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The unspeakable truth of accounting: On the genesis and consequences of the first “non-glottographic” statement form

Susan Bassnett (School of Modern Languages and Cultures, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, UK)
Ann-Christine Frandsen (Birmingham Business School, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, UK)
Keith Hoskin (Birmingham Business School, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, UK)

Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal

ISSN: 0951-3574

Publication date: 5 September 2018

Issue publication date: 18 October 2018



The purpose of this paper is to investigate accounting as first visible-sign statement form, and also as the first writing, and analyse its systematic differences, syntactic and semantic, from subsequent speech-following (glottographic) writing forms. The authors consider how accounting as non-glottographic (and so “unspeakable”) writing form renders “glottography” a “subsystem of writing” (Hyman, 2006), while initiating a mode of veridiction which always and only names and counts, silently and synoptically. The authors also consider the translation of this statement form into the graphs, charts, equations, etc., which are central to the making of modern scientific truth claims, and to remaking the boundaries of “languaging” and translatability.


As a historical–theoretical study, this draws on work reconceptualising writing vs speech (e.g. Harris, 1986; 2000), the statement vs the word (e.g. Foucault, 1972/2002) and the parameters of translation (e.g. Littau, 2016) to re-think the conceptual significance of accounting as constitutive of our “literate modes” of thinking, acting and “languaging in general”.


Specific reflections are offered on how the accounting statement, as mathematically regularised naming of what “ought” to be counted, is then evaluated against what is counted, thus generating a first discourse of the norm and a first accounting-based apparatus for governing the state. The authors analyse how the non-glottographic statement is constructed and read not as linear flow of signs but as simulacrum; and on how the accounting statement poses both the practical issue of how to translate non-linear flow statements, and the conceptual problem of how to think this statement form’s general translatability, given its irreducibility to the linear narrative statement form.


The paper pioneers in approaching accounting as statement form in a way that analyses the differences that flow from its non-glottographic status.



Bassnett, S., Frandsen, A.-C. and Hoskin, K. (2018), "The unspeakable truth of accounting: On the genesis and consequences of the first “non-glottographic” statement form", Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, Vol. 31 No. 7, pp. 2083-2107.



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