Friday, May 28, 2010

Chapter 4 of Orality and Literacy (+ some thought on 'Knowledge Language')

Quotation from

By Walter J. Ong
Routledge: London, 2002 (first published in 1982).
also available in Questia


Modern consciousness has been shaped by writing.

Without writing, the literate mind would not and could not think as it does, not only when engaged in writing but normally even when it is composing its thoughts in oral form. More than any other single invention, writing has transformed human consciousness. (p. 77)

Oral speech was no longer the same with oral speech in primary orality

Affeced by written discourse, the oral speech in the age of writing became more or less 'context-free' or 'autonomous'.

Writing establishes what has been called ‘context-free’ language (Hirsch 1977, pp. 21-3, 26) or ‘autonomous’ discourse (Olson 1980a), discourse which cannot be directly questioned or contested as oral speech can be because written discourse has been detached from its author.
(p. 77)

Invention of the Greek alphabet as a breakthrough

There are a number of developmental stages in writing (when I use the word 'developmental' here, I neglect to give a serious thought on logogram along with most western researchers. As a Japanese who uses Chinese characters (logogram) everyday, I'm reluctant to say that alphabet is in the last stage of development after logogram).

Early types of alphabet was 'consonant alphabet'; the alphabet that only consists of consonant, for which readers have to supply vowels by themselves when they read a text. The Greek alphabet began to contain vowels, resulting in a very kind media for communication.

[I]t does appear that the Greeks did something of major psychological importance when they developed the first alphabet complete with vowels. Havelock (1976) believes that this crucial, more nearly total transformation of the word from sound to sight gave ancient Greek culture its intellectual ascendancy over other ancient cultures. The reader of Semitic writing had to draw on non-textual as well as textual data: he had to know the language he was reading in order to know what vowels to supply between the consonants. Semitic writing was still very much immersed in the non-textual human lifeworld. The vocalic Greek alphabet was more remote from that world (as Plato’s ideas were to be). It analyzed sound more abstractly into purely spatial components. It could be used to write or read words even from languages one did not know (allowing for some inaccuracies due to phonemic differences between languages). Little children could acquire the Greek alphabet when they were very young and their vocabulary limited. (It has just been noted that for Israeli schoolchildren to about the third grade vowel ‘points’ have to be added to the ordinary consonantal Hebrew script.) The Greek alphabet was democratizing in the sense that it was easy for everyone to learn. It was also internationalizing in that it provided a way of processing even foreign tongues. This Greek achievement in abstractly analyzing the elusive world of sound into visual equivalents (not perfectly, of course, but in effect fully) both presaged and implemented their further analytic exploits. (p. 89)

Writing as an entirely new culture

Writing created a new culture of an isolated individual developing the 'Theory of Mind' of his readers.

Yet words are alone in a text. Moreover, in composing a text, in ‘writing’ something, the one producing the written utterance is also alone. Writing is a solipsistic operation. I am writing a book which I hope will be read by hundreds of thousands of people, so I must be isolated from everyone. While writing the present book, I have left word that I am ‘out’ for hours and days?so that no one, including persons who will presumably read the book, can interrupt my solitude. (p. 100)

Extratextual context is missing not only for readers but also for the writer. Lack of verifiable context is what makes writing normally so much more agonizing an activity than oral presentation to a real audience. ‘The writer’s audience is always a fiction’ (Ong 1977, pp. 53-81). The writer must set up a role in which absent and often unknown readers can cast themselves. Even in writing to a close friend I have to fictionalize a mood for him, to which he is expected to conform. The reader must also fictionalize the writer. When my friend reads my letter, I may be in an entirely different frame of mind from when I wrote it. Indeed, I may very well be dead. For a text to convey its message, it does not matter whether the author is dead or alive. Most books extant today were written by persons now dead. Spoken utterance comes only from the living. (p. 101)

[W]ritten words sharpen analysis, for the individual words are called on to do more. To make yourself clear without gesture, without facial expression, without intonation, without a real hearer, you have to foresee circumspectly all possible meanings a statement may have for any possible reader in any possible situation, and you have to make your language work so as to come clear all by itself, with no existential context. The need for this exquisite circumspection makes writing the agonizing work it commonly is. (pp. 102-103)

Diary and novel as modern inventions

It is interesting to note that diary discourse, culture we now take for so granted, was a new invention.

Even in a personal diary addressed to myself I must fictionalize the addressee. Indeed, the diary demands, in a way, the maximum fictionalizing of the utterer and the addressee. Writing is always a kind of imitation talking, and in a diary I therefore am pretending that I am talking to myself. But I never really talk this way to myself. Nor could I without writing or indeed without print. The personal diary is a very late literary form, in effect unknown until the seventeenth century (Boerner 1969). The kind of verbalized solipsistic reveries it implies are a product of consciousness as shaped by print culture. And for which self am I writing? Myself today? As I think I will be ten years from now? As I hope I will be? For myself as I imagine myself or hope others may imagine me? Questions such as this can and do fill diary writers with anxieties and often enough lead to discontinuation of diaries. The diarist can no longer live with his or her fiction. (p. 101)

Likewise, "[t]he psychodynamics of writing matured very slowly in narrative.(p. 102)", starting from easily imaginable Plato's Socrates or Chaucer's groups of people taliking to each other, to the 19th Century style "in which both author and reader are havinig difficulty situating themselves. (p. 102)".

The new writing culture, not our natural development and agonizingly difficult to learn, may have divided people into, roughly speaking, two types: those who speak with 'elaborated linguistic code' and those with 'restricted code' (Bernstein) . (I might say, though, given our natural history 'restricted code' is not really 'restricted' but 'natural'. We may refer to the two concepts as 'natural linguistic code' and 'elaborated linguisted code' (or 'extended linguisted code').

Learned Latin

Ong argues that the Greek rhetoric and the Learned Latin were the inteactions of orality and literacy that formed the basis of Western culture. (p. 107).

Latin, first a vernacular language, developed into various vernacular languages in spoken mode, but retained its original form in writing.

