Created By: ArcadesSabboth on February 3, 2013 Last Edited By: ArcadesSabboth on February 25, 2013

Oral Tradition

Medium for fiction and non-fiction that is not recorded in writing, audio, or video.

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Once, before film, before printing, before even writing, all stories were spread by word of mouth alone. If you wanted a story, you had to get some old fart to actually sit down at a fire and tell you, and you usually had to put up with a lot of tangential rambling, too. All the oldest stories have their roots in this ancient storytelling medium.

Oral storytelling has distinctive features, shaping the tropes it uses. Speech is not nearly as fast as reading, so an evening's worth of story is shorter. It is not possible to page back through an oral story to make sure it's internally consistent, and the story itself needs the kind of repetitive features that aid memorization. Even with memorization, stories usually change over long periods as the details of the original telling are altered by different storytellers, by innovation, to suit various audiences and circumstances, and by cultural and linguistic changes.

Nowadays, you kids with your new-fangled "writing" and "movies" tend to think of Oral Tradition as a medium of the past. But even in the most literate and high-tech cultures, stories, beliefs, ideas, and jokes continue to circulate orally as long as people continue talking to each other face-to-face or via telephone. Online social networking will have to become even more omnipresent before Oral Tradition really dies as a medium.

The genres most often associated with Oral Tradition are Myth, Legend, and Folklore (folktales, fairy tales, folk ballads, folk songs, etc.), or just Mythology. These genres are not just oral -- many mythological works have passed into or originated from other media such as writing and theatre. But these genres originated with oral storytelling, and are frequently referred to collectively as "oral tradition."

An oral work, once written down, isn't Oral Tradition anymore. The oral versions can still wander around, and often do. But the written version is now Literature, and will change independently from the oral versions. This is an important distinction for this wiki, because the two media are subject to different types of adaptation, circulate by different channels, and often employ different tropes. It also comes up in the style of the wording, for example the repetition in oral works vs. the richer description, more detailed narration, and illustration that usually only shows up in writing. Once a work is written, it's much easier for the author to look back over the whole thing, removing contradictions and inconsistencies, before presenting it to an audience.

Since oral works by definition aren't written down, it's almost impossible to trope them. The works troped on This Very Wiki, even those that originated in Oral Tradition, are almost all versions in other media.

Genres with strong roots in Oral Tradition:

Community Feedback Replies: 9
  • February 6, 2013
    Moving Arcades Sabboth's commentary out of the draft:

    The current Oral Tradition is being split to separate the medium (Oral Tradition) from the genres (Mythology, Myth, Legend, Folklore, etc.), as decided by vote in the Trope Repair Shop. This is the draft for the article on the medium, which will replace the current article.

    It will NOT contain links to any works (since all the works troped on this wiki are written, not oral). The links to sandboxes will be replaced as those articles also go live.
  • February 7, 2013
    Again, I don't know how to write witty, so any suggestions/help in that regard would be welcome.

    For reference, the Repair Shop thread is here:
  • February 9, 2013
    I added a list with genres (such as have pages on the wiki) that are especially connected with Oral Tradition. This could become an index when the page is launched.
  • February 11, 2013
    I'd rather just link to them, not index them, because as troped none of them are oral anymore. As you wrote, they have roots in Oral Tradition, but that's it.
  • February 11, 2013
  • February 11, 2013
    Is there a Jokes Joke genre page?

    Huh, guess not.
  • February 11, 2013
    Parodied by Tom Lehrer in his spoken intro to "In Old Mexico":
    ...Whereupon he switched to the field of medicine, in which field he also won renown as the inventor of gargling, which prior to that time had been practiced only furtively by a remote tribe in the Andes who passed the secret down from father to son as part of their oral tradition. (On the LP version the audience hisses this gag.)
  • February 25, 2013
    Xiftr, I added those in (Fairy Tale was already potholed as "Folktale").

    Folks, what does this need to make it launch-worthy? Nobody but the authors have given any hats, yet we have no suggestions for improvement. Please comment, criticize, suggest, etc.
  • February 25, 2013
    Looks good to me.