The ontological status of a text

The ontological status of a text

1) The correlation of oral and written forms of speech

2) The problem of differentiation of oral and written texts

1. The question of correlation of oral and written texts of speech is fundamental in linguistics, it is traditionally admitted that the oral form of speech is primary and the written form is secondary.

W. von Humbold analyzing peculiarities of oral speech perception by deaf mutes concluded: “their example shows how deep and inseparable is the connection between oral and written forms of the language, even if it is not supported by the sound”.

Another well known German scholar H. Paul speaks about the correlation of oral and written speech in such a way: “a language should never forget that any written matter is not the language proper; that before dealing with certain language material it is necessary to subject it to the back-transformation. A written word correlates with the oral one in approximately the same mater as a draft sketch correlates with a carefully painted picture”.

For the sake of justice it is necessary to stress that the history of linguistics shows many examples of different estimation of the correlation between oral and written speech during different epochs. Today we acknowledge the genetic primacy of the oral in comparison to written form of speech.

But it wasn’t always so. During the Alexandria period (3-2 c. B.C.) the idea of the Greeks about language was based mainly on written texts. That’s why oral speech was considered a dependant and derivative form of written speech. These beliefs became stronger in Middle Ages, when Latin as language or writing occupied a predominant position in the fields of education, culture and science.

During Renaissance scholars considered the language of Cicero as ensemble of  Latin and the literature of classical antiquity was accepted as a source of all cultural values of civilization.

The scholars concentrated on collecting and publishing classical authors in particular after the invention of printing at the end of 15th century.

Literary language was considered the only true language and real literature studies at schools and universities comprised only those works which continued classical traditions.

In the epoch of Romanticism when classical standards of antiquity were rejected, traditional views on the correlation of oral and written speech were changed into the opposite ones. Oral speech of the people was considered as example of powerful spirit of the people, while written speech was treated as something weak.

The development of mass-media and computer technologies today leads to the considerable shift in the usage of both: oral and written forms of communication. Oral means of mass communication in contemporary society aren’t used to a full extent.

This problem has also called the attention of Ferdinand de Saussure: “language and writing are different systems of signs; the only meaning of the latter it to serve as a reflection of the former. The subject of linguistics is exclusively the sound form of the word, rather than the combination of a sound form and a graphic form of a word.

As a result the reflection of a sounding sign is considered more important than the sign itself. The above presented statements of world-known scholars perfectly illustrate the basic tendency in dealing with the fundamental question of the correlation of oral and written form of speech.

It’s developed by representatives of modern linguistics. Zinder, for example, says: “written form of speech is not actually speech. Speech fixed in the optical size (sign) and not perceived by person remains a dead matter. It becomes real speech only when the act of communication takes place, when the text is read, when it sounds at least in the reader’s mind”.

Yu. Rozhdenstvenskyi considers that sound presents the source and the beginning of a language, writing though is of great importance for the history and culture.

Nowadays its role is increasing. But here we come to a paradox:  written communication becomes topical for all scientific disciplines because of it’s capable of transmitting, keeping and storing scientific information, at the same time Linguistics ( science about language ) considers written forms of speech as secondary forms of communication, diminishing the importance of written communication.

2. At the first sight this problem does not seem to present any considerable difficulties. If we proceed from the material form of sign we may easily distinguish between oral and written speech. Oral speech is realized in the form of sound matter and perceived acoustically, while written speech is realized in the form of graphic method and perceived visually.

Scholars refer to it again and again, emphasizing natural character of oral speech and  the secondary artificial nature of written speech.

The difference between these two speech forms is proved by the fact that it’s impossible to recall a text from one form into another and then back again.

Prosody, gestures, the importance of situational context for understanding of the utterance are characteristic features of oral communication.

The written texts exist much longer than the oral ones. Graphic means and text structuring function as means of prosody.

Written text comprises much more linguistic information because the role of extra-linguistic context in this case is reduced to minimum.

Oral speech is also characterized by great number of grammatical mistakes, breaks, pauses, ect.

Another difference is vocabulary. Syntax in written speech is more complicated. Such opposition allows us to draw the following conclusion: “oral speech is a kind of spontaneous speech in direct communication and written speech corresponds to the form of bookish speech”.

Watson has made an interesting experiment, touching upon the specific nature of written texts. The aim was to compare the manner of presentation of literary texts by their authentic authors and by other people. The research was based on reading the abstracts by J. Joyce and  W. Faulkner in works. Those were compared with the reading of the same abstracts by other readers having higher linguistic education and acquainted with the works of the authors.

The author’s reading was viewed as the model of comprehensive reading. Research has proved that in the process of oral reproduction of a written belles-lettres text 3 main factors influenced its intonational interpretation :

– Content component – realization of key phrase and phrasal informational sentence

– Form – presence or absence of polyphony

– Dynamics in text development – tempo, rhythm, intensity

Moreover each of the mentioned factors is reflected differently in the intonational pattern of a text. It appeared that traditional literary texts are subject to correct intonational reconstruction more that others.

The greatest difficukties are connected with oral reproduction of words of the well-known so-called stream of consciousness. These difficulties might appear due to the fact that the author singles out one intonational sentence and the reader – another. Or the author divides a complete text into separate utterances and gives them different intonational patterns, while the reader pays no attention to them.

The most difficult task for the oral reproduction is to express the author’s understanding of the text dynamics. The reader may more or less exactly reflect changes in volume, tempo, rhythm which correspond to the content on the level of a phrase of phonetic paradigm  but fails to do the same on the level of a text. All these facts prove that written text is supposed to be read in a variety of ways, while the oral ones are usually presented in the only and unique variant.

From the moment the scientific theory appeared linguists wanted to find the criterion which as Hauzemblauz claimed “would reflect the more important differences in the structure of text fragments taking into consideration modern needs of communication practice including the differences of all levels and text structures from the marginal their sound and graphic to the central level reflecting to the structure of content”. Of particular importance seems to be the conclusion: “in the most general analysis of  text status are the distinctions between oral and written manifestations of speech activity”.

A famous German linguist Glinz emphasizes that in the process of text investigation the production and perception it is necessary to consider which works serve as an object of analysis – the oral texts which are first recorded and then transformed into a graphic form, or the written ones which were produced as written texts. Other linguists are rather sure that the oral and written forms of communication have deep structural and content differences which allows to speak about their autonomy.

Galperin for example claims that all characteristics of oral speech are opposed to those of a text and a text is some kind of formation which has appeared, exists and develops in the written variant of the literary language.

Amirova expresses her views in a rather decisive way as well. The written language must be considered a historically new in comparison with sound language system which corresponds to a new kind of communicative activity, written language appears as the result of conscious necessity of social perfection of forms and ways of oral activity. It appears not only in the way of improving the society’s communicative activity but also as a new form of communicative construction.

With the development of writing systems, with fixation of written communication as an independent variant of social activity sound communication is not only reproduced in written communication but is but is also supplemented and replaced by written communication and written language begins to appear as an immediate realization of thought, constituting a separate kind of communication in the global process.

Modern experimental investigations show that human ability to perceive written and oral text in real time is based on the ability to respite the rhythmic structure of a word that is to transform a written text into its oral form. This testifies to the fact that the mechanisms of oral and written text perception are more or less the same. The main thing is to make the written text sound.