Style as strategy: making your words memorable (or forgettable)

Our discussions will try to
Clarify understanding of the texts
Consider the rhetorical situation, claims,
evidence, strategies, and persuasive devices
Consider how we might extend, complicate,
challenge, qualify, or synthesize texts.
Establish connections – to other texts you’ve
read, or to your experiences and insights.
Consider how we can use these texts as
tools, lenses, resources for our work.
The “psychodynamics” of
kindergarten learning
In kindergarten, abstract geometrical concepts
are personified (Ricky Rectangle, Suzy Circle,
Tommy Triangle, etc.) and students are given
rhymes to help remember how to draw these
shapes. (definitions = hard to remember)
When learning how to draw numbers, (which
may seem easy to us, but which is a very
complex cognitive task – try memorizing how to
draw 30 kanji characters) students learn by
doing, but also by reciting rhymes that help
“store” the knowledge in memory.
Alisha, aged 4, learning how to draw
The Art of Memory
Tony Judt, famous historian, paralyzed with Lou Gehrig’s disease, invents,
composes, and remembers without writing. (1)
He can now, "with a bit of mental preparation," dictate "an essay or an
intellectually thoughtful e-mail." Unable to jot down ideas on a yellow pad,
Judt has taught himself elaborate memorization schemes of the sort
described by the Yale historian Jonathan D. Spence in his 1984 book,
The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci. Like Ricci, a 16th-century Jesuit
missionary to China, Judt imagines structures in his head where he can
store his thoughts and ideas. The basic principle: Picture entering a
large house; turn left and there is a room with shelves and tables;
leave a memory on each surface until the rooms fills. Now head down
the hall into another room. To retrieve your memories, to reconstruct a
lecture or recall the content and structure of an article, you re-enter
the building and follow the same path, which should trigger the ideas
you left behind.
Advertisers are very good at making audiences
remember, at imprinting messages on the ear.
Consider the JINGLE, which uses rhyme,
rhythm, and prosody to get us to remember.
Can you think of some jingles? (‘takes a lickin’
but keeps on tickin’) Some studies of memory
suggest that in the past kids memorized poems
and songs, now they are more likely to
remember jingles, ads and logos.
How to encourage forgetting?
“It's commonly understood by psychologists - and ad
makers - that if a person is presented with a list of things,
he/she is more likely to remember items at the beginning
and at the end of the list than items just past the middle.
For example, if you are asked to hear, then recall, a list
of 10 foods, chances are best that you'll forget the sixth,
seventh and eighth foods. So…drug-makers…nearly all
follow the same format: putting benefit information in the
first half of the commercial, side effect information just
past the middle, then benefit information again at the
end. Sometimes the ads employ crafty timing or visual
distraction to deemphasize the risks. Sometimes they do
so simply by using complex language.” [or skillful
reframing, as with “habit forming”],8599,1806946,00.html?xid=rss-topstories
Style as strategy: making your
words memorable (or forgettable)
Politicians like to use figures of speech that
will help audiences remember them - that
“imprint” themselves on the ear.
In the current election cycle, the trope du jour
was antimetabole (an-tee-meh-TA-boe-lee), a
rhetorical device in which words are repeated
in transposed order (political speechwriters
call it “the reversible raincoat.”)
Examples of antimetabole
"I meant what I said, and I said what I meant. An
elephant's faithful, one hundred percent!" Dr. Seuss,
Horton Hatches an Egg.
“Ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you
can do for your country.” JFK’s
"The absence of evidence is not the evidence of
absence." Carl Sagan
"Whether we bring our enemies to justice or bring justice
to our enemies, justice will be done."-- George W. Bush,
"Who sheds the blood of a man, by a man shall his blood
be shed" (Genesis 9:6)
Recent speeches: top trope =
antimetabole, top theme = change
"In politics, there are
some candidates who
use change to
promote their careers.
And then there are
those, like John
McCain, who use
their careers to
promote change."
 "We
elected to
and we let
change us."
"People the world
over have always
been more impressed
by the power of our
example than by the
example of our
"He has brought
change to
Washington, but
hasn't changed
him” (describing
his running mate,
"In the end the true
test is not the
speeches a
president delivers,
it's whether the
president delivers
on the speeches."
