ORALITY, LITERACY, LITERATURE – What happens when a transition occurs from orality to the written word? First, we must admit that in some cases (the Harappan for instance) no lasting literary tradition was created. We have suggested that one reason was the collapse of the state and civilization and of interregional interactions. Was it also because of a very limited and utilitarian use of writing in the Harappan period? What about the possible role of a plethora of spoken languages and dialects in northern India and Pakistan at that time, especially with the migration of speakers of Indo-Aryan languages?
The social status of the literati is also relevant. Shulgi, a king of Ur around 2100 BC, claims in his inscriptions that he was an exceptional ruler in that he knew how to read and write. Writing was not a prerogative of the rulers, and its advent did not, anywhere, create a “class”. But Shulgi expressed satisfaction that, because the hymns he had composed were written down, they would not be changed in times to come.
It has been suggested by scholars that with the coming of writing, the modes of verbal expression would have changed, because now the teller and the listener were no longer in communication (in visual contact). A narrator could no longer resort to body language or inflexions of the voice in order to give meaning or lend excitement to his words. With nothing but words available for communication, it is thus suggested, writing involves a much more precise use of language and, inevitably, an expansion of the vocabulary of the concerned language.


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