Language is a system that we rely on for both interpersonal and intrapersonal communication. It is also one of the core elements of any culture or human civilization (Huntington, 1996), as one of the epigraphs indicates. Language consists of rules and principles by which arbitrary linguistic components are combined into words and sentences. Whatever we do and wherever we are, we live in a world of language to the extent that it is unfathomable to live a day without language. It is the same regarding written texts. Reading has become integral to our lives more than ever before in the digital era. With the availability of a myriad of communication means, such as emails, text messages, synchronous messages, and various forms of social media, we constantly subscribe to written texts. Information sharing is also unprecedented through open-source digital platforms. Although podcasts and video clips occupy a considerable portion of information sharing, text use both on paper and on screen is incomparable.

This book is about the scriptFootnote 1 in which we read affecting our cognition and thought patterns. Although reading is a complex cognitive process and needs to be explicitly taught, we take our reading ability for granted and tend to be blind to the impact of reading. This chapter surveys spoken language, written language, and their relationships, followed by an association between language and thinking focusing on the linguistic relativity hypothesis. The effects of literacy and orthography are also briefly discussed. Next, it introduces the main thesis of this book, script relativity (i.e., the script in which we read affects our cognition). Last, the scope of this book, operationalized terminology, and intended audiences are described.

1 What is Language?

Language is a hallmark that distinguishes human beings from other species. An African tradition has a keen insight into this aspect of language when people in a certain region of Africa call a newborn child a kintu, a “thing,” until the child acquires a language. Once the child acquires the mother tongue, he/she can become a muntu, a “person” (Fromkin, Rodman, & Hyams, 2007). Since everybody can acquire the mother tongue effortlessly upon exposure, interaction, and time, spoken language is considered to be a biological endowment. Due to the innate faculty, we tend to forget fundamental interactions among language, the mind, and cognition.

Although language varies across cultures at the microscopic level, universal linguistic features govern human languages at the global level in two aspects. First, the common thread that penetrates all languages involves universal grammar that posits that language is biological and that more similarities than differences are found in all languages in terms of the properties of grammatical systems and the organization of lexicons (Chomsky, 1957). The universal linguistic rule provides us with a window into the operating principle of the human mind as a way to understand cognitive functions and the mind’s organization (Fromkin, Rodman, & Hyams, 2007). Second, the creative aspect of language is another common thread among all languages. We can produce an infinite set of new sentences beyond learned expressions, and, at the same time, we can understand sentences that we have never heard of.

2 What is the Relationship between Spoken and Written Languages?

Historically, the term language referred to spoken language. In the discipline of linguistics, only spoken language was identified with language within the speech-oriented framework. A preoccupation with spoken language was predominantly championed by Ferdinand de Saussure, a Swiss linguist and the founder of modern linguistics, who proclaimed that linguistic study could not cover both the written and spoken forms of words. As an advocate of the language-is-speech claim, Saussure asserted that “[l]anguage and writing are two distinct systems of signs. The only reason the second [written language] exists is to represent the first [spoken language]. The object of linguistics is not defined by the combination of the written word and the spoken word; the latter constitutes its only object” (1916/1974, p. 45, cited in Hannas, 1997, p. 235). Householder (1969) also asserted that “[l]anguage is basically speech, and writing is of no theoretical interest” (Householder, 1969, p. 886, cited in Sampson 2015, p. 1).

This spoken language primacy and the rejection of the text-based view were the essential tenets of early linguistics. Written language was considered secondary to or derivative of spoken language with the belief that the function of language was to represent speech sounds. The sidelining of written language continued in the American tradition of linguistics. Bloomfield, a founder of American structuralism, insisted on the primacy of speech, as seen in “[w]riting is not language, but merely a way of recording language by means of visible marks” (Bloomfield, 1933, p. 21; cited in Linell, 2005, p. 28). This line of legacy continued to add confusion until the 1980s. DeFrancis (1989) asserted “all full systems of communication are based on speech. Furthermore, no full system is possible unless so grounded” (p. 7).

According to Sampson (2015), the essence of this spoken language primacy over written language stemmed from the belief in the biological nature of language acquisition and the dismissal of the cultural component of language. The spoken language primacy failed to take the interplay between language and culture into consideration. Since language symbolizes and expresses cultural reality, it is difficult not to consider the interplay in any linguistic discussion. Another problem with the language-is-speech view was a misunderstanding or misinterpretation of written language. Joyce (2016) states that this language-is-speech perspective results from considerable misconceptions, inconsistencies, and confusions about writing systems. Notwithstanding the view that speech and writing are “completely independent, having quite different semiological foundations” (Harris, 2009, p. 46), spoken language and written language function indispensably and work in tandem to the extent that they complement each other.

A couple of factors were behind the sidelining of written language in earlier years. First, when linguistics started to pave its way to a science, the scientific community focused on “hard science” that relied on robust measurement (Hannas, 1997). Since it was not fully conducive to quantification for objective measurement, written language could not easily secure its place as a discipline because of a lack of solid methodology and theories established at that time. Second, behaviorism also played a role in the dismissal of written language. Behavioral linguists considered text-based language to be unfit for the new discipline’s paradigm that was set based on their criteria.

In essence, spoken language and written language are not the counterforce to each other. The primacy of spoken language was gradually overturned due to the limitations of spoken language in terms of temporality and restricted utility due to our limited attention span, memory, retention, and recall. Ong (1986) asserts that spoken language does not provide a comparable condition to that of writing because writing overcomes time and space on which spoken language relies at the moment of communication. He claims that “writing…is the most momentous of all human technological inventions” (p. 35).

Recent discussions on spoken language and written language provide theoretical considerations on written signs and symbolism. Once linguistic inquiries were scientifically addressed in empirical research, a reverse phenomenon was observed. Specifically, Linell (2005) points out a paradox of written language dominance, arguing that most linguists have analyzed spoken language using theories and methods that are best suited for written language. He also notes that theories and models which have been developed in the science of written language have reversely influenced theories and models of spoken language. Linell (2005) dubs this phenomenon a “written language bias.”

