In the dialogue “The Inferiority of The Written to The Spoken Word”, Socrates argues that due to the drawbacks of the written word nature, it is not as effective as the spoken word for the communication of truth. His reasoning includes two parts. First, the written word is quite incapable of defending or helping itself. He points out that the written word, like painting, answers the same thing to the readers despite the fact that the readers may have different questions. This disadvantage diminishes the effectiveness of the written word because it is unable to properly handle disagreement or doubt that occurs in the process of reading. Second, Socrates claims that the written word cannot distinguish between suitable and unsuitable readers, which limits the way it expresses. It cannot adjust key elements of persuasion, such as tone and focus, to meet the need of diversified readers. Based on these two disadvantages, Socrates concludes that the spoken word is a much better and more effective way of communication as it can solve issues related to the written word. However, there are also limitations of the spoken word when comparing it with the written word.
The first limitation is that the effective use of the spoken word requires mastery of the art of speech, which makes it unsuitable for everyone. The success of the spoken word largely relies on how well a speaker makes use of a language to present his ideas and convince others. This potentially causes differences between native speakers and non-native speakers. In reality, native speakers have obvious advantages in using the spoken word because they started learning the language early and spent more time on using that language. To non-native speakers, mastering a second language usually requires much more effort and time to learn and distinguish it from the first language. It is a disadvantage for them to argue an issue or convince someone in the second language. Hence, the spoken word benefits those who are native speakers in a better way. This limitation determines the fact that the spoken word is unsuitable for everyone.
The second disadvantage is that it is difficult to verify evidence used in the spoken word. In academia, evidence contributes to the greater part of a compelling argument. The source of evidence is a key to verify its credibility, which further affects whether an argument will be believed. Focusing much on the language use, the spoken word does not provide audiences as much necessary information about the evidence used as the written word does. Without any detailed quotation, audiences cannot search and cannot verify the information stated in the spoken word. This drawback crucially diminishes the effectiveness of the spoken word as a tool of communication. Instead, the written word is able to offer readers such detailed source of evidence as works cited providing an opportunity to check and look for more information. Therefore, evidence used in the spoken word is less compelling due to the lack of quotations, which is a weakness of the spoken word.
In addition, the spoken word does not provide a detailed quotation and does not allow audiences to review what has been stated before. Without any documentation of its content, it is very easy for listeners to forget about the message the spoken word has delivered. Thorough understanding of truth is formed after many reviews and rethinking. It is a part of our human nature. The spoken word provides the public only with one chance to understand and to remember, which discourages people to review and analyze new information. Furthermore, this disadvantage does not help audiences to generate solid understanding of the topic and arguments. On the contrary, the written word, with its physical characteristics, offers audiences many opportunities to review and rethink. It will positively influence the formation of deeper understanding when audiences access the content again. Thus, the spoken word is quite restricted because the public can only access it one time.
Based on the three disadvantages above, the spoken word is not as effective as Socrates argues. In fact, both a written work and a spoken work have different kinds of advantages and disadvantages as tools of communication of the truth. On the one hand, we should realize and understand the nature of these two communication tools. On the other hand, we need to know the situations where each of these tools is more effective. Furthermore, it is essential to figure out how to minimize the effect of their disadvantages. In the communication of truth, there is no superior form that works better in every situation. The effectiveness of a specific communication tool is varied from situation to situation and from person to person.