What are the Types of Oral Literature?

types of oral literature

What are the Types of Oral Literature?

What are the types of Oral Literature you know? Are they the same as Written Literature or are they entirely different? Let’s find out and see if we can get the challenge settled.

Beyond the epic, the major oral genres include the folktale; song, including laments, praise songs, and work songs; folk drama; myth; and, closely related, legend and historical recitation. There are equally minor genres of the proverb and the riddle.

While these genres are not necessarily always given individual designations in local languages, in scholarly practice they are distinguished because of their different forms, content, and functions, which relate partly to their audience.

In the very broadest sense, folktales are rarely seen as anything but fictional, whereas the other genres, apart from song, have quite a different relation to “truth.” In purely oral societies, recitations and songs encompass the entire life’s experience, including cosmology and theology.

Forms of Oral Literature

These are the forms of Oral Literature that we are going to discuss in this guide.

Here are the forms of Oral Literature you have to learn about:

1. Myth

Myth is a traditional story or narrative that explains the existence and essence of some natural phenomenon. Myth is always considered to be the biggest achievement of oral literature. It has certainly proved to be the most interesting to outsiders.

However, at the same time the most difficult to comprehend, because, even though it deals in cosmological matters, myth is in some ways the most localized of genres and the most embedded in cultural action (such as when it is recited in a very specific ceremonial context).

2. Folktales

Folktales are stories that are passed down from generation to generation, usually by word of mouth. They are often old stories, and their origins are unknown. They can be found in every culture in the world, and they come in a wide variety of genres, including fairy tales, fables, myths, and legends.

Folktales often teach important lessons about life, such as the importance of hard work, honesty, and kindness. They can also be used to explain the natural world and to entertain. This art form is an important part of cultural heritage, and it can help us to understand our ancestors and the world around us.

3. Song

The song plays a very vital role in oral culture. A song’s words most time resemble lyric poetry, having to be of a tight metrical structure because of the musical accompaniment. Equally, the rhythmic verbal structure is always influenced when epic and other recitations are accompanied by a musical instrument or a great beat.

An important variety of songs is the lament at the death of an individual, which may take the form of stressed speech or follow a more melodic style.

Songs may be part of rituals, folktales, and other genres, but they are often performed solely for entertainment.

The melodies may also be elaborated and expanded upon through musical instruments, leading to innumerable variations invented for the occasion, as with jazz.

A significant subcategory is the work song, the performance of which is likely to be gendered, as is the work itself.

4. Folk Drama

Theatre in the contemporary sense is an outcome of the written tradition in Greece, Europe, India, Japan, and elsewhere. It is sometimes hard to draw a distinction between drama and ritual; indeed, the origins of drama in Europe lie in religious and ritual performances.

The occurrence of secular drama in oral cultures is not well attested and, where it does occur, is at the surface level..

Nevertheless, (folk) plays of a more or less secular type do occur in the popular culture of literate societies, such as the mumming plays of the European tradition, which stand in opposition to the written plays of the elite theatre.

5. Legends and Historical Recitations

A legend in literature is a traditional narrative or group of stories told about a particular person or place. Formerly the word legend meant a tale about a saint. Some legends are the unique property of the place or person that they portray.

Legends and historical recitations—or “histories”—occur everywhere: chiefless societies might produce stories of clan migration, for instance, while chiefly societies might create stories of the coming of rulers and of the establishment of kingdoms.

Examples proliferate with writing and become more differentiated, but they exist in purely oral cultures as a significant formal activity, to be told on ritual occasions. These genres may also be associated with totemism, telling how a particular animal helped a past ancestor in troubled periods and so is taboo to his or her descendants.

The term legend (derived from the Latin legenda, “to be read”) was especially applied to the narratives of saints in Roman Catholic Europe, but similar kinds of narratives believed to be true, are also characteristic of oral cultures and often later form the basis for the construction of written histories, as was the case in early Greece.

Some formalized historical recitations in purely oral cultures retain earlier forms and content that have passed out of contemporary usage.

The speech of former generations can legitimize the material within a recitation, making that material more valuable and more sacred at the time of the recitation, but it can also make the material more difficult, more mysterious, and more prone to conflicting and ambiguous interpretations.

More broadly, histories are often more concerned with legitimation, especially in providing a suggested link with the distant past, rather than with the narrative itself.

In conclusion, those might not be the only types of Oral Literature, as some critics are of the opinion that masquerades, and festivals, are all forms of oral tradition. Nonetheless, we will make a provision for those ones in our subsequent discussion.

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