Ong reading

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Ong reading

Post  Nick Jones on Tue Mar 19, 2013 11:42 pm

Ong begins by saying that literacy in today's world is powerful because it is expected. He soon changes gears, however, bringing to light a side of literacy that many don't often consider. This is language that is spoken only. Because we are all used to a written language, we are used to thinking in terms of written language. For convenience, Ong labels language with writing primary literacy, and language that is solely spoken secondary literacy. To help us visualize a difference between the two, Ong says to imagine a representative from each group trying to concentrate on the word "nevertheless" for two minutes. The primary literacy candidate would visualize the written word, seeing it as a whole, and would have a lot of trouble keeping the focus solely on the word. The secondary guy would be able to repeat it over and over in his head, because once he's done saying it, the word is gone and he can start over. Though we have probably never thought of it in this light, Ong brings up an interesting point:
The oldest script, Mesopotamian cuneiform, is less than 6,000 years old (the alphabet less than 4,000). Of all the tens of thousands of languages spoken in the course of human history only a tiny fraction-Edmonson (1971: 323) calculates about 106-have ever been committed to writing to a degree sufficient to have produced a literature, and most have neverbeen written at all. Of the 4,000 or so languages spoken today, only around 78 have a literature (Edmonson 1971:332).

(He goes on to say that there exist cultures who think it impossible for language to be written).

Part two of the reading talks about Plato's thoughts on the inhumanity of writing, and also relates it to how some view computers today. The first argument is that it is simply a thing, an attempt to put the specialness of human thought into something nonhuman. Secondly, it is said that writing is unresponsive. if you ask someone to explain their statement they can, but the same cannot be said for written words. Thirdly, Plato says that writing reduces one's memory as they come to rely on external stores of information. It compares this to parents worrying that calculators will replace their children's knowledge of math. Fourthly, Plato says that writing cannot defend itself. It cannot argue for its own sake, and is at the mercy of whoever is doing the writing. These same things were said with the invention of print. The downfall comes in the fact that the arguments against these two things were dispersed by means of the very thing argued against (the same can be said for anti-computer campaigns). Basically, by writing out his arguments against writing, Plato only helped the cause.

Nick Jones
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