Natural versus Artificial

While reading today’s chapter, Writing Restructures Consciousness, by Walter Ong, I was confused by Ong’s notions of speech and writing. Throughout the text, he claims that speech is natural, referring to the organic quality of how a  person learns one’s mother tongue, whereas writing is purely artificial. Yet, isn’t speech artificial as well?

Unlike writing, we practice our oratory skills from infancy, mimicking new sounds and exploring what we can produce.  This in a sense is natural, an innate characteristic of us, but I wouldn’t say that once speech is translated into language, it holds that some quality. We all learned how to speak English by hearing others talk and subconsciously taking hold of the rules that govern our language. As we get older, these rules become more explicit. We learn that there is a certain way to pronounce words, aside from our idiolects, and frame sentences otherwise English wouldn’t be mutually intelligible. Our speech is very much a product of  rules that were crafted by our ancestors. These rules weren’t “natural”; they were an amalgamation of concepts that were eventually institutionalized in a language.

Even though I think speech is artificial, I can see how it is more organic than writing. When we speak, we aren’t able to revise our sentences before we say them. Sure, we can think intently before speaking. But once we say something, there isn’t a backspace for us, and we don’t have an embedded ABC spell check to correct our pronunciation and syntax. In this way, speech is certainly more natural than writing though it is still a product of artificiality as a whole.


Joseph Elliott

Hello, my name is Joseph Elliott, and I am a student at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, obtaining a Minor in Writing.

One thought to “Natural versus Artificial”

  1. Joseph, this blog is really well-written! I really like your point about speech being more organic than writing, perhaps because once you say something you can’t take it back. Writing on the other hand, gives you time and a chance to plan out what you want to say and edit it as many times as you want. That’s what makes writing more artificial than speech – we have more control over it.

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