Studies in the Mentality of Literates: Searching for the Cultural Great Divide at the Individual Level of Analysis

  • Aaro ToomelaEmail author
Regular Article


Today it is usually agreed that cultures are different but no culture is more developed than some other. It follows that culture did not develop hierarchically. Otherwise some cultures must be more developed than the others. This position, however, contradicts ample evidence that individual mental development is hierarchical. As culture can develop only on the basis of individual development, cultural development has to be hierarchical too. In this paper a research program to study cultural and individual development in one framework is outlined. Particularly it is discussed whether it is possible to define a Great Divide, a characteristic that would distinguish more developed cultures from less developed cultures today. Both literacy and formal education are rejected as candidates for a Great Divide. Then, following and extending Vygotsky’s theory, it is demonstrated that a Great Divide can be defined in terms of the development of word meaning structure (WMS). A novel theory of the development of WMS over five hierarchical stages is shortly described and it is suggested that both individuals and cultures develop over the same stages in invariant order. Particularly differences between everyday and logical (or “scientific” in Vygotsky’s terms) concepts are discussed. It is theoretically explained how study of adult individuals can be used to support the presented theory of developmental similarities between cultures and individuals. Specific hypotheses for the study are put forward.


Great divide Literacy Formal education Recapitulation Developmental hierarchy Word meaning structure 



This work was supported by the Tallinn University School of Natural Sciences and Health Grant Study of novel aspects of the state and development of speech function.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Natural Sciences and HealthTallinn UniversityTallinnEstonia

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