More notes from Walter Ong's Orality and Literacy, because he says so many interesting things and I can only choose some to share with the audience at Mythcon. My brain is pretty full, but reading and writing text allows me to continue to stuff more and more information in without having to worry about actually remembering it all -- a significant difference from the way oral cultures handle information and communication. If there is time, I will try to work in some of these ideas.
Sound exists only when it is going out of existence. It is not simply perishable, but evanescent and it is sensed as evanescent.Even as we speak aloud, each word must disappear as a sound inorder to allow the next word to take its place. There is no equivilent of a "still" shot for sound. It is always experienced in real time. Oral utterance, which comes from inside living organisms is "dynamic." Oral cultures almost universally consider words as having a magical potency -- as the word spoken, sounded, and power-driven. Names conveying power over things.
You know what you can recall. Sustained thought in an oral culture is tied to communication. Think memorable thoughts -- using mnemonic patterns shaped for ready oral recurrence. Though coming in heavily rhythmic, balanced patterns, repetitives, antithesis, epthetic etc, along with standard thematic settings, in proverbs, in riddles, -- all patterned for retention. Formulas help impliment rhythmic discourse and act as mnemonic aids -- which appear often in oral cultures because they form the substance of thought itself. ("The clinging vine," "sturdy oak," divide and conquer." ) The law itself is enshrined in oral sayings, proverbs, which show up not as decorations, but evidence of the law itself.
Oral discourse looks to the pragmatic needs of the speaker, written text looks to the syntatics, the organization of the discourse itself. Traditional expressions in oral cultures must not be dismantled -- it's been hard work getting them together over the generations and there is no where outside the mind to story them. Unlike written text where one can back track to keep thoughts together, oral cultures use redundencies, repetitions to keep the hearers on track. ***And this, which I will be doing when I speak: "The public speaker's need to keep going while he (she!) is running through her mind what to say next also encourages redundency. Better to repeat something artfully if possibly, rather than to simply stop speaking while fishing for the next idea." (Lord help me! )