image of a young child whispering to another child.

Words: Written vs Spoken


Samantha Quigley

With the advancement of digital technology comes questions about the field of writing. J.D. Appen discusses the differences between written and spoken words in his book “Writing for the Web: Composing, Coding, and Constructing Web Sites.” Over the course of his writing, Appen quotes Walter Ong several times. Here I will be analyzing one specific aspect of Ong’s views. That is, are written and spoken words alive or dead?

Spoken vs Written: Alive or Dead?

Ong claims that the written word “lives on forever” and the spoken word, never written down, are dead. Before making this claim, he explains his reasoning. Simply put, written words cannot be changed after they have been written, but when having a conversation, spoken words can be altered. However, I would argue against this. Once an individual speaks, the words they say cannot be changed. Yes, there is often room for clarification, but the words themselves will not be altered. Instead, more words will be spoken in order to adjust the meaning of the previous words said. Let’s take a look at a trending example of this.

The View

On an episode of The View, when panelists were discussing immigration in the United States and Donald Trump’s views on it, Kelly Ousbourne made a comment that would explode all over the internet. She stated “If you kick every Latino out of this country, then who is going to be cleaning your toilets, Donald Trump?” The episode aired nearly a decade ago, but has recently resurfaced on platforms such as TikTok, poking fun at Osbourne’s ignorant comment. While she had very quickly realized her mistake, Osbourne’s words had been said. Even though she tried to clarify and alter the meaning behind them, her words were already dead. 

The Digital Aspect of Spoken and Written Words

Looking back at Ong’s claim on the liveliness of written and spoken words, a dilemma can occur within digital spaces for writing. There’s the opportunity to alter digitally written text. What would this mean for classifying these words as dead or alive? The words have been written which, according to Ong, would make them alive, but he also argues that they, “in some ways also model the spoken word.” So would this make them dead? 

Finding a Middle Ground 

To label words as dead or alive is as painstaking as finding a needle in a haystack. Instead, it is important to analyze the value that words hold, whether written or spoken. To change the words one uses requires patience, awareness, and understanding. To have the ability to view one’s words from a different perspective is difficult, but necessary. However, in order to have the ability to alter one’s words, they must also be provided with the space to do so, whether written or spoken.


One response to “Words: Written vs Spoken”

  1. […] back to a previous blog post I had written, titled “Words: Written vs Spoken,” the defining line between new and traditional media can be seen. New media has the ability to […]

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