Ron Scollon & Suzie Scollon  

The Problem of Power


An Essay Reviewing:


Orality and Literacy, Walter J. Ong

The Parable of the Tribes, Andrew Schmookler

The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Confucius, Ezra Pound (Tr.)

The Real Work, Gary Snyder


'Separate the word from the body. Thatís death.'

The speaker is an old Navajo woman. She is speaking to her grandson. He has recently completed a doctoral degree at an Eastern University and now would like to record his grandmother's stories on magnetic tape. She does not want to let him separate her words from her body. She will not let him take her words away from their relationship as grandmother and grandson to store them for others to hear.

When people use sounds in a certain complex set of patterns in relating to each other we call that process language. That is how it was for unknown ages before writing. That is how it is now. But for those who write, for those who read, it is forgotten that language is sounds we make and sounds we hear.  For us language has become letters, words, sentences, grammar. For us language has become writing.

This is so such so that we say easily and without thinking that we speak 'words'. And yet people who speak but do not write rarely talk of 'words'. They talk about meanings and intentions and relationships among people and relationships between people and the world. We are so committed to writing that we talk and write about such people by reference to literacy. We call them non-literates, pre-literates, or worse, illiterates. Writing has come to be a central feature of humanity in our imagination.


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