Learned Latin was a direct result of writing. Between about AD 550 and 700 the Latin spoken as a vernacular in various parts of Europe had evolved into various early forms of Italian, Spanish, Catalan, French, and the other Romance languages. By AD 700, speakers of these offshoots of Latin could no longer understand the old written Latin, intelligible perhaps to some of their greatgrandparents. Their spoken language had moved too far away from its origins. But schooling, and with it most official discourse of Church or state, continued in Latin. There was really no alternative. (p. 101)

However, Learned Latin did not lose orality.

Learned Latin related to orality and literacy, however, in paradoxical ways. On the one hand, as just noted, it was a chirographically controlled language. Of the millions who spoke it for the next 1400 years, every one was able also to write it. There were no purely oral users. But chirographic control of Learned Latin did not preclude its alliance with orality. Paradoxically, the textuality that kept Latin rooted in classical antiquity thereby kept it rooted also in orality, for the classical ideal of education had been to produce not the effective writer but the rhetor,the orator, the public speaker. The grammar of Learned Latin came from this old oral world. So did its basic vocabulary, although, like all languages actually in use, it incorporated thousands of new words over the centuries. (pp. 111-112)

I'm tempted to call Learned Latin 'non-biological language' for nobody spoke it as their first language. It is detached from humans' lifeworld. However, this detachment may have propted a new mode of knowledge: modern science.

Devoid of baby-talk, insulated from the earliest life of childhood where language has its deepest psychic roots, a first language to none of its users, pronounced across Europe in often mutually unintelligible ways but always written the same way, Learned Latin was a striking exemplification of the power of writing for isolating discourse and of the unparalleled productivity of such isolation. Writing, as has earlier been seen, serves to separate and distance the knower and the known and thus to establish objectivity. It has been suggested (Ong 1977, pp. 24-9) that Learned Latin effects even greater objectivity by establishing knowledge in a medium insulated from the emotion-charged depths of one’s mother tongue, thus reducing interference from the human lifeworld and making possible the exquisitely abstract world of medieval scholasticism and of the new mathematical modern science which followed on the scholastic experience. Without Learned Latin, it appears that modern science would have got under way with greater difficulty, if it had got under way at all. Modern science grew in Latin soil, for philosophers and scientists through the time of Sir Isaac Newton commonly both wrote and did their abstract thinking in Latin. (p. 112)

English as a Knowledge Language

Contemporary English is definitely a 'biological' language for native speakers. However, for someone like me who acquried (or is acquiring) it in a foreign land, it may be more like a Learned Language, particularly because my use of English is mostly academic. In fact, I don't usually use English to express or share emotions. My motivation of using and learning English is 'instrumental', not 'integrative', to use an old terminology in English Language Teaching.

However, English as Learned Language (or 'Knowledge Language' as I prefer to callit) is not like Learned Latin because of the internet. Spoken mode is shared thanks to YouTube, Ustream, Podcasting and various other means on the internet. Spoken mode of 'Knowledge English' may not diverge, as has been the case with wide spreading languages up to now, but converge becuause of the first truely global media: the internet.


Boerner, Peter (1969)
Tagebuch (Stuttgart: J.B. Metzler).
Ong, W. (1977)
Interfaces of the Word (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press).


Go to Questia Online Library

Empire and Communications by Harold Innis

Quotation from Wikipedia

(I feel free to quote from Wikipedia. Thanks Wikipedia and its contributors. My gratitude to Wikipedia and its contributors.)

Empire and Communications examines the impact of media such as stone, clay, papyrus and the alphabet on the empires of Egypt and Babylonia . It also looks at the oral tradition in ancient Greece ; the written tradition and the Roman Empire ; the influence of parchment and paper in medieval Europe and the effects of paper and the printing press in modern times.

"The effective government of large areas," he writes, "depends to a very important extent on the efficiency of communication."[3]

Innis divides the history of the empires and civilizations he will examine into two periods, one for writing and the other for printing. "In the writing period we can note the importance of various media such as the clay tablet of Mesopotamia , the papyrus roll in the Egyptian and in the Graeco-Roman world, parchment codex in the late Graeco-Roman world and the early Middle Ages, and paper after its introduction in the Western world from China."[7] Innis notes that he will concentrate on paper as a medium in the printing period along with the introduction of paper-making machinery at the beginning of the 19th century and the use of wood pulp in the manufacture of paper after 1850.[7]

He is quick to add however, that it would be presumptuous to conclude that writing alone determined the course of civilizations.

Harold Innis traces the evolution of ancient Egyptian dynasties and kingdoms in terms of their use of stone or papyrus as dominant media of communication. His outline of Egyptian civilization is a complex and highly-detailed analysis of how these media, along with several other technologies, affected the distribution of power in society.

Innis begins, as other historians do, with the crucial importance of the Nile as a formative influence on Egyptian civilization. The river provided the water and fertile land needed for agricultural production in a desert region.[11] Innis writes that the Nile therefore, "acted as a principle of order and centralization, necessitated collective work, created solidarity, imposed organizations on the people, and cemented them in a society."[12]

Priestly power, Innis writes, resulted from religious control over the complex and difficult art of writing. The monarch's attempts to maintain an empire extended in space were defeated by a priestly monopoly over knowledge systems concerned with time --- systems that began with the need for accurate predictions about when the Nile would overflow its banks.[22] Innis argues that priestly theocracy gradually cost Egypt its empire. "Monopoly over writing supported an emphasis on religion and the time concept, which defeated efforts to solve the problem of space."[23]

[U]nlike in Egypt where calculating the timing of the Nile's flooding was a source of power, the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in southern Mesopotamia were used for irrigation. Therefore the ability to measure time precisely was somewhat less critical. Nevertheless, as in Egypt, the small city-states of Sumer depended on the rivers and so, the cycles of agricultural production were organized around them.[25] The rivers also provided communications materials. In Egypt, the Nile's papyrus became a medium for writing while in Mesopotamia, the rivers yielded the alluvial sediments the Sumerians used to fashion the clay tablets on which they inscribed their wedge-shaped, cuneiform script.[26] Their earliest writing recorded agricultural accounts and economic transactions.[27]

Innis writes that as a heavy material, clay was not very portable and so was not generally suited for communication over large areas. Cuneiform inscription required years of training overseen by priests. Innis contends therefore, that as a writing medium, clay tended to favour decentralization and religious control.[29]

