Notes on Orality and Literacy from Majid Tehranian

There are three categories of analysis when comparing litaracy and orality:

  Production Legitimization Communication
Orality - gathering, simple living, nomadic

- live hand to mouth

- little surplus / storage

- little need for recording

- unity of spiritual and temporal authority (chief is a divine figure) - words, signs, drums, fires
Literacy - switch from nomadic to agriculture

- with agriculture, develop surpluses in food

- surpluses force a NEED for RECORDING (and need for taxation)

- we begin seeing tablets with recorded figures

- spiritual and temporal authorities are differentiated

- literacy distinguishes between sender and receiver of message

- differentiation of functions in society:  spiritual authority (priests), governing authority (king), etc.

- holy books are developed, and thus a need for a custodian for them develops (spiritual expert) / priests and priesthoods

- learning institutions and professionals (book caretakers / experts)

- the PEN becomes the instrument of POWER

- rule by the PEN, not the SWORD

An example:  In the Bush / Kerry debate...

Bush was a very effective 'oral' communicator- he spoke using short, emotional statements and was very understandable, and simple.  He put things into black & white categories (good vs. evil, etc), and was repetitive.

Kerry debated using more 'literate' communication- his thoughts were much longer and complex, and followed a linear path.