Oral Tradition

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How does oral literature affect written literature?

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All literature can be traced to oral tradition, a term that refers to storytelling that was passed down verbally from one generation to the next. Legends, fairy tales, folk tales, and even epics stem from oral tradition.

Before literacy was widespread, a few educated writers decided to write down versions of oral stories within their culture. These include lengthy works like Beowulf or shorter ones like Grimm’s European fairy tales. In these cases, oral tradition inspired print literature.

In modern-day society, oral tradition still impacts the written word. Storytelling is integral to community and culture building, and people often form a connection with stories before ever learning to read or write. As a result, most authors draw inspiration from the craft of oral storytelling, in such diverse forms as a rumor or a childhood bedtime story.

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Written literature is often based on oral stories.  Before humans developed writing, we passed down stories in the form of oral literature.  With the invention of writing, people began to record these stories.  In these stories they passed down their culture, traditions, values, and histories.  Many early stories were part of religion.  For example, myths and legends were passed down this way, including the creation myths of different cultures. 

Storytelling is still very important.  Many of our modern stories can trace some of their influences to ancient stories, but oral storytelling still continues today.  Whenever you describe something funny that happened to you, you are telling an oral story.  If you write it down later, or turn it into a book, you have completed the cycle of oral literature becoming written literature.

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