Around 2350 BC, the Sumerians were conquered by their northern, Semitic neighbours the Akkadians . Under Sargon the Great , the empire expanded to include extensive territories reaching northwest as far as Turkey and west to theMediterranean .[31] Thus begins the rise and fall of a series of empires over approximately two thousand years. Innis mentions many of them, but focuses more attention on innovations that facilitated their growth. These include the advancement of civil law under Hammurabi , the development of mathematics including fixed standards of weights and measures , as well as the breeding of horses that combined speed with strength and that, along with three-man chariots , helped deliver spectacular military victories to the Assyrians .[32]

In discussing the advent and spread of the alphabet , Innis refers to what he sees as the subversive relationship between those at the centre of civilizations and those on their fringes or margins. He argues that monopolies of knowledge develop at the centre only to be challenged and eventually overthrown by new ideas or techniques that take shape on the margins.[33] Thus, the Phoenician alphabet, a radically-simplified writing system, undermined the elaborate hieroglyphic and cuneiform scripts overseen by priestly elites in Egypt and Babylonia. "The Phoenicians had no monopoly of knowledge," Innis writes, "[which] might hamper the development of writing."[34] As a trading people, the Phoenicians needed "a swift and concise method of recording transactions."[34] The alphabet with its limited number of visual symbols to represent the primary elements of human speech was well suited to trade. "Commerce and the alphabet were inextricably interwoven, particularly when letters of the alphabet were used as numerals."[35]

"Greek civilization," Innis writes, "was a reflection of the power of the spoken word."[42] In this chapter [= Chapter 4], he explores how the vitality of the spoken word helped the ancient Greeks create a civilization that profoundly influenced all of Europe. Greek civilization differed in significant ways from the empires of Egypt and Babylonia. Innis biographer John Watson notes that those preceding empires "had revolved around an uneasy alliance of absolute monarchs and scholarly theocrats."[43] The monarchs ruled by force while an elite priestly class controlled religious dogma through their monopolies of knowledge over complex writing systems. "The monarch was typically a war leader whose grasp of the concept of space allowed him to expand his territory," Watson writes, "incorporating even the most highly articulated theocracies. The priests specialized in elaborating conceptions of time and continuity."[43] Innis argues that the Greeks struck a different balance, one based on "the freshness and elasticity of an oral tradition" that left its stamp on Western poetry, drama, sculpture, architecture, philosophy, science and mathematics.[44]

Innis argues that Plato's use of the flexible oral tradition in his writing enabled him to escape the confines of a rigid philosophical system. "Continuous philosophical discussion aimed at truth. The life and movement of dialectic opposed the establishment of a finished system of dogma."[47] This balance between speech and prose also contributed to the immortality of Plato's work.[47]

According to Innis, Plato and Aristotle developed prose in defence of a new culture in which gods and poets were subordinated to philosophical and scientific inquiry.[50] Innis argues that eventually, the spread of writing widened the gap between the city-states hastening the collapse of Greek civilization.[51]

To administer such a vast empire, the Romans were forced to establish centralized bureaucracies .[66] These bureaucracies depended on supplies of cheap papyrus from the Nile Delta for the long-distance transmission of written rules, orders and procedures.[67] The bureaucratic Roman state backed by the influence of writing, in turn, fostered absolutism, the form of government in which power is vested in a single ruler.[68]

Innis discusses various aspects of Ptolemaic rule over Egypt including the founding of the ancient library and university at Alexandria made possible by access to abundant supplies of papyrus. "By 285 BC the library established by Ptolemy I had 20,000 manuscripts," Innis writes, "and by the middle of the first century 700,000, while a smaller library established by Ptolemy II ...possibly for duplicates had 42,800."[80] He points out that the power of the written tradition in library and university gave rise to specialists, not poets and scholars ? drudges who corrected proofs and those who indulged in the mania of book collecting. "Literature was divorced from life, thought from action, poetry from philosophy."[81]

Innis writes that the Antigonids "gradually transformed the small city-states of Greece into municipalities."[83] They captured Athens in 261 BC and Sparta in 222 BC. The Greek cities of this period developed common interests. "With supplies of papyrus and parchment and the employment of educated slaves," Innis writes, "books were produced on an unprecedented scale. Hellenistic capitals provided a large reading public."[84] Most of these books however, were "third-hand compendia of snippets and textbooks, short cuts to knowledge, quantities of tragedies, and an active comedy of manners in Athens. Literary men wrote books about other books and became bibliophiles ."[84] Innis reports that by the second century "everything had been swamped by the growth of rhetoric ."[84] He argues that once classicalGreek philosophy "became crystallized in writing," it was superseded by an emphasis on philosophical teaching.[84] He mentions Stoicism , the Cynics and Epicurean teachings all of which emphasized the priority of reason over popular religion. "The Olympian religion and the city-state were replaced by philosophy and science for the educated and by Eastern religions for the common man."[85] As communication between these two groups became increasingly difficult, cultural division stimulated the rise of a class structure. Innis concludes that the increasing emphasis on writing also created divisions among Athens, Alexandria and Pergamum weakening science and philosophy and opening "the way to religions from the East and force from Rome in the West."[86]

Monopolies of knowledge had developed and declined partly in relation to the medium of communication on which they were built, and tended to alternate as they emphasized religion, decentralization and time; or force, centralization, and space. Sumerian culture based on the medium of clay was fused with Semitic culture based on the medium of stone to produce the Babylonian empires. Egyptian civilization, based on a fusion of dependence on stone and dependence on papyrus, produced an unstable empire which eventually succumbed to religion. The Assyrian and Persian empires attempted to comnine Egyptian and Babylonian civilization, and the latter succeeded with its appeal to toleration. Hebrew civilization emphasized the sacred character of writing in opposition to political organizations that emphasized the graven image. Greek civilization based on the oral tradition produced the powerful leaven that destroyed political empires. Rome assumed control over the medium on which Egyptian civilization had been based, and built up an extensive bureaucracy, but the latter survived in a fusion in the Byzantine Empire with Christianity based on the parchment codex.

