Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Clarification about DeFrancis and Unger's arguments about writing

In arguing that logography plays a central role in the history of writing, in general and in East Asia in particular, Realms opposes what I see as an over-emphasis on phonography by a number of scholars and theorists of writing, most prominently John DeFrancis and J. Marshall Unger.  Our contrasting approaches will be apparent to anyone who compares our work, but I should have provided more detail about their limited acknowledgement of logography.  I do not believe that it is inaccurate to say that they claim that "all writing is necessarily phonographic" (p. 41) or that they insist "on the inherently phonographic nature of all writing" (p. 363), but they do not see all writing as exclusively phonographic.  I should have mentioned that, in writings by Unger, by DeFrancis in the 1990s, and in co-authored essays, they repeatedly concede that actual historical writing systems do incorporate some degree of logography.  We differ profoundly on the extent and significance of that incorporation, but it is not fair to imply that they deny its existence outright.