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Orality and Literacy (New Accents) Paperback – July 21, 2002

ISBN-13: 978-0415281294 ISBN-10: 0415281296 Edition: 2nd

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Product Details

  • Series: New Accents
  • Paperback: 216 pages
  • Publisher: Routledge; 2 edition (July 21, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0415281296
  • ISBN-13: 978-0415281294
  • Product Dimensions: 7.7 x 6.3 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.5 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #189,909 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


'Professor Ong has managed to synthesize an incredible amount of thought and at the same time has carried some of his earlier ideas still further. Orality and Literacy should become a classic. It is eminently assignable for undergraduate courses' - Professor John Ahern

'No comparable work on this important subject exists. Thanks to the lucidity of its style and presentation of complex thought, this is a work that will be accessible and useful...it will be the standard introduction to this topic for some years to come' - Choice

'Professor Walter Ong's new book explores some of the profound changes in our thought processes, personality and social structures which are the result, at various stages of our history, of the development of speech, writing and print. And he projects his analysis further into the age of mass electronic communications media...the cumulative impact of the book is dazzling. Read this book. Literature will never be the same again. And neither will you' - Robert Giddings, Tribune

'This admirably lucid book...has obvious implications for philosophy, literature, linguistics, sociology, psychology, education, and Biblical studies...I believe this is the best book Ong has published' - Thomas J. Farrell, Cross Currents

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Walter J. Ong is University Professor Emeritus at Saint Louis University, USA, where he was previously Professor of English and Professor of Humanities in Psychiatry. His many publications have been highly influential for studies in the evolution of the consciousness.

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Customer Reviews

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It is a classic in its field and I would highly recommend it.
Christopher R. Travers
For me, Ong's book was an introduction into the way societies accumulate and pass on knowledge.
It is a beautiful book and you will never look at writing in the same way.
Amazon Customer

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

23 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Jason M. Silverman on October 27, 2005
Format: Paperback
This book represents a very concise, easy to read summary of much of Ong's work in the area of human communications and technology. The depth of scholarship evident can easily be followed upon by using the wide-ranging bibliography. Ong masterfully takes the idea of the power of the alphabet, and points to the impact this has on human understanding, an impact which has not fully been accepted in philosophy, history, anthropology, sociology, etc. The student and scholar would do well to creatively interact with Ong's work.
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28 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Peter FYFE on December 24, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I wish I hadn't read this book... but heard it, for this is a book that deserves the delight that comes from the immediate business of listening to sounds in the air rather than the abstracted business of reading marks on a page (or dulled spots on a screen).

In it, Walter Ong makes a valiant attempt to take us back to a time before text, to a place where we might imagine language as something heard and existing only in its moment, language as something without thee concept of words and letters to chop it up, language as something we hear without imagined structures learned from print, language as something replete with revealing repetitions to aid memory and understanding, something that values the familiar over the novel. He then slowly winds us forward, textual innovation by [con]textual innovation, to the edge of the cyber age, the next unwritten chapter along this vast track.

If you're a reader of books, I'm sure you'll be transported by this adventure beyond your cultural assumptions of what language is and can be. You may find yourself yearning for some of the human experience our world of convenient published accessible text may be denying us, or even hoping some of that experience is still available in specialist forms such as live performance, as I do.

Either way, you'll never hear a book like it.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By J. Pesenti on September 27, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
We type, we print. This is technology. We speak, we write, we read. This is human nature. Or is it?

Printing and computers emerged as technology. But so did writing. Writing is so natural to us that we forget it is a human creation - we can not even name what came before it (oral literature is a revealing oxymoron).

Ong convinces us that writing restructured our consciousness, and so does this little book. This technical, scholarly and at time tedious book is an eye opener. It shows that what seems like a given is possibly the most fundamental reshaping of ourselves in the history of humanity.

Those fond of Homer or Plato will wonder how they could have studied them seriously without the prism of orality vs literacy. The Iliad and Odyssey are oral poems - can we imagine what it takes to compose a tens of thousand words epic without taking a single note, without writing a single verse and without an outline? The Socrates discourses - discourses! - are the first steps of written analytic thoughts in a Society were rhetoric was king.

Beyond antic work the orality perspective is relevant for the full history of thoughts. Literature became less and less influenced by the oral constraints, shifting from the episodic epics to the modern well constructed novel. Teaching evolved from recitation and rhetoric to analytical thoughts.

Grasping orality allows a better understanding of human nature, not only by offering a glimpse of what primitive society's thoughts might be, but by putting the evolution of thoughts in a new light. Differences in today's societies often reflect their degree of literacy, i.e., the maturity of their written thought process.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Christopher R. Travers on May 21, 2008
Format: Paperback
Back when I was in college, one of my professors recommended this book to me. Ten years later, after skimming portions of it through several times, I read it through and discovered how important of a work it is. I would highly recommend it to anyone studying primary oral cultures and traditions.

Walter Ong approaches one of the central topics for developing a wholistic understanding of older mythic traditions-- the linguistic, semiotic, and cognative differences which separate oral and literate traditions.

The book begins by discussing the works dedicated to determining the origins of Homer's epics in the 20th century and the discovery of the extent to which the constraints of orally-transmitted knowledge structured the epics. Ong then summarizes additional research done in linguistic and anthropology fields relating to oral traditions in modern Europe, Africa, and elsewhere.

Ong succeeds in creating an accessible outline of the major transitions in human thought from orality to chirography (manuscripts), from chirography to typography (with the widespread use of the printing press), and the resurgence of some aspects of orality in modern electronic communication (both personal and mass-market).

This book is important for a number of reasons. First, it can help us to step back and be more conscious of how communications media are affecting how we communicate and, more importantly, how we think. Secondly it provides a framework for a better understanding of the older traditions in our past. Such understanding can provide a framework for better assimilating aspects of past approaches and thought processes into the present world.

Although published first in 1982, the work has been reprinted numerous times and is still in print. It is a classic in its field and I would highly recommend it.
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