Elbow, Peter. Vernacular Eloquence: What Speech Can Bring to Writing. New York: Oxford UP. 2012. Print.
One sentence summary
The culturally constructed activities of speaking and writing both converge and diverge from each other in ways that are symbiotic and exclusive.
Orality, Literacy, Writing, Speaking, Semiotics, Constructivism
Introduction and Chapter 1 Discussion
Elbow examines the distinctive natures of speech and writing as well as overlap and symbiosis between these two modalities. In the intro, Elbow considers the sharp differences between “casual conversation” and “careful expository writing” (16). Elbow distinguishes the properties of speech and writing as different “physical processes … sensory modalities … [and] language or products” (19).
In chapter one, Elbow discusses the role of culture(s) on spoken language in particular, citing Shirley Brice Heath’s research while also sidestepping the kinds of issues Ong, Havelock, et al. explored in their examinations of orality and literacy.
In a detailed passage on pages 25-26, Elbow recasts a transcript that works to capture, in print, the inflections, pauses, meanderings, and sudden shifts in a spoken conversation. This transcription is fascinating not for all of the details it captures, which is many more than any other kind of transcription I’ve seen–or done as a newspaper reporter myself. Rather, the transcription is fascinating for all of the multitude of sensory details missing from the transcript–gestures, facial expressions, body positions, spatial relationships, eye contact, etc.
Elbow moves on to reference Saussure and discusses semiotics and the nature of signs, signifiers and signifieds without invoking any of the technical jargon. While writing and speaking (both symbol-based activities) both hold certain kinds of “magic” on different cultures through time, Elbow says his discussion of culture will quickly make way for an analysis that seeks to “take what’s best about speaking and add it to what’s best about writing” (34).