Keeping the Word: On Orality and Literacy (With a Sideways Glance at Navajo)


Taking Walter Ong’s work as a starting point, this paper begins with a brief survey of the literature on orality and literacy and goes on to analyze a number of Ong’s assertions within the framework of Navajo interactions with orality and literacy, thus illustrating that certain foundational concepts––such as that of “kept language”––need to be reconsidered. The paper pays special attention to the emergence of Navajo poetry; rather than “orality” and “literacy” being singular concepts, this analysis argues that these concepts must be understood within the cultural practices and linguistic ideologies from which they emerge.

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