Oral cultures

Having seen oral cultures in action first-hand, I am always on the lookout for related academic materials. Last night, I was talking to Vince Ward, a missionary from Southern Sudan (Cush4Christ in Aweil, near the Darfur border). Vince tells me that only about 5% of Sudanese kids start school when they are supposed to. Those that do could be meeting meet under a tree and may or may not have a teacher. Needless to say, literacy rates are very, very low. His team is trying to develop a church planting training curriculum that is primarily oral. If any of you are aware of these, please let me know.

On the topic of orality, Loren Rosen helpfully lists out (again) Fowler’s seven-point comparison study drawn from Ong’s Orality and Literacy: (Back to an Oral Culture).

1. Orality is evanescent, not permanent. “Hypertext returns us to fluid, shifting, open-ended, evanescent communication of an oral culture.”

2. Orality is additive rather than subordinative; aggregative rather than analytic. “Hypertext resurrects the associative, non-linear, non-hierarchical organization of information of orality.”

3. Orality is close to the human lifeworld. “Hypertext returns us to an immediate, hands-on approach to communication and to other dealings with the world around us… and to a classical, rhetorical model of education and social existence generally.”

4. Orality is agonistically toned. “On the Internet, the phenomenon of ‘flaming’ — heaping bitter invective upon one’s interlocutors — is wide-spread.” (See also here.)

5. Orality is empathetic and participatory rather than objectively distanced. “In hypertext, as in orality, the distinction between author and reader once again melts away in the midst of the collaborative effort of navigating the hypertextual network.”

6. Orality knits persons together into community. “Hypertext, like the spoken word, knits people together into community.”

7. Orality is homeostatic. “With the resurgence of ephemeral communication, hypertext culture begins to undergo a constant, slow, and unconscious metamorphosis, like oral culture.”

Read Rossen’s whole post here

Cf. Mark Goodacre’s series on Orality and Literacy and April DeConick’s response on The Forbidden Gospels Blog, What is Orality?