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Secondary Orality is Your Orality


Juan Torres

It is such a relief not to be reading Eyman this time. I am proud to say that I am going off of J.D Applen today. A clear, concise writer who sticks to citing one other author. Applen is also great at conveying complex concepts in relatively simple language. Take, for example, the considerations between literacy (written language) and orality (speech). Take, for another, how these culminate in the idea of “secondary orality.” In Layman’s terms, the crossover between the two opposing sides.

Applen, with plenty of citations to Walter Ong, makes it clear that writing influences how we behave. People within solely oral cultures don’t inherently understand concepts that come with writing. A few of the examples listed are “geometrical figures, abstract categorization, formally logical reasoning processes.” Oral cultures instead involve learning in real time. To boot, repetition is a necessary component of keeping concepts from fading away to time.

But orality isn’t “less advanced.”

As a matter of fact, thought and human speech have led to concepts that writing absorbed. The Odyssey was originally spoken aloud before it was recorded. Each person who told it gave the same basic story, but with their own spin on it. One can imagine how plot points and intonation gave individuality to one tale. For our purposes, the meter allowed for people to memorize the Odyssey without having it written down. Orality and literacy have their own advantages and blind spots. They can play into each other well.

That’s what secondary orality is. As writing absorbed meter to make poetry happen, secondary orality is speech absorbing the best aspects of written culture. Someone who knows what “proper” English looks like might incorporate aspects of the text they’ve read. They’re enabled to say longer sentences with deliberate pauses. Quoting is something you might do out in the open. Maybe you’ll just say things like they say on the Internet.

However you speak now is probably how you write or have written.


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