 "Freedom
requires religion,
just as religion
The Dangers of “Orality”? (Why
Plato Hated Homer & Poetry)
Rice, rice, baby
"The leader can guess the psychological wants and needs of those
susceptible to his propaganda because he resembles them psychologically,
and is distinguished from them by a capacity to express without inhibitions
what is latent in them, rather than by any intrinsic superiority. The leaders
are generally oral character types, with a compulsion to speak
incessantly and to befool the others. The famous spell they exercise
over their followers seems largely to depend on their orality: language
itself, devoid of its rational significance, functions in a magical way
and furthers those archaic regressions which reduce individuals to
members of crowds. Since this very quality of uninhibited but largely
associative speech presupposes at least a temporary lack of ego
control, it may well indicate weakness rather than strength. Adorno.
Todd Rogers’ work on the “pivot” (Harvard School of Government)
(Say rice 3 times. What do cats chase? Mice. Silk silk silk. what do cows drink?
Rhyming phrases are remembered and
processed more easily than non-rhyming
phrases. Also some people base accuracy
evaluation, in part, on perceived fluency,
so rhythmic/rhyming statements can seem more
accurate, aiding credibility.
Johnnie Cochran: “If the gloves don’t fit, you
must acquit!”
Young & Sullivan:
Writing, Memory & Thought
(the cognitive value of writing)
Young & Sullivan
First impressions – what did you make of this text? When do you think it
was written, why, for whom? What is the most interesting point made? Were
any points unclear/confusing?
According to the authors, why is writing important? Can you think of other
“values” writing has that the authors don’t talk about?
What are the main claims made by Young & Sullivan? Did you notice
anything about how are these claims structured? Are they persuasive?
What do they say about writing and memory? Writing and thinking?
How do they use rebuttals?
What relationship is usually assumed between writing and thinking, and
between writing and learning? Does this article challenge these
Essays on classical rhetoric and modern
discourse. (Robert J. Connors, Lisa Ede,
Andrea A. Lunsford, eds)
“Eighteen essays by leading scholars in English,
speech communication, education, and
philosophy explore the vitality of the classical
rhetorical tradition.”
Young’s role in rebirth of rhetoric
Context: cognitive approaches, and work on oral
culture coming out of literary studies,
anthropology, classics, and history.
Writing, Memory & Thought
Without writing, certain types of high level thought are very
difficult, if not impossible, for societies to sustain (consider the
simple multiplication exercises). This is NOT to say that
individuals cannot have complex thoughts, but rather that the
absence of writing tends to shape the options that non-literate
societies have for storing (and passing on as knowledge) the
products of thought.
Why? Because complex mental tasks put a strain on memory,
which has certain inherent limitations. While there are
strategies we can use to get around memory limits (chunking,
schemas, spatial memory, narrative, rhyme, prosody, etc.) an
aid to memory, in the form of writing, is needed to carry out
complex mental tasks.
Writing, Memory & Thought
Some genres and some technologies tax memory
far more that others (compare the oral composition
of an email to a friend, a poem, an opinion piece, an
essay, a physics research paper, etc.)
When it comes to certain complex mental tasks,
writing, literacy and thought are interconnected.
We need to look closely at the importance of writing,
and how new tools such as computers enable new
forms of reading and writing, and new tools for
producing and organizing thought.
Communication & Thought in Societies
with/without Writing
Scholars such as Walter Ong, Eric Havelock, Alfred
Lord, Milman Parry, John Goody and Elizabeth
Eisenstein have studied the history of literacy and
writing systems. They have examined the relationship
between thought and expression, communication and
consciousness, & how the construction, storage and
dissemination of knowledge is influenced by writing
and the materiality of communication.
Many of these writers consider the difference –
cultural, communicative, cognitive – between people
in “oral” societies and those in literate ones. They
claim that there are a number of key differences in the
way both knowledge and communication are
In an oral culture you “know what you recall.”
Thought is intertwined with memory and
occurs in mnemonic patterns.
Vocabulary and syntax are shaped by the
pressure to memorize – this means prosody
and narrative are important. “Narrative
syntax” dominates.
