Terralingua Langscape Volume 2, Issue 10
Breaking the Language Barrier:
a Biocultural Approach to Documenting Oral Literature
With Guest Editor: George N. Appell, Ph.D.


Langscape V.2 Issue 10 Langscape V.2 Issue 10 (2502 KB)


Oral literature is the repository of the critical knowledge and philosophy for non-literate societies and serves as a vehicle for artistic creativity of great value and beauty. This literature through narrative, poetry, song, dance, myths and fables, and texts for religious rituals provides a portrait of the meaning of life as experienced by the society at its particular time and place with their existential challenges. It encapsulates the traditional knowledge, beliefs and values about the environment and the nature of the society itself. It arises in response to the universal aesthetic impulse to provide narratives that explain the nature of life and human response to challenges. It retains knowledge to be passed on to succeeding generations. It contains the history of the society and its experiences. Thus in various forms this oral literature portrays the society’s belief systems and makes sense of life. It provides a guide to human behavior and how to live one’s life. With the arrival of literacy, the core of this literature and its art rapidly disappears.

Oral Literature is also the repository of the artistic expression in a society. And thus its beauty resonates across cultural boundaries. As such this literature is a response to the universal human instinct to find balance, harmony, and beauty in the world and the need to understand pain, suffering, and evil. It functions to fulfill the need for religious belief and spiritual fulfillment necessary for human existence. Through stories, tales, songs, it recounts the works of the gods and the frailty of humankind. It explains how the world and human existence came about. It serves to communicate ideas, emotions, beliefs and appreciation of existence. Oral literature defines, interprets, and elaborates on the society’s vision of reality and the dangers in the world. It explains the causes of human suffering, justifies them, and suggests ways of mediation and the healing of suffering. Oral literature deals with the human adventure and achievements against odds. It is also a form of entertainment and fosters the feelings of solidarity with others who have had similar experiences. Thus oral literature may encompass many genres of linguistic expression.

George N. Appell, Ph.D.
April 2012