3 Innis, Harold. (2007)
Empire and Communications. Toronto: Dundurn Press, p.23. ISBN 13: 978-1-55002-662-7. This is the fourth and latest edition of Innis's book. The original edition of 1950 published by Oxford University Press was reissued in 1972 by University of Toronto Press, edited by Mary Quayle Innis with an introduction by Marshall McLuhan. An illustrated third edition was published by Press Porcepic in 1986.
7 Innis (Empire), p.27
11 O'Brien, Patrick K., general editor. (1999)
Atlas of World History. New York: Oxford University Press, p.30.
12 Innis (Empire), p.32.
22 Innis (Empire), p.44.
23 Innis (Empire), p.45.
25 Innis (Empire), p.46.
26 Heyer, Paul. (2003)
Harold Innis. Lanham, MD.: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers Inc., p.48.
27 Innis, (Empire), p.46.
29 Innis (Empire), pp.48-49.
31 Innis (Empire), p.50 and O'Brien, p.28.
32 Innis (Empire), pp.51-60.
33 Innis (Empire), p.62.
34 Innis (Empire), p.64.
35 Innis (Empire), pp.64-65.
42 Innis (Empire), p.78.
43 Watson, ohn Alexander. (2006)
Marginal Man: The Dark Vision of Harold Innis. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, p.368.
44 ohn Alexander. (2006)
Marginal Man: The Dark Vision of Harold Innis. Toronto: University of Toronto Press,
47 Innis (Empire), p.79.
50 Innis (Empire), pp.79-80.
51 Innis (Empire), p.104.
66 Innis (Empire), p.122.
67 Innis (Empire), pp.125 & 129.
68 Innis (Empire), p.125.
80 Innis (Empire), pp.112-113.
81 Innis (Empire), p.113.
83 Innis (Empire), p.115.
84 Innis (Empire), p.116.
85 Innis (Empire), p.117.
86 Innis (Empire)p.117.


Saturday, May 22, 2010

"Internalization" or "embodiment"?

The article below was inspired by Dr. Karen Johnson's seminar in Hyogo University of Teacher Education on May 19 and 20, 2010. All errors and misunderstanding here, however, are entirely mine. I thank my friend, Tatsuhiro Yoshida at HUTE for his excellent coordination of the seminar.

Vygotsky's concept of "internalization" is not necessarily easy to understand correctly. DeVries (2000) says:

Vygotsky emphasized internalization in development, but it is not easy from reading Vygotsky’s works available in English to determine exactly what he meant by his famous statement:
We could formulate the general genetic law of cultural development as follows: Any function in the child’s cultural development appears twice, or on two planes. First it appears on the social plane, and then on the psychological plane. First it appears between people as an interpsychological category, and then within the child as an intrapsychological category. (Vygotsky, 1930a/1981, p. 163)
(p. 7 in the PDF version)

DeVries (2000) emphasizes that "internalization is not a process of copying material from the environment but is a transformative process" (p. 7 in the PDF version)

To endorse his argument, DeVries quotes Vygotsky:
Perhaps Vygotsky is misunderstood to mean that what is experienced interpsychologically is simply internalized in unchanged form to become intrapsychological. The following statement may be interpreted to contradict this idea:
“what was an outward sign operation. . . is now transformed into a new intrapsychological layer (emphasis in original) and gives birth to a new psychological system, incomparably superior in content, and culturalpsychological in genesis” (Vygotsky and Luria, 1930, pp. 109-110; quoted in Lawrence and Valsiner, 1993, p. 163).
(p. 8 in the PDF version)

In any case, I also had a difficulty when I tried to understand Vygotskyean concept of "internalization" as I was hearing the word "internalization"and it kept echoing in my mind. For me, the word is somehow associated with the simple notion of what-was-outside-gets-into-the-inside-and-the-inside-increases-its-amount-of-knowledge.

Personally, I may prefer "embodiment" to "internalization" to mean what I assume Vygotsky wanted to say. (I have no knowledge of Russian and cannot have a look at the original word Vygotsky used.)

Taking a pointing gesture of a baby as an example, Stahl (2000) explains Vygotskyean notion of symbols, artifacts, or cognitive skills being "internalized".

This deictic gesture already embodies a reference to the intended object - in fact, in this example that is the artifact’s very meaning. So we have the first step toward a symbolic artifact representing an intended object. And in the origin of the gesture we already see the basis for intersubjective shared understanding of the meaning, because the pointing gesture is premised upon the mutual recognition of the underlying intention.

The beauty of the word "embodiment", as I understand it, is that the 'body' is in and out at the same time . The body is free from the dichotomous and mutually exclusive contrast of "In vs. Out". The body is both in and out (or either in or out, or neither in nor out, if you like). When I "embody" something, that something is both inside me (in that I've internalized it) and outside me (in that what's been internalized can be expressed or performed outwardly).

Thank you for reading my playing with words.


DeVries, R. (2000) Vygotsky, Piaget, and Education: a reciprocal assimilation of theories and educational practices. New Ideas in Psychology, Volume 18, Issues 2-3, August 2000, Pages 187-213.
(Available from the author in an PDF format at

Lawrence, J., & Valsiner, J. (1993). Conceptual roots of internalization: From transmission to transformation. Human Development, 36, 150-167.

Vygotsky, L. (1930a/1981). The genesis of higher mental functions. In J. Wertsch (Ed.), The concept of activity in Soviet psychology (pp. 147-188), New York: Sharpe, Inc.

Stahl, G. (2000) Artifact-mediated Cognition: Vygotsky’s theory of Mind as the Result of Activity with Artifacts - Notes on Vygotsky and Engestrom. (obtained at on May 22, 2010)

In the process of writing this short article, I also found a review by Rosemary Luckin of University of Sussex interesting.

Review of "Vygotsky and cognitive science: language and the unification of the social and computational mind" by William Frawley. Harvard University Press 1997.

PDF is freely available at


Sunday, May 16, 2010

Internalization and human agency

Quotation from

A sociocultural analysis of teacher talk in inquiry-based professional development
By Thomas Tasker, Karen E. Johnson and Tracy S. Davis

14(2) 1-12

Vygotskian idea of externalization/internalization should not be taken as input from the outside world simply being put into one's mind.

[I]t [ =externalization/internalization] is the appropriation of ideas that assimilate with pre-existing knowledge to reconstruct one’s understanding. (p. 2)

Perhaps more important is the issue of "human agency" (Lantolf & Thorne, 2006).

