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Update

Someone randomly upvoted this and so it came back to my attention. Recently in Bloodlines (Star Wars), a canon novel, I read this:

Leia settled into her chair, picked up her napkin--and stopped.
Something was written on the paper streamer on plate. Actual writing. Virtually nobody wrote any longer; it had been years since Leia had seen actual words handwritten in ink on anything but historical documents. - ch. 13

This society uses computers to read and write, but doesn't appear to ever learn to draw the characters by hand. Would someone who is clumsy / nearly incapible of writing by hand be considered semi-literate?

Original

I just read an article titled Most Citizens of the Star Wars Galaxy are Probably Totally Illiterate (by Ryan Britt) in which the author states that because of holocrons, comm-links, and holographic communication that literacy (and subsequently journalism and fact preservation) are essentially nonexistant in the Star Wars universe.

From the article:

If you simply stick to the Star Wars films, there is no news media of any kind. Despite the fact that we see cameras circling around Queen/Senator Amidala in the Senate, they don’t seem to be actually feeding this information anywhere. Are they security cameras, like the ones that recorded Anakin killing little tiny Jedi kiddies? This theory achieves a little more weight when you consider that the conversation in The Phantom Menace Senate scene is all about how Queen Amidala can’t verify the existence of a coming invasion. She’s got no pictures, and stranger still, no reputable news source has even written about the blockade of Naboo. Even if we put forth that cameras in Star Wars are only for security and not for news, that still leaves the question of why there are no journalists. A possible answer: it’s because most people don’t read, which means that over time most people in this universe don’t ever learn to read.

Are there examples of reading and prevalent literacy in the expanded universe?

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    Two instances of reading I can recall are 1) Obi-wan reading the label on the Death Star Tractor Beam's power control, and 2) Luke reading R2's translated communication in his X-Wing. Neither of which shows prevalent literacy though. – user1027 Oct 4 '12 at 22:11
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    @Keen The article points out that pilots may have a rudamentary literacy in order to know which buttons "make ship go fly." R2D2's communication could have been "Dagobah = bad." – Jack B Nimble Oct 4 '12 at 22:19
  • There are examples of reading ancient scrolls and pieces of "flimsiplast", but I don't have a source off the top of my head. Also, these are isolated incidents And not evidence of widespread literacy. – The Fallen Oct 5 '12 at 0:02
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    Star Wars Episode 7: The Exciting 2 hours of watching people read! – DVK-on-Ahch-To Oct 5 '12 at 1:27
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    The Star Wars Universe is an example of a post-literate society. It is likely most of the inhabitants of their universe can read in their native tongues. On any world of technological sophistication equaling the Industrial Age or better, encoding information is absolutely necessary for the functioning of the society. Post-literacy is when a society CAN read but beyond the need to interact with the environment, people DON'T choose to because there are so many other means of getting information. A good deal of 21 century Earth is already post literate. People could read but don't. – Thaddeus Howze Oct 27 '14 at 16:14
27

First of all, fact preservation is most certainly something that IS seen in TGFFA.

  • Jedi Archives in G-canon

  • Information archives (e.g. Zahn books have planet sized ones).

Second of all, Holonet was indeed partially a news service, among other things.

Third, this whole article is written from the point of view of self-overimportance of blathering chattering classes (e.g. people who make a living from producing words). In reality, TGFFA is probably no different from our modern day world:

  • In poorer segments of society (Kessel), people barely have energy to survive, never mind read.

  • In less "elite" segments of society, people mostly care to read Sunday's funnies and sports pages. And prefer movies and TV (or holographic equivalent thereof) to reading (doesn't mean they can't read... just don't spend tons of time on reading).

  • Wonks and elites follow the news and stuff... and watching them diligently read TGFFA's equivalent of Druge Report or Puffington Host or some dead tree "news" paper does not, in any way, shape or or form, constitute something that an average movie viewer would find even remotely entertaining.


As far as Queen Amidala not being able to verify the invasion, that's because there is a blockade. How many news reports have you seen coming out of a fully blockaded planet (or island) that no newsman can land on?

  • 2
    Regarding the blockade - Amidala was literally running for her life - she wouldn't have had time to grab any of the documentary evidence they likely DID have, and sensor records from her ship would only show a blockade (unless they actually captured the landing of a ship on sensors) – Jeff Oct 5 '12 at 19:11
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    +1. I also have to think that not every being everywhere can speak Galactic Basic. It might be the prevalent language, but most grunt Geonosians probably have no idea how it's spoken, much less read. They have protocol droids for a reason. Sure, senators would probably read, but 99% of people in Star Wars could probably care less. – Gabe Willard Oct 5 '12 at 20:20
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    @GabeWillard I think you mean they couldn't care less. – Jack B Nimble Oct 10 '12 at 16:45
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    In the Galaxy Far Far Away... – DVK-on-Ahch-To Oct 10 '12 at 17:03
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    I admit I wondered what TGFFA stood for...thanks for the clarification... – Bart Silverstrim Oct 10 '12 at 21:09
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In A New Hope alone, Han Solo reads a computer display to find out which cell Leah is in, Luke reads off the number of their trash compactor so that R2D2 can open it and Obiwan reads the controls to the tractor beam so he can shut it down. In Phantom Menace, Anakin was a 9 year old slave from Tatooine and he was able to communicate with R2D2 while he was in the starfighter by reading text on a screen. It is absurd to assume that most people in Star Wars couldn't read.

