Books stacked high

Orality vs Literacy

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez

There are societies that learn mainly through orality and other societies that learn mainly through literacy. They both have their own strengths and weaknesses. The “information age” began in the 1980s as a result of the invention of communication technologies such as computers. Written text is often overlooked because it seems “outdated” by today’s standards, but writing was invented just like communication technology was. The only difference is that writing was invented thousands of years ago.

The Advent of Written Text

The Greeks were the first to begin writing oral speech down. Being able to write things down meant they could move on to different ideas quicker. One of the main advantages to writing is the ability to go back and reread texts. If you didn’t get it the first time you could always review it, we call this “studying”. One of Plato’s fears at the time was people losing the ability to remember things once it was written down. The major downside to writing things down is you lose the give and take, or “dialectic”, of a conversation. Written words can’t explain themselves further like an professor could if you had a question. This means whatever is written down is static and is unable to clarify anything that is unclear.

Orality when it comes to learning

Learning in an oral society is done through apprenticeship. In a literate society it is done through reading and rereading texts. Both have their own strengths and weaknesses. I work at the front desk in a gym and reading out all the processes that I will need to do on a day-to-day basis didn’t work for me, but once I shadowed someone and was able to see how they operate the desk made learning a lot easier. In that instance orality was much easier than reading a text. In the context of school, it is much easier to review notes taken or a textbook than it would be to only learn through oral speeches.


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