Oral tradition

Oral tradition

Discussion
Ask a question about 'Oral tradition'
Start a new discussion about 'Oral tradition'
Answer questions from other users
Full Discussion Forum
 
Encyclopedia

Oral tradition and oral lore is cultural material and traditions transmitted orally from one generation to another. The messages or testimony are verbally transmitted in speech or song and may take the form, for example, of folktales, sayings, ballads, songs, or chants. In this way, it is possible for a society to transmit oral history
Oral history
Oral history is the collection and study of historical information about individuals, families, important events, or everyday life using audiotapes, videotapes, or transcriptions of planned interviews...

, oral literature
Oral literature
Oral literature corresponds in the sphere of the spoken word to literature as literature operates in the domain of the written word. It thus forms a generally more fundamental component of culture, but operates in many ways as one might expect literature to do...

, oral law
Oral law
An oral law is a code of conduct in use in a given culture, religion or community application, by which a body of rules of human behaviour is transmitted by oral tradition and effectively respected, or the single rule that is orally transmitted....

 and other knowledges across generations without a writing system
Writing system
A writing system is a symbolic system used to represent elements or statements expressible in language.-General properties:Writing systems are distinguished from other possible symbolic communication systems in that the reader must usually understand something of the associated spoken language to...

.

A narrower definition of oral tradition is sometimes appropriate. Sociologists might also emphasize a requirement that the material is held in common by a group of people, over several generations, and might distinguish oral tradition from testimony
Testimony
In law and in religion, testimony is a solemn attestation as to the truth of a matter. All testimonies should be well thought out and truthful. It was the custom in Ancient Rome for the men to place their right hand on a Bible when taking an oath...

 or oral history
Oral history
Oral history is the collection and study of historical information about individuals, families, important events, or everyday life using audiotapes, videotapes, or transcriptions of planned interviews...

. In a general sense, "oral tradition" refers to the transmission of cultural
Culture
Culture is a term that has many different inter-related meanings. For example, in 1952, Alfred Kroeber and Clyde Kluckhohn compiled a list of 164 definitions of "culture" in Culture: A Critical Review of Concepts and Definitions...

 material through vocal utterance, and was long held to be a key descriptor of folklore
Folklore
Folklore consists of legends, music, oral history, proverbs, jokes, popular beliefs, fairy tales and customs that are the traditions of a culture, subculture, or group. It is also the set of practices through which those expressive genres are shared. The study of folklore is sometimes called...

 (a criterion no longer rigidly held by all folklorists). As an academic discipline
Academic discipline
An academic discipline, or field of study, is a branch of knowledge that is taught and researched at the college or university level. Disciplines are defined , and recognized by the academic journals in which research is published, and the learned societies and academic departments or faculties to...

, it refers both to a set of objects of study and a method
Scientific method
Scientific method refers to a body of techniques for investigating phenomena, acquiring new knowledge, or correcting and integrating previous knowledge. To be termed scientific, a method of inquiry must be based on gathering empirical and measurable evidence subject to specific principles of...

 by which they are studied -- the method may be called variously "oral traditional theory", "the theory of Oral-Formulaic Composition
Oral-Formulaic Composition
The theory of oral-formulaic composition originated in the scholarly study of epic poetry, being developed in the second quarter of the twentieth century...

" and the "Parry-Lord theory" (after two of its founders; see below) The study of oral tradition is distinct from the academic discipline of oral history
Oral history
Oral history is the collection and study of historical information about individuals, families, important events, or everyday life using audiotapes, videotapes, or transcriptions of planned interviews...

, which is the recording of personal memories and histories of those who experienced historical eras or events. It is also distinct from the study of orality
Orality
Orality is thought and verbal expression in societies where the technologies of literacy are unfamiliar to most of the population. The study of orality is closely allied to the study of oral tradition...

, which can be defined as thought and its verbal expression in societies where the technologies of literacy
Literacy
Literacy has traditionally been described as the ability to read for knowledge, write coherently and think critically about printed material.Literacy represents the lifelong, intellectual process of gaining meaning from print...

 (especially writing and print) are unfamiliar to most of the population.

History



Oral tradition as a field of study had its origins in the work of the Serb scholar Vuk Stefanović Karadžić
Vuk Stefanovic Karadžic
Vuk Stefanović Karadžić was a Serbian philolog and linguist, the major reformer of the Serbian language, and deserves, perhaps, for his collections of songs, fairy tales, and riddles to be called the father of the study of Serbian folklore. He was the author of the first Serbian dictionary...

  (1787–1864), a contemporary and friend of the Brothers Grimm
Brothers Grimm
The Brothers Grimm , Jacob Grimm and Wilhelm Grimm , were German academics, linguists, cultural researchers, and authors who collected folklore and published several collections of it as Grimm's Fairy Tales, which became very popular...

. Vuk pursued similar projects of "salvage folklore" (similar to rescue archaeology
Rescue archaeology
Rescue archaeology, sometimes called "preventive" or "salvage" archaeology, is archaeological survey and excavation carried out in areas threatened by, or revealed by, construction or other development...

