1. According to Ong, what forms do knowledge, thought and expression typically take in a non-literate culture?
Ong begins explaining thought and knowledge of an oral culture through their use and understanding of sound. He writes that, "There is no way to stop sound and have sound," and that, "all sound, and especially oral utterance, which comes from inside liveing organisms, is 'dynamic'," (32). To think of sound in this way is quite amazing. We prize so much the ability to read and write, yet what about the mastery of sound? It clearly was a crucial tool for thousands of years, and even up to the present in times of presentation and public speaking, and yet it is consistently glossed over as an inate thing we easily accomplish. Recalling these sounds becomes a bit tougher as memory call is limited outside of texts, and is instad based on communication. Formulas and proverbs are ofted used as agents to elicit and inspire memory recall. He further notes that oral cultures' thoughts and expressions are additive, aggregative, redundant, conservative, human-like, antagonistic, empathetic, homeostatic, and situational.
2. Ong writes: “Human thought structures are tied in with verbalization and must have available media of communication: there is no way for persons with no experience of writing to put their minds through the continuous linear sequence of thought such as goes, for example, into an encyclopedia article.... Until writing, most kinds of thoughts we are used to thinking today simply could not be thought.” This seems quite a radical statement. What might this mean? According to Ong what sort of limits on thought/expression might the absence of writing produce? What new kinds of thought/expression might writing make possible?
Ong's statement does in fact seem quite radical. He discusses a research study in which oral cultures were asked to describe something they knew, but that had been given an arbitrary title. I loved the discussion here, for it really made me realize that the emphasis we put on everything as having to be defined is almost ridiculous. Sure it is practical in a literary sense, but does it really help us in terms of getting by in life, or socializing? I'm sure we would (and have) get/gotten along quite fine, thank you. He claims that, "With writing, the mind is forced into a slowed-down pattern that affords it the opportunity to interfere with and reorganize it's more normal, redundant processes," (40). Clearly, writing gives us, then, and advantage in organized and thoughtful syntactic structure and rhetorical messaging, but it does not, however, mean that the other side of the spectrum is entirely lacking. Oral language is often more beautiful and enjoyable, whereas written language is formulaic and under harsher grammatical confinement, making it stiff and formal.
3. What relationship is usually assumed between writing and thinking, and between writing and learning? Does this article challenge these assumptions?
I would say that we assume writing to be an integral part of the learning process, as well as a way for us to keep thinking and continue in advancing what we learn. Yet I also am sure that oral cultures go on just fine without the obstruction of writitng - which to them is an arbitrary thing that would merely get in the way of their real lives. Instead of wasting time on blogs (no offense) or Myspace, they could be out working, living, and communicating with others just fine. The only thing I would worry about here is the challenge for them to go outside of their own social unit (for instance, into an office or a library) and have any clue as to what to do. Either way, I am confident that each group does just fine learning and thinking, regardless of whether they are oral or not. The only question left to ask would be what they are learning. Would you rather use a textbook or an apprenticeship to learn about literature? Farming? Art? The line gets blurrier as you work your way down because there is no sure fire answer, and I think Ong is to aggressive in adamantly stating his.