Externalization/internalization is not a mechanistic, automatic and impersonal process. What is internalized is selected by an individual whose being is socio-historical.

Human agency entails voluntary control over one’s actions as well as the ability to assign relevance to events, and is culturally, socially, and historically mediated. The significance of human agency is twofold: first, humans can decide what they want to appropriate and what they want to ignore; second, what they decide is a product of their history. In other words, internalization and transformation is individual, based on participation in social activities, and gauged by how these social activities are manifest in thought and in activities. (p. 2)

Lantolf, J.P. and Thorne, S.L. (2006). Sociocultural theory and the genesis of second language development. New York: Oxford University Press.



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Wednesday, May 5, 2010

"Psychodynamics of orality" by Ong

Quotation from

By Walter J. Ong
Routledge: London, 2002 (first published in 1982).
also available in Questia


How do you think in the primary oral culture?

For us who have been embedded in the writing culture, it is extremely difficult what it was like to live in the primary oral culture, with no knowledge or possibility of writing down words.(p. 31)

Complex thought is highly unlikely with no written text. If you are ever to think consistently or coherently for long, you'd need another person as a partner in dialogue. (p. 34)

However, even with an interlocutor, it is extremely difficult to recall all you two have thought in the dialogue. How do you think and recall the thought?

The only answer is: Think memorable thoughts. In a primary oral culture, to solve effectively the problem of retaining and retrieving carefully articulated thought, you have to do your thinking in mnemonic patterns, shaped for ready oral recurrence. Your thought must come into being in heavily rhythmic, balanced patterns, in repetitions or antitheses, in alliterations and assonances, in epithetic and other formulary expressions, in standard thematic settings (the assembly, the meal, the duel, the hero’s ‘helper’, and so on), in proverbs which are constantly heard by everyone so that they come to mind readily and which themselves are patterned for retention and ready recall, or in other mnemonic form. Serious thought is intertwined with memory systems. Mnemonic needs determine even syntax (Havelock 1963, pp. 87-96, 131-2, 294-6). (p. 34)

Some characteristics of orally based thought and expression

With this mnemonic base of the thought and expression, Ong suggests some of the plausible features of the orally based thought and expression as opposed to the chirographically based, typographically based, and electronically based thought and expression. Below is a short list.

(i) Additive rather than subordinative (p. 37)
(ii) Aggregative rather than analytic (p. 38)
(iii) Redundant or ‘copious’ (p. 39)
(iv) Conservative or traditionalist (p. 41)
(v) Close to the human lifeworld (p. 41)
(vi) Agonistically toned (p. 43)
(vii) Empathetic and participatory rather than objectively distanced (p. 45)
(viii) Homeostatic (p. 46)
(ix) Situational rather than abstract (p. 49)

(i) Additive rather than subordinative
You may combine sentences with "and" or "but", but sentence structures with complex subordinate conjunctions are not likely to occur in the primary oral culture.

(ii) Aggregative rather than analytic
It is advantageous to express your thought in a memorable whole.

Oral expression thus carries a load of epithets and other formulary baggage which high literacy rejects as cumbersome and tiresomely redundant because of its aggregative weight (Ong 1977, pp. 188-212).
The cliches in political denunciations in many low-technology, developing cultures - enemy of the people, capitalist war-mongers - that strike high literates as mindless are residual formulary essentials of oral thought processes. (p. 38)

(iii) Redundant or ‘copious’

Redundancy, repetition of the just-said, keeps both speaker and hearer surely on the track.
Since redundancy characterizes oral thought and speech, it is in a profound sense more natural to thought and speech than is sparse linearity. Sparsely linear or analytic thought and speech are artificial creations, structured by the technology of writing. Eliminating redundancy on a significant scale demands a time-obviating technology, writing, which imposes some kind of strain on the psyche in preventing expression from falling into its more natural patterns. (p. 40)

(iv) Conservative or traditionalist

The cost of storing knowledge is very high in a culture which has no text. "This need establishes a highly traditionalist or conservative set of mind that with good reason inhibits intellectual experimentation. (p. 41)"

(v) Close to the human lifeworld
Because the language use is limited in immediate contexts of speakers, context-free abstract thinking is not likely in the primary oral culture. (p. 42)

(vi) Agonistically toned
Unlike people in writing cultures where they learn to objectify and depersonalize their thoughts in written texts, people in the primary oral culture tend to associate thoughts with the speakers. Arguments often become combative and aggressive. (p. 44)

(vii) Empathetic and participatory rather than objectively distanced

For an oral culture learning or knowing means achieving close, empathetic, communal identification with the known (Havelock 1963, pp. 145-6), ‘getting with it’. Writing separates the knower from the known and thus sets up conditions for ‘objectivity’, in the sense of personal disengagement or distancing. (p. 45)

(viii) Homeostatic

Oral cultures of course have no dictionaries and few semantic discrepancies. The meaning of each word is controlled by what Goody and Watt (1968, p. 29) call ‘direct semantic ratification’, that is, by the real-life situations in which the word is used here and now. (p. 46)

(ix) Situational rather than abstract

Quoting A.R. Luria’s Cognitive Development: Its Cultural and Social Foundations (1976), Ong exemplifies how the 'intelligence' as we take it is shaped in writing cultures.

Even self-analysis requires decentralization and decontextualization of the self, which usually doesn't happen in the human lifeworld of oral cultures.

Luria’s illiterates had difficulty in articulate self-analysis. Self-analysis requires a certain demolition of situational thinking. It calls for isolation of the self, around which the entire lived world swirls for each individual person, removal of the center of every situation from that situation enough to allow the center, the self, to be examined and described. (...) (p. 54)

'Intelligence' of the modern time is not a natural development of human nature.

[A]n oral culture simply does not deal in such items as geometrical figures, abstract categorization, formally logical reasoning processes, definitions, or even comprehensive descriptions, or articulated self-analysis, all of which derive not simply from thought itself but from text-formed thought. Luria’s questions are schoolroom questions associated with the use of texts, and indeed closely resemble or are identical with standard intelligence test questions got up by literates. They are legitimate, but they come from a world the oral respondent does not share. (pp. 54-55)

Communal culture and private culture?

