Oral Tradition

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  • In Orality and Literacy, Walter Ong identifies certain features of oral performance which rely on rhythm, balance, repetitions, contrasts, standard “riffs” (descriptions of meals, arming scenes, etc.), formulaic epithets, proverbs, and other commonplaces. These motifs are learned narrative “habits,” recalled without effort. Syntax itself is affected, resulting in a paratactic aggregation of clauses (and … and … then … then) as opposed to the hierarchy of clauses characteristic of written communication. In its “purest” form, oral tradition is entirely dependent on memory for preserving and communicating knowledge. Oral tradition encourages “copiousness”; while the speaker is thinking of the next idea, he or she will mark time with a formulaic filler rather than fall silent. Oral tradition is repetitive, for saying something once in a community ...

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