) in the cognate
Cognate
In linguistics, cognates are words that have a common etymological origin. This learned term derives from the Latin cognatus . Cognates within the same language are called doublets. Strictly speaking, loanwords from another language are usually not meant by the term, e.g...

 traditions of the Southern Slavic regions which would later be gathered into Yugoslavia
Yugoslavia
Yugoslavia refers to three political entities that existed successively on the western part of the Balkans during most of the 20th century....

, and with the same admixture of romantic
Romanticism
Romanticism was an artistic, literary and intellectual movement that originated in the second half of the 18th century in Europe, and gained strength in reaction to the Industrial Revolution...

 and nationalistic interests (he considered all those speaking Serbo-Croat as Serbs). Somewhat later, but as part of the same scholarly enterprise of nationalist studies in folklore, the turcologist Vasily Radlov
Vasily Radlov
Vasily Vasilievich Radlov or Friedrich Wilhelm Radloff was a German-born Russian founder of Turkology, a scientific study of Turkic peoples....

 (1837–1918) would study the songs of the Kara-Kirghiz
Kara-Kyrgyz Autonomous Oblast
The Kara-Kirghiz Autonomous Oblast , in the former region of Soviet Central Asia, was created on 14 October 1924 within the Russian SFSR from the predominantly Kazakh and Kyrgyz parts of the Turkestan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic. On 15 May 1925 it was renamed into the Kirghiz Autonomous...

 in what would later become the Soviet Union; Karadzic and Radloff would provide models for the work of Parry.

Milman Parry and Albert Lord


Shortly thereafter, Milman Parry
Milman Parry
Milman Parry was a scholar of epic poetry and the founder of the discipline of oral tradition.-Biography:He was born in 1902 and studied at the University of California, Berkeley and at the Sorbonne . A student of the linguist Antoine Meillet at the Sorbonne, Parry revolutionized Homeric studies...

 (1902–1935), pursuing a degree in Classics
Classical antiquity
Classical antiquity is a broad term for a long period of cultural history centered on the Mediterranean Sea, comprising the interlocking civilizations of ancient Greece and ancient Rome, collectively known as the Greco-Roman world...

 at the University of California
University of California
The University of California is a public university system in the U.S. state of California. Under the California Master Plan for Higher Education, the University of California is a part of the state's three-tier public higher education system, which also includes the California State University...

, Berkeley, began to grapple with what was then called the "Homeric Question
Homeric Question
The Homeric Question concerns the doubts and consequent debate over the identity of Homer, the authorship of the Iliad and Odyssey, and historicity, especially of the Iliad...

". This was usually framed as "who was Homer
Homer
In the Western classical tradition Homer , is the author of the Iliad and the Odyssey, and is revered as the greatest ancient Greek epic poet. These epics lie at the beginning of the Western canon of literature, and have had an enormous influence on the history of literature.When he lived is...

?" and "what are the Homeric poems?" The Homeric question actually consists of a series of related inquiries. Parry's contribution, which drew upon and synthesized the insights of previous scholars including Marcel Jousse, Matija Murko
Matija Murko
Matija Murko also known as Mathias Murko was a Slovene scholar, known mostly for his work on oral epic traditions in the Serbo-Croatian language .- Life :...

 and Arnold van Gennep
Arnold van Gennep
Arnold van Gennep was a noted French ethnographer and folklorist.-Biography:He was born in Ludwigsburg, Kingdom of Württemberg...

, was to reconsider the foundational assumptions which framed the inquiries. This re-ordering would have consequences for a great many literatures and disciplines.

Parry's work under Antoine Meillet
Antoine Meillet
Paul Jules Antoine Meillet was one of the most important French linguists of the early 20th century. Meillet began his studies at the Sorbonne, where he was influenced by Michel Bréal, Ferdinand de Saussure, and the members of the Année Sociologique. In 1890 he was part of a research trip to the...

 at the Sorbonne
Sorbonne
The Sorbonne is an edifice of the Latin Quarter, in Paris, France, which has been the historical house of the former University of Paris...

 led to his crucial insight into the "formula", which he originally defined as "a group of words which is regularly employed under the same metrical conditions to express a given essential idea." In Homeric verse, for example, phrases like eos rhododaktylos ("rosy fingered dawn") or oinops pontos ("winedark sea") occupy a certain metrical pattern that fits, in modular fashion, into the six-colon Greek hexameter, and aids the aioidos or bard in extempore composition. Moreover, phrases of this type would be subject to internal substitutions and adaptations, permitting flexibility in response to narrative and grammatical needs: podas okus Achilleus ("swift footed Achilles") is metrically equivalent to koruthaiolos Hektor ("glancing-helmed Hektor"). Parry and Lord observed that the same phenomenon was apparent in the Old English alliterative line:
Hrothgar mathelode helm Scildinga ("Hrothgar spoke, protector of the Scildings")
Beowulf mathelode bearn Ecgtheowes ("Beowulf spoke, son of Ecgtheow")


and in the junacki deseterac (heroic decasyllable
Decasyllable
Decasyllable is a poetic meter of ten syllables used in poetic traditions of syllabic verse...