Although spoken language and written language have an indispensable relationship to the degree that written language represents spoken language, writing has taken a different trajectory than spoken language in the course of development. First, while spoken language is acquired without conscious effort on the condition of considerable time, exposure, and interaction, written language needs to be explicitly learned. Depending on the complexity of the writing system, a mastery of reading takes from a half day for smart learners or ten days for not-so-smart ones for Korean (see Chapter 5 for more information) to six years for Chinese (National Chinese Curriculum for Public Elementary Schools, 2000; see Chapter 5 for Chinese characters). Second, as opposed to spoken language that comes into our lives biologically and naturally, the sign systems and writing systems were invented in response to necessity. The first systematic writing system traces back to approximately 3,500 B.C., although pristine writing dates back to 10,000 B.C. Writing systems did not originate as an extension of spoken language as a means of storytelling or recording folklores, legends, or tales. The first sign system emerged to keep records of commercial transactions and to fulfill accounting purposes for the preservation of private property (Logan, 2004). The notational system of numeric information for book-keeping evolved into writing systems over time (see Chapter 2 for detail). Hence, it is viewed not as a deliberate invention but as an incidental offspring of a strong sense of private property (Logan, 2004). In other words, oral tales are easier to remember than numeric information due to embedded storylines and narrative devices within tales. As a result, the necessity to create a notational system for accurate records of possessions and transactions through tallies and clay accounting tokens was greater than the demand to recall and transmit tales or legends.

3 Do People Think Differently According to the Language They Speak?

Along with the characteristics of language universals, language is culture-specific as well. Different cultures have different languages or different languages yield different cultures. There are between 6,000 and 7,000 languages that are estimated to be spoken around the world (UNESCO, 2018). Table 1.1 shows the top five languages that are spoken as a first language in the world as well as Japanese and Korean (because these two languages are discussed more extensively in the coming chapters). The table shows not only the number of countries in which each language is established and spoken, but also the number of people who speak the language as a first language.

Table 1.1. The Rank and Number of Speakers of Languages as a First Language

What stands out from the table is that the number of Chinese speakers as a first language is close to the combined number of speakers of Spanish, English, Arabic, and Hindi. When it comes to the number of second language speakers, English is climbing the ladder in rank. More than two billion people speak English as a second or third language globally (UNESCO, 2018). The distribution of speakers of different languages offers a juxtaposition between the East with Chinese as a representative and the West with English as a representative.

The Chinese language is different from the other languages shown above in terms of language family, phonology, and linguistic characteristics. The writing system of Chinese defines itself as a unique script with not much similarity to European writing systems with respect to its representation, visual configuration, and syllabic structure. This uniqueness of Chinese characters and the large number of Chinese speakers have had a significant impact on the course of civilizations in Asia. China was the first civilization that emerged in Asia, and its culture was spread to almost all Asian countries.

Given different languages spoken on the globe, do people who speak different languages think differently? General consensus on the answer to this question is affirmative, although the source of thinking differently can be debatable. Linguistic diversity has yielded cognitive diversity in many respects among linguistic and cultural groups. First, attentional patterns are different. Research shows that Asians pay attention to the global picture or background of the scene, while Westerners tend to zero in on the center or foreground and main characters (Masuda & Nisbett, 2001; Ji, Peng, & Nisbett, 2000). Second, rhetorical structures are different. Asians are likely to be circular and hit around the bush in writing, whereas Westerners tend to show direct argument structures (Kaplan, 1966, 1983). Third, according to Hofstede, Hofstede, and Minkov’s (2010) comprehensive cross-cultural study of 76 countries, Chinese culture is collectivistic, while American culture is individualistic. Collectivistic people value group cohesion, interdependence, moderation, and group identity over the self, and are unlikely to challenge authority or people in power for their own benefits. Individualistic people value self-determination, self-expression, freedom, and independence, and are more likely to challenge authority by calling for equity and equal opportunities. These differences between the East and the West are discussed in depth in Chapter 6; hence, an extensive discussion is reserved for the later chapter.

4 Does Language Affect Thinking or Does Thinking Affect Language?

In the face of linguistic diversity and cognitive diversity across cultures, a critical question that has been on the forefront of the debate on the relationship between language and thinking since the 1950s is whether language shapes thinking or thinking shapes language. An additional query centers on no relationship between language and thinking or independence of thinking from language. The first two views indicate causal relationships. For causality, certain criteria ought to be met. Hill (1965) identified nine criteria for a causal relationship, including strength (effect size), consistency (reproducibility), specificity (no spurious variables involved), temporality (no delays), biological gradient (exposure-incidence relationship), plausibility, coherence, experimental evidence, and analogy (similarities between the observed relationship and any other relationships). The characteristic of conditionality (if the cause disappears, the effect should disappear) can also be added to the criteria. These criteria are useful to determine the association with the causal direction or null association between language and thinking. These criteria will be revisited in Chapter 8.

The first question (i.e., does language affect thinking?) is directly linked to the linguistic relativity hypothesis (a.k.a., Whorfian hypothesis, Whorfianism, Sapir-Whorf hypothesisFootnote 2). This hypothesis postulates that language varies in grammar and semantic categorizations and that the structure of our language affects our habitual thinking and habitual behavior, which ultimately leads to fundamental effects on our thinking and thought patterns (Whorf, 1956; Lucy, 1997). The linguistic relativity hypothesis was generally considered to have two versions, consisting of the strong version of linguistic determinism (i.e., language determines our cognition) and the weak version of linguistic relativism (i.e., language affects our cognition). This classification was not provided by Whorf himself, but was posthumously made after Whorf prematurely died in 1941 at age 44 before being able to solidify his position.

Whorf’s well-known words regarding the effect of language on human cognition are as follows:

We dissect nature along lines laid down by our native language. The categories and types that we isolate from the world of phenomena we do not find there because they stare every observer in the face; on the contrary, the world is presented in a kaleidoscope flux of impressions which has to be organized by our minds—and this means largely by the linguistic systems of our minds (Whorf, 1956, p. 213).

