The linguist Ignace Gelb coined the term "grammatology" in 1952 to refer to the scientific study of writing systems or scripts.[1] Grammatology can examine the typology of scripts, the analysis of the structural properties of scripts, and the relationship between written and spoken language.[2] In its broadest sense, some scholars also include the study of literacy in grammatology and, indeed, the impact of writing on philosophy, religion, science, administration and other aspects of the organization of society.[3] Historian Bruce Trigger associates grammatology with cultural evolution.[4]

Toronto School of communication theory

The scholars most immediately associated with grammatology, understood as the history and theory of writing, include Eric Havelock (The Muse Learns to Write), Walter J. Ong (Orality and Literacy), Jack Goody (Domestication of the Savage Mind), not to mention Marshall McLuhan (The Gutenberg Galaxy). Grammatology brings to any topic a consideration of the contribution of technology and the material and social apparatus of language. A more theoretical treatment of the approach may be seen in the works of Friedrich Kittler (Discourse Networks: 1800/1900) and Avital Ronell (The Telephone Book).


In 1967 the deconstructionist philosopher Jacques Derrida borrowed the term, but put it to different use, in his book Of Grammatology. Derrida aimed to show that writing is not simply a reproduction of speech, but that the way in which thoughts are recorded in writing strongly affects the nature of knowledge. Deconstruction from a grammatological perspective places the history of philosophy in general, and metaphysics in particular, in the context of writing as such. In this perspective metaphysics is understood as a category or classification system relative to the invention of alphabetic writing and its institutionalization in School. Plato's Academy, and Aristotle's Lyceum, are as much a part of the invention of literacy as is the introduction of the vowel to create the Classical Greek alphabet. Gregory Ulmer took up this trajectory, from historical to philosophical grammatology, to add applied grammatology (Applied Grammatology: Post(e)-Pedagogy from Jacques Derrida to Joseph Beuys, Johns Hopkins, 1985). Ulmer coined the term "electracy" to call attention to the fact that digital technologies and their elaboration in new media forms are part of an apparatus that is to these inventions what literacy is to alphabetic and print technologies. Grammatology studies the invention of an apparatus across the spectrum of its manifestations—technology, institutional practices, and identity behaviors. Marc Wilhelm Küster combines Derrida's approach with Gelbs's study of writing to build a more inclusive view of the interaction between writing and our ways of viewing the world.

Structuralism and post-structuralism

Most common forms of literary writing is structuralism and post-structuralism. Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure was considered to be a key figure in structural approaches to language.[5] Saussure writes, 'Language and writing are two distinct systems of signs; the second exists for the sole purpose of representing the first.'[6] Peter Barry explains this well in his book, the Beginning Theory.

In the 1960s, post-structuralism sprang into existence with Roland Barthes and Jacques Derrida, two of the major contributors to this movement. Barthes' writing has been described as interesting as one can see the transition of these two literary styles through comparing his earlier works with his later work. His early work is methodical and very structured in its delivery, Barthes' work then morphs into writing that has been described as random in sequence and unfocused, which is a key characteristics of post-structuralistic writing; Jacques Derrida published much work in the subject of literary theory but most were considered to be more philosophical than based on literary itself. However one of the most influential texts on post-structuralism is Of Grammatology, a book that Jacques Derrida wrote. This book had a famous slogan of 'There is nothing outside the text' and is today one of the most quoted lines when discussing grammatology. This opinion of Derrida is quite different from that of Saussure who believes the meaning in words is outside the text.

See also


  1. Gelb, Ignace. 1952. A Study of Writing. Chicago: University of Chicago Press
  2. Daniels, Peter T. 1996. The study of writing systems. In Daniels, Peter T. and Bright, William, eds., The World's Writing Systems, pp. 1-17. New York: Oxford University Press
  3. Marc Wilhelm Küster: "Geordnetes Weltbild. Die Tradition des alphabetischen Sortierens von der Keilschrift bis zur EDV. Eine Kulturgeschichte". Niemeyer: Tübingen, 2006/2007,p. 19f
  4. Trigger, Bruce G. (2004-12-09) [1998]. "Writing systems: a case study in cultural evolution". In Houston, Stephen D. (ed.). The First Writing: Script Invention as History and Process. Cambridge University Press (published 2004). p. 39–40. ISBN 9780521838610. Retrieved 2015-03-10. Grammatology, the study of writing systems, offers a useful way to evaluate evolutionary approaches to understanding change in cultural phenomena. [...] Writing has been associated with evolutionary theorizing since the eighteenth century.
  5. Barry, P., 1995, Beginning Theory – An introduction to Literary and Cultural Theory, Manchester University Press, Manchester
  6. Derrida, J., 1976, Of Grammatology, The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore
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