The London Olympic Games have now officially finished, coming to their end as the last note of music from the closing ceremony faded into the air, but I must say that overall the Olympics were very successful, really bringing the summer holidays to their peak just before school starts again. The Olympics not only symbolize great values and spirits, such as the spirit of sportsmanship, they also symbolize peace and harmony where countries or people from all over the world can put aside their different ideas or conflicts to participate in this international event.
The Olympics are a modern version of the Ancient Olympic Games in Ancient Greece, which began in 776BC. Looking back at human history, you can see that the Olympic Games are only one of the many things that are rooted in Greece. In fact, the Ancient Greeks left us with many other things: architecture; literature; theatre, music and dance; science and technology; religion and myths – but, most importantly, the art of making speeches.
We speak everyday. We are born to speak, to express ourselves, to communicate; even as babies we point at things that interest us, we laugh, we cry or say simple words or even phrases – these are already attempts at communication, and it has always fascinated me how the larynx in our throat is only about 4.1 inches long but is already capable of producing millions and trillions of different sounds and words.
Words are a strong weapon. We have all heard the saying, “The pen is mightier than the sword,” where here the pen, of course, symbolizes words or speech. In fact, speeches are a strong influence in life, within a society, in a country or even across the globe – from self-introductory speeches, rhetorical speeches, political speeches by political parties or the prime minister, to speeches at conferences of the United Nations. These words shape our personality, our thoughts and feelings, and our lives, our fate. The art of reasoning by words, the wonder of inquiry by language, exists everywhere, just in different forms.
I recently came across a very interesting idea, the philosophy of phonocentrism, a belief that speech is a more superior communication device than writing since speech is a richer and more expressive device – in comparison, writing with pen and paper is only a very primary and fundamental method of conveying ideas. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, a Genevan philosopher, expressed his views on phonocentrism in his essay The Origin of Languages, saying that speech is a more natural form than writing. Walter J Ong, an American cultural and religious historian and philosopher, even argued that American culture is non-phonocentric because Americans find their national identity with documents such as the Constitution, and they think of words as those that are defined by the dictionary, rather than words that come from vocal speech.
Indeed, writing is rather like a new technology, which dominates many parts of our life: office documents, treaties between countries, school assignments, textbooks, newspapers, etc, are all covered up in words. Nowadays, writing may be a more popular device than speaking. The use of text, especially on social networks with features such as Facebook’s instant chat, enables people to use writing for instant communication instead of speech. Moreover, as pointed out by Verlyn Klinkenborg, an American non-fiction writer, in his essay The Lost Art of Reading Aloud:
“In those days, literate families and friends read aloud to each other as a matter of habit. Books were still relatively scarce and expensive, and the routine electronic diversions we take for granted were, of course, nonexistent. If you had grown up listening to adults reading to each other regularly, the thought of all of those solitary 21st-century individuals hearkening to earbuds and car radios would seem isolating. It would also seem as though they were being trained only to listen to books and not to read aloud from them.
But listening aloud, valuable as it is, isn’t the same as reading aloud. Both require a great deal of attention. Both are good ways to learn something important about the rhythms of language. But one of the most basic tests of comprehension is to ask someone to read aloud from a book. It reveals far more than whether the reader understands the words. It reveals how far into the words — and the pattern of the words — the reader really sees.”
It seems that the art of speech is not as popular nowadays as it used to be. Speech itself is more expressive than writing. Writing consists only of words, but speech is a package of words, expression, action and emotion. It is a mixture that brings the words to life in front of a viewer’s eyes. Unlike writing, the words only come to life with the reader’s imagination or when somebody else is reading them out loud.
Yet, it is also true that writing is a better ‘record’ than speech; it could be published again and again. With technology nowadays, to record a speech is nothing, but a speech once lost is lost forever unless a transcript is written down.
Whether speech or the use of writing is a more effective device is very subjective. Yet, reminding ourselves of the great speeches humans have made in our history – Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream”; President John F Kennedy’s “Ask not what the country can do for you”; Sir Winston Churchill’s “We shall fight on the beaches”; President Nelson Mandela’s “An ideal for which I am prepared to die”; President Franklin D Roosevelt’s “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself”; Margaret Thatcher’s “The lady’s not for turning”; the list could go on and on – we cannot deny that the speech is doubtlessly a masterpiece. Although these speeches were all given in the past, they still have influence today.
Just like the art of rhetorical speech, the Olympics Games symbolize human civilization and intelligence; it is not only the actual words or the sporting competitions that make both of them brilliant, but also the meaning behind them that make both of them a legacy of the Greeks, a flawless artwork that will continue to develop and inspire with the thriving of the human race.