Notably, the above words do not indicate that language determines our cognition. However, Whorfianism ignited a heated debate between the two extremes of proponents and opponents. A circle of researchers who support Whorfianism, such as Lucy (1992, 1997), Lee (1991), and Lakoff (1987), has consistently presented data for pro-Whorfianism. Despite their efforts, attention to the linguistic relativity hypothesis significantly waned while nativists gained their strong voice in the late 1950s and the 1960s (to the early 1990s). However, scientific interest in this topic has been resurrected since the late 1990s (see Chapter 3 for details). Even philosophical discussions on the cognitive functions of language have been revived underscoring the view that language is the medium of conscious propositional thinking as well as nondomain-specific thinking (Carruthers, 2002).

Another line of research that supports linguistic relativity is cross-language and second language studies. Traditional research on linguistic relativity has focused on the comparisons of monolinguals between or among language communities. Second language studies add another angle to the discussions and explanations for the linguistic relativity hypothesis through both within-group analysis and between-group analysis. Empirical evidence consistently shows robust effects of cross-language transfer (Akamatsu, 1999, 2003; Ben-Yehudah et al., 2019; Chikamatsu, 1996, 2008; Cho, & McBride-Chang, 2005; McBride-Chang & Ho, 2005; Pae, Kwon, & Lee, 2015; Wang, Koda, & Perfetti, 2003b), which is another set of evidence that supports linguistic relativity (see Chapter 8 for details). Since second language learning, which is different from automatic first language acquisition, requires the involvement of a conscious and effortful cognitive function (especially for adults), second language skills can be viewed as an outcome of cognitive operation. In this regard, the notion of cross-language transfer fulfills the tenet of linguistic relativity.

It seems that the weak version of Whorfianism continues to attract scientific attention as a die-hard theory. In the midst of vehement criticism on the Whorfian hypothesis in the 1980s, Kay and Kempton (1984) highlighted the importance of rising above what Whorf had said (which was subject to interpretation) as follows:

What either Sapir or Whorf actually believed on this topic is of course impossible to know, especially since the writings of both men are open to such varied interpretations. The question of what these two scholars thought, although interesting, is after all less important than the issue of what is the case. The case seems to be first, that languages differ semantically but not without constraint, and second, that linguistic differences may induce nonlinguistic cognitive differences but not so absolutely that universal cognitive processes cannot be recovered under appropriate contextual conditions (p. 77)

As Kay and Kempton (1984) pointed out, the focus of research should shift from what Whorf said to “the issue of what is the case,” because a fixation on the interpretations of what Whorf said would not lead to the scientific advance of the theory in particular and that of applied linguistics in general. Given that Kay was one of the researchers who did not support the linguistic relativity hypothesis based on their research findings of color terms in the 1960s (see Berlin & Kay, 1969), Kay and Kempton’s (1984) alert to linguistic diversity with constraints and to the possibility of its impact on nonlinguistic cognitive differences is notable.

The second question (i.e., does thinking affect language?Footnote 3) has not been addressed as much as the first question. In fact, the opponents of the linguistic relativity hypothesis did not specifically nullify Whorfianism by conducting empirical research on this. In the face of a lack of evidence that supports the claim that thinking shapes language, studies of infants can shed light on the direction of causality from thinking to language or language to thinking. Perszyk and Waxman (2018) reviewed evidence in order to unfold the developmental link between language and cognition in infancy. According to them, language exerts a hidden power in early conceptual development through word learning or object-category learning. Learning categories serves as the fundamental building blocks of cognition, as infants establish a principled link between communicative signals and the cognitive process of categorization by the age of three months. Given that words are invitations to forming cognitive categories in infants (Perszyk & Waxman, 2018), the view of thinking affecting language is a moot point. Importantly, empirical evidence showing that thinking or cognition affects language is hardly found.

The third view (i.e., language does not influence thought; independence of thinking from language) was the reverse extreme of linguistic relativity because the second view is a moot point. This would be categorically difficult to prove because language and thought have an interlocking relationship, which is developed as early as infancy (Perszyk & Waxman, 2018). Strong oppositions to Whorfianism came from the school of nativists, such as Noam Chomsky and Steven Pinker, whose assertions dominated the fields of linguistics and psychology in the 1960s (through early 1990s). Pinker (1994, 2007) has sustained his position until recently by calling Whorfianism “conventional absurdity” (1994, p. 47) and considers Whorfianism to be monocausal and deterministic. Pinker (1994) said “As a cognitive scientist I can afford to be smug about common sense being true (thought is different from language) and linguistic determinism being a conventional absurdity” (p. 57) and that “people understand reality independently of the words used to describe it” (2007, p. 124).

Devitt and Sterelny (1987) joined this line of opposition by stating that Whorfianism is “… rather banal; language provides us with most of our concepts” (p. 178). Devitt and Sterelny obviously delivered conflicting views within this single statement. Although they argued that the “argument for an important linguistic relativity evaporates under scrutiny” (p. 178), they ironically claimed that “most of our concepts” would be provided by language. The claim is closely related to Whorfianism. Gentner and Goldin-Meadow (2003) found their remark to be “a view far stronger than that of even the most pro-Whorf researchers” (p. 3). Given the inextricably intertwined nature of language and thought, regardless of being language as a lens (i.e., looking glass) or language as a mirror (i.e., reflection), the independence of cognition from language has not been supported by empirical evidence.

In order to better answer the three questions as to whether language influences thinking, whether thinking influences language, or whether there is no relationship between language and thinking, aforementioned Hill’s (1965) criteria for causality are useful. While the first question generally meets the criteria, the second question does not (see Chapters 8 and 9).

