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Beyond traditional literature : towards oral theory as aural linguistics.

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Oral Theory, which is the discipline that studies the oral tradition, has been characterized as a literary anthropology, centered on essentially two notions: tradition on the one hand, literature on the other. Though emphasis has moved from an initial preoccupation with oral textual form (as advocated by Parry and Lord) to concerns with the oral text as social practice, the anthropological / literary orientation has generally remained intact. But through its designation of a traditional 'other' Oral Theory is, at best, a sub-field of anthropology; the literature it purports to study is not literature, but anthropological data. This undermines the existence of the field as discipline. In this study it is suggested that the essence of orality as subject matter of Oral Theory - should be seen not in the origins of its creativity (deemed 'traditional'), nor in its aesthetic process / product itself ('literature'), but in its use of language deriving from a different 'auditory' conception of language (as contrasted with the largely 'visualist' conception of language at least partly associated with writing). In other words, the study of orality should not be about specific oral 'genres', but about verbalization in general. In terms of its auditory conception, language is primarily defined as existing in sound, a definition which places it in a continuum with other symbolical / meaningful sounds, normally conceptualized as 'music'. Linguistics, being fundamentally scriptist (visualist) in orientation, fails to account for the auditory conception of language. To remedy this, Oral Theory needs to set itself up as an 'aural linguistics' - implying close interdisciplinary collaboration with the field of musicology - through which the linguistic sign of orality could be studied in all its particularity and complexity of meaning.


Thesis (Ph.D.)-University of Natal, Durban, 1996.


Oral tradition., Folk literature., Oral-formulaic analysis., Theses--Orality-literacy studies.