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Chapter 13. Solving Problems Through Ora... > The Naturalness of Oral Communicatio...

The Naturalness of Oral Communication

Every time Leah was asked to give an oral presentation, she was reminded of her college days and of a technical writing teacher who started off his course with a short lecture on the unnaturalness of writing. He pointed out that, historically, human activity relied on a much older oral tradition and that written communication is a relatively recent phenomenon, arising independently in different civilizations only about six thousand years ago. He would point to the art of poets like Homer, whose Iliad and Odyssey were strictly oral accounts of the glories and tragedies of the Greeks, written in the forms known today only after centuries of oral presentation passed on regularly from one generation to another. He would talk also of the great Greek and Roman orators, who through oral language attempted to sway their fellow citizens to adopt some course of action for the betterment and preservation of the state.

To make his case, he would also point to what is known of human development. Children master oral language long before they master (and master is the key word here) written language. By the age of five, children have learned and essentially mastered the intricacies of their grammars and can communicate most of what needs to be communicated to get along. But it's not until years later that they master writing. And some children, he was quick to note, never learn anything but the basics of writing their names. He would cap it off by reminding his students that most of the world's peoples are still nonliterate and that the activities of their lives are carried on only through oral means.


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