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Strachey, J. (1930). Some Unconscious Factors in Reading. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 11:322-331.

(1930). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 11:322-331

Some Unconscious Factors in Reading

James Strachey

Among the characteristics that distinguish the more advanced forms of civilization from the more primitive perhaps the most outstanding are the arts of writing and reading. They have been practised, I believe, in every highly organized human society with the single exception of the Empire of the Incas. And even to-day it is usual to estimate the relative degree of civilization in different countries from the percentage of illiterates among their inhabitants. Whether we believe that these arts developed independently in various parts of the world, or whether we prefer to accept the diffusionist view that they originated in the Nile valley or in Mesopotamia, it is clear that (if we consider the whole course of cultural development) they are very recent acquisitions. Indeed, until the last fifty years, even in the most civilized communities these accomplishments have been restricted to an extremely limited number of individuals. It might, therefore, be imagined that such newly acquired forms of activity could scarcely play any considerable part in the deeper mental life of mankind. I think, nevertheless, that if we turn from communities as a whole to the individual members of them, we may find that writing and reading perform functions of some appreciable importance in the economics of the mind of modern man, and, further, that an examination of the factors involved will throw light on some problems of wider scope and deeper significance. I am not proposing here to do more than to follow for a short distance a single line of thought which the subject has suggested.

Although it would appear that logically writing comes before reading, yet in the development of the individual reading comes first. Until quite recent years children have always learnt to read before they have learnt to write; moreover, an adult learning a foreign language will almost certainly be able to read it before he can write it; and, further, semi-educated people are often just able to read, though quite unable to write. Indeed, reading is, I imagine the first intellectual activity that a child is systematically taught; for the process of learning to talk seems to proceed in a much more instinctual fashion.

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