Walter J.Ong Thought about Orality


Humans as social beings have the ability to communicate using spoken and written language. Communication carried out by humans is sometimes in the form of information delivery, either in the form of current information or as a form of delivering information about the legacy of the past. In communities that don't know about writing, that doesn't mean they don't have the ability to record and continue their past experiences. Although not yet familiar with writing, but the process of inheriting past experiences is done verbally, the process of inheriting oral past experiences is known as Orality tradition.

Orality tradition can be interpreted as a habit or tradition that develops in a community which is recorded and passed down from generation to generation through spoken language. In orality traditions there are historical events, habits, stories, fairy tales, proverbs, songs, spells, moral values, and religious values.

The development of oral traditions occur from mouth to mouth which gave rise to many versions of the story. According to Suripan Sadi Hutomo (1991: 11), oral tradition includes several things, (1) in the form of oral literature, (2) in the form of traditional technology, (3) in the form of folklore knowledge outside the central palace and metropolitan city, (4) in the form of religious elements and folklore beliefs outside the formal boundaries of major religions, (5) in the form of folklore art outside the palace center and metropolitan city, and (6) in the form of customary law.

According to Pudentia (1999: 32), The orality tradition includes all matters relating to literature, language, history, biography, and various other knowledge and types of art delivered from mouth to mouth. Thus, oral tradition includes not only folklore, puzzles, proverbs, folk songs, mythology, and legends as is commonly suspected, but also related to the cognitive system of culture, such as: history, law, and medicine. Oral tradition is "all discourses that are spoken / delivered from generation to generation include verbal and literal ones" and are interpreted also as "a system of discourse that is not literal." Oral traditions are not only possessed by oral people. The implications of the word "oral" in oral-written pairs differ from oral-literate. The first oral (oracy) contains the intention of 'sound literacy', while the second oral (orality) contains the intention of skill to speak in a literal manner. The oralities in literate societies are often interpreted as the results of an uneducated society; something that has not been written down; something that is considered not perfect/mature, and is often judged by literacy criteria.

In the oral tradition, the role of the elder person, such as the clan leader is very important. They were given the trust of their group to maintain the traditions inherited from generation to generation.

One community group with the same values, norms, traditions and cultures will have traces of their past. In a society that is not familiar with writing, the traces of its past are disseminated and passed down from generation to the next generation verbally so that it becomes part of the oral tradition. Works in oral tradition are part of a folklore.

Topics on Orality and Literacy are rarely discussed in studies of social sciences and humanities. In fact, one way to understand the process of cultural dynamics, especially the phenomenon of communication and language, is to study the development of oral and literacy traditions.

Through a diachronic or historical approach, Walter J Ong through the book Orality and Literacy which was translated into Indonesian with the title "Kelisanan dan Keaksaraan" (Gading Publishing, 2013), shows how the writing system which was accompanied by the emergence of electronic and printing technology had an effect on the diminishing orality tradition. Nevertheless, the impact of orality as a mentality remains alive.

In an article entitled "Suara-suara yang Sirna", published in the July 2012 issue of National Geographic, Russ Rymer revealed the fact that in 14 days, one voice (oral based language) became extinct due to being forced by written-based languages ​​which now dominated the world like England, French, Arab, Mandarin, Spanish.

The wrong general view about orality also accelerates the extinction of orality languages, which are mostly found in Malay society. In everyday life, oralities are considered lower than literacy. Writing tradition is considered a sign of progress, while oral tradition is a sign of retardation.

The problem is, according to Walter J Ong, the difference between orality and literacy is not just about the facilities or the media or communication technology. But it is also related to mentality, that is human awareness of the difference between ways of thinking and verbal expressions and ways of thinking and written expressions, which influence daily social-cultural life.

In his introduction, researcher Bisri Effendy said that the book of Orality and Literacy contained the spirit of Walter J Ong's defense of oral tradition, which had been underestimated. Oral tradition is indeed not accustomed to expressing ideas in a linear and analytical sequence which usually built with the text. But oral traditions can produce a complex, intelligent and beautiful organization of thoughts and experiences, all of which arise in the work process of oral memory. So it is not true if there is a statement which places oral tradition more backward than the writing.

Ong's enthusiasm made people realize to place orality in an equally important position with literacy. Orality gives a deep and broad understanding of the socio-cultural phenomena of the community.

The first characteristic of orality is sound. Unlike writing that can leave a trace. Sound, although it can be remembered but cannot be searched anywhere. The sound has no focus and no trace.

Walter J Ong discussed the issue of oralities in his book "Orality and Literacy: Technologizing of the Word" (2005). But he does not simply distinguish orality and literacy; that the orality is not written while writing is all written forms. This distinction is often made by scholars who focus on ideology. Those who are very concerned about the 'text', assume that oral verbalization is essentially same as verbalizing it in written form, the difference being that the oral is not written. Such distinctions ultimately make orality interpreted as 'unskillful' and not too valuable to learn.

To understand Ong's version about the orality concept, people must get out of that simple category, and even reverse their beliefs and participate in Ong's main ideas; language is an oral phenomenon and not writing.

Then what is the meaning of writing for language? According to him, writing cannot replace orality. And following Jurij Lotman's ideas, he calls writing "a secondary modeling system, dependent on a prior primary system, spoken language". If writing converts words into text, then writing always leaves a trace while oralities seem to leave no trace.

There is no way to stop the sound. We can stop the motion of the image and then choose one image on a screen. But if we stop the sound movement, we don't have anything - just silence, or no sound at all.

Because it is based on sound, and without text. Sound is without trace, and the second characteristic of orality arise from the problem of how to recall "sound recordings" or how sounds become something "organized material"?

Ong answered : “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."

According to Walter J.Ong, the pattern of thinking between orality and literacy differs from one another. The characteristics of oral based thinking, according to Ong, include; Orality is additive and not subordinate as is common in literacy. Additives mean oralities often use words that strengthen the previous sentence. Orality is also aggregative. This aggregative character aims to trigger memories. In oral tradition, if you refer to a princess, it's not enough if you don't complete it with a beautiful princess.

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