) of the demonstrably oral poetry of the Serbs:
a besjedi od Orasca Tale ("But spoke of Orashatz Tale")
a besjedi Mujagin Halile ("But spoke Mujo's Halil")


In Parry's view, formulas were not individual and idiosyncratic devices of particular artists, but the shared inheritance of a tradition of singers. They were easily remembered, making it possible for the singer to execute an improvisation
Improvisation
Improvisation is the practice of acting, singing, talking and reacting, of making and creating, in the moment and in response to the stimulus of one's immediate environment and inner feelings. This can result in the invention of new thought patterns, new practices, new structures or symbols, and/or...

al composition
Musical composition
Musical composition can refer to an original piece of music, the structure of a musical piece, or the process of creating a new piece of music. People who practice composition are called composers.- Musical compositions :...

-in-performance. A later scholar commented on the potential for Parry's concept to be seen as disparaging of Homeric genius: "The meaning of the Greek term 'rhapsodize', rhapsoidein, 'to stitch song together' could then be taken in a negative sense: Homer stitched together pre-fabricated parts."

The idea indeed met with immediate resistance, because it seemed to make the fount of Western literary
Western literature
Western literature refers to the literature written in the languages of Europe, including the ones belonging to the Indo-European language family as well as several geographically or historically related languages such as Basque, Hungarian, and so forth...

 eloquence the slave of a system of cliché
Cliché
A cliché or cliche is an expression, idea, or element of an artistic work which has been overused to the point of losing its original meaning or effect, especially when at some earlier time it was considered meaningful or novel. In phraseology, the term has taken on a more technical meaning,...

s, but it accounted for such otherwise inexplicable features of the Homeric poems as gross anachronisms (revealed by advances in historical
History
History is the discovery, collection, organization, and presentation of information about past events. History can also mean the period of time after writing was invented. Scholars who write about history are called historians...

 and archaeological
Archaeology
Archaeology, or archeology , is the study of human society, primarily through the recovery and analysis of the material culture and environmental data that they have left behind, which includes artifacts, architecture, biofacts and cultural landscapes...

 knowledge), the presence of incompatible dialects, and the deployment of locally unsuitable epithet
Epithet
An epithet or byname is a descriptive term accompanying or occurring in place of a name and having entered common usage. It has various shades of meaning when applied to seemingly real or fictitious people, divinities, objects, and binomial nomenclature. It is also a descriptive title...

s ("blameless Aegisthos" for the murderer of Agamemnon
Agamemnon
In Greek mythology, Agamemnon was the son of King Atreus and Queen Aerope of Mycenae, the brother of Menelaus, the husband of Clytemnestra, and the father of Electra and Orestes. Mythical legends make him the king of Mycenae or Argos, thought to be different names for the same area...

, or the almost comic use of "swift-footed Achilles
Achilles
In Greek mythology, Achilles was a Greek hero of the Trojan War, the central character and the greatest warrior of Homer's Iliad.Plato named Achilles the handsomest of the heroes assembled against Troy....

" for the hero in conspicuously sedentary moments).


Parry was appointed to a junior professorship at Harvard, and during this time became aware of living oral traditions in the Balkan region. In two field expeditions with his young assistant Albert Lord
Albert Lord
Albert Bates Lord was a professor of Slavic and comparative literature at Harvard University who, after the death of Milman Parry, carried on that scholar's research into epic literature.-Personal life:...

 (1912–1991) he would record thousands of songs on aluminum disks. The collection would provide the basis for an empirical documentation of the dynamics of composition of metrical narrative in traditional oral performance. This analysis included the patterns and types of variation at lexical and other levels which would yield a structural
Structuralism
Structuralism originated in the structural linguistics of Ferdinand de Saussure and the subsequent Prague and Moscow schools of linguistics. Just as structural linguistics was facing serious challenges from the likes of Noam Chomsky and thus fading in importance in linguistics, structuralism...

 account of a work's multiformity. This phenomenon could only be accounted for in standard literary methodology
Methodology
Methodology is generally a guideline for solving a problem, with specificcomponents such as phases, tasks, methods, techniques and tools . It can be defined also as follows:...

 by concepts of "corruption" and "distortion" of a pristine, original "ur-text" or hypothetical "lost Q" ("Quelle", German for "source"), hypothesized via stemmatology. Thus the work of Parry and Lord reduced the prominence of the historic-geographic method in folkloristics
Folkloristics
Folkloristics is the formal academic study of folklore. The term derives from a nineteenth century German designation of folkloristik to distinguish between folklore as the content and folkloristics as its study, much as language is distinguished from linguistics...

.

Parry died in 1935. His work was posthumously published by his son Adam Parry as The Making of Homeric Verse (Oxford: Clarendon, 1971). Lord, however, had meanwhile published The Singer of Tales
The Singer of Tales
The Singer of Tales is a book by Albert Lord that discusses the oral tradition as a theory of literary composition and its applications to Homeric and medieval epic. It was published in 1960.-Summary:The book is divided into two parts...

