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Subject Linguistics

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631214816.1999.x


A term coined as an opposite to ‘literacy’, which has come into vogue in the wake of the scientific investigation of how linguistic communication differs in speech and writing. Research has focused on two different phenomena: speech as opposed to writing in literate societies, and communication in non-literate societies. With respect to the first, ‘orality’ refers to the mode of linguistic production and the specific characteristics of oral language use as well as to the products thereof, for instance oral composition (narrative), spontaneous speech, and conversation. The focal question is how the oral mode used by co-present speakers determines structural features of oral texts. In traditional grammatical analysis written language has often been taken as the standard of which its oral manifestation deviated in various respects. Oral styles are characterized as more situation bound, personal, specific, concrete and redundant than their literate counterparts. Social registers, such as Basil Bernstein's ‘restricted’ and ‘elaborated’ codes, have also been likened to oral and literate styles, respectively. In regard to the second phenomenon, ‘orality’ refers to the social organization of non-literate cultures. Genuine orality in this sense is a state of affairs where the alternative between the spoken and the written mode is unknown. Social systems with and without literacy have been ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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