Storyboard - Script
Why Oral Rhetoric should be taught in composition classes
In composition classes today alphabetic writing is king. Should this be a surprise? Isn’t composition writing? It’s what most people probably thing of, but what about other forms of composition? In the digital age and with the growth of “new media” in composition studies, writing is no longer universally accepted in composition studies as the only form of composition. [insert Selfe, Wysocki]. New media composing might include video and audio composing.
New media compositions that include audio are, of course, not entirely new. Orality has been part of rhetoric since ancient times. [Insert quote from Cicero? Not sure which one yet] By the end of the 19th century, however, rhetoric had drifted from a focus on orality to a focus on written composition, which remains the primary focus today. To a large extent, the oral aspect of rhetoric has been entirely neglected. Many teachers now assume that teaching students to compose effective written rhetoric should be the focus of English composition classes. They are service classes, whereby students learn how to write in an academic setting and eventually in their careers (which may or may not involve writing).
Certainly, students probably write more papers than they give oral presentations. However, to assume that written rhetoric is all that students must learn is to ignore all other forms of communication in a communication age. Students encounter others forms of communication every day: websites, videos, the radio, music, speeches and oral presentations.
In this increasingly visual age, some rhetoric textbooks have some forms of visual analysis should be included in composition, but why is sound neglected? Videos have sound, music is sound, radio broadcasts are sound, speaking both privately and publicly is sound. Teachers largely depend on their students learning in classes through lectures and class discussions—sound. Yet, studying and composing oral rhetoric, sound-based rhetoric, is absent. Why?
Like any communication medium, sound communication has its limitations, but also advantages that writing does not have. With oral composition, one must consider tone of voice, emphasis of words, speed of delivery, and clarity in pronunciation, which are not concerns for written texts.
For instance, tone of voice can convey emotion that is more difficult in writing:
[Here I will insert an audio clip from a speech to demonstrate this.]
Emphasizing words or certain points is also easier with oral rhetoric:
[Another audio clip].
This kind of emphasis is more difficult in writing. Writers must use visual cues, such as capitalization or italics to emphasize some words or points, but it is often less effective. With writing, one’s readers read at different speeds, but with oral delivery, the speed at which one speaks can greatly affect its effectiveness. I once attended a conference presentation in which the presenter read her paper so quickly that I, and I presumed much of her audience, could not even follow her main points, and so she received no comments or questions about her presentation afterwards. One’s speed of oral delivery can make one’s words more effective, such as by slowing down to give greater attention and emphasis to certain words.
[Here I’ll insert another audio clip]
Then, of course, one’s clarity and pronunciation are important. Mispronouncing words can have a negative impact on one’s message:
[Insert sound clips to on mispronunciation, such as Obama and “corpsmen”, Palin, etc]
Dialects are also can play a role in oral rhetoric that are less present in writing. While one might try to write in dialect, it is often meant to reflect what is naturally oral:
[Here I’d like to insert some audio clips in different dialect, perhaps demonstrating the oral skill of bidialectalism, such as with Oprah]
With the many means of communication today, tone, emphasis, speed, and clarity and pronunciation all have an increasingly important role, as many new forms of communication involve some orality.
Certainly visual communication is more important today than it ever has been, and so it is only appropriate that many of our rhetoric textbooks include sections on visual arguments. But oral communication is also more important now than it has been for the past few centuries. While the writing cultures of the 19th and 20th centuries caused composition studies to focus on writing, the 21st century’s technological and multimodal culture gives oral rhetoric an important role. Our composition classes should also give it a place.
[NOTE: Obviously this script is very rough. It’s really the basic argument I’ll be making and where I’ll be using some sound clips, although I am still deciding exactly which speech excerpts to use. I would like to also work in some music of some kind, although I am uncertain as to where and exactly what kind of music. The same goes for sound effects. I was considering doing something to the voice effects whenever there’s a quotation from one of my sources. I’ll have to play with the sound once I record to see how it might work. I still need to insert the exact quotations from sources that I’d like to use. I’m also looking at where else I should use them. I’m concerned about being too heavy on quoting sources if I start bringing in a lot of them. We’ll see how that goes. I welcome suggestions on everything, including the argument and organization. I do, after all, need to make a strong argument].