Another way to consider is to rephrase the questions by focusing on the outcome of the influence; that is, whether thinking can be changed/restructured by language or whether language can be changed/restructured by thinking. First, empirical evidence supports the affirmative answer to the first question (see Chapter 3 for details). As an example, Majid et al. (2004) assert that language structures and restructures cognition based on the findings of their study of space. Interestingly, modern society adopts the idea of Whorfianism for the basis of linguistic prescription in an effort to avoid discrimination or marginalization against certain members in society; that is, modern society tries to change its language first in order to change its members’ perception and thinking (Cook, 2011). Specifically, the use of gender-neutral or gender-inclusive language has been encouraged in pragmatics to avoid distinguishing roles according to gender in modern society (e.g., chairperson or chair, police officer, and fire fighter rather than chairman, policeman, and fireman, respectively). Another example is the use of people-first language by placing a person before a diagnosis to avoid dehumanization or marginalization (e.g., a person with dyslexia and a person with diabetes rather than a dyslexic and a diabetic, respectively).

Second, the affirmative answer to the second question of whether language can be changed/restructured by thinking is debatable. In fact, there has been no evidence supporting this view. Neologisms represent the evolving nature of language and typically do not result from the change of thinking but from the necessity to convey new discoveries, new social movements, popular culture, and new technology. New words are coined through many ways, such as borrowing, adding suffixes, truncation or clipping, compounding existing words, or creating from scratch. However, neologisms themselves do not indicate that cognition influences language because they are responses to needs (e.g., when an unprecedented object is found in our lives, we assign a name to it; this is merely a response to the need to name the non-cognitive object).

Lastly, the answer to the third question of whether language or thinking cannot be changed/restructured by either of them because they are independent of each other is hardly deemed affirmative because language and thinking are fundamentally evolving and interconnected to each other. Table 1.2 summarizes the three questions, answers, and evidence at a glance.

Table 1.2. Questions, Answers, and Evidence

In summary, the opponents of linguistic relativity (1) misinterpreted Whorfianism (i.e., “language determines thought” rather than “language influences thought”), even though Whorf never claimed linguistic determinism, (2) tended to debate not the real issues involved, but Whorf’s lack of training in linguistics (“amateur” in Pinker’s words), (3) were unable to present their own empirical evidence to counter-argue Whorfianism, (4) misinterpreted the findings of studies that essentially supported linguistic relativity, and (5) failed to acknowledge copious evidence that supported linguistic relativity. Especially Pinker (1994) made impressionistic opposition, as in his words that Whorfianism is “wrong, all wrong” (p. 47) because Whorf did not study Apaches, and Whorf “rendered the sentences as clumsy, word-for-word translations, designed to make the literal meanings seem as odd as possible” (p. 50). Despite the opposition, taken together, empirical evidence is in favor of the view that language affects thinking.

5 What is the Impact of Literacy?

Notwithstanding the relatively short history of written language, compared to those of spoken language and human inventions, the impact of written language is essentially incomparable to any other human invention in history (Logan, 2004; Man, 2000). Although it was not a deliberate invention, the advent of writing systems changed the way information was stored and used. Written words leave immortal echoes through written documents and convey messages using the medium of language. It allows us to travel from the past to the future or from the present to the past due to the benefit that written records not only go beyond memory, but also overcome the ephemeral nature of spoken words. Ong (1986) also stresses that the invention of writing as a means of recording sounds has fundamentally restructured human cognition. In a similar vein, Innis (1972) asserts that the art of writing provides us with a transpersonal memory, as we can have an artificially extended memory of objects and events by going beyond sight and recollection. It is writing that makes information transcend space and time, along with audio recordings. It is written documents that leave permanent imprints on our lives. It is reading that serves as a pathway to new knowledge. It is writing that distances the source of communication (the writer) from the recipient (the reader) beyond immediacy. Propelled by the invention of the metal printing press in the fifteenth century, writing became the main catalyst for spreading information and knowledge beyond horizontal space and longitudinal time. The current twenty-first century digitally mediated texts further accelerate the speed and spread of information at a phenomenal rate.

Of currently available scripts in the world, a dramatic difference in writing systems is found between the Chinese writing system and the alphabet. These two scripts are different in at least three interrelated ways. First, the level of arbitrariness is different between Chinese and the alphabet. Chinese logographyFootnote 4 has evolved from pictographs, in which a character by and large represents a morpheme (although there is a small number of multi-character morphemes). Since Chinese is a logography primarily representing the meaning of an object or idea (logo = word; graph = written symbol; Taylor & Taylor, 2014), Chinese characters are less abstract and less arbitrary than English. In contrast, letters of the alphabet are largely arbitrary symbols to the extent that each letter does not represent the meaning of an object or concept, except for limited cases, such as plural and third-person{s}. Meaning is constructed from the linguistic assignment of combined multiple letters into a word in alphabetic orthographies. Second, the representation of the minimal unit is different in the two scripts. Each Chinese character represents a syllable that constitutes a morpheme, and it cannot be segmented into phonemes or graphemes, although it can be divided into strokes and radicals; therefore, it is called a morphosyllabic script (Leong, 1997). Although compound or composite characters are composed of phonetic and semantic components (i.e., radicals), a Chinese syllable does not allow for segmentation at the phonemic level or subsyllabic level, as in English or Korean. Third, relatedly, the flexibility in generating syllables or words is different in the two scripts. Since a character is an independent unit that represents a morpheme as a syllable, the Chinese writing system does not provide the plausibility of combining characters to create another unit at the syllabic level, except for compound characters and compound words (which are still at the same syllabic level), and has more restricted options in the combinatorial rules of word formation than English. In contrast, an alphabet permits flexibility to generate new syllables under its phonotactic and graphotactic rules. Using about 20 to 30 letters, in principle, alphabetic scripts can create tens of thousands of syllables, whereas Chinese has only 400 or so syllables without considering tone differences (Taylor & Taylor, 2014).