Communication & Thought in Societies
with/without Writing
The storage of knowledge is governed by the laws of
acoustics – knowledge must “imprint itself on the ear
or the body.” By contrast, with writing & literacy,
knowledge can be governed by the laws of space and
architecture (the eye versus the ear).
Writing helps one stand outside, freeze, dissect &
analyze thought. It’s like a bit using the slow motion
“frame advance,” “zoom,” and other video features to
analyze events caught on camera.
Language is a tool for thinking – the shapes language
can take influence the shape thought can take.
Thought is “inner language.”
Communication, Technology & the Shape
of Knowledge
Ong (1982) argues that in non-literate cultures, the material
properties of speech shape the way knowledge can be embodied.
Ong states that the following issues are important:
Knowledge is Imprinted on the Ear. When composing, transmitting,
and storing information, the form knowledge takes will be affected by
its evanescence, by the fact that it circulates in the air via sound
waves, and must be remembered by ear. The basic architecture is
thus aural, and is governed by the laws of acoustics. Language
must imprint itself on the ear or body since “you know what you
Knowledge is transmitted in forms that emphasize the materiality of
language. As a result knowledge is embodied in ways that
foreground the materiality of language. Rhyme, rhythm, repetition,
prosody, the musicality of language, verse song, and narrative are
Communication, Technology &
the Shape of Knowledge
3. Knowledge is embodied in proverbs, formulas, stories, songs, etc.
(forms of knowledge such as definitions, indexes, dictionaries, tables
or databases are hard to store). Ideas tend to be personified, put in
narrative/adventure formats. Ong cites the classicist Eric Havelock,
who argues that the idea of 'Justice' is hard to express in Homer and
Hesiod without personification, but in Plato and writers following
Plato, Justice can describe be described as an abstract concept, in
the format 'Justice is….‘
4. Knowledge is: conservative/traditional, close to the human lifeworld, agonistically toned, empathetic rather than distanced, situated
rather than abstract, homeostatic (knowledge changes and adapts,
and there is no stable initial version against which to look for
5. Knowledge is made from language that is generally paratactic, or
additive (paratactic structures, or passages of discourse held together
in a chain-like format are easier to remember than structures which
consist of complex coordination, subordination, etc.) redundant,
heavily sequential or 'analogue' and not 'malleable'.
Dominated by Acoustics/the Ear
Prosody (balance, alliteration etc.)
Paratactic (chainlike, additive)
Epithets (the brave soldier, the sturdy oak, etc.)
Song, Poetry, Tales, etc. for storing knowledge
Concrete & Situational
Society is “Homeostatic”
Communication is participatory
Architectural/the Eye
Organized Spatially
Hypotactic (logic; subordination)
Concise & original
Definitions, laws, principles
More concise
Definitions, laws, principles
Prose used to Store Knowledge
Novelty/Originality valued
Change Recorded; meanings accrete
Communication individualized
How should we update the list for the ‘digital
Dominated by Acoustics/the Ear
Prosody (balance, alliteration etc.)
Paratactic (chainlike, additive)
Architectural/the Eye
Organized Spatially
Hypotactic (logic; subordination)
Concise & original ……….
Characteristics of Oral Culture
You know what you
can recall/Think
memorable thoughts
Additive rather than
subordinative (37)
Aggregative rather
than analytic (38)
Redundant (39)
alist (41)
Close to the human
lifeworld (42)
Agonistic (43)
Empathetic and
Participatory (54)
Homestatic (46)
Situational (49)
The mode of information shapes the
grammar of communication
■ Havelock argues that orality shapes the 'grammar' of
communication, and the orientation towards reality that comes with
it. Such discourse is ‘infused with the living panorama of experience
and it ceaseless flow' and displays a strongly Heraclitean idiom.
Orality embodies ‘Becoming as a form of syntax’.
■ Havelock writes that with such discourse, verbs connecting
subjects and objects express dynamic ‘goings on’ rather than
timeless states. Havelock traces how literacy leads to changes in
this predicative structure, in the way the copula is used, in the use of
abstract nouns and the organization of discourse into discrete
topics, and how this fosters an ontology of 'things'. He describes
how verbs connecting subjects and objects 'can be ones that
indicate not actions or situations which take place in time, but
relationships connected by a timeless logic'. p 132
■ He adds that 'in the language of philosophy, "being" (as a form of
syntax) began to replace "becoming" '. These changes allow objects
and subjects to become constituted as stable, enduring categories
anchored via the copula in a timeless present and functioning within
a stabilized field of meaning.
