What is Orality?

Good first question

Since I’m going to say the word a lot, we might as well set the ground rules around it, eh? ( yes, I’m Canadian )


“the quality of being oral or orally communicated”

– the dictionary

That’s it.

Think of it as the verbal version of literate. I tried to play with language around all of this, and as you can see, it doesn’t seem to always pan out…

but you get the gist, right?

So what’s the big deal?

The deal is when you see how the word is being used. It seems to have a good amount of baggage. Baggage that I’m going to ask you to throw away.

Like religious baggage. Looking over Twitter’s #Orality,  from what I can tell, some use it when referring to the art form of a sermon and preaching, and some use it when discussing bringing the bible to the illiterate.  While there could be overlap with religion – I will not mean anything religious when I use the word.

Then the academic baggage. A few of the “big wigs” (Harold Innis, Eric Havelock, Marshall McLuhan, and Walter J. Ong) have determined Orality and Literacy are in total opposition. These worlds were exclusive. Ong added some nuance defining terms like “oral residue” (yuck) or primal morality. He tried to give some complexity, but in the end, they felt you lost your orality the moment you became literate. All said and done, this also, is not what I mean.

I believe it’s not as cut and dry. Like introverts and extroverts, it’s more fluid. Non-binary ( ooo I’ve got a thought around that too ).

Fortunately, in later years there have been more arguments supporting my current use and belief of Orality.

“orality is not what is spoken, but what allows one to speak.”

Donald Wesling and Tadeusz Slawek, Literary Voice: The Calling of Jonah, 159

The same could be said that literacy is not what is written, but what allows one to read.

It’s a skill. Perhaps, once learned, becomes more...

Right, and…

Well, you’re the one who signed up for this zany substack ride based on this. So where I’m going to be going, eventually, is that Orality and an oral mind make a big difference in our world in ways I’m not sure we fully understand.


More to come.
l8r g8r.