Orality pp 131-163 | Cite as

Academic Approaches to Orality



The Great Divide has been viewed as a set of characteristics that, in generalizing about societies, distinguishes between ‘oral societies’ and ‘literate societies’. While acknowledging the very broad-brush nature of such a typology, proponents have seen a grouping of repeated characteristics around these two poles, and have generally concentrated their attention upon the significant changes and ‘advances’ that are made with the introduction of literacy. Along with the polar typology go a wide variety of seemingly natural correlates. Not only are ‘oral societies’ small-scale, community-based, face-to-face societies, but they are, according to Ong, typified by particular ways of thinking — ‘aggregative’ rather than ‘analytical’ thought processes, situational rather than abstract thinking, ‘empathetic’ rather than ‘objective’ relations between thinker and object thought about, and many others (Ong 1982: 36–57). The notion that societies move from such characteristic ways of thinking to another more advanced mode is summed up by Ong as follows:

It will be seen that most of the characteristics of orally based thought and expression discussed earlier in this chapter relate intimately to the unifying, centralizing, interiorizing economy of soud as perceived by human being. A sound-dominated verbal economy is consonant with aggregative (harmonizing) tendencies rather than with analytic, dissecting tendencies (which would come with the inscribed, visualized word: vision is a dissecting sense).


Oral Communication Speech Event Validity Claim Literate Society Academic Approach 
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Copyright information

© Graham Furniss 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Oriental and African StudiesUniversity of LondonUK

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