourse, but not the production of alternative narratives; hence it is appropriate for subjects of nascent empires." (150-1)

Anderson and others see nationalism only emerging recently with linguistic commonality brought about by print; but also happened in the past; "not all species of nation -- now or in the past -- have required 'mass' literacy in a single national language supported by print technology, although some definitions of nation (Gellner's, for example) seem to presuppose just this connection between (a certain) literacy and the emergence of the nation. I am arguing, however, that nationalist ideologies, like those of Protestantism, may officially promote literacy for all subjects of the polity, while in actuality the nations in question not only tolerate but benefit from multiple language uses and highly stratified forms of literacy." (154)

  • "Ideas of the nation as linguistically plural, even divided, entity were available as an ideological resource in the c16 -- a resource potentially as valuable as the fiction of national unity and the desideratum of one language." (154)
"Bourdieu is partly right when he says that 'the process of linguistic unification went hand in hand with the process of constructing the monarchical state.' But such a formulation presents unity -- of state and language -- as an achieved fact or social product rather than as a set of prescriptions and practices that have historically been challenged by various groups and by many linguistic practices, including some that left traces in the written record even when they occurred outside the spheres of influence of the court or the school." (164)