Reading: Orality and Literacy

Did you say ‘Oral Literature’?

(p10) Scholars assumed that oral and written verbalisation was essentially the same. The impression grew that oral art forms were essentially unskillful and not worth serious study.

We use the term ‘literature’ to mean ‘writings’ but no similar concept in which to refer to the purely oral heritage such as traditional stories, proverbs, prayers and so on.

With the advent of technology there is a culture of new orality that is sustained by phones, radio and television.

(p11) Written words are residue, whereas oral tradition misses this.

The term literature is used to describe oral cultures despite the fact that oral narrative is often never touched by writing. Simply, oral stories remain oral when they are not written down. When written down the words become enclosed in a visual field forever.

(p12) A literate person tends not to hear a word, but to imagine it written down. A literate person can never feel the sense of a word the same as those who can only experience it in a purely oral way.

Thinking of oral tradition as oral tradition, some believe, is like thinking of horses as cars without wheels. You can do it, but it isn’t entirely correct. It would begin with the concept of a car, leaving people who were not familiar with the concept of a horse, with a strange concept altogether.


(p13) There is a vast difference between speech and writing. An idea to replace the term ‘oral literature’ is ‘epos’ meaning voice, which is in the same realm of meaning to the oral. Oral performances could then be ‘voicings’.

The battle against ‘oral literature’ may never be won since it is difficult to think of words as totally dissociated from writing. If you are literate, those words will always come to you no matter what.

(p14) ‘Oral cultures indeed produce powerful and beautiful verbal performances of high artistic and human worth, which are no longer even possible once writing has taken possession of the psyche.

Nevertheless, without writing, human consciousness cannot achieve its fuller potentials, cannot produce other beautiful and powerful creations.’

Literacy is necessary, for science, history, art, and so much more, including our ability to make sense of things and to express ourselves.

‘Fortunately, literacy, though it consumes its own oral antecedents and, unless it is carefully monitored, even destroys their memory, is also infinitely adaptable. It can restore their memory, too’.

SOURCE: ORALITY AND LITERACY – Walter J. Ong (Routledge)



One thought on “Reading: Orality and Literacy

  1. Yes yes, well done. These are (in general) some of the things the text says. Yes, yes.

    Now, what about something more?
    Why do you think this goes in Media Technologies? Who was Father Ong? What did he do, amd who was he working with? Why did his work matter?

    Why does the notion of orality (and per extension the notion of writing) happen in this before-the-module kind of thing?

    Of course is another possible blog entry, but these lines of thought could help anchoring this text into some idea of what the module is trying to do…

    …just sayin’ 😉


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s