Orality and Literacy


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Professor Mindy McAdams's presentation about some of the key ideas from Walter J. Ong's classic text, originally published in 1982.

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  • Orality and Literacy

    1. 1. Orality and Literacy Presentation by Mindy McAdams Week 3, Tuesday MMC 2265
    2. 2. Walter Ong (1912–2003) <ul><li>Studied and compared societies that do not have a system of writing with societies that do </li></ul><ul><li>Perceived that the shift from an “oral” consciousness to one that is dominated by writing changes the way humans think </li></ul>
    3. 3. Walter Ong (1912–2003) <ul><li>Looked at cultures that coexisted at </li></ul><ul><li>a certain point in time </li></ul><ul><li>But also looked at the change </li></ul><ul><li>over time in one culture </li></ul><ul><li>(Western, or European) from </li></ul><ul><li>being oral-based to becoming </li></ul><ul><li>writing-based </li></ul>
    4. 4. Bias in favor of writing <ul><li>Ong said literacy is “absolutely necessary ” for the development of science, history, philosophy </li></ul><ul><li>Points to some fundamental differences in the thought processes of the two types of culture (oral vs. literate) </li></ul>
    5. 5. Spoken vs. written language <ul><li>There have been thousands (maybe tens of thousands) of spoken languages in human history </li></ul><ul><li>But only about 106 languages have been written “to a degree sufficient to have produced literature” (Ong, p. 7) </li></ul><ul><li>“Most have never been written at all” </li></ul><ul><li>Today 3,000 languages are spoken </li></ul><ul><li>Of those, only 78 have a literature </li></ul>
    6. 6. Oral cultures <ul><li>Sound > power > words </li></ul><ul><li>Words have no visual connotation </li></ul><ul><li>Spoken word is usually thought to have magical power: For example, “I hereby put a curse on you!” </li></ul><ul><li>Naming is a way to exercise power </li></ul><ul><li>Memory (memorization) plays a huge role in every oral culture </li></ul>
    7. 7. Is naming a form of power? <ul><li>iPod </li></ul><ul><li>iTunes </li></ul><ul><li>iBook </li></ul><ul><li>iChat </li></ul><ul><li>podcasts </li></ul><ul><li>podcasting </li></ul><ul><li>vPod </li></ul>
    8. 9. Primary oral cultures <ul><li>Even though memory is so important, the role of history is very changeable </li></ul><ul><li>The history of a people (or the lineage of a king) can be changed to suit the present situation </li></ul><ul><li>People in oral cultures live very much in the present (even though they remember their past) </li></ul><ul><li>Knowledge does not accumulate </li></ul>
    9. 10. Milman Parry (1902–1935) <ul><li>Professor at Harvard University </li></ul><ul><li>Went to Yugoslavia in 1933 and 1934 to explore “folk poems” that were still being sung there </li></ul><ul><li>Many of the singers were illiterate </li></ul><ul><li>Parry used an old-style recording machine (double-sided aluminum disks) to record the storytellers </li></ul>
    10. 11. Milman Parry (1902–1935) <ul><li>He found two poems of about the same length as Homer’s Odyssey </li></ul><ul><ul><li>One about 13,000 lines </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Another one: About 12,000 lines (about 250 single-spaced pages) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Also many shorter poems, several thousand lines each </li></ul></ul>Yugoslavian folksinger
    11. 12. Milman Parry (1902–1935) <ul><li>Parry’s recordings of these songs (poems): The longest one took more than 12 hours (not including breaks for the singer) </li></ul>Albanian folksinger in Turkey
    12. 13. Parry’s recordings <ul><li>Some of the poems were recorded from the same singer more than once </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Usually with some time in between, e.g. a few days or a few weeks </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Both the differences and the identical parts taught scholars a lot </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Which parts tended to stay the same ? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Which parts tended to change ? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>To what degree did the poems change? </li></ul></ul>
    13. 14. Some possible conclusions <ul><li>A emphasis on memorization (and a life lived in the present moment ) develops some particular ways of thinking </li></ul><ul><li>Without an emphasis on memorization, there is more chance for emphasis on abstract reasoning and problem solving </li></ul>
    14. 15. More possible conclusions <ul><li>If you hear the same thing repeated again and again, what happens? </li></ul><ul><li>If there is no reliable written record, how can you check the facts? </li></ul><ul><li>How do we know what is true about the past? </li></ul><ul><li>How does a person in a totally oral culture know what is true? </li></ul>
    15. 16. “Secondary orality” <ul><li>Ong noted the emergence in Western society of what he calls a secondary orality (contrast with “primary orality”) </li></ul><ul><li>Secondary orality is dominated by electronic modes of communication such as television, telephones, music lyrics </li></ul><ul><li>Incorporates elements from both the chirographic ( writing ) mode of thought and the orality mode </li></ul>
    16. 17. “Secondary orality” (2) <ul><li>Cannot be the same as primary orality, because a writing culture cannot shed the chirographic ways of thinking </li></ul><ul><li>An important similarity: Both evoke a strong sense of being a group ; the spoken word merges us into being an audience (but larger now: the “global village”) </li></ul>
    17. 18. Orality and Literacy Presentation by Mindy McAdams University of Florida MMC 2265