We may characterize the oral culture and the writing culture as 'communal versus private'

Primary orality fosters personality structures that in certain ways are more communal and externalized, and less introspective than those common among literates. Oral communication unites people in groups. Writing and reading are solitary activities that throw the psyche back on itself. (p. 68)

This contrast may come from the very nature of vision and sound.

By contrast with vision, the dissecting sense, sound is thus a unifying sense. A typical visual ideal is clarity and distinctness, a taking apart (Descartes’ campaigning for clarity and distinctness registered an intensification of vision in the human sensorium - Ong 1967b, pp. 63, 221). The auditory ideal, by contrast, is harmony, a putting together. (p. 71)

If an analysis of the post-modern is a critique of the modern, so is an analysis of the pre-modern.


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Undestanding ourselves changes ourselves by the 'strange loop'

Here is a passage by William Calvin (The Trilogy of Homo seriatim: Language, Consciousness, and Music), boldly analogous to provoke our thoughts.

Along with metaphors and analogies, a 'strange loop' seems essential to human intelligence.

Understanding ourselves introduces a 'strange loop' between the acting self and the reflecting self. The former is analyzed by the latter, but the latter is based on and limited by the former. In the process of analysis, the reflecting self may discover so far a hidden aspect of the acting self, and that discovery would change the acting self, which should affect the (further) analysis of the reflecting self, and with the change of the analysis, the acting self should change furthermore... The acting self is not just a object of the reflecting self (as in a case of an independent object and a neutral scientist). The reflecting self is not a neutral observer of the acting self (temptation to mention quantum mechanics is strong, but see this caution.)

This self-reference (one self refers to the other self) makes a strange loop in which a self-description becomes a self-reproduction, which invites another self-description and so on. In short, understanding ourselves changes ourselves.

We invented language without any understanding of the neural machinery underlying it. Yet think of what happened to transportation in the wake of understanding Newton's physics (from carts to trains, planes, and space shuttles), or to communication in the wake of our nineteenth century understanding of electricity and magnetism (from letters to our satellite-based telephone network), or to medicine once the circulation of the blood and the role of microscopic organisms were appreciated (from purging to physiologically-based neurosurgery for Parkinsonism). Once we establish a nearly-correct explanation for our thinking and language machinery, we should see a great augmentation in our capabilities as the principles become incorporated into our educational philosophy and into the ergonomic design of our machinery. "Rationality" will take on a whole new meaning, and musical composition will flourish as more people become capable of Bach-like mental agility.

If self-consciousness is a form of self-reference, does that mean self-consciousness changes us? Maybe. But to different degrees in quantity and quality. If we understand (and thus change) ourselves reasonably, we may achieve what we could not do before. However, if our understanding of ourselves is too sudden and too radical, we may fail to function properly afterwards (at least it would take much time to adapt to the new self).

Occasionally, ignorance is bliss. (I am a happy person for this reason.)


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"All metaphor breaks down somewhere. That is the beauty of it"

Although I've read only a few of his papers, I can tell that William Calvin is an extremely creative scientist.

As I was reading his papers, I found that he quotes a fascinating passage about metaphor, which has much relevance with my article on metaphors and analogies.

So, below is a passage quoted at the beginning of Calvin's "The Trilogy of Homo seriatim:Language, Consciousness, and Music."

[All] thinking is metaphorical, except mathematical thinking.... What I am pointing out is that unless you are at home in the metaphor, unless you have had your proper poetical education in the metaphor, you are not safe anywhere. Because you are not at ease with figurative values: you don't know the metaphor in its strength and its weaknesses. You don't know how far you may expect to ride it and when it may break down with you. You are not safe in science; you are not safe in history....
All metaphor breaks down somewhere. That is the beauty of it. It is touch and go with the metaphor, and until you have lived with it long enough you don't know when it is going.
the American poet Robert Frost

This passage serves as a kind of 'basso continuo' throughout the paper, in which he uses the metaphor of "Darwin Machines" to explain human cognition. The "Darwin Machines" have two steps of randomness and selection, and the machines go back and force between the two steps to evolve into something unexpectedly adaptive to the environment. Calvin's emphasis seems to be on randomness, which the economists' model of rational planning, for example, fail to recognize.

As Frost says, "all metaphor break down somewhere" , because metaphors do not represent 'truth.' However, good metaphors (or educated, aesthetic metaphors) introduce an exquisite degree of non-truth to extend the old concept elegantly. Metaphors are artistic introductions of randomness, the result of which is foreseen by a genius, but usually unknown to people until the metaphors go through the process of selection afterwards.

We need proper poetical education in the metaphor. (Or at least, I do.)


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Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Ambiguous Plato and whether bicamerality may simply mean orality

Quotation from

By Walter J. Ong
Routledge: London, 2002 (first published in 1982).
also available in Questia

Chapter 2, "THE MODERN DISCOVERY OF PRIMARY ORAL CULTURES: EARLY AWARENESS OF ORAL TRADITION" depicts the ancient Greeks (Plato in particular) as being ambiguous in the age of the great shift from orality to literacy.

Ong, quoting Havelock, maintains that Plato's disdain of poets is from his awareness of the change of civilization from orality to literacy.

But, by Plato’s day (427?-347BC) a change had set in: the Greeks had at long last effectively interiorized writing - something which took several centuries after the development of the Greek alphabet around 720-700 BC (Havelock 1963, p. 49, citing Rhys Carpenter). The new way to store knowledge was not in mnemonic formulas but in the written text. This freed the mind for more original, more abstract thought. Havelock shows that Plato excluded poets from his ideal republic essentially (if not quite consciously) because he found himself in a new chirographically styled poetic world in which the formula or cliche, beloved of all traditional poets, was outmoded and counterproductive.

Havelock, Eric A. (1963) Preface to Plato (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press).

However, it is not that Plato changed himself from a man of orality to a man of literacy once and for all. As is often the case in times of great changes, Plato cherished and loathed the new culture of writing at the same time.