Writing Enables The Following:
1. Syntactic and Semantic Complexity/Density
2. Heavily Nested, Hierarchized sentences with multiple branches,
sub-clauses, and logical connections
3. Complex forms of Conditionality and Logical Relationship
Consider the following, & imagine composing it in your head:
IF a is the case, AND b, c & d,
BUT NOT e, f, or g,
WHILE h, i j, pertains,
THEN m and p apply,
UNLESS parties q, r and s execute option t;
ELSE execute option X,
IN WHICH CASE rinse and repeat until
blood spurts from your eyes and your brain pulsates wildly.
Writing Enables The Following:
4. Complex expressions of Qualification, Causality, Nuance and
"The move from a structuralist account in which capital is
understood to structure social relations in relatively
homologous ways to a view of hegemony in which power
relations are subject to repetition, convergence, and
rearticulation brought the question of temporality into the
thinking of structure, and marked a shift from a form of
Althusserian theory that takes structural totalities as theoretical
objects to one in which the insights into the contingent
possibility of structure inaugurate a renewed conception of
hegemony as bound up with the contingent sites and strategies
of the rearticulation of power." Judith Butler
Hypotactic Language:
A Tort is …
…one or more of the following
false imprisonment
malicious prosecution
…and either or both
malicious intent
causal nexus…
…and either or both
reasonable risk
breach of contract…
OR, for a real mental hernia, try
reading Hegel:
“Reason, as it immediately appears in the form of conscious
certainty of being all reality, takes its reality in the sense of
immediacy of being, and also takes the unity of ego with this
objective existence in the sense of an immediate unity, a unity in
which it (reason) has not yet separated and then again united the
moment of being and ego, or, in other words, a unity which reason
has not yet come to understand. It, therefore, when appearing as
conscious observation, turns to things with the idea that it is really
taking them as sensuous things opposed to the ego. But its actual
procedure contradicts this idea, for it knows things, it transforms
their sensuous character into conceptions, i.e. just into a kind of
being which at the same time is ego; it transforms thought into an
existent thought, or being into a thought-constituted being, and, in
fact, asserts that things have truth merely as conceptions. In this
process, it is only what the things are that consciousness in
observation becomes aware of; we, however [who are tracing the
nature of this experience], become aware of what conscious
observation itself is. The outcome of its process, however, will be
that this consciousness becomes aware of being for itself what it is
in itself [i.e. becomes aware of being to itself what, in the meantime,
it is to us].” Hegel, The Phenomenology of Mind.
5. Where orally composed texts tend to be “paratactic” (chain-like
– consider the SoCal use of the term “like” to glue clauses
together), literate texts are more likely to be “paratactic.”
VERSION 1: In the beginning God created the heaven and earth.
And the earth was void and empty, and darkness was upon the face
of the deep, and the spirit of God moved over the waters. And God
said: Be light made. And light was made. And God saw the light that
it was good; and he divided the light from the darkness. And he
called the light Day, and the darkness Night; and there was evening
and morning one day.
VERSION 2: In the beginning, when God created the heavens and
the earth, the earth was a formless wasteland, and darkness
covered the abyss, while a mighty wind swept over the waters. Then
God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw how
good the light was. God then separated the light from the darkness.
God called the light “day” and the darkness he called “night.” Thus
evening came, and morning followed – the first day.
Language of health insurance policies –
and politics of “plain language” movement.
“The plan covering the patient as a dependent child of a person
whose date of birth occurs earlier in the calendar year shall be
primary over the plan covering the patient as a dependent of a
person whose date of birth occurs later in the calendar year
provided. However, in the case of a dependent child of legally
separated or divorced parents, the plan covering the patient as a
dependent of the parent with legal custody, or as a dependent of the
custodial parents spouse shall be primary over the plan covering the
patient as a dependent of the parent without legal custody.”
According to the Flesch-Kincaid measure of readability, this
passage is written at graduate-school level. It’s also highly
hypotactic, consisting of 2 long, deeply subordinated sentences.
