Thursday, July 22, 2010


I had to miss SoundEye this year, but I just found this prescient field report by Walter Ong:

"In oral cultures a request for information is commonly interpreted interactively (Malinowski 1923, pp. 451, 470-81), as agonistic, and, instead of being really answered, is frequently parried. An illuminating story is told of a visitor in County Cork, Ireland, an especially oral region in a country which in every region preserves massive residual orality. The visitor saw a Corkman leaning against the post office. He went up to him, pounded with his hand on the post office wall next to the Corkman's shoulder, and asked, "Is this the post office?" The Corkman was not taken in. He looked at his questioner quietly and with great concern: "'Twouldn't be a postage stamp you were lookin' for, would it?" He treated the enquiry not as a request for information but as something the enquirer was doing to him. So he did something in turn to the enquirer to see what would happen. All natives of Cork, according to the mythology, treat all questions this way. Always answer a question by asking another. Never let down your oral guard."

Pic: Jimmy Cummin's oral guard. (c) Tom Raworth

1 comment:

  1. DAMN. where were you Walton?! this is exactly the knowledge I needed whilst in Cork, where I foolishly asked a man in his 50s what particular building was. He proceeded to ask me about where I came from, seemingly underwhelmed with my six-letter reply. If only I knew.

    I also heard you spent an entire soundeye talking in a relatively good irish accent?