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

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Purpose: To investigate accounting as the first visible-sign statement form, but also as the first writing, and analyse its systematic differences, syntactic and semantic, from subsequent speech-following (“glottographic”) writing forms: to 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: and how the translation of this statement form into the graphs, charts, equations, etc, integral to the truth claims of modern physical and human sciences reinforces accounting’s significance as transformative statement form, remaking the boundaries of “languaging” and translatability.

Design: As a historical-theoretical study, this draws on work reconceptualising writing versus speech (e.g. Harris, 1986; 2000), the statement versus the word (e.g. Foucault, 2002), and the parameters of translation (e.g. Littau, 2016) to re-think the conceptual significance of accounting as non glottographic/unspeakable statement form, and of its effects on our thinking, acting and “languaging in general”.

Findings: Specific reflections are offered on how the first accounting statements already articulate a mathematically regularised naming of what “ought” to be counted which is then evaluated against what “is” counted, thus generating a discourse of the norm along with a first accounting-based apparatus for governing the state: on how, as unspeakable statements they are constructed to be read silently, synoptically and simultaneously, as in a “simulacrum”, i.e. a simulation of the world that also dissimulates: leading to considerations of how to think this statement form”s general and practical translatability, given its irreducibility to the temporal linear form of speech and glottographic writing or to what such statements can articulate.

Originality: The paper pioneers in approaching accounting as statement-form in a way that analyzes the differences that flow from its non-glottographic status.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2083-2107
Number of pages25
JournalAccounting, Auditing and Accountability Journal
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 17 Sept 2018


  • Foucault
  • Clay-tablet accounting
  • Languaging-in-general
  • Non-glottographic writing
  • Translatability


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