Journal: News & Comment

Sunday, March 21, 2004
# 7:52:00 PM:

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Imagine being totally illiterate. These words on the computer screen are incomprehensible squiggles. Trying not to understand words is difficult for those of us who've been reading for a lot time, and when I attempt it, I often think of not being able to read a book or magazine or newspaper. I think many others feel the same way.

But in 1985 I traveled to Moscow and what was then Leningrad, and understood that illiteracy is a far bigger deal when you're walking around. Even though I'd studied a bit of Russian in preparation for the trip, every sign or rooftop Marxist slogan (remember, 1985) was a struggle, where I had to sound out the Cyrillic letters in my head to understand that PECTOPAH was really RYESTORAN ("restaurant"), for instance. Things would be even worse for me in Beijing, Osaka, or Tehran, where the characters are further from what I know.

Here's proof (via Jason Kottke) that words are a lot more prevalent in our society than we usually notice.


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