Expert Answers
James Kelley eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This is a great question and a number of posters have answered it well, but I'm not sure that I agree with the claim of one poster, who writes: "In ancient times, the word 'neolithic' refers to 'newly-writing' peoples." I'm pretty sure that "lithic" refers to stone, not to writing, and that "neolithic" is a modern term for Stone Age peoples. They may have painted on cave walls, for example, but Neolithic peoples probably didn't have a developed writing system. See the first link below for a brief history of writing.

The more standard history of the term "literature" is worth exploring. The Online Etymology Dictionary, which traces the history of words in the English language (see the link below), dates the word "literature" to the late 14th century, when it meant "learning, writing, grammar" or "writing that is formed with letters" and explains that words comes from the Latin-based word "letter" lit(t)era. As this brief history suggests, definitions of literature usually center around writing, but more recently (c. late 19th/early 20th century to the present) an appreciation has developed for the artistic qualities of non-written stories, and the term "oral literature" is frequently used today for tales, myths, and oral histories that have no foundation in writing.

readerofbooks eNotes educator| Certified Educator

What a difficult word to define! I say that it is difficult to define, because there is no agreed upon definition among scholars when it comes to fluid concepts such as literature. In the least, I think we can say that literature is anything that is written that has some value to a group of people. This definition has two elements. First, literature is something that is written. I think this is a fair starting point, because literature comes from the Latin word littera, which means letter. Second, this definition has a group of people in view that accord the writing in view with some value. In this sense, we can say that great works of Homer, the Greek poet, are literature, since many people value it. But we can also say that Dan Brown's novel, Da Vinci Code is literature, because some people also value it. The later example will be a case of popular literature.

coachingcorner eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Literature is basically writing. The word comes from the idea of 'lit' which denotes writing. In ancient times, the word 'neolithic' refers to 'newly-writing' peoples. Of course, writing refers to any kind of mark in that sense, drawing with charred sticks on caves, carving runes into rock or swirling game chequers in dust. Later on the symbols came to represent universal recognised ideas.Perhaps a good question would be 'what is good/classical literature?' Of course, as in all the arts, this is deeply subjective and personal. One man's meat is another man's poison often in poetry,prose and drama. A good test is to see what works of literature have stood the test of time - which pieces did mankind make eforts to record and keep hold of? The rest is open to fierce debate!

ask996 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I would suggest the book The Book of Learning and Forgetting by Frank Smith for any teacher. In it the history of the classical theory of learning and the traditional theory of learning is closely looked at. That being said, he makes an observation that all of us are part of the “literacy club”. We as teachers, have a tendency to forget this. Many of our students don’t read what we consider “literature”. They do, however, read driver manuals, hunting guides or magazines, gossip magazines, video game cheats, cereal boxes, and etc. This makes them part of the “literacy club” as much as those students who read poetry, library books, or materials that we consider to have aesthetic value.  

drmonica eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think of literature as encompassing any type of written/printed text. The term "literature" is commonly associated with prose and poetry, including nonfiction prose. However, as media has evolved, I have come to think of film as visual text. It is entirely possible to teach many concepts in literary analysis by using film as the springboard: foreshadowing, characterization, theme, suspense, climax, denouement.

cameragirl24 | Student
what is literature

view and example

Literature is any environmental print, stories, children's writings, drawings, and dictations. It is a world of imagination and dreams that come true through the words and illustrations in the story.

chocolate975 | Student
creative writing of recognized artistic value the humanistic study of a body of literature; "he took a course in Russian lit" published writings in a particular style on a particular subject; "the technical literature"; "one aspect of Waterloo has not yet been treated in the literature" the profession or art of a writer; "her place in literature is secure"
epollock | Student

Any work of writing that speaks some general truth or statement about people that can be interpreted in any time period under different cultural settings, thereby having some type of artistic value.

krishna-agrawala | Student

The word literature is used by people in many different senses. In the broadest sense the word literature includes any meaningful arrangement of words. Thus a highly technical research paper on a scientific topic may also contain a chapter on existing literature survey. When used in this way the word does not make any distinction based on either the form, content, or quality of the work created. Widely acclaimed novels, dramas, poems and essays which have continued be popular over many years are considers as much of literature, as the trash which may have never been able to draw attention to itself.

In its narrowest sense the word literature refers only to works of prose and poetry that have established themselves to be of high quality in terms of having aesthetic value. Works of this type are supposed to be of lasting  and high value. Frequently, this is the most commonly understood meaning of the word. Of course one major problem in use of the word literature in this way is the controversy which exist about which works are really of high quality and therefore fit to qualify as literature and which do not make the grade.

samsir | Student

Any piece of writing which has an aesthetic value is called Literature.The word literature has come from Latin littera meaning 'letter'. Poetry, fiction, drama, novel etc are different types of literature. Literature is called the mother of all arts because almost every art form including Cinema, music depend on literature. We cannot imagine a movie without a story or a song without lyrics. So, literature is a very important art form even in the modern world. In terms of historical, cultural or political perspective literature has immense value. For example, the poetry of the victorian age record the trend of the  same age. The language of Milton and the laguage  of Frost is totally different because of a huge time gap.  literature is a great weapon of the writers to express their view to the society. Shaw dismisses the patriotic and heroic idea of war in his drama "Arms and the Man", Owen in his poem "Strange Meeting". Some countries are noted for their wealth of literature like England, USA, India (Bengali, Tamil) , French etc. The famous Indian poet rabindranath tagore won Nobel Prize in literature in 1913. the whole world praised his works. This way an under developed country like India came in the limelight. This is the power of literature.

Once Shakespeare said " O, none, unless this miracle have might-/That in black ink my love still shine bright" -just to show the power of his literature against the wreckful seize of time.Thus, literature is above the affect of time.


versatilekamini | Student

Pieces  of writing that are valued as works of art,especially novels, plays and poems in contrast to technical books and newspapers, magazines, etc. or pieces of writing or printed information on a particular subject.

Literature falls into two major types that are written and oral literature. Oral literature includes ballads, myth, jokes, folktales and fables; whereas written source has drama, novel, poetry and nonfictional literature.

Philosophy, History, Journalism, and legal and scientific writings traditionally ranked as literature. They offer some of the oldest prose writings in existence; novels and prose stories earned the names "fiction" to distinguish them from factual writing or nonfiction, which writers historically have crafted in prose.

The major types of literature across the world are English, Greek, Latin, Roman, African, Indian, American, French, Irish, Spain, Chinese, Italian, Japanese, Persian, Sanskrit, Nepali, Russian and Canadian literature. Literature is a well-considered form of a language that influences the minds of readers of all age.