Orality and Literacy

  • Orality does NOT simply mean SPOKEN
  • Literacy does NOT simply mean WRITTEN
From Art Bingham's Review of Walter Ong's Orality and Literacy: The Technologizingof the Word.

In chapter three Ong provides a list of the characteristics of the way people of a primary oral culture think and express themselves through narrative and discusses them in light of memory. The characteristics of such oral thought and expression are as follows

Deciding if a story/song is oral or literate

  1. In orality, expression is additive rather than subordinative.
    • Additive means that information is continuously added to previous information given in the story.
    • In Dr. Seuss, below, each stanza just adds more and more information.
    • First "here and there" then is added "house/mouse" then is added "box/fox"
    • A story is literate if they ideas are subordinated to each other.
    • Subordination is connecting ideas in an arrangement that influences both, often rescaling or reassessing not only the subordinate item but the ordinal one as well.
    • Great examples of subordination (where an "added" idea actually alters a previous idea is the subreddit Two Sentence Horror, such as this story: ["Heads or tails?" The old dog just wagged its tail as his owner fired up the wood chipper.]
    • The setup of "heads or tails?" suggest a gamble, a flip of the coin, but the second sentence redefines what the words in the first sentence mean. Not heads or tails of a coin, but which part of the dog should go in the wood chipper first, the head or the tail end.
  2. Orality is aggregative rather than analytic.
    • Orality is aggregative, like sticking lumps of different colored play-doe , --all of them are distinct but connected.
    • Green Eggs and Ham is aggregative because it not only adds new information but it also aggregates (lumps together) that information.
    • I could not, would not, on a boat.
      I will not, will not, with a goat.
      I will not eat them in the rain.
      I will not eat them on a train.
      Not in the dark! Not in a tree!
      Not in a car! You let me be!
      I do not like them in a box.
      I do not like them with a fox.
      I will not eat them in a house.
      I do not like them with a mouse.
      I do not like them here or there.
      I do not like them ANYWHERE!

    • Literate stories are analytical, which simply means that the story, itself, teaches us how to analyze the very story we are reading or watching.
    • When the good-guy who is helping the hero turns out to be the villian, we are not simply given new information, rather we are told by the story to watch/listen to a story carefully because there were clues all along that THAT guy is the Villian.
    • Every detective story EVER is analytic and thus literate. We readers/viewers have to discern the clues and analyze the findings to come to a conclusion.
  3. Oral stories tend to be redundant or "copious."
    • Copious means having more than enough of something. Orality tends to say the same phrases and concepts in repetition.
    • If you think of listening to a story being told out loud, it's highly useful to have people's names, places, descriptions, etc repeated many times.
    • Think how often songs replay the chorus part throughout a song.
    • Literate stories eschew redundancy for the sake of creative expression.
    • Example: ...the free standing coat-rack in her office reminded her of high-school, of the biology room, of the yellowed plastic skeleton dangling from a chrome display pole. Old Yella was the skeleton's name, which was probably some dad-joke pun of it being yellow and being in a Lab. [Later in the story, there would be no need to explain the coat rack again.] She hurried into the office and threw her coat over Old Yella.
  4. Oral stories have a tendency to be conservative.
    • Conservative means to maintain traditions, mores, and norms.
    • Oral literature does not seek to shake up the status quo like modern literature does.
    • Since oral stories are NOT analytical, oral story telling would have a difficult time trying to relay a new way of looking at any aspect of life.
    • Literate stories can expose traditions as outdated by being analytical
    • Literate stories tend to upset the norms of a culture.
    • Any episode of Rick and Morty is literate in that each episode upends traditional ways of viewing life, or living, or even science itself.
  5. In orality, concepts are expressed with close reference to the human life-world.
    • As examples of oral concepts as lifeworld elements, think of how each original MCU Avenger represents a concept: justice, cunning, strength of will, technology as savior, physical force as power, perfected skill.
    • And how those concepts are attached to objects. justice = Cap's shield, cunning = Widow's stinger bracelets, strength of will = hammer, technology = Iron Man suit, Physical force = hulk, perfected skill = hawkeye's bow use.
    • In literate stories, people can be complex psychological beings without representing ONE concept.
    • Most American Library Association top 100 novels are based around a concept or idea that is not directly represented by one character, or one symbol.
    • In the MCU, Loki is a literate character, neither good or evil, neither wholly selfish or selfless.
    • Philosophy cannot be orally told as it has little reference to every day life. Philosophy needs to be framed in literate constructs.
    • Said another way, we can discuss concepts without discussing real world examples. That's being literate.
  6. In oral stories, the expression of (telling of) the story is agonistically toned.
    • Agonistic is to be combative: oral stories are to be aggressive and at the same time, what we would call, defensive. The aim of the stories is to put (shove) the ideas into the listener's head, and not merely tell a nice tale.
    • Most oral stories are told AT us.
    • With this aspect of oral storytelling, we can see the SPEAKER is the most influential part of the story telling process.
    • Literate stories are often framed where we are passive observers watching events unfold in front of us.
    • Deadpool does this by him narrating a story, which we get to watch.
    • Frankenstein is actually framed as a series of letters then as stories being told from one character to another, and we et to listen in on these stories told between the characters. The story is NOT told AT us.
    • With this aspect of literate storytelling, we can se that the STORY is the most important part of the story telling process.
  7. Oral stories are empathetic and participatory rather than objectively distanced.
    • In oral stories, "facts" are fluid. Information can be changed to engage the audience.
    • For example, a storyteller might change the location/setting of a story to one that is closer to a current audience (and then might change the setting again for another audience).
    • If you want to tell a story about surviving a hurricane to people who live in Northwest Canada, the setting needs changed to a blizzard, not hurricane. Likewise, if a Floridian audience is to empathize with a blizzard story, the story setting needs to be changed to a hurricane.
    • In oral stories, TRUTH of concept is important, NOT historical accuracy
    • In literate stories, an objectively distanced story would try to maintain the "facts" as pure as possible.
    • Historical accuracy is important
    • Verisimilitude is important.Verisimilitude means truthfulness to its own reality. For instance, The Hulk can turn big, green, and strong, but if all of the sudden he could teleport from one place to the next, that breaks verisimilitude.
  8. Oral stories are Homeostatic.
    • Homeostasis means self-regulating.
    • The way in which a story is told reaffirms to an audience the way in which they, too, should tell stories.
    • The Homeostastis of Dr. Seuss is the end line rhyme scheme.
    • The standard plot arc of beginning, middle , end is a traditional story method.
    • Literate stories try to break the typical way of telling a story. Films like Memento and Pulp Fiction, as well as TV shows such as Witcher, reorganize HOW to tell a story.
  9. Oral stories are situational rather than abstract.
    • The situation between characters and the plot unfolding reveals the ideas rather than having them embedded in the story.
    • Often, in oral stories, characters discuss the central idea with each other, or the film may have a voice over telling us the ideas.
    • In orality, stock situations tell the viewers a specific abstract. Example: a guy and girl walking down a sidewalk = romantic.
    • Literate stories do not rely on spoken scripted words or voice overs to relay concepts and ideas---to relay the abstract.
    • Literate stories bend situations for new ways of discussing something. Example: The Boys on Amazon bends the above example: a guy and girl walking down a sidewalk = romantic super fast Flash-like character runs into her exploding her body parts everywhere so we understand the abstract notion of superheroes LITERALLY getting away with murder.

