How Literal is Ong?

Although there were several controversies in Ong’s Orality and Literacy, I enjoyed reading it. I found many similarities to a course I took years ago in Language and Culture. Perhaps the most interesting and challenging passage for me was the one in the introduction “In recent years cetain basic difference have been discovered between the ways of managing knowledge and verbalization in primary oral cultures and in cultures deeply affected by the use of writing.” (p. 1) This introductory paragraph really got me thinking about the effects on knowledge whether your communication is oral or written. I guess it would be like learning what it is like to become literate as an adult, or discovering the magic of reading even as a child. I wondered if the media really has such as strong impact on the message?

Some of the points I disagreed with him on, were the age of Homo sapiens being 30-50,0oo years ago, when the more accepted dates today are between 150-200,000 years ago (big difference!). Secondly, he states that the Sumerians were the first to develop writing, yet there are Egyptian archaeological records of writing which predate Mesopotamia (p.82-83).  Perhaps the one that bothered me the most was the statement he makes on p.88, “The most remarkable fact about the alphabet no doubt is that it was invented only one.” WHAT??? Where? he mentions some of the early alphabets yet claims that they all share a common ancestor. Ong conveniently leaves out other alphabets like the Maya. I do agree with him about the limitations of the alphabet, as explained later on (p.90) and I found the section titled The Onset of Literacy to be interesting as it describes writing as a secret and magic power. Overall, it was an interesting overview of Orality and Literacy.

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