Language Evolution: The Windows Approach addresses the question: "How can we unravel the evolution of language, given that there is no direct evidence about it?"
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Date: Fri, 15 Jul 2005 11:49:36 +0200 From: Luna Beard Subject: Orality: The Power of the Spoken Word
AUTHOR: Furniss, Graham TITLE: Orality SUBTITLE: The Power of the Spoken Word PUBLISHER: Palgrave Macmillan YEAR: 2004
Luna Beard, Department of Afro-Asiatic Studies, Sign Language and Language Practice, University of the Free State, Bloemfontein, South Africa
There are three general themes running through this book; namely, (i) The nature and significance of the oral communicative moment and the situations in which such moments occur; (ii) the dynamics of cultural aspects; and (iii) the dynamics of persuasion.
The oral communicative moment is scrutinised in the first of six chapters. It is discussed firstly as an omnipresent condition of social existence and then as the locus for the articulation of ideas and values.
While the oral communicative moment can be one of the numerous instances of interpersonal communication among individuals going on constantly, it can also be a single moment that is perceived to have significant consequences for millions of people around the globe. The range of examples discussed in this book lie along the continuum between these two poles. Illustrations include Chief Standing Bear's speech in court (Nebraska), Eminem's song in the film 8 Mile, customer and salesman discourse, political speeches from Britain, translations of verbal trade agreements (South Africa), praising in Hausa (Nigeria) as opposed to that in Zulu (South Africa), and aesthetic principles in Yoruba as opposed to those among the Berba-speaking people of northern Benin.
In the Preface it is pointed out that the oral communicative moment is of interest because it is in understanding its dynamics that the how and the why of the transmission of ideas and values, information and identities can be understood and the differing cultural parameters within which the process operates from context to context and from society to society can be observed.
The questions posed and addressed in chapter 1 relate to the subtitle of this book. Why is it that a speech event is of significance? Is there any aspect of communication that cannot eventually be conveyed by writing? If writing is sufficient, "then why is it that so many of the decisive moments in our daily lives, both as individuals and as societies, remain firmly embedded in moments of orality?" (21)
Cultural parameters and specifically genres and issues relating to 'ways of speech' form the focus of chapter 2. The point is made that speech genres are embedded within all the familiar patterns of accent, dialect, and language, and have their own conventions and expectations among speakers and listeners. Empirical, sociolinguistic and pragmatic suppositions guide the discussion as a stated central purpose (46) behind the study of particular oral literatures is to present and understand the variety of voices (such as professional, young and old, male and female) within such societies.
The discussion in chapter 2 opens with a look at two approaches to language and to culture. The difficulties associated with the translation of a new concept into Hausa is taken as the case in point to illustrate the viewpoints of those who prefer a term that is authentic to a particular language as opposed to those who make decisions based on what is plausible, memorable, simple, current, in use and appropriate.
Furniss (2004:47) describes the experiential nature of the oral performance as follows: "Oral literature exists only in the here and now. It is the moment that matters -- who was there, what they saw and felt, and what they remember." Despite the centrality of the audience in orality, chapter 3 also addresses the '(taken) out of context' aspect associated with speech -- particularly recorded speech. The title of this chapter is Insertion into the Social -- Constituting Audiences, Audience Cultures and Moving from the private to the Public. The oral expression of 'private' knowledge that may be widespread and widely believed is commonly called 'gossip' and 'rumour'. These terms represent "the insertion and infiltration into the 'public' domain of 'private' information which has not made the transition to 'public knowledge'" (77). In this chapter the question is: How does that transition occur?
Chapter 4 addresses issues that surround the articulation of values accompanied by the formulation of ideologies. Here the centrality of orality in the ideological processes that dominate public discourse is brought out.
The penultimate chapter of this book examines some of the academic approaches to orality and the speech event, and discusses a range of disciplines and fields of enquiry which raise different issues surrounding the topic under discussion. Chapter 6 ties all the threads together. It is followed by two appendices: Sir Geoffrey Howe's Resignation Statement to the House of Commons, 13 November 1990; and Huber H. Humphey's speech to the Democratic National Convention, July 14, 1948.
Overall the discussion moves away from a view that contrasts the 'oral/spoken' with the 'written'. "Rather the focus here is upon orality as sets of communicative conditions inherent in oral situations common to all human societies whether 'literacy' is absent, restricted or general. The emphasis here is on the oral in the 'oral/literate' mix ..." (2). This is manifested in the way that the discussion is not centred on the nature of so-called 'oral societies' and their transition to becoming 'literate societies', but rather on characteristics of the communication processes involved in the various kinds of orality, such as direct dialogue between two people, or a verbal address by one person to many. For Furniss (2004) orality and the dynamics of oral communication lie at the heart of all societies.
The book does not fall into one specific disciplinary category. It has a central theme in the exploration of oral communication, but also draws on perspectives from oral-literary studies and rhetoric, linguistic anthropology, sociolinguistics, cultural studies and social anthropology.
The book is written in an eloquent style. It provides a thought-provoking view on the centrality of orality from a cross-cultural perspective.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Luna Beard is a researcher in the Department of Afro-Asiatic Studies, Sign language and Language Practice at the University of the Free State in Bloemfontein, South Africa.