In this article, Ong takes a stand on the dispute over whether punctuation usage in the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods was based on elocution (delivery of speech) or syntax (grammar rules).  Ong argues that the dispute over this topic should not be so polarized, for if scholars look at punctuation theory from the perspective of classical rhetoric, they will discover that punctuation usage in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries follows the trend set before the period, when usage was based primarily on when people needed to pause in order to breathe and, secondarily, on syntax.

In order to prove this point, Ong surveys first in precise historical detail texts by early Christian grammarians whose influence was felt through the Middle Ages (particularly Donatus' Ars Grammatica) and then texts from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries (with special emphasis on Ben Jonson's The English Grammar).  He concludes:  "Elizabethan and Jacobean theory . . . never cut itself loose from the traditional view of punctuation as basically a physiological rather than either an elocutionary or a syntactical (logical) device" (360).  Particularly interesting in this article is Ong's assessment that instead of having punctuation usage based only on elocution or on syntax, there existed two "systems" which worked together as well as against each other.  Later in his career, Ong would go on to develop the idea of co-existing systems further as he explored primary orality and the invention of writing.
 

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