Annotated Piece 2 – Analysis of NY Times Article “Talk with Your Fingers”

The following post is a brief analysis of the article written by John McWhorter, an opinion contributor to the New York Times.

A link to the article can be found here:

This article caught my attention as one that, perhaps unknowingly, provides an excellent modern take on how folklore is tied to written communication. I highly recommend that you at least briefly read this article, as it contains a unique perspective on an issue that is relevant to all of us: written electronic communication. In the age of text messages and emails, it seems many of us go hours without a single meaningful face-to-face interaction. In addition, the very nature of our communication expectations has accelerated, making us more impatient than ever.

In this article, John McWhorter explains that written communication’s inception was not dissimilar from the text messages of today. Citing “The Epic of Gilgamesh” McWhorter includes a passage that was used to describe the fall of a city:

I will pull down the Gates of Hell itself,

Crush the doorposts and flatten the door,

And I will let the dead leave

And let the dead roam the earth

And they shall eat the living.

McWhorter points out that Gilgamesh was in fact a canonized piece of the region’s folklore. Because spoken word strives for efficiency (according to McWhorter), the story of Gilgamesh is told in relatively short bundles of words.

This is how McWhorter knows that “The Epic of Gilgamesh” was in fact a piece of transcribed oral history, not a previously written story.

McWhorter states further that the modern “text and email” culture is in fact moving back toward the ancient story of Gilgamesh’s style. This is a result of technology allowing us to more closely tie our verbal communication to its written counterparts.

In essence, I am implying that from McWhorter’s article, we must continue to challenge our current notion that folklore is solely comprised of live oral performances.