(1960), a work which summarized both Parry's response to the Homeric Question, and the joint work he had done with Parry in the Balkans. The Parry-Lord work exercised great influence on other scholars, notably Francis P. Magoun, whose application of their model to Anglo-Saxon
Anglo-Saxons
Anglo-Saxon is a term used by historians to designate the Germanic tribes who invaded and settled the south and east of Great Britain beginning in the early 5th century AD, and the period from their creation of the English nation to the Norman conquest. The Anglo-Saxon Era denotes the period of...

 traditions demonstrated the explicative and problem-solving power of the theory – a process that would be repeated by other scholars in numerous independent traditions (see below).

Walter Ong


In a separate development, the media theorist Marshall McLuhan
Marshall McLuhan
Herbert Marshall McLuhan, CC was a Canadian educator, philosopher, and scholar—a professor of English literature, a literary critic, a rhetorician, and a communication theorist...

 (1911–1980) would begin to focus attention on the ways that communicative
Communication
Communication is the activity of conveying meaningful information. Communication requires a sender, a message, and an intended recipient, although the receiver need not be present or aware of the sender's intent to communicate at the time of communication; thus communication can occur across vast...

 media
Mass media
Mass media refers collectively to all media technologies which are intended to reach a large audience via mass communication. Broadcast media transmit their information electronically and comprise of television, film and radio, movies, CDs, DVDs and some other gadgets like cameras or video consoles...

 shape the nature of the content conveyed. He would serve as mentor to the Jesuit, Walter Ong (1912–2003), whose interests in cultural history
Cultural history
The term cultural history refers both to an academic discipline and to its subject matter.Cultural history, as a discipline, at least in its common definition since the 1970s, often combines the approaches of anthropology and history to look at popular cultural traditions and cultural...

, psychology
Psychology
Psychology is the study of the mind and behavior. Its immediate goal is to understand individuals and groups by both establishing general principles and researching specific cases. For many, the ultimate goal of psychology is to benefit society...

 and rhetoric
Rhetoric
Rhetoric is the art of discourse, an art that aims to improve the facility of speakers or writers who attempt to inform, persuade, or motivate particular audiences in specific situations. As a subject of formal study and a productive civic practice, rhetoric has played a central role in the Western...

 would result in Orality and Literacy (Methuen, 1980) and the important but less-known Fighting for Life: Contest, Sexuality and Consciousness (Cornell, 1981) These two works articulated the contrasts between cultures defined by primary orality, writing, print, and the secondary orality
Secondary orality
In his book Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word, published in 1982 , Walter J. Ong works with the contrast between oral and literate cultures. In this book, he used the phrase ‘secondary orality’, describing it as “essentially a more deliberate and self-conscious orality, based...

 of the electronic age.
I style the orality of a culture totally untouched by any knowledge of writing or print, 'primary orality'. It is 'primary' by contrast with the 'secondary orality' of present-day high technology culture, in which a new orality is sustained by telephone, radio, television and other electronic devices that depend for their existence and functioning on writing and print. Today primary culture in the strict sense hardly exists, since every culture knows of writing and has some experience of its effects. Still, to varying degrees many cultures and sub-cultures, even in a high-technology ambiance, preserve much of the mind-set of primary orality.


Ong's works also made possible an integrated theory of oral tradition which accounted for both production of content (the chief concern of Parry-Lord theory) and its reception. This approach, like McLuhan's, kept the field open not just to the study of aesthetic culture but to the way physical and behavioral artifacts of oral societies are used to store, manage and transmit knowledge, so that oral tradition provides methods for investigation of cultural differences, other than the purely verbal, between oral and literate societies.

The most-often studied section of Orality and Literacy concerns the "psychodynamics
Psychodynamics
Psychodynamics is the theory and systematic study of the psychological forces that underlie human behavior, especially the dynamic relations between conscious motivation and unconscious motivation...

 of orality" This chapter seeks to define the fundamental characteristics of 'primary' orality and summarizes a series of descriptors (including but not limited to verbal aspects of culture) which might be used to index the relative orality or literacy of a given text or society.

John Miles Foley


In advance of Ong's synthesis, John Miles Foley
John Miles Foley
John Miles Foley Is a scholar of comparative oral tradition, medieval and Old English Literature , Ancient Greek and Serbian epic. He is the founder of the academic journal Oral Tradition and the at the University of Missouri, where he is Curators' Professor of Classical Studies and English and...

, who studied with Robert Creed (who had in turn studied with Magoun), began a series of papers based on his own fieldwork on South Slavic oral genres, emphasizing the dynamics of performers and audiences. Foley effectively consolidated oral tradition as an academic field http://illumination.missouri.edu/spr05/fol1.htm when he compiled Oral-Formulaic Theory and Research in 1985. The bibliography gives a summary of the progress scholars made in evaluating the oral tradition up to that point, and includes a list of all relevant scholarly articles relating to the theory of Oral-Formulaic Composition
Oral-Formulaic Composition
The theory of oral-formulaic composition originated in the scholarly study of epic poetry, being developed in the second quarter of the twentieth century...