The conflict wracked Plato’s own unconscious. For Plato expresses serious reservations in the Phaedrus and his Seventh Letter about writing, as a mechanical, inhuman way of processing knowledge, unresponsive to questions and destructive of memory, although, as we now know, the philosophical thinking Plato fought for depended entirely on writing. No wonder the implications here resisted surfacing for so long. The importance of ancient Greek civilization to all the world was beginning to show in an entirely new light: it marked the point in human history when deeply interiorized alphabetic literacy first clashed head-on with orality. And, despite Plato’s uneasiness, at the time neither Plato nor anyone else was or could be explicitly aware that this was what was going on. (p. 24)

Another interesting part in Chapter for me was where Ong mentions Julian Jaynes. Ong picks up Julian Jaynes as one of the few scholars who clearly understands the difference between orality and literacy (Remember that most modern linguists regards writing as a mere transcription of speech).

However, if attention to sophisticated orality-literacy contrasts is growing in some circles, it is still relatively rare in many fields where it could be helpful. For example, the early and late stages of consciousness which Julian Jaynes (1977) describes and relates to neurophysiological changes in the bicameral mind would also appear to lend themselves largely to much simpler and more verifiable description in terms of a shift from orality to literacy. Jaynes discerns a primitive stage of consciousness in which the brain was strongly ‘bicameral’, with the right hemisphere producing uncontrollable ‘voices’ attributed to the gods which the left hemisphere processed into speech. The ‘voices’ began to lose their effectiveness between 2000 and 1000 BC. This period, it will be noted, is neatly bisected by the invention of the alphabet around 1500 BC, and Jaynes indeed believes that writing helped bring about the breakdown of the original bicamerality. (p. 29)

However, as is already clear in the above quotation, Ong seems to believe that the bicameral hypothesis can be reduced to a simple argument concerning orality and literacy.

The Iliad provides him with examples of bicamerality in its unselfconscious characters. Jaynes dates the Odyssey a hundred years later than the Iliad and believes that wily Odysseus marks a breakthrough into the modern self-conscious mind, no longer under the rule of the ‘voices’. Whatever one makes of Jaynes’s theories, one cannot but be struck by the resemblance between the characteristics of the early or ‘bicameral’ psyche as Jaynes describes it - lack of introspectivity, of analytic prowess, of concern with the will as such, of a sense of difference between past and future - and the characteristics of the psyche in oral cultures not only in the past but even today. The effects of oral states of consciousness are bizarre to the literate mind, and they can invite elaborate explanations which may turn out to be needless. Bicamerality may mean simply orality. The question of orality and bicamerality perhaps needs further investigation. (p. 30)

Anyone who's interested in Julian Jaynes' theory of consciousness, cannot afford to ignore the media studies.


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Technology creates a new culture and changes old ones


By Walter J. Ong
Routledge: London, 2002 (first published in 1982).
also available in Questia

In Chapter 1, "THE ORALITY OF LANGUAGE:THE LITERATE MIND AND THE ORAL PAST, Ong emphasizes that human consciousness has been evolving with the development of media.

Many of the features we have taken for granted in thought and expression in literature, philosophy and science, and even in oral discourse among literates, are not directly native to human existence as such but have come into being because of the resources which the technology of writing makes available to human consciousness.We have had to revise our understanding of human identity. (p.1)

One interesting observation is that the rhetorical culture of the ancient Greece was a product of writing. The rhetorical culutre was not a natual development of the human Faculty of Language, but an evolution of primary orality in prehistoric times into oral art, made possible by reflection and organization, a new culture brought about by the spread and maturation of writing culture. The new technology of writing changed the old culture of orality. One thing to add is that this new orality of rhetoric gradually became the 'norm' of the writing culture both in the hand-writing and the print-writing ages. Technology creates a new culture and changes old ones.

In the West among the ancient Greeks the fascination showed in the elaboration of the vast, meticulously worked-out art of rhetoric, the most comprehensive academic subject in all western culture for two thousand years. In its Greek original, techne rhetorike,‘speech art’ (commonly abridged to just rhetorike) referred essentially to oral speaking, even though as a reflective, organized ‘art’ or science - for example, in Aristotle’s Art of Rhetoric - rhetoric was and had to be a product of writing. Rhetorike, or rhetoric, basically meant public speaking or oratory, which for centuries even in literate and typographic cultures remained unreflexively pretty much the paradigm of all discourse, including that of writing (Ong 1967b, pp. 58-63; Ong 1971, pp. 27-8). Thus writing from the beginning did not reduce orality but enhanced it, making it possible to organize the ‘principles’ or constituents of oratory into a scientific ‘art’, a sequentially ordered body of explanation that showed how and why oratory achieved and could be made to achieve its various specific effects. (p. 9)


Below is a very rough synopsis on how technology has changed and will change human linguistic communication and mindsets.

Prehistory: Primary Orality
Before letters were invented, humans just used words as a supplimentary medium to actions in the shared context.

The Axial Age: Handwriting Literacy -> Rhetorical Orality
As letters began to be used, humans, at least those who were fortunate and smart, learned to objectify their speech in writing and to think and be self-conscious. This reflection and examination brought about the ancient wisdom of the Axial Age, a wisdom of life that is hard to exceed even now. The new writing culture affected the old oral culture to sophisticate it into the rhetorical speech.

Gutenberg: Print Literacy (for science,literature, politics and economics in each nation-state) -> Educated Orality (developed in modern school)
The new technology of mechanical movable type printing started the Printing Revolution and books were now printed not copied manually.Exact reproduction of books by printing machines made publishing of detailed tables and figures in science possible. Great literature, notably the Bible, spread in books. In the process, a strong local language became, with a great help from modern schools markets, a national language and contributed to the creation of a nation-state. With its great political and economic power, the new national language suppressed weaker vernacular languages. People learned to think through printed books written in their national language. People who also learned to speak in that way were considered 'educated.'

Radio and TV: Secondary Orality (for science, literature, politics and economics in each nation-state) -> Maturation of Print Literacy
Radio and TV made the national language oral as well as written. Before radio and TV, it was not easy to spread the 'standard' speech (pronunciation and intonation) in various parts of the nation-state. Science and literature were not only written and read privately but now spoken and heard collectively in the national language. This simultaneous national experience strengthened the sense of a nation-state . Immediate transmission of information promoted more politica and economic activities. The demand for print literacy increased.

