Monday, July 6, 2009

Topic: Oral Culture and Writing

10-second review: The author compared 1,000 themes written in the 1950s and 1,000 themes written in the 1970s and concludes that writing by students in the 1970s is more oral in nature, leading to a decline in thought, sentence structure, spelling and precision in language.

Title: “The Subversive Effect of an Oral Culture on Student Writing.” Gary Sloan. College Composition and Communication (May 1979), 156-160. A quarterly publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: The author notes certain kinds of mistakes in writing in the 1970s that are symptomatic of the increasing influence of oral culture in students’ written work: running words together, like “alot.” Confusion of similar-sounding words: “their/there.” Misspellings: “trys/tries”; “recieve/receive”; “existance/existence.” The hardest word to spell in the 1970s was “ecstasy” (Might not be hard to spell in the 2000s because of the date rape pill RayS.). Sentence fragments (we use them when we speak); run-on sentences (we use them when we speak); proliferation of the “you” point of view (in the sense of “one”); the use of ordinary speaking vocabulary in writing rather than precision in word choice.

The author concludes: “The general character of the 70s themes perhaps offers some support for the voguish contention that we are moving ineluctably toward an age where print will be a well-nigh archaic means of communication, where sundry electronic media will make essays, stories, letters and the like as old fashioned as cuneiform and hieroglyphics.” p. 160.

Comment: The author notes, “It’s easier to document the titanic influence of an oral culture than to know what to do about it.” p. 159. In my next blog, I will tell you what I did about the influence of our oral culture on writing—and very successfully, too. RayS.

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