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    But all of these people are (or were) pilots. Is there a non-pilot example of someone reading something? – Jack B Nimble Oct 27 '14 at 14:10
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    @JackBNimble Anakin, being a 9 year old, cannot count as a trained pilot. And I am fairly certain Luke, being a farmer, was not a pilot. IIRC, he wanted to leave to be a pilot, but was not a pilot yet. Seriously, the article is absurd, and there is no reason to think an entire galaxy cannot read. – Dave Johnson Oct 27 '14 at 15:19
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    Luke did know how to pilot an Incom T-16 through Beggar's Canyon and shoot womp rats with it, so he was a bit of an amature pilot, but I don't mention that to disagree with the main point. He was primarily a farmer and not a trained pilot. – Todd Wilcox Oct 21 '15 at 12:35
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Reading is not important for communication, the technology exists that would make it possible for the majority of the population to communicate with out ever having to read or write. Reading and writing are important for business and bureaucracy. There is plenty of both of those in Star Wars.

Hoever, there are journalists throughout the galaxy. During the Empire period they were severely curtailed but they existed even then, though — with the exception of those sanctioned by the Emperor — they were underground journalists. The journalists produce for shows on the Holonet as well as written news reports also distributed on the Holonet. Several novels feature journalists as catalysts or side characters that are part of the plotline.

  • 1
    "First of all reading is not important for communication." Not sure what you mean by this - in the Star Wars universe, or in general? :) – gef05 Oct 5 '12 at 23:56
  • @gef05 in general but in the SWU even more since their technology is more universal than we have her on earth. – Chad Oct 8 '12 at 12:54
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    Some form of text communication would still probably have a place in society. I remember thinking how it would be so great to have Star Trek computers/communicators where you just speak what you want, then thinking how much you'd want to kill the guy in the next cube with speech-to-text telling the computer how to perform tasks. Even today we have "communicators" that use txtspeek on phones that used to be using voice to communicate... (cell phones can make phone calls too?!) – Bart Silverstrim Oct 10 '12 at 21:12
  • @BartSilverstrim - perhaps but the text to speech and translators are much more sophisticated in the SWU. You could communicate with out reading. But yes text is important to business and bureaucracy... – Chad Oct 11 '12 at 14:23
  • Reading is not essential for communication but it is more efficient than speech and video. – WGroleau Dec 3 '16 at 1:00
3

People in the Star Wars universe clearly have written languages like Aurebesh, we see billboards and signs everywhere for advertising, and crates and equipment are labeled. The Jedi had libraries and there were schools for the "younglings". It seems there were "dark ages" where knowledge was lost and then rediscovered. Whether they had a tradition of literature for entertainment like on Earth is another matter.

2

I don't think you can really generalize something like prevalent literacy for the entire universe.

There are many different inhabited planets, with diverse populations.

However, I think it is likely within certain populations that entire groups of people were illiterate.

People born into slavery are very likely to be illiterate. Having a literate slave really doesn't do much for the slave master.

However, Anakin Skywalker was sold into slavery at a very young age (3) and he was literate. That seems to contradict that theory entirely.

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    Anakin worked in a shop, so he would probably need to know how to read for various reasons. – Rogue Jedi Aug 27 '15 at 17:25
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    It depends on the kind of slave, really. Slaves working in a mine would probably be unable to read. Slaves working in a household or shop might have a good chance of being able to read. Roman slaves were sometimes educated. – Shaymin Gratitude Feb 28 '16 at 16:35
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Developing new technology requires knowledge which requires efficient ways of transferring information. Video may be easier or more pleasant, but it is takes more time to view compared to reading, more space to store, more mental effort to catch the details, and is less precise. (I get irritated at five or six words misspelled in fifty megabyte graphic and filling up a screen on social media.)

But writing by hand may not be widely done. I can read Chinese characters but don't write them very well because the computer does such a great job of offering me the most likely choices. A Chinese teacher suggested that some Chinese for the same reason haven't learned to write them as well as I can.

  • I'm struggling to see how this answers the question, except somewhat tangentially. – Valorum Dec 2 '16 at 23:33
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    It explains why inability to read would not likely be widespread, but why writing may be difficult for many. – WGroleau Dec 3 '16 at 0:58
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    They have typed letters, personal journals and coded messages with text. So handwriting may be largely unused except for ceremonial or archival reasons (translating ancient documents, etc.) Even in real life handwriting is becoming seen as a "lost art." – WVR Spence WestVirginiaRebel Jan 4 '17 at 19:47

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