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Defining Literacy With such evidence we can address the first question: What are the definitions of literacy?
The more abundant data from the Old World reveal an enormous range of meanings (Schofield 1968: 313-314; Thomas 1989: 19-20, 33-34).
The scribes from Fayum, Egypt, barely able to scrawl their names or copy another's script, are notorious in this regard (see also Troll 1990: 113-114); yet witness their anger when characterized as illiterate (Youtie 1971: 248), a situation that compelled the Emperor Justinian to avoid confusion in his notarial system by recognizing various degrees of literacy (Youtie 1971: 254, 261).
At the other extreme lies the Chinese conception of "full literacy" (Rawski 1979: 4-5).
Just as ability shifts within a person's lifetime (not always progressively!
), so does the level of scribal expertise change within a single society.
The history of writing, or so the standard story goes, is an ascending process, evolving toward the alphabet and finally culminating in the "full writing" of recorded speech.
Writing without Words challenges this orthodoxy, and with it widespread notions of literacy and dominant views of art and literature, history and geography.
We see, then, how these systems changed with the European invasion, and how uniquely colonial writing systems came to embody the post-conquest American ideologies. Pohl, Joanne Rappaport, Peter van der Loo CHAPTER 1Stephen Houston Literacy among the Pre-Columbian Maya: A Comparative Perspective Literacy, the ability to link language and script, forms one of the most important topics in twentieth-century linguistics (e.g., Ong 1982).
Other forms of writing simply failed to survive, so that negative evidence cannot be interpreted as a sign of limited literacy (Harvey 1966: 586, 590; Mann 1985: 206; Johnston 1983: 66).