. He also both established both the journal Oral Tradition and founded the Center for Studies in Oral Tradition (1986) at the University of Missouri
University of Missouri
The University of Missouri System is a state university system providing centralized administration for four universities, a health care system, an extension program, five research and technology parks, and a publishing press. More than 64,000 students are currently enrolled at its four campuses...

. Foley developed Oral Theory beyond the somewhat mechanistic notions presented in earlier versions of Oral-Formulaic Theory, by extending Ong's interest in cultural features of oral societies beyond the verbal, by drawing attention to the agency of the bard
Bard
In medieval Gaelic and British culture a bard was a professional poet, employed by a patron, such as a monarch or nobleman, to commemorate the patron's ancestors and to praise the patron's own activities.Originally a specific class of poet, contrasting with another class known as fili in Ireland...

 and by describing how oral traditions bear meaning.

The bibliography would establish a clear underlying methodology which accounted for the findings of scholars working in the separate Linguistics
Linguistics
Linguistics is the scientific study of human language. Linguistics can be broadly broken into three categories or subfields of study: language form, language meaning, and language in context....

 fields (primarily Ancient Greek
Ancient Greek
Ancient Greek is the stage of the Greek language in the periods spanning the times c. 9th–6th centuries BC, , c. 5th–4th centuries BC , and the c. 3rd century BC – 6th century AD of ancient Greece and the ancient world; being predated in the 2nd millennium BC by Mycenaean Greek...

, Anglo-Saxon and Serbo-Croatian). Perhaps more importantly, it would stimulate conversation among these specialties, so that a network of independent but allied investigations and investigators could be established.

Foley's key works include The Theory of Oral Composition (1988); Immanent Art (1991); Traditional Oral Epic: The Odyssey, Beowulf and the Serbo-Croatian Return-Song (1993); The Singer of Tales in Performance (1995); Teaching Oral Traditions (1998); How to Read an Oral Poem (2002). His Pathways Project (2006-) draws parallels between the media dynamics of oral traditions and the Internet
Internet
The Internet is a global system of interconnected computer networks that use the standard Internet protocol suite to serve billions of users worldwide...

.

Acceptance and further elaboration


The theory of oral tradition would undergo elaboration and development as it grew in acceptance. While the number of formulas documented for various traditions proliferated, the concept of the formula remained lexically-bound. However, numerous innovations appeared, such as the "formulaic system" with structural "substitution slots" for syntactic
Syntax
In linguistics, syntax is the study of the principles and rules for constructing phrases and sentences in natural languages....

, morphological
Morphology (linguistics)
In linguistics, morphology is the identification, analysis and description, in a language, of the structure of morphemes and other linguistic units, such as words, affixes, parts of speech, intonation/stress, or implied context...

 and narrative
Narrative
A narrative is a constructive format that describes a sequence of non-fictional or fictional events. The word derives from the Latin verb narrare, "to recount", and is related to the adjective gnarus, "knowing" or "skilled"...

 necessity (as well as for artistic invention). Sophisticated models such as Foley's "word-type placement rules" followed. Higher levels of formulaic composition were defined over the years, such as "ring composition
Ring composition
Ring composition is a narrative technique said to be characteristic of preliterate peoples and oral modes of composition. It is also called chiasmus, chiastic structure, or simply ring structure...

", "responsion" and the "type-scene" (also called a "theme" or "typical scene"). Examples include the "Beasts of Battle" and the "Cliffs of Death". Some of these characteristic patterns of narrative details, (like "the arming sequence;" "the hero on the beach"; "the traveler recognizes his goal") would show evidence of global distribution.

At the same time, the fairly rigid division between oral and literate was replaced by recognition of transitional and compartmentalized texts and societies, including models of diglossia
Diglossia
In linguistics, diglossia refers to a situation in which two dialects or languages are used by a single language community. In addition to the community's everyday or vernacular language variety , a second, highly codified variety is used in certain situations such as literature, formal...

 (Brian Stock
Brian Stock
Brian Benjamin Stock is a Wales international footballer who currently plays as a midfielder for Doncaster Rovers. He is known for his vision, awareness, and his play-making and passing ability.-Bournemouth:...

 Franz Bäuml, and Eric Havelock). Perhaps most importantly, the terms and concepts of "orality
Orality
Orality is thought and verbal expression in societies where the technologies of literacy are unfamiliar to most of the population. The study of orality is closely allied to the study of oral tradition...

" and "literacy
Literacy
Literacy has traditionally been described as the ability to read for knowledge, write coherently and think critically about printed material.Literacy represents the lifelong, intellectual process of gaining meaning from print...

" came to be replaced with the more useful and apt "traditionality" and "textuality
Textuality
Textuality is a concept in linguistics and literary theory that refers to the attributes that distinguish the text as an object of study in those fields...