The Internet: Global Literacy (for science, literature, politics and economics in the global community) -> Global Orality (for science, literature, politics and economics in the global community)
With the Internet, the Information Revolution, the third revolution after the Agricultural Revolution and the Industrial Revolution, became obvious and undeniable. Instant and free distribution of knowledge promoted the use of a common language. The English Language, spoken in England (where the Industrial Revolution started) and the United States (where the Information Revolution started) along with other areas was chosen by many scientists, politicians and business persons for its accumulated knowledge in each field. With the positive feedback and lock-in, English has become a de facto global language or universal language. With YouTube and other technologies, spread of a 'standard' version of English speech is now as easy as ever. 'Global' or 'universal' orality in English may be achieved among the 'educated' in the foreseeable future just as the 'national' orality in the national language was achieved among the 'educated' with radio and TV. The shared sense of one global society develops, as the counter-sense of diversity develops. Whereas schools in the 19th and 20th centuries focused on the national literacy, schools in the 21st century, at least those in higher education, may focus on the global literacy. The demand for global orality increases accordingly.


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Metaphors and analogies as an important source of intelligence

There is no doubt that the central feature of human language lies in recursion, which makes possible creativity, processing infinite number of expressions with finite number of elements. Syntax is by no means is linguists' prime concern. The recursive computational system, formal and abstract, is the Faculty of language -- narrow sense (FLN). (Hauser, Chomsky & Fitch, 2002
The Faculty of Language: What Is It, Who Has It, and How Did It Evolve? Science 22 November 2002: Vol. 298. no. 5598, pp. 1569 - 1579
). Although the human share the universal code of DNA with other animals to a large degree, human language is distinctively different from those of animals in terms of recursion and creativity.

However, human language is not a singular example of recursive language. Computer languages, if we are to call them 'languages' at all, are recursive and can generate expressions infinitely.

Is a computer language 'creative' as well?

Notice my use of quotation marks for the term 'creative'. By that notation, I suggest of course that my second use of the term may not be exactly the same as the first use (processing infinite number of expressions with finite number of elements). I question the use of the term and I am ready to extend the use analogously.

A computer program, say a chess program, is capable of amazing amount of computation with its limited number of codes. It can deal with any situations which the rules of chess permit. It is 'creative' in this sense.

However, could the chess program, current or future, deal with the world beyond the chess board? Would it suggest to the chess competitor (we assume it to be human) that they should have a short break when the game becomes too long? Would it argue, when beaten bitterly in the game, that true intelligence cannot be measured by chess and propose to compete in a different game (or even create a new one)? Is the computer program 'creative' in this sense?

In other words, assuming that human intelligence (in comparison with the intelligence of other animals) is made possible by recursive human language, why does a computer language which is also recursive NOT make the computer as 'creative' like human beings?

Is this a matter of computational capacity of the computer? (Yet, the computational power of the current computer is far superior to that of the human brain.) Is it a matter of the complexity of the computer intelligence (Yet, the complexity of the computer intelligence could perhaps be as complex as the human intelligence if it uses its massive computational power recursively onto itself.)

So far at least, the artificial intelligence is distinctively different from the human intelligence. It is smarter (in fact much too smarter) than us only in a specific domain for which it is made. It wouldn't try to step outside its domain (as we often stupidly do). It is always precise (or too precise) in its deductive computation, whereas our 'inference' is full of deviations, leaps and bounds. It is always right, too right to make a mistake.

That is probably why it doesn't outgrow itself. The capacity of learning of the computer is quite limited; the computer would not radically change itself. We do. That's why we often fail miserably and sometimes achieve someting that surprises ourselves.

Can deviation, leaps and bounds be a source of the human intelligence as opposed to the computer intelligence? We differ from other animals with recursion. Are we different from the other recursive being, the computer, in aberration? Are we more intelligent because we sometimes blunder?

Here is what Walter J. Ong says in Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word (2002, Routledge, also availabel in Questia). By the word "consciousness" he means something explicitly specified, and by "unconscious" something only implicitly associated.

We are not here concerned with so-called computer ‘languages’, which resemble human languages (English, Sanskrit, Malayalam, Mandarin Chinese, Twi or Shoshone etc.) in some ways but are forever totally unlike human languages in that they do not grow out of the unconscious but directly out of consciousness. Computer language rules (‘grammar’) are stated first and thereafter used.(p. 7)

With a larger definition of 'grammar' or 'rules' than the standard definition in linguistics (notice the use of the quotation marks), Ong contines to argue that while the 'rules' of grammar of the computer language stay as they were specified, those of the human language outgrows themselves beyond our epistemological limits.

The ‘rules’ of grammar in natural human languages are used first and can be abstracted from usage and stated explicitly in words only with difficulty and never completely. (p. 7)

Would it be the case, then, by metaphors and analogies, often regarded as abberent and anomalous, we self-organize ourselves beyond our preconceptions (no matter how glorious or disastrous our new selves may be).

Julian Jaynes, the author of The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind (1976, 1990, 2000) also argues that metaphors (and analogies) are highly essential in understanding our cognition.

Jaynes points out metaphors, rather than recursive syntax, as the 'most fascinating.'

The most fascinating property of language is its capacity to make metaphors. (p. 48)

With examples such as "the head of an army, table, page, bed, ship, household, or nail" or "force, acceleration, inertia, impedance, resistance, fields and charm", Jaynes suggests that our cognition, from daily life to science, is maintained by metaphors, just like George Lakoff does in his Metaphors we live by (1980, The University of Chicago Press).

The human body is a particularly generative metaphier, creating previously unspeakable distinctions in a throng of areas. (p. 49)

The concepts of science are all of this kind, abstract concepts generated by concrete metaphors. (p. 50)

According to Jaynes, metaphors are the devices for discovery as well as for communication.

All of these concrete metaphors increase enormously our powers of perception of the world about us and our understanding of it, and literally create new objects. Indeed, language is an organ of perception, not simply a means of communication. (p. 50)

If there is syntactic creativity, there can be metaphorical creativity.

The lexicon of language, then, is a finite set of terms that by metaphor is able to stretch out over an infinite set of circumstances, even to creating new circumstances thereby. (p. 52)

We may be more intelligent than computer because we 'err' in metaphors and analogies. (After all, to err is human; to stay correct computer.)


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