Presence of the Word

October 19th, 2010

Man communicates with his whole body, and yet the word is his primary medium. Communication, like knowledge itself, flowers in speech (1).

Ong, Walter J. The Presence of the Word: Some Prolegomena for Cultural and Religious History. The Terry Lectures. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1967.

This work, published in 1967, reveals many of the origins of Ong’s more popular Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word. Routledge, 2002. Here, he discusses the history of language and communication from purely oral cultures to the chirographic era to print, and on to the electronic era. He states that, in terms of communication media, cultures can be divided into three successive stages, which are essentially stages of verbalization:

  1. Oral or oral-aural;
  2. Script, which reaches critical breakthroughs with the invention first of the alphabet and then later of alphabetic movable type; and
  3. Electronic.

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