The Curious History of the Concept of Oral Literature


"Oral literature" sounds like a paradox, since "literature" involves (etymologically and in principle) "letters." Although "literature without letters" has no doubt existed since the beginnings of human language, the concepts used to describe it are of much more recent vintage. Two periods saw the emergence of such concepts: the seventeenth and early twentieth centuries. Detaching "literature" from letters proves no easy task, as this historical investigation shows.