". Very large units would be defined (The Indo-European Return Song) and areas outside of military epic
Epic poetry
An epic is a lengthy narrative poem, ordinarily concerning a serious subject containing details of heroic deeds and events significant to a culture or nation. Oral poetry may qualify as an epic, and Albert Lord and Milman Parry have argued that classical epics were fundamentally an oral poetic form...

 would come under investigation: women's song, riddle
Riddle
A riddle is a statement or question or phrase having a double or veiled meaning, put forth as a puzzle to be solved. Riddles are of two types: enigmas, which are problems generally expressed in metaphorical or allegorical language that require ingenuity and careful thinking for their solution, and...

s and other genres.

The methodology of oral tradition now conditions a large variety of studies, not only in folklore
Folklore
Folklore consists of legends, music, oral history, proverbs, jokes, popular beliefs, fairy tales and customs that are the traditions of a culture, subculture, or group. It is also the set of practices through which those expressive genres are shared. The study of folklore is sometimes called...

, literature
Literature
Literature is the art of written works, and is not bound to published sources...

 and literacy
Literacy
Literacy has traditionally been described as the ability to read for knowledge, write coherently and think critically about printed material.Literacy represents the lifelong, intellectual process of gaining meaning from print...

, but in philosophy
Philosophy
Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems, such as those connected with existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Philosophy is distinguished from other ways of addressing such problems by its critical, generally systematic approach and its reliance on rational...

, communication theory
Communication theory
Communication theory is a field of information and mathematics that studies the technical process of information and the human process of human communication.- History :- Origins :...

, Semiotics
Semiotics
Semiotics, also called semiotic studies or semiology, is the study of signs and sign processes , indication, designation, likeness, analogy, metaphor, symbolism, signification, and communication...

, and including a very broad and continually expanding variety of languages and ethnic groups,http://www.gwu.edu/~e73afram/ag-am-mp.htmlhttp://wsupress.wayne.edu/literature/armenian/hacikyanhal1.htmhttp://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1310/is_1985_August/ai_3877977http://www.blackwell-compass.com/subject/literature/article_view?article_id=lico_articles_bpl376http://www.sacbf.org.za/2004%20papers/Sunday%20Okoh.rtfhttp://www.usp.nus.edu.sg/post/poldiscourse/casablanca/sarhrouny1.htmlhttp://www.lib.unb.ca/Texts/SCL/bin/get.cgi?directory=vol18_2/&filename=McGrath.htm, and perhaps most conspicuously in biblical studies
Biblical studies
Biblical studies is the academic study of the Judeo-Christian Bible and related texts. For Christianity, the Bible traditionally comprises the New Testament and Old Testament, which together are sometimes called the "Scriptures." Judaism recognizes as scripture only the Hebrew Bible, also known as...

http://journal.oraltradition.org/files/articles/1i/3_culley.pdf, in which Werner Kelber has been especially prominent.http://muse.jhu.edu/demo/oral_tradition/v018/18.1kelber.html; the annual bibliography is indexed by 100 areas, most of which are ethnolinguistic divisions.http://oraltradition.org/bibliography/areas

Present developments explore the implications of the theory for rhetoric
Rhetoric
Rhetoric is the art of discourse, an art that aims to improve the facility of speakers or writers who attempt to inform, persuade, or motivate particular audiences in specific situations. As a subject of formal study and a productive civic practice, rhetoric has played a central role in the Western...

 and composition
Composition (language)
The term composition , in written language, refers to the collective body of important features established by the author in their creation of literature...

, interpersonal communication
Interpersonal communication
Interpersonal communication is usually defined by communication scholars in numerous ways, usually describing participants who are dependent upon one another. It...

, cross-cultural communication
Cross-cultural communication
Cross-cultural communication is a field of study that looks at how people from differing cultural backgrounds communicate, in similar and different ways among themselves, and how they endeavour to communicate across cultures.- Origins :The Cold War, the United States economy...

,http://64.233.167.104/search?q=cache:iOZaD11-Ix0J:www.oise.utoronto.ca/CASAE/cnf2002/2002_Papers/simpkins2002w.pdf+%22oral+tradition%22+%22intercultural+communication%22&hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=4&gl=us postcolonial studies, rural community development
Rural community development
Rural community development encompasses a range of approaches and activities that aim to improve the welfare and livelihoods of people living in rural areas. As a branch of community development, these approaches pay attention to social issues particularly community organizing. This is in contrast...

,http://www.uaf.edu/iac/RHS/about.html popular culture
Popular culture
Popular culture is the totality of ideas, perspectives, attitudes, memes, images and other phenomena that are deemed preferred per an informal consensus within the mainstream of a given culture, especially Western culture of the early to mid 20th century and the emerging global mainstream of the...

 and film studies
Film studies
Film studies is an academic discipline that deals with various theoretical, historical, and critical approaches to films. It is sometimes subsumed within media studies and is often compared to television studies...

,http://ccms.ukzn.ac.za/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=382&Itemid=46 and many other areas. The most significant areas of theoretical development at present may be the construction of systematic hermeneutics and aesthetics
Aesthetics
Aesthetics is a branch of philosophy dealing with the nature of beauty, art, and taste, and with the creation and appreciation of beauty. It is more scientifically defined as the study of sensory or sensori-emotional values, sometimes called judgments of sentiment and taste...

 specific to oral traditions.