Given the difference between Chinese characters and the alphabet in terms of the arbitrariness, the minimal linguistic representation, and syllables, it is possible to infer different ways of processing involved in reading logographic and alphabetic words. Logan (2004) asserts that “[t]he magic of the phonetic alphabet is that it is more than a writing system; it is also a system for organizing information” (p. 1). Decoding words in alphabetic scripts is a process of “organizing” a cluster of letters in a meaningful way. In a related vein, Shlain (1998) explicates the difference in the processing of images and the alphabet. Shlain’s remark is relevant here because Chinese characters are an approximation of objects or concepts in a sense. He notes that the processing of objects (or images) and words takes different perceptual strategies due to the differences in the representation of the two stimuli. As the brain replicates and reflects the perceived world, objects (or images) are the mental reproductions of the world at sight. The brain simultaneously processes all parts of the object in an all-at-once fashion by integrating all parts synthetically into a gestalt (Shlain, 1998). Since they approximate reality, images or objects are more concrete than abstract. In contrast, reading words requires different processes than seeing images or objects. Given that letters of alphabetic orthographies do not represent the images of objects and that words are written in a linear sequence (except for the Korean alphabetic script, Hangul), alphabetic words are likely to be processed in a one-at-a-time mannerFootnote 5 (Shlain, 1998). Based on these differences, Shlain (1998) summarizes that images or objects are processed in a concrete, whole, synthetic, spontaneous, and all-at-once manner, whereas alphabetic words are processed in a sequential, analytic, abstract, and one-at-a-time fashion.

Logan (2004) takes Shlain’s (1998) differentiation of the processing of images and alphabetic words a step further to articulate the subliminal effect of writing systems on the human mind and cognition. Although their points of arguments are developed differently in their books, both Logan and Shlain make a clear juxtaposition between Chinese characters and the phonetic alphabet with respect to the structures, processing modes, and effects of the two scripts on our lives in general.

All reading processes are likely to promote and facilitate deductive reasoning, as evidenced by research on literate and illiterate people (Matute et al., 2012; Pegado et al., 2014; Wu, Wang, Yan, Li, Bao & Guo 2012). Skills of abstraction and analysis are developed and strengthened over time through the use of arbitrary signs and phonemic combinations to decode words. Reading the alphabet further reinforces the reader’s thinking deductively, classifying information logically, and assembling words in a sequential order. Logan (2004) particularly dubs this phenomenon the alphabet effect. He also asserts that this tendency is the foundation of the development of the Western or European mode of thought. He summarizes that the essence of the alphabet effect entails abstraction, analysis, rationality, and classification, and asserts that these thought patterns, which are the intellectual byproducts of the use of the alphabet, are observed in a lesser degree among readers of Chinese characters or other nonalphabetic writing systems. Although this claim is contentious, the insight is worth noting because this is one way of understanding the difference in thought patterns between Westerners and Chinese readers; that is, abstract and theoretical tendencies for the West versus concrete and practical propensities for the East.Footnote 6 If there is a truth to Logan’s claim, reading or a prolonged literacy activity becomes the hidden drive to the development of the Western and Eastern modes of thought. According to Logan (2004), Westerners are comparatively inclined to think in an abstract way resulting in theoretical science, formal logic, individualism, and systematic thought, as a consequence of reading alphabets, while Chinese tend to think in a concrete and practical fashion resulting in analogy, induction, and collectivism, as a consequence of reading logographies.

Differences in logic are also found in the East and the West. Logan (2004) ponders the consequences of prolonged literacy and indicates that deductive logic and abstract thinking are closely related to monotheism and codified law, which are the main kernels of Western culture. These are largely absent in the Chinese culture. In other words, the use of the alphabet propelled the development of abstract, logical, and systematic thought patterns of Westerners. This argument may be plausible given that, although Sumerians first developed written signs around 3,500 B.C. to 3,200 B.C, archeological evidence shows that it was not until the Greek alphabet appeared around 900 B.C. that noteworthy human activities and inventions were made. There was also a huge hiatus between the emergence of the Greek alphabet and the origin of human history that goes back to approximately 300,000 years ago, based on fossils attributed to homo sapiens. Due in part to the use of the logographic script, Chinese inventions were geared toward metallurgy, irrigation systems, animal harnesses, paper, ink, printing, gunpowder, rockets, porcelain, and silk. These differences yielded cultural differences between the East and the West.

Goody and Watt (1963) and Logan (2004) put forth the idea that a society or culture, which uses a more flexible writing system, such as the alphabet, tends to yield advances in scientific technology. Similarly, the efficiency of learning and widespread literacy lead to the democratization of knowledge and society. Diringer (1968) endorses the fact that the alphabet is a “democratic" script. Phonetic alphabets, wherein words can be formed through the combination of sounds or letters, make learning to read easier than that in logographies. Due to the heightened learnability of the alphabet, a vast spreading of human knowledge accelerates a democratization of learning. The advent of the movable-type Gutenberg printing press invented in Germany in 1439 revolutionized the spread of knowledge through book production, which contributed to the alphabet being spread as a democratic script in the West. With the economical utility of the writing system, the alphabet also contributed to cultural development and dissemination. It may be not coincidental that the currently available platforms of open-access to knowledge and resources are first and mostly provided by alphabetic cultures, which is consistent with the democracy of knowledge sharing.

It is easier for elite users of logography to control knowledge and information and to have a centralized governing bureaucracy. When the writing system is complex and difficult to learn, only privileged groups have access to it. If it is restricted to the elite or special groups, literacy is tied to power because only elite groups can use literacy to maintain their status quo, a certain social order, and their interest and to create a social gap between a literate culture and an illiterate culture by controlling and restricting information and knowledge (Goody & Watts, 1963; Logan, 2004; Wolf, 2007). In fact, ancient Chinese feudalist dynasties controlled literacy to exercise hegemony and power dynamics. This was possible because logographic scripts require years of study through rote memorization.

