The strength of “Vanishing Voices” is that it sees language, not as something abstract and isolated, but always embodied in, and a part of, social practice.
In his book on the salt trade* the historian, Samuel Adshead, relates the development of the state to the written language needed for administration. He writes:
“Both politics and bureaucracy required the new higher literacy of classical languages embodied in canonical texts: Homer, the Zeud Avista, the Vedas and Upanishads, and the five Confucian classics.
“Pre-classical language, mainly unwritten, was confined to the spatial, the specific, the objective, the human and the concrete. Classical language, essentially written, provided concepts for the temporal, the generic, the subjective, the divine and the abstract.
“The new classical languages everywhere widened horizons, but they created deep social division between those who possessed the new literacy, the aristocracy and urban males with a minimum degree of leisure, and those who did not, women and country people – farmers, fishermen and miners.”
This describes very well the gap between the concrete language of everyday life which everyone has access to without going to school, and the abstract language of learning and power.
The gap between those that have abstract language and those who have not remains. The success of Breakthrough to Learning showed that appropriate teaching can close that gap.
* S.A.M. Adshead: Salt and Civilisation (1992)