All of the above characteristics contribute to the saliency and, consequently, enhance the memorability of an utterance. Ong explains that this would be especially important to those trying to memorize a poem or a tale because, whereas people from a liter ate society can always refer back to a written text, those from an oral society must be able to process and memorize bits of spoken, otherwise irretrievable information quickly. Utterances which fit the above description would tend to leave a strong impression on the hearer and facilitate recollection.



Be able to take any part of the following and connect with the above traits of orality.

I am Sam
I am Sam
Sam I am
That Sam-I-am!
Than Sam-I-am!
I do not like
that Sam-I-am!
Do you like
green eggs and ham? I do not like them,
Sam-I-am.
I do not like
green eggs and ham.

Would you like them
here or there?

I would not like them
here or there.
I would not like them
anywhere.
I do not like
green eggs and ham.
I do not like them,
Sam-I-am.

Would you like them
in a house?
Would you like them
with a mouse?

I do not like them
in a house.
I do not like them
with a mouse.
I do not like them
here or there.
I do not like them
anywhere.
I do not like green eggs and ham.
I do not like them, Sam-I-am.

Would you eat them
in a box?
Would you eat them
with a fox?

Not in a box.
Not with a fox.
Not in a house.
Not with a mouse.
I would not eat them here or there.
I would not eat them anywhere.
I would not eat green eggs and ham.
I do not like them, Sam-I-am.

Would you? Could you?
In a car?
Eat them! Eat them!
Here they are.

I would not,
could not,
in a car.

You may like them.
You will see.
You may like them
in a tree!

I would not, could not in a tree.
Not in a car! You let me be.

I do not like them in a box.
I do not like them with a fox.
I do not like them in a house.
I do not like them with a mouse.
I do not like them here or there.
I do not like them anywhere.
I do not like green eggs and ham.
I do not like them, Sam-I-am.

A train! A train!
A train! A train!
Could you, would you,
on a train?

Not on a train! Not in a tree!
Not in a car! Sam! Let me be!

I would not, could not, in a box.
I could not, would not, with a fox.
I will not eat them with a mouse.
I will not eat them in a house.
I will not eat them here or there.
I will not eat them anywhere.
I do not eat green eggs and ham.
I do not like them, Sam-I-am.

Say!
In the dark?
Here in the dark!
Would you, could you, in the dark?

I would not, could not,
in the dark.

Would you, could you, in the rain?
I would not, could not,
in the rain.
Not in the dark. Not on a train.
Not in a car. Not in a tree.
I do not like them, Sam, you see.
Not in a house. Not in a box.
Not with a mouse. Not with a fox.
I will not eat them here or there.
I do not like them anywhere! You do not like
green eggs and ham?
I do not
like them,
Sam-I-am.
Could you, would you,
with a goat?

I would not,
could not,
with a goat!

Would you, could you,
on a boat?

I could not, would not, on a boat.
I will not, will not, with a goat.
I will not eat them in the rain.
I will not eat them on a train.
Not in the dark! Not in a tree!
Not in a car! You let me be!
I do not like them in a box.
I do not like them with a fox.
I will not eat them in a house.
I do not like them with a mouse.
I do not like them here or there.
I do not like them ANYWHERE!

I do not like
green eggs
and ham!
I do not like them,
Sam-I-am.
You do not like them.
So you say.
Try them! Try them!
And you may.
Try them and you may, I say.
Sam!
If you will let me be,
I will try them.
You will see.
Say!
I like green eggs and ham!
I do! I like them, Sam-I-am!
And I would eat them in a boat.
And I would eat them with a goat…

And I will eat them in the rain.
And in the dark. And on a train.
And in a car. And in a tree.
They are so good, so good, you see!

So I will eat them in a box.
And I will eat them with a fox.
And I will eat them in a house.
And I will eat them with a mouse.
And I will eat them here and there.
Say! I will eat them ANYWHERE!

I do so like
green eggs and ham!
Thank you!
Thank you,
Sam-I-am!