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Review of  Orality

Reviewer: Luna Beard
Book Title: Orality
Book Author: Graham Furniss
Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan
Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis
Issue Number: 16.2188

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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.


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.

Format: Hardback
ISBN: 1403934045
ISBN-13: N/A
Pages: 200
Prices: U.K. £ 45