Writing as thinking

Richard Menary*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

122 Citations (Scopus)


In this paper I aim to show that the creation and manipulation of written vehicles is part of our cognitive processing and, therefore, that writing transforms our cognitive abilities. I do this from the perspective of cognitive integration: completing a complex cognitive, or mental, task is enabled by a co-ordinated interaction between neural processes, bodily processes and manipulating written sentences. In section one I introduce Harris' criticisms of ways in which writing has been said to restructure thought (Goody 1968; McLuhan 1962, 1964; Ong 1982). This will give us a preliminary idea about possible pitfalls for a cognitive integrationist account. The second section outlines, firstly, how integrated cognitive systems function. Secondly, the model is applied to a hybrid mental act where writing allows us to complete complex cognitive tasks. The final section outlines the sense in which, following Harris, there is "a more realistic picture of how writing restructures thought" [Harris, R., 1989. How does writing restructure thought? Language and Communication 9 (2/3) 99-106] that is concealed by the 'romantic fantasies' of theorists such as the above. This picture is one of writing providing an autoglottic space in which a new form of theoretical thinking becomes prevalent. The cognitive integrationist understands this in terms of the nature of the written vehicles and how we manipulate them.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)621-632
Number of pages12
JournalLanguage Sciences
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2007
Externally publishedYes


  • Cognitive integration
  • Cognitive process
  • Integrational linguistics
  • Scripts
  • Written vehicles


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