Orality is big brother and writing is the teetering toddler

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"The special theory of Greek orality therefore requires the presumption of a long period of resistance to the use of the alphabet after its invention, with the corresponding presumptions that (1) the language and thought forms of primary orality considered as a storage technology lasted on long after the invention occurred... (2) the character of high classic Greek literature, its historical uniqueness, cannot be understood apart from this fact." Eric A. Havelock, pg. 90 of The Muse Learns to Write


This quote immediately reminded me of a previous reading titled "His Master's Voice: Tiro and the Rise of the Roman Secretarial Class" by Anthony Di Renzo, as published in the Journal of Technical Writing and Communication 30.2 (2000) 155-168. Di Renzo analyzes the creation of a Roman shorthand by a slave, Tiro, in order to better aid his master, Cicero. However, from the beginning, Di Renzo states that the Roman governing body still ruled by orality, with only a few items actually having been written down for records. But as the empire grew, so did the need for writing.

After reading Havelock's section concerning the transition from oral communication to writing and there being a resistance rather than a stampede towards literacy, I am reminded of Rome's desire to keep important decisions and events entrusted to orality. Even though both the Greeks and Romans inevitably made a transition from pure oral communication to writing, both allowed for spoken speech to retain a higher standing over their fledgling literacy by both entertaining and supporting their respective societies. Written words had to be composed in a way that the audiences could remember specific lines of a speech, play, song, or reading so that they could retell parts of these events afterwards. If writing had enabled only the more well read to understand them, then the authors would have not been successful by any means in either society.

Then again, my coursemates may have made another connection or have a differing interpretation on important subjects within this reading.

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This page contains a single entry by MadelynGillespie published on February 17, 2010 10:30 PM.

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