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In Orality and Literacy (1982), Walter J. Ong analyzes the structures of oral traditions and observes that oral cultures transmit their conceptions of the world differently from literate cultures. People in oral cultures primarily hear words as sounds. Those in literate cultures also hear words as sounds, but they are conditioned to visualize a word as a written form.
Writing takes words from their grounding in oral speech and places
them in a visual field. Because literacy displaces orality, Ong concludes that “writing ...is a particularly pre-emptive and imperialist activity” (12). Such displacement occurred when Europeans, with their literate traditions, encountered Native Americans, with their oral traditions. Viewed from this perspective, the conquest of America in the 17th and 18th centuries is also the story of the triumph of literacy over orality, of the text over the spoken word.
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