Revised for 8th grade readability (paratactic not
hypotactic – written more like spoken
What happens if my spouse and I both have health coverage for
our child? The parent whose birthday is earlier in the year pays the
claim first. For example: Your birthday is in March; your spouse’s
birthday is in May. March comes earlier in the year than May, so
your policy will pay for your child’s claim first.
What happens if I am separated or divorced? If your child is
covered by your policy and also by the policy of your separated or
divorced spouse, the policy of the parent with legal custody pays
first – i.e. if you have legal custody, your plan pays first. The same
rule applies even if your child is covered by a health insurance
policy of a stepparent. For example: Your former spouse has legal
custody, and his/her new spouse’s policy covers your child. The new
spouse’s policy will pay your child’s claim first.
Writing as Model & Metaphor for Knowledge: A
“Visual Bias” in Western Philosophy?
Plato: True knowledge is “seeing that which is well ordered and ever
Aristotle: “Of all the senses, trust only the sense of sight”; Vision is “the
most noble sense”
Descartes: "We shall learn how to employ our mental intuition by
comparing it with the way that we employ our eyes…when the mind
understands, it in some way turns towards itself and inspects one of the
ideas which are within it.” Descartes represents knowledge as a purified
internal vision situated in the mind that stands in contrast to an impure,
external vision that operates through the body.
Dewey: In Western philosophy “the theory of knowing is modeled after
what was supposed to take place in the act of vision”.
Arendt: ‘From the very outset, in formal philosophy, thinking has been
thought of in terms of seeing.
Rorty “The ocular metaphor seized the imagination of the founders of
Western thought” and “the Eye of the mind [is] the inescapable model
for the better sort of knowledge.”
Derrida: “Starting with its first words, metaphysics associates sight with
Jay “Vision is the master trope of the modern era”.
David Olson (The World on Paper, p. 68) “Writing systems provide the concepts
and categories for thinking about the structure of spoken language rather than
the reverse…We introspect on language and mind in terms of the categories
prescribed by our writing systems.” A rather counterintuitive, radical idea!!
Non-literates do not come up with categories like “sentence,” “phoneme,” etc.
Studies on phonological awareness of speakers who are not readers show that
familiarity with an alphabetic writing system is critical to one’s awareness of the
segmental structure of language. Children think there are more sounds in the
word “pitch” than in the word “rich” (yet phonologists tell us they are equivalent.
(Olson 85)
Studies on non-literates in rural U.S. show they lack metalinguistic awareness
Read, Zhang, Nie and Ding study shows Chinese readers of traditional
character scripts could not detect phonemic segments whereas those who read
Pinyin, an alphabetic script representing the same language, could do so.
Olson argues that every script has “blindspots” in the vision of language it
suggests to us.
The Computer as Metaphor &
■ Society as Network?
■ Language as Network?
■ Cognitive Accounts of mind and language the influence of communication
technologies revisited?
Example: Chomskyan linguistic embodies many of the fundamental characteristics of the
traditional,rule-governed Von Neuman model of computing - binarity, recursion, iteration, sequentiality
and modularity Chomsky talks of the “rule-governed, algorithmic, digital character of syntax,” and
states that “the human mind/brain developed the faculty of language, a computational representational
system based on digital computation with recursive enumeration and many other specific properties.
The system appears to be surprisingly elegant, possibly observing conditions of nonredundancy,
globalleast effort conditions, and so on.”
Some claim this leads Chomsky to forget context, to imagine writing as autonomous (machine-like)
and to ignore such things as prosody, irregularity, variation, and the dialogic, interactive aspects of
communication (which aren’t so obvious in writing/computers). Chomsky has no place for metaphor,
figuration, etc.
Gardner: “in principle, it is possible to be a cognitive scientist without loving the computer; but in
practice, skepticism about computers usually leads to skepticism about cognitive science.”
Speech, Writing & Punctuation: Rhetorical &
Grammatical Punctuation
“Before the 17th century, writing was predominantly a means of
recording formal transactions or enabling readers to re-present
speech at a future time. By the 18th and 19th centuries, writing
achieved greater independence from the spoken word. However, in
the second half of the 20th century, writing was increasingly
redefined as a mirror of informal discourse…the history of
punctuation in the English-speaking world offers tangible evidence
for the evolving interplay between speech and writing…” Baron,
‘Commas and canaries: the role of punctuation in speech and
Punctuation as a system for marking written texts originated in the
rhetorical traditions of Greece and Rome. The goal of punctuation
was mainly to aid the reader in 1) dividing up text for subsequent
oral delivery, but also 2) to help clarify meaning.
