Oral Translation To The Digital Frontier

1877 words - 8 pages

We cannot escape human contact by hiding behind separate screens and keyboards, communicating via messages, emails, and status updates, as anchored in social media usage. Despite the fact that we’re hidden, true verbal communication and oral culture is not totally lost. As Walter Ong put it in the introduction of his book Orality and Literacy, “Our understanding of the differences between orality and literacy developed only in the electronic age, not earlier.” Social networks and the activity that occurs on them is an extension of orality, though many could argue that status updates and tweets are literary due to their written form. However, the digital age is an age of ‘secondary orality’, a resurgence of orality if you will. The orality of telephones, television, and the Internet depend on writing and print for their existences and content (Ong, Orality and Literacy 2). Additionally, the activity and communication that occurs on social networking websites displays multiple of Ong’s characteristics of orality. On Twitter, specifically, from the instantaneous replies to tweets and speaking agonistically, sans a verbal filter to redundant and repetitive hashtag usage and malicious subtweeting, Twitter has become a battleground of new-age orality.
A more recent Twitter beef occurred between Hollywood burnout, Amanda Bynes, and R&B singer/songwriter Rihanna (Figure 1). Essentially, Bynes tweeted “at” Rihanna calling her ugly. She continued to justify that statement by saying, “@rihanna Chris Brown beat you

because you’re not pretty enough”. The squabble did not end there. Rihanna “subtweeted”, “Ya see what happens when they cancel Intervention?” Bynes instantaneously replied to that, repeating, in no uncertain terms, how she believed Rihanna is not pretty and that Rihanna is the celebrity in need of an intervention. Without missing a beat, Bynes, without prompting, replied to a separate tweet of Rihanna’s about Rihanna’s appreciation for her dear friend Stella McCartney. Bynes replied, “@rihanna no one wants to be your lover so you call everyone and their mother that I almost named my new dog Rihanna”.
Although published “tweets” are written and Twitter seems to be comparable to written culture, Twitter is more comparable to oral culture. Tweeting is equatable to real-time communication such as speaking, with similar, minimal verbal filters. Twitter is a medium that supplies ample time for users to be decisive in regards to a reply to a tweet, though “tweeters” [Twitter users], in particular, are more akin to responding within seconds. Since the inception of the Internet, mobile phones, and, thus, instant gratification, the interim between reading and responding has greatly decreased. In written language, there is no adjustment to language as a reaction to another’s reply; but, there is a large interim between reading and responding [take written, letter correspondence for example]. However, oral expression is an instantaneous product of...

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