Beyond these discussions, empirical evidence consistently shows the impact of literacy as well as different writing systems yielding different cognitive consequences. The first evidence can be found in differences in cognitive processing and discrimination skills between literate and illiterate people. Petersson et al. (2000) attempted to elucidate differences in the functional organization of the brain between literate and illiterate groups and found that the pattern of interactions between brain regions associated with the functional-anatomical network for language processing was different between literate and illiterate subjects in the attentional modulation of the language network, the executive aspects of verbal working memory, and the articulatory organization of verbal output. A difference in cognitive processing between literate and illiterate subjects was also found in Chinese characters (Li et al., 2006; Wu, Li, Yang, Cai, Sun, & Guo, 2012). Research shows a robust effect of literacy on visual recognition irrespective of age of initial reading. Pegado et al. (2014) examined whether literate, illiterate, and ex-illiterate adults (who learned to read as adults) perform differently on a speeded same-different judgment task including letter strings, false fonts, and pictures. Literates showed stronger left-right mirror discrimination in letter strings, false fonts, and pictures than illiterates, while illiterates showed mirror generalization that showed no left-right mirror discrimination. Children studies also showed similar results. Matute et al. (2012) investigated the effect of literacy in children with illiterate and literate Mexican children aged 6 to 13 to find consistent results with those found in adults.

The second evidence comes from the effect of script directionality (i.e., right-to-left Arabic, Hebrew, and UrduFootnote 7 vs. left-to-right European alphabets). Vaid and her colleague (1989) found that the direction in which a script was written exerted significant effects on nonlinguistic performance, such as line drawings and facial perception. Specifically, Vaid and Singh (1989) investigated the effect of reading habits among readers of Hindi, Arabic, and Urdu as well as illiterates, using a perception task of chimeric faces. They found significant group differences in the left visual field asymmetry such that Hindi (left-to-right directionality) readers showed the strongest effect, while Arabic (right-to-left directionality) showed the weakest effect. However, illiterates did not show a visual field bias. Vaid (1995) also examined whether there were differences in the starting location and drawing order as well as the facing of objects (bicycle, elephant, and profile) in free-hand figure drawing among children (9–13 years of age) of Hindi-English, Urdu-only, and Arabic-only readers. Results showed that Hindi-English readers tended to start their drawings on the top left of the page in the left-to-right drawing sequence, while Urdu- and Arabic-only readers preferred to begin on the top right of the page in the right-to-left sequence or zigzag order. Regarding the direction of figures, Hindi-English readers were likely to face the objects leftward more than the other two groups. Arabic children showed a more rightward-facing bias than Urdu counterparts with an exception of human face profiles. A more comprehensive study also supports the significant effect of script directionality on graphic representation. Specifically, Tversky, Kugelmass, and Winter (1991) examined cross-cultural and developmental trends of writing directionality on graphic productions. They examined graphic representations of spatial, temporal, quantitative, and preference relations organized by speakers of English, Hebrew, and Arabic. English-speaking children preferred to place stickers of their favorite food on square pieces of papers in the left-to-right direction, whereas Arabic-speaking children tended to place their stickers in the direction of right-to-left, with Hebrew-speaking children in-between.Footnote 8 The magnitude of impact of script directionality showed in the order of space, time, quantity, and preference with space the greatest and preference the lowest.

The third evidence comes from a series of empirical studies showing different scripts yielding different cognitive processes. Petersson, Reis, and Ingvar (2001) have reviewed recent behavioral and functional neuroimaging studies to find that learning an alphabetic orthography modulates the auditory-verbal language system in a significant way, indicating a significant interaction between auditory-verbal and written language. Specifically, literacy skills in alphabetic orthographies promote the sensitivity to sublexical phonological structures and hence have a modulatory effect on sublexical phonological processing. This suggests that literacy acquired through the phoneme-grapheme correspondence in an alphabetic orthography facilitates the awareness of an existing infrastructure of auditory-verbal relationships and, as a result, yields a modified language network in the brain to regulate the functional architecture of the brain. Petersson, Reis, Askelö, Castro-Caldas, and Ingvar (2000) have also found that learning to read in an alphabetic orthography significantly changes the auditory-verbal (spoken) language processing. Another line of evidence shows different visual discrimination skills according to different graph complexities of the same orthography with different scripts. Chinese written language provides a unique opportunity to investigate the effect of graph complexity due to the two scripts of traditional characters used in Taiwan (Mandarin) and Hong Kong (Cantonese) and simplified characters in Mainland China (Mandarin). Differences in perceptual skills between Chinese and Taiwanese readers can be attributable to the graph complexity of the two scripts (i.e., simplified characters and traditional characters, respectively). Chang and Perfetti (2018) report a significant complexity effect between Taiwanese and Mainland Chinese groups using a same-different perceptual judgment task and a pattern recognition task. Taiwanese outperformed their Chinese counterpart with higher accuracy and faster response times, suggesting the superior visual perceptual skills of readers of the traditional script which is more complex.

The last evidence has to do with the bilingual mind or biliteracy mind. If different language use results in differences in thinking and cognition, it can be deduced that bilinguals’ or multilinguals’ mind would be different from monolinguals’ mind. An extension of this deduction is the mind of biliterate individuals. A copious body of literature shows significant effects of cross-scriptal transfer and robust differences in reading between scripts of first language and second language. Chapters 8 and 9 cover cross-scriptal influences and second language reading.

Taken together, the consequences of reading or literacy effects go beyond the superficial influences of languages. This is evidenced by the findings of different cognitive functions of literate and illiterate individuals, writing directionality effects, differential effects shown by the alphabetic readers and logographic readers, and different visual discrimination skills between readers of traditional and simplified characters. These findings cannot be explained by other theories and even by linguistic relativity. Script relativity is the goodness of fit to explain those findings.