Criticism and debates



The theory of oral tradition encountered early resistance from scholars who perceived it as potentially supporting either one side or another in the controversy between what were known as "unitarians" and "analysts"
Homeric Question
The Homeric Question concerns the doubts and consequent debate over the identity of Homer, the authorship of the Iliad and Odyssey, and historicity, especially of the Iliad...

 – that is, scholars who believed Homer to have been a single, historical figure, and those who saw him as a conceptual "author function," a convenient name to assign to what was essentially a repertoire of traditional narrative. A much more general dismissal of the theory and its implications simply described it as "unprovable" Some scholars, mainly outside the field of oral tradition, represent (either dismissively or with approval) this body of theoretical work as reducing the great epics
Epic poetry
An epic is a lengthy narrative poem, ordinarily concerning a serious subject containing details of heroic deeds and events significant to a culture or nation. Oral poetry may qualify as an epic, and Albert Lord and Milman Parry have argued that classical epics were fundamentally an oral poetic form...

 to children's party games like "telephone" or "Chinese whispers
Chinese whispers
Chinese whispers is one name for a game played around the world, in which one person whispers a message to another, which is passed through a line of people until the last player announces the message to the entire group...

". While games provide amusement by showing how messages distort content via uncontextualized transmission, Parry's supporters argue that the theory of oral tradition reveals how oral methods optimized the signal-to-noise ratio
Signal-to-noise ratio
Signal-to-noise ratio is a measure used in science and engineering that compares the level of a desired signal to the level of background noise. It is defined as the ratio of signal power to the noise power. A ratio higher than 1:1 indicates more signal than noise...

 and thus improved the quality, stability and integrity
Integrity
Integrity is a concept of consistency of actions, values, methods, measures, principles, expectations, and outcomes. In ethics, integrity is regarded as the honesty and truthfulness or accuracy of one's actions...

 of content transmission.

There were disputes concerning particular findings of the theory. For example, those trying to support or refute Crowne's hypothesis found the "Hero on the Beach" formula in numerous Old English poems. It was also discovered in other works of Germanic
Germanic peoples
The Germanic peoples are an Indo-European ethno-linguistic group of Northern European origin, identified by their use of the Indo-European Germanic languages which diversified out of Proto-Germanic during the Pre-Roman Iron Age.Originating about 1800 BCE from the Corded Ware Culture on the North...

 origin, Middle English poetry, and even an Iceland
Iceland
Iceland , described as the Republic of Iceland, is a Nordic and European island country in the North Atlantic Ocean, on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. Iceland also refers to the main island of the country, which contains almost all the population and almost all the land area. The country has a population...

ic prose saga
Saga
Sagas, are stories in Old Norse about ancient Scandinavian and Germanic history, etc.Saga may also refer to:Business*Saga DAB radio, a British radio station*Saga Airlines, a Turkish airline*Saga Falabella, a department store chain in Peru...

. J.A. Dane, in an article characterized as "polemics without rigor" claimed that the appearance of the theme in Ancient Greek
Ancient Greek
Ancient Greek is the stage of the Greek language in the periods spanning the times c. 9th–6th centuries BC, , c. 5th–4th centuries BC , and the c. 3rd century BC – 6th century AD of ancient Greece and the ancient world; being predated in the 2nd millennium BC by Mycenaean Greek...

 poetry, a tradition without known connection to the Germanic, invalidated the notion of "an autonomous theme in the baggage of an oral poet."

Within Homeric studies specifically, Lord's The Singer of Tales
The Singer of Tales
The Singer of Tales is a book by Albert Lord that discusses the oral tradition as a theory of literary composition and its applications to Homeric and medieval epic. It was published in 1960.-Summary:The book is divided into two parts...

, which focused on problems and questions that arise in conjunction with applying oral-formulaic theory to problematic texts such as the Iliad
Iliad
The Iliad is an epic poem in dactylic hexameters, traditionally attributed to Homer. Set during the Trojan War, the ten-year siege of the city of Troy by a coalition of Greek states, it tells of the battles and events during the weeks of a quarrel between King Agamemnon and the warrior Achilles...

, Odyssey
Odyssey
The Odyssey is one of two major ancient Greek epic poems attributed to Homer. It is, in part, a sequel to the Iliad, the other work ascribed to Homer. The poem is fundamental to the modern Western canon, and is the second—the Iliad being the first—extant work of Western literature...

, and even Beowulf
Beowulf
Beowulf , but modern scholars agree in naming it after the hero whose life is its subject." of an Old English heroic epic poem consisting of 3182 alliterative long lines, set in Scandinavia, commonly cited as one of the most important works of Anglo-Saxon literature.It survives in a single...

