KJ Hannah Greenberg

The Channels of Our Verbal Investments: Part One

Making and transferring ideas is a complex process whose scope and details are difficult to spell out. Given our culture’s imperfect attentiveness to language’s situational applicability and to its suitability for specific methods of thinking, our society remains challenged to ascertain language’s actual particulars. More exactly, “[s]ometimes we neglect this aspect of communication because the continuous rediscovery of  [‘]the boundary of self and other in the community… requires us to be together sometimes and at other times to walk alone.[’]”1 Meaning, our continuously morphing boundaries cause language’s borders to be ill-defined.

We suffer from a conjoint propensity to abide by illogical linguistic rules; ordinarily, we reserve legitimacy for communication that adheres to conventional ideology and transcription even though we acknowledge that such rigidity ill-effects our lives. Explicitly, we mistakenly assess only etymological bases in the face of the fact that transactions’ foundations can, equally, be symbolic or cognitive in nature. More precisely, we deem “understanding” and “truth” as “central,” not “radical,” notions regardless of the reality that “commonsense,” “objectivity,” and kindred constructs, too, alter our everyday experiences.2

On balance, it’s our received indoctrination, via prescribed schooling or via casual acculturation, that provides us with guidelines for linguistically building worlds.3

Education is the major knowledge production, distribution, and utilization system… Knowledge is produced at all levels of education, from the nursery school to the graduate school. Knowledge is distributed in many ways, from classroom courses to books and other media, extension workers, conferences, and so forth.4

We receive direction for winnowing words through oral discourse, through printed texts, and through electronic exchanges. First, we rely on orality because it empowers “us, with others, to share the actual creation, development, continuance, and manifestation of individual humanity[. A]ll culture is composed of individuals in social linkages and all individuals come into the world as sounding creatures.”5 Furthermore, orality is primary in infant/adult bonding, in interspecies communication, and for certain populations such as the visually impaired.

The oral mode of fashioning is easier to mimic and is more adaptable than are other practices. “Oral psychodynamics include additivity, aggregativity, redundancy, conservation… agonisticity, empathy and participatoriness, homeostasis, and situationality.”6  “[S]ound and orality affect our thinking…‘radically’ and ‘profoundly’ [as well as] creates, changes, affects, assists, or hinders higher mental processes considerations.”Language’s history is oral discourse. Whereas such communication’s social value remains miscalculated, it decisively skews how we craft ideas.

Orality, nevertheless, is recurrently judged to be primitive. “[W]hen literature appears on the scene, in the place of [orally-based discourse], it is already thought of as that which must be understood historically.”8 We have long granted writing “assumed privileged status over speaking” (after all, the advent of the Phoenician alphabet made “it possible to record language rather than groups of ideas.” 9 and made it possible for humanity to enjoy a communicative mutuality that transverses time.) 10 What’s more, typography effects our attitudes because “every form of inquiry[’s] texts becomes anomalous and obtrusive rather than normal exemplifications of a well-understood activity.”11

On the flip side, chirographic literacy is superabundant over and above being semantically impure. Hence, writing is communication that “convert[s] words from sounds into physical artifacts, [enables] messages to be separated from their creators [and allows them to] be transported to… distant receiver[s].”12 Besides, we use writing to borrow vocabulary from older cultures13  and we treat some dated texts, e.g., “original manuscripts and first editions, especially of famous writers” as iconic.14 Hitherto, in view of today’s information flood, we’ve reduced our respect for this form of transmission since electronic missives are cheaper and faster.

Our electronical intersections enforce immediacy, subjectivity, and emotivism.15 When automated images dominate, the perceptions assigned, e.g.,  to “meaning,” to “citizenship,” and to “discourse,” change. If we assume that “the objective of literacy is commonly defined as the mastery of that kind of language which deals in concepts, the ability to express oneself abstractly, and so to think logically and clearly,”16 then we can comprehend the incalculable impressions left by electronically mediated ideas.

Everyday misunderstandings impel the media’s sway on ingenuity. Whereas typography transverses time, electronically formatted communication, additionally, transverses space. Global village metaphors aside, the images produced, for example, by convergent media, are distinct from those produced by oral and written stimuli. Electronically produced images can overpower orality and chirography’s relatively logical and complex output because unlike the latter, the former are infrequently unfinished or fragmented. As such, electronic discourse encourages passive social participation, irreverence of social criticism, and the worship of idols (in the Baconian sense).

For instance, these days, we seem to place more emphasis on computer literacy than on library skills. Schools might tout the importance of reading and writing proficiency in public forums by virtue of counted deeds albeit most extant educational institutions spend more resources on hardware, software, and computer faculty than on remedial writing facilities or other means of increasing typographic mastery. Thus, our “challenge is not to denigrate writing and vision but to understand and appreciate the importance and the enduring presence of the oral/aural.”17

In spite of our disproportionate reliance on electronic forms of interacting, without our multiple channels, invention would be substantively void, even amorphic. Problematically, it’s when limited perspectives are presented that our moral crises occur.

  1. C. Arnett., Communication and Community: Implications of Martin Buber’s Dialogue. S. Illinois UP, 1986, xviii.
  2. George, Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things: What Categories Reveal about the Mind. U Chicago P, 1987.
  3. Janet W. Astington and David R. Olson. “Talking about Text: How Literacy Contributes to Thought.” Ontario Institute for Studies in Education and McLuhan Program in Culture and Technology, 1990, 10-11.
  4. Matilda Paisley and William J. Butler, Eds. Knowledge Utilization Systems in Education: Dissemination, Technical Assistance, Networking. Sage, 1983, 11.
  5. Frank E. X Dance. “Ong’s Voice: ‘I’ the Oral\Intellect, You and We.” Text and Performance Quarterly. 1989, 189 and 196.
  6. Walter Ong. Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word. Methuen, 1982, 31-77 qtd. in. Frank E. X Dance. “Ong’s Voice.” 192-194.
  7. Frank E. X Dance. “Ong’s Voice.” 194.
  8. Gary “What was Literary History? A Critical Synthesis.” Social Epistemology  2.1. 1988, 5
  9. Jorge Schement and Hartmut B. Mokros. “The Social and Historical Construction of the Idea of Information as Thing.” International Communication Association Convention. U Dublin P, 1990, 8.
  10. A. Havelock. “Orality, Literacy and Star Wars.” Pre/text. 7.3-4. 1986, 124.
  11. Gary “What was Literary History?” 3.
  12. Jorge Schement and Hartmut B. Mokros. “The Social and Historical Construction of the Idea of Information as Thing.” 8-11.
  13. Janet W. Astington and David R. Olson. “Talking about Text.” 5.
  14. Jorge Schement and Hartmut B. Mokros. “The Social and Historical Construction of the Idea of Information as Thing.” 24.
  15. Neil Postman. “Informing Ourselves to Death.” German Informatics Society. Stuttgart. 11 Oct. 1990. informing. Accessed 26 Dec. 2022.
  16. A. Havelock. “Orality, Literacy and Star Wars.” 124.
  17. Frank E. X Dance. “Ong’s Voice.” 126.
About the Author
KJ Hannah Greenberg has been playing with words for an awfully long time. Initially a rhetoric professor and a National Endowment for the Humanities Scholar, she shed her academic laurels to romp around with a prickle of imaginary hedgehogs. Thereafter, her writing has been nominated once for The Best of the Net in poetry, three times for the Pushcart Prize in Literature for poetry, once for the Pushcart Prize in Literature for fiction, once for the Million Writers Award for fiction, and once for the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay. To boot, Hannah’s had more than forty books published and has served as an editor for several literary journals.