chapter  2
Orality
ByCarl J. Couch, Shing-Ling S. Chen
Pages 16

The term oral, which is commonly used to distinguish spoken from written communication, rests on a dichotomy that only exists in literate societies. A host of oral technologies were developed long before written languages were invented. Oral specialists could preserve far more information than is possible with contrived speech. Many studies of orality have focused on the historical content of oral compositions—the exploits of preceding generations, origin myths, and narratives about the supernatural. The civilization of the ancient Greeks rested on a foundation of information that was orally retained. In simple nomadic societies there were no oral specialists. Oral specialists in many ancient societies composed and recited poems that served as encyclopedias long before written languages were invented. Orality is far more than a historical oddity limited to a few ancient societies and some contemporary nonliterate societies. When orality was replaced by writing, humanity lost some of its vibrancy, but gained the ability to construct more complex social orders.