, influenced nearly all of the articles written on Homer
Homer
In the Western classical tradition Homer , is the author of the Iliad and the Odyssey, and is revered as the greatest ancient Greek epic poet. These epics lie at the beginning of the Western canon of literature, and have had an enormous influence on the history of literature.When he lived is...

 and oral-formulaic composition thereafter. However, in response to Lord, Geoffrey Kirk published The Songs of Homer, questioning Lord's extension of the oral-formulaic nature of Serbian and Croatian literature (the area from which the theory was first developed) to Homeric epic. Kirk argues that Homeric poems differ from those traditions in their "metrical strictness", "formular system[s]", and creativity. In other words, Kirk argued that Homeric poems were recited under a system that gave the reciter much more freedom to choose words and passages to get to the same end than the Serbo-Croatian poet, who was merely "reproductive". Shortly thereafter, Eric Havelock's Preface to Plato revolutionized how scholars looked at Homeric epic by arguing not only that it was the product of an oral tradition, but also that the oral-formulas contained therein served as a way for ancient Greeks to preserve cultural knowledge across many different generations. Adam Parry, in his 1966 work "Have we Homer's Iliad?", theorized the existence of the most fully developed oral poet to his time, a person who could (at his discretion) creatively and intellectually create nuanced characters in the context of the accepted, traditional story. In fact, he discounted the Serbo-Croatian tradition to an "unfortunate" extent, choosing to elevate the Greek model of oral-tradition above all others. Lord reacted to Kirk's and Parry's essays with "Homer as Oral Poet", published in 1968, which reaffirmed Lord's belief in the relevance of Yugoslav poetry and its similarities to Homer and downplayed the intellectual and literary role of the reciters of Homeric epic.

Many of the criticisms of the theory have been absorbed into the evolving field as useful refinements and modifications. For example, in what Foley called a "pivotal" contribution, Larry Benson introduced the concept of "written-formulaic" to describe the status of some Anglo-Saxon poetry which, while demonstrably written, contains evidence of oral influences, including heavy reliance on formulas and themes A number of individual scholars in many areas continue to have misgivings about the applicability of the theory or the aptness of the South Slavic comparison, and particularly what they regard as its implications for the creativity which may legitimately be attributed to the individual artist. However, at present, there seems to be little systematic or theoretically coordinated challenge to the fundamental tenets of the theory; as Foley put it, ""there have been numerous suggestions for revisions or modifications of the theory, but the majority of controversies have generated further understanding.

See also

  • American Indian elder
    American Indian elder
    In American Indian education, within each tribe elders, "are repositories of cultural and philosophical knowledge and are the transmitters of such information," including, "basic beliefs and teachings, encouraging...faith in the Great Spirit, the Creator"...

  • Intangible culture
  • Oral law
    Oral law
    An oral law is a code of conduct in use in a given culture, religion or community application, by which a body of rules of human behaviour is transmitted by oral tradition and effectively respected, or the single rule that is orally transmitted....

  • Oral literature
    Oral literature
    Oral literature corresponds in the sphere of the spoken word to literature as literature operates in the domain of the written word. It thus forms a generally more fundamental component of culture, but operates in many ways as one might expect literature to do...

  • Oral-formulaic composition
    Oral-Formulaic Composition
    The theory of oral-formulaic composition originated in the scholarly study of epic poetry, being developed in the second quarter of the twentieth century...

  • Oral history
    Oral history
    Oral history is the collection and study of historical information about individuals, families, important events, or everyday life using audiotapes, videotapes, or transcriptions of planned interviews...

  • Orality
    Orality
    Orality is thought and verbal expression in societies where the technologies of literacy are unfamiliar to most of the population. The study of orality is closely allied to the study of oral tradition...

  • Secondary orality
    Secondary orality
    In his book Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word, published in 1982 , Walter J. Ong works with the contrast between oral and literate cultures. In this book, he used the phrase ‘secondary orality’, describing it as “essentially a more deliberate and self-conscious orality, based...

  • Traditional knowledge
    Traditional knowledge
    Traditional knowledge , indigenous knowledge , traditional environmental knowledge and local knowledge generally refer to the long-standing traditions and practices of certain regional, indigenous, or local communities. Traditional knowledge also encompasses the wisdom, knowledge, and teachings...

  • Oral Torah
    Oral Torah
    The Oral Torah comprises the legal and interpretative traditions that, according to tradition, were transmitted orally from Mount Sinai, and were not written in the Torah...

  • Patha, Śrauta
    Srauta
    ' traditions are conservative ritualistic traditions of the historical Vedic religion in Hinduism, based on the body of Śruti literature...

  • Oral Tradition Journal
    Oral Tradition Journal
    Oral Tradition is a peer-reviewed academic journal established in 1986 by John Miles Foley covering studies in oral tradition and related fields...

  • Parampara
    Parampara
    Parampara denotes a succession of teachers and disciples in traditional Indian culture and Indian religions such as Hinduism, Sikhism, Jainism and Buddhism...

  • Understanding Media
  • World Oral Literature Project
    World Oral Literature Project
    The ' is 'an urgent global initiative to document and disseminate endangered oral literatures before they disappear without record'. Directed by Dr Mark Turin and co-located at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, at the University of Cambridge and Yale University, the project was...


External links