This second function became dominant in the later grammatical
tradition, which also sought to clarify meaning but this time
specifically through attention to syntactic structure.
Rhetorical & Grammatical Punctuation
“The first tradition ("rhetorical") sees the role of punctuation to be
assisting the reader in re-creating an oral rendition of the text
(either by reading aloud or using the text for memorization). The
second tradition (alternatively called "grammatical", "syntactic",
or "logical") views punctuation as a set of conventions for
marking grammatical relationships in a text that is intended to be
viewed as a written document.” Baron.
Rhetorical Punctuation is akin to Musical Notation
comma: a point placed after the middle of the last letter in a short
phrase to indicate one should give a short pause in reading the
section aloud,
colon: a point placed after the bottom of the last letter in a long
phrase to indicate a longer pause, and
periodus: a point placed after the top of the last letter in an even
longer phrase to indicate an even longer pause.
Updating Ong: “What habits of thought do new writing
technologies encourage?”
Christine Haas’ Writing Technology: Studies in the Materiality of Literacy
takes some of the insights of people like Ong, Havelock, etc. and
translates them to the information age.
Haas studies the reading, writing and thinking practices of experienced
and novice writers in a variety of academic disciplines. Haas examines
“how computer technologies impact on the cognitive processes of
individual writers,” (51) and argues that her research presents “clear
evidence of how the material tools of writing significantly and
consistently alter the mental processes of text production.” (73) Haas
concludes that “through their physical interactions with the materials
tools and texts of literacy, writers’ thinking is shaped by culturally made
technologies.” (113)
Haas uses a combination of research tools, from think aloud protocols
to interviews to computer logs of the activities carried out by subjects.
Updating Ong: “What habits of thought do
new writing technologies encourage?”
Haas found that spatial memory works differently in print versus electronic text.
Computers often provide fewer spatial cues (visual, tactile, kinesthetic). This
impacts the way readers recall the location of textual elements, the retrieval of
information (including the speed of retrieval) and the way people “read to
revise.” The writer’s experience, along with factors such as screen size,
resolution, legibility, tangibility and responsiveness are also important.
Planning is shaped by the materiality of the writing/reading technology. When
computers are used, planning changes. Better writers plan more. They do
more macro and micro level planning (this may be one of the main writing
activities in which discovery takes place.) Experienced writes produce
complex, condensed planning notes with lots of graphical content – arrows,
boxes, lines, etc. Early research on computer use predicted that planning would
increase with the use of word processing as writers were freed from worrying
about things like recopying, handwriting, checking spelling, etc. Instead, recent
research shows that surface level issues seem to take far greater precedence.
Planning is harder on a computer (at least with traditional writing software) since
it is often diagrammatic and nonlinear. Writers start writing sooner when using
a computer. Less planning translates into text sense problems. Regardless of
experience or discipline, the more word processing software is used, the less
writers plan. The type of computer and software influences the level and types
of planning done, and this influences other aspects of how writers organize,
understand and recall text.
Updating Ong: “What habits of thought do new
writing technologies encourage?”
Use of a computer appears to influence note taking during
writing. Writers using a word processor just made content notes,
whereas those using pen and paper made content, structure,
emphasis and procedural notes.
Text sense is influence by writing modality. The mental
representation of the structure and meaning of text is influenced.
Writing by hand requires that you recopy changes, and this likely
fixes parts of text more firmly in spatial memory – it serves a
“rehearsal function.” Scrolling text doesn’t have a constant
physical configuration. The better recall of structure and content
found in handwritten text may be tied to text sense and planning
procedures. Different physical interactions and bodily experience
may set up different relationships between tools and mental
 "The characteristics of electric rhetoric are the following: Additive
rather than subordinative . . . . Aggregative rather than analytic . .
. . Redundant or copious . . . . Conservative or traditionalist . . . .
Close to the human life world . . . . Agonistically toned . . . .