6 What Are Challenges in Research into Linguistic Relativity and Script Relativity?

Although nativists themselves have not conducted psycholinguistic experiments to specifically test the linguistic relativity hypothesis, many researchers have carried out empirical research to test the strong and weak versions of the Whorfian hypothesis. The most prominent research on testing Whorfianism was on color codability and color terms by Brown and Lenneberg (1954) and Berlin and Kay (1969). Berlin and Kay (1969) indicated that color perception was biological as the three common color names (i.e., black, white, and red) are generally found across cultures. However, Lucy (1992) raised a question about Berlin and Kay’s interpretation of their findings (see Chapter 3 for more discussion). A series of studies were also conducted on number sense, object terms, and spatial terms (see Chapter 3 for a review). Conflicting results have been found in a multitude of studies. In a nutshell, evidence has converged on support for the weak version of the linguistic relativity hypothesis, although its strong version has hardly gained empirical support. Research evidence suggests that linguistic relativity was inadequately dismissed with no proper interpretations nor thorough reflections on and treatments of adequate experimental data. This premature dismissal by and large resulted not only from methodological challenges that linguistic relativity inherently entailed, but also from the different views and interpretations of Whorfianism.

Although opponents of linguistic relativity claim that the receiving end of linguistic influences in terms of causality should be nonverbal, the distinction between verbal and nonverbal processes is not straightforward. It is questionable whether perceptual domains, such as color, time, number, and space, are truly nonverbal, because not only are linguistic components involved in the development and use of such concepts, but also language serves as the medium of perceptual and conceptual knowledge from infancy (Perszyk & Waxman, 2018). Nonverbal motor tasks should be considered differently from the given discussion because motor activities, such as playing a musical instrument, playing golf, or driving a car, largely involve muscle memory that consolidates a specific motor task into memory through repetition to be able to perform the task without conscious effort. Therefore, the discussion on linguistic relativity should moves forward to address the individual dimensions of cognitive processes that are affected by language, instead of focusing on whether language affects thought or not.

The concept of linguistic relativity inherently crosses the disciplines of philosophy, anthropology, psychology, and linguistics. Therefore, it fundamentally bears methodological challenges (Lucy, 1997). First, again, since the concepts of color, number, object, and space are essentially interwoven with language, challenges are associated with properly teasing apart linguistic components from nonlinguistic workings. Second, there have been differing research findings depending on participant pools, tasks, and measures used in research on linguistic relativity. Method effects need to be first controlled in analysis by identifying and isolating intervening or spurious variables from the target variables in any research. Next, the unit of analysis must be clearly identified for adequate analysis. This is particularly important in comparing multiple language groups, which has been the case in the literature. Last, definitions need to be properly operationalized within the parameter of research in order to avoid misinterpretations of a given study and its results. Based on the nature of the interdisciplinary aspects of linguistic relativity (i.e., anthropology, psychology, linguistics), refined research methods taking those aspects into consideration were not fully developed to examine the layers of the interactions between language and cognition in the 1950s through the 1980s.

Notwithstanding the challenges, research findings that has been accumulated from cross-language or second-language studies during the past two decades provide new evidence in support of the linguistic relativity hypothesis. With the recent advance of technology, we can also look at our brain functions, activations, and networks upon speaking and reading different languages and scripts. Recent neurolinguistic evidence also supports linguistic relativity. In-depth reviews of current psycholinguistic and neurolinguistic studies as well as differences between the East and the West are provided in the coming chapters in this book (see Chapters 6, 8, and 9).

An identification or clarification of independent variables and dependent variables associated with script relativity can be useful. Research studies reviewed in this book generally use attention, perception, processing accuracy and speed, memory, inference, visual discrimination skills, sociocultural norms of individualism and collectivism, and rhetorical styles as dependent variables, while independent variables constitute operating principle (alphabet vs. logography), script configuration (linearity vs. block), symbolic representation (arbitrariness vs. iconic), the degree of graph complexity (traditional characters vs. simplified characters), and multi-script representation (phonogram vs. logogram). These key variables are shown in Table 1.3. These variables are revisited in the coming chapters when relevant literature is reviewed.

Table 1.3. Independent Variables and Dependent Variables

In conclusion, our worldview is the essential sense of our existence. However, it is not an identity per se nor a static entity. It is our way of understanding the outer world. Although there are many ways to contemplate how our worldview is molded, I take one route to understand what drives our mind to the formulation of our worldviews. As will be made clear in the forthcoming chapters, the written language or the script in which we read everyday has a significant impact on our thinking and cognition, which ultimately shapes our mind to understand and deal with the outer world. The magic of reading lies in the automaticity of reading once the skill is acquired and is manifested by its difficulty of resisting reading once text is exposed. Even nonsensory mental attitudes, such as judgment, decision, intention, and goal-setting, can be subliminally affected by written language as a consequence of literacy. I employ script relativity to explain all this. As shown in the epigraph, Sampson (2015) asserts that different cultures use different scripts as a result of evolution and goodness of fit for each other. At the onset of written language, the compatibility must have played a key role; that is, each script might have fulfilled the linguistic needs of spoken language. Logographic writing might work well for the Chinese spoken language, while English orthography might suit well English-speaking cultures. This assertion sounds feasible.

However, what is missing in the above assertion is that it cannot explain why European alphabets and Chinese characters have endured for more than 5,000 and 3,000 years, respectively, while other writings were comparatively short-lived. Just like Linell’s (2005) notion of the written language bias, once the script solidified its way into one culture, its effect might have outweighed that of spoken language or at least weighed as much as its spoken language. My claim is that, once we have learned to read, the automaticity and irresistible tendency to read becomes the engine that drives our mind. In other words, we can control our spoken language, but we cannot control the processing of written language at the moment of text exposure. Since the brain is rewired once reading skills are acquired through neuronal recycling (Dehaene, 2009; Wolf, 2007), the extrapolation of the script→brain restructure→cognitive change is deemed reasonable. The opposite sequence is not tenable, however.

Levinson (2003) acknowledges that the language we speak is bound to have an effect on the way we think, as one of the epigraphs shows. As I mentioned earlier, linguistic relativity has generated a heated debate and a stockpile of research studies that are eventually in favor of linguistic relativity. It is now the time to rise above linguistic relativity. Within this context, script relativity is one way to explain the differences in the perception, cognition, problem-solving methods, and cultures of individuals between the East and the West as an endogenous factor above and beyond the extraneous factors, such as geography, ecology, or physical surroundings.

