So-called literate cultures depend on the oral almost as much as those that are pre- or non-literate. That is, writing is a representational system to facilitate communication, and communication already (before any writing is done) occurs in a diversity of ways. And probably the move to write, at around 3000 BCE, was not to span distance and absence, but to record and in particular to record items and quantities. So it’s useful to consider writing and speaking in partnership, perhaps an ill-assorted partnership but one nonetheless.

Thinking about this from the viewpoint of present-day writing and considering in what ways and to what extent this is imbricated with the oral is instructive. In my case, for the past five years or so, because of a disability which affects the ulna nerve in my right arm and shoulder, every piece of writing I do can be traced to the spoken word because I am reliant on voice recognition software. Using my right arm and hand to write is painful and almost impossible. But immediately when thinking about this, it becomes apparent that things are more complicated.

As I sit writing this weekly blog, for example, I consider those blogs that came before, not just the previous week but the many weeks and months that the weekly WWW blog has been written. And as I do so, conversations come to mind, conversations I have had or read about or people have told me about, and also many other things that I have read. They are all there in mind in a curious kind of ebb and flow as I sit writing or thinking about writing and then speaking it. It isn’t that the spoken and the written are muddled up, it is that they are co-independent and happily and routinely engage with each other.

Is writing using voice recognition a different experience from writing without this? Yes and no. Yes because recording a piece of writing slows down the process and concentrates it to reflection mixed with verbal expression. And no because writing involves reflection anyway. It isn’t (usually) a matter of pouring out one word following another in an endless stream without reflection and pause, but writing a little, thinking a little, editing a little, reflecting a little more, writing a little more. And in ‘writing proper‘, not just ‘recording writing‘, the presence of the oral is often also involved, for the reflexive activity that is central to reflection in an odd sort of way involves talking to oneself and usually talking to oneself about others as well as events and circumstances. There is a kind of internal conversation, as it has been called by social theorist Margaret Archer.

Last updated:  25 February 2021