Primary and Secondary Orality

“Fully literate persons can only with great difficulty imagine what a primary oral culture is like, that is, a culture with no knowledge whatsoever of writing or even the possibility of writing” (Walter Ong).  Compared to secondary orality, which is the world we know today, primary orality is a world without writing.  Words have no meaning even when they represent a visual context.  Words don’t have great power in a primary oral culture like it does in a secondary oral culture.  Thought exists more in a secondary oral culture, whereas the general language is a mode of action in a primary oral culture (Ong).  Words tend to be more assimilated to things and just “out there” in a primary oral culture.

Compared to a non-oral culture, no sense of meaning or a tag can be placed on anything.  With writing and print, representations can be made where words can have labels.  In an oral culture you know what you can recall because a restriction of words to sounds.  Although no text or writing is there to enable the thought process to bring back that thought, a mnemonic thought pattern is how retaining and retrieving information is effectively done.

“In an oral culture, to think through something in non-formulaic, non-patterned, non mnemonic terms, even if it were possible, would be a waste of time, for such thought, once worked through, could never be recovered with any effectiveness, as it could be with the aid of writing” (Ong).  This quotation exemplifies the differences in the thought process between the two cultures.  The new age, or secondary orality, is like primary orality, in the sense it has generated a group sense or true audience, which was like oral folk since no alternative was presented at that time.  It is completely different though, since it is based primarily on the use of print and writing.  The difference in technology and what is available to us today is the biggest difference when comparing oratory now and in the past.  Developments have been made that have drastically changed the culture, such as televisions, radio, and other electronic technology that has transformed us into this new age of secondary orality.

1 Comment

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One response to “Primary and Secondary Orality

  1. It says that they came up with rhythmically based ideas…I wonder if maybe they came up with songs. I think things set to a rhythm can be easier to remember; I find it really easy to remember song lyrics but not a mathematical formula. It would be kind of interesting if our textbooks were CDs or MP4s played against the backdrop of a popular song. Maybe it could help us remember things!

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