7 About the Book

7.1 Scope (and Limitation) of the Book

As explained in the Prologue, the seed for this book was planted unknowingly in my grade school days as a Korean native. It grew into a range of comparisons among the three East-Asian cultures—Chinese, Japanese, and Korean. After being relocated in the U.S. for my graduate study, the query again unknowingly developed into a larger scope of comparisons between American culture and the three East-Asian cultures. I intentionally exclude the abjads of Arabic and Hebrew and the South Asian alphasyllabaries because I personally do not know those scripts and because I want other researchers who are well versed in those languages to test the script relativity hypothesis in the near future with my opening the door to script relativity. More importantly, the coverage of the three-East Asian scripts in relation to English provides a substantive ground to make my claim focused because, at times, too many branches weaken the stem. Since I only know American culture in the West, I use American culture to refer to the West in general. I acknowledge that this is a limitation. However, such a simplification or over-generalization is not without a precedent. Nisbett (2003) follows this generalization as well in his book, The Geography of Thought. In addition, Diamond (1997) acknowledges that the modern U.S. is a European-molded society. In a similar way to this representation, I use the three East-Asian countries to refer to Asian culture. Sometimes I use these cultures as an aggregated entity, and other times I separate them as appropriate in the context. It is because the three cultures are dissimilar to the extent that the differences go far beyond geographical proximity and cultural sharedness.

Religion has a profound effect on all societies and cultures as one of the primary forces for spiritual maturation, civilization, and progress at both individual and societal levels. The core framework of religion is different across cultures and societies. In general, Asian religions are based on Nature and the concept of harmony between Nature and human beings. South Korea, however, is an exception. As briefly mentioned in the Prologue, Christians outnumber Buddhists in South Korea (28% vs. 16%, respectively, Statistics Korea, 2016). The number of Christians in South Korea is incomparable to those of China and Japan, where the percentage hardly goes above 2% and 1% of the populations, respectively. This tendency is also found in ethnic communities in the U.S. The number of ethnic churches in Korean communities is incomparable to those in Chinese and Japanese communities in the U.S. Again, I try to interpret this phenomenon as a byproduct of script differences among the three cultures as an extension of linguistic relativity; that is, the dominance of Christianity in South Korea and the large number of ethnic churches in Korean communities in the U.S. result from the alphabet effect that is consistent with the monotheism in the West (Logan, 2004).

To reiterate, my thesis begins with the comparison among Chinese, Japanese, and Korean in terms of culture, spoken language, and written language, and then extends to American culture and written language. Despite its limitation, the discussion of the three East-Asian countries offers a unique and practical opportunity to interpret how the script in which we read affects our thinking, because China, Japan, and Korea share cultural characteristics to a great extent, but their languages (both spoken and written) are markedly different from one another. Although the three groups tend to be lumped together as Asians, their everyday practices and mindsets are different. Notwithstanding multiple ways to interpret the differences, I pick one way of interpretation—script relativity. Since I am the one who first proposes this hypothesis, it is other researchers’ turn to directly test script relativity. This hypothesis is logically consistent, testable, falsifiable, generalizable, parsimonious, and empirically and pragmatically adequate.

This book can serve as an introduction to the Chinese, Japanese, and Korean scripts and cultures for individuals who are interested in these three East-Asian cultures. Since it not only contains historical accounts of Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and the alphabet, but also covers diverse dimensions related to reading and the consequences of reading, this book can also be used as a reference resource for teaching, research, and technical reports as well as a textbook or a supplementary material in undergraduate and graduate courses in higher education in the world.

7.2 Terminology

Since it is virtually impossible to cover all Asian scripts and all alphabetic scripts within one book, again, representative concepts have been used. By “Asian culture” or “the East”, I mean Chinese, Japanese, and Korean culture or the regions. By “Korea” or “Koreans”, I mean South Korea or South Koreans. Likewise, by “the West” or “the alphabet”, I refer to the American culture or American English as a representative term. Furthermore, the word “Americans” refers to European Americans rather than the melting-pot or salad-bowl notion of Americans.

I have tried to avoid jargon as much as possible. However, where its use is inevitable, I provide a definition of the term as necessary. Some words are used interchangeably. When this happens, footnotes are provided to indicate the interchangeable use of terms.

Regarding the key terms used in this book, a writing system refers to the operating principle reflected in the relationships between spoken language and writing. An orthography refers to “the set of rules for using a script in a particular language for spelling, punctuation, etc.” (Cook & Bassetti, 2005, p. 3). A script refers to the specific graphic form of graphs. Perfetti and Liu (2005) note that “scripts can make a difference in reading, because they control the initial visual input that gets the process going” (p. 194). Scripts can be independent of the writing-language relationship, unlike the writing system and orthography (Perfetti & Liu, 2005). In this book, the term script also includes the writing orientation, internal structure, visual complexity, layout, and configuration of a writing unit, as these features characterize the graphic form of a given script. In reference to alphabetic scripts, letters and graphs are used interchangeably throughout this volume, unless otherwise noted.

In terms of the notation of transcription, phonemic transcriptions are indicated with the solidus / /, while phonetic transcription is enclosed within square brackets [ ]. Curly brackets { } are used for orthographic transcriptions, and angle brackets < > are used for morphemic transcriptions.

7.3 Intended Audiences

This book provides at least one view or an explanation of why Easterners and Westerners view the world differently. The book will be of interest to a wide range of researchers and practitioners in the disciplines of anthropology, philosophy, applied linguistics, psychology, education, and cross-cultural communication. It will also be useful for students at both undergraduate and graduate levels. For a wide range of audiences, I have provided extensive background information as much as possible. For readers who selectively read, I have made each chapter self-contained and independent as much as possible. For this reason, readers who read this book from the beginning to the end may find some parts redundant. However, repetitions are sparingly used.