Empathetic and participatory rather than objectively distanced . .
. . Homeostatic . . . . Situational rather than abstract." Kathleen E.
Welch, Electric Rhetoric: Classical Rhetoric, Oralism, and a New
Literacy, Digital Communication (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1999),
 Language is considered “a mode of action” in non-literate world.
Corollary to this is that rhetoric’s fortunes have tended to wane in
world of print, as language is understood as ancillary, as mere
reflection of thought – as transcription, as mirror. Ong talks about
“secondary orality,” which is our current condition.
Ong et al like to talk about speech and writing as opposites. But
it’s more of a spectrum, with all kinds of hybrids today. Some
would argue that the current moment is more conducive to
rhetorical understanding.
Ong discusses our tendency to reduce all sensations and
experience to visual analogies. AND this is part of mind set in
which language is reduced in importance. Vision is the idea.
Immediacy, presence, no mediation. CONSIDER ALTERNATIVE
bodily metaphors – eating, etc. COMPUTERS also – shift in
WORDS AS THINGS -> language as action, performance, house
of being.
SOME argue that current age, with dynamic, interpenetrative
language forms, plus globalism, etc. gives rise to new mode of
information – it is part of the shift from modern to post-modern
Sumerian writing ~ 4000 BC
The first written scripts are
Sumerian writing begins with pictograms –
images that resemble the object they depict.
Rather like these common signs:
3000 -> 2500 B.C. Shift from
pictograms to cuneiform
The name cuneiform = from
Latin word cuneus ‘wedge’
to reflect the fact that the
graphs in the cuneiform
writing systems are
combinations of wedges.
The Sumerians wrote on
clay with a stylus cut from
a reed to give it a triangular
The resulting stylization
made the logograms much
less iconic
What are the limitations of such a writing
How might we get around some of these
composites” (head +
bread = “eat”)
Metaphor and
metonymy (symbol for
star = heavens)
The Rebus
Using the existing symbols, such as
pictograms, purely for their sounds
regardless of their meaning, to represent new
words. Many ancient writing systems used
Rebus principle to represent abstract
words, which otherwise would be hard to be
represented by pictograms.
Rebus = precursor to the development of
the alphabet
“I Sea Ewe” = “I see you”
■ VISUAL PUNS are also based on rebus-like game playing with images:
Lists are also important – as we will soon
learn when reading about ways of organizing
and sorting written texts. Listing all the words
by similar sound, you can choose one sign to
represent similar sounds – e.g “bad, ball,
bam, bat, etc. could be represented by just
one sign.
There is a
from capturing
the visual, to
Japanese language uses two syllabaries together
called kana, namely hiragana and katakana
(developed around 700 AD).
The English language allows complex syllable
structures, making it cumbersome to write English
words with a syllabary. A "pure" syllabary would
require a separate glyph for every syllable in
English. Thus one would need separate symbols for
"bag," "beg," "big," "bog," "bug" ; "bad," "bed," "bid,"
"bod," "bud," etc.
Questions of Classification
What are the 3 kinds of list Goody talks about, and what are they
designed to do?
Why is Goody so interested in lists, and why does he think they are
What is in a list – what are the main influences of list writing, according
to Goody?
According to Hobart & Schiffman, why is the alphabet revolutionary?
Why is “narrative the enemy of classification”?
What is the point of their discussion of Hesiod and his genealogies?
How is Plato an “intermediate” figure – prefiguring literacy yet still
showing many elements of “orality”?
How do Plato and Aristotle use writing to classify the world?
EXERCISE: Which bible verse is a translation from an oral
culture, and which from a literate one?
VERSION 1: In the beginning God created the heaven and earth.
And the earth was void and empty, and darkness was upon the face
of the deep, and the spirit of God moved over the waters. And God
said: Be light made. And light was made. And God saw the light that
it was good; and he divided the light from the darkness. And he
called the light Day, and the darkness Night; and there was evening
and morning one day.
VERSION 2: In the beginning, when God created the heavens and
the earth, the earth was a formless wasteland, and darkness
covered the abyss, while a mighty wind swept over the waters. Then
God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw how
good the light was. God then separated the light from the darkness.
God called the light “day” and the darkness he called “night.” Thus
evening came, and morning followed – the first day.
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