lord on oral poetry

I came across this memorable quote from Albert Lord’s The Singer of Tales, reading for my seminar tomorrow night:

The method of language is like that of oral poetry, substitution in the framework of the grammar. Without the metrical restrictions of the verse, language substitutes one subject for another in the nominative case, keeping the same verb, or keeping the same noun, it substitutes one verb for another. In studying the patterns and systems of oral narrative verse we are in reality observing the ‘grammar’ of the poetry, a grammar superimposed, as it were, on the grammar of the language concerned. Or, to alter the image, we find a special grammar within the grammar of the language, necessitated by the versification. … The speaker of this language, once he has mastered it, does not move any more mechanically within it than we do in ordinary speech.

When we speak a language, our native language, we do not repeat words and phrases that we have memorised consciously, but the words and sentences emerge from habitual usage. This is true of the singer of tales working in his specialised grammar.

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seminar description: orality & literacy in the 18th-c

Here’s the graduate seminar I’ll be teaching next semester:

Literary scholar Nicholas Hudson has recently repeated media theorist Marshall McLuhan’s assertion that “European intellectuals achieved a clear perception of ‘orality’ only after their own world had been engulfed in print.” In the middle of the eighteenth century, British actor and elocutionist Thomas Sheridan wrote with amazed respect about “the power which words acquire, even the words of fools and madmen, when forcibly uttered by the living voice.” For Sheridan, as for many of his contemporaries, the speech of preachers, politicians, actors, barristers, and even everyday people was a threatening and unruly force compared to the presumably ordered presentation of information through writing and print. The spoken word had been an essential part of human communication for thousands of years, yet the advent of the printed word and widespread literacy in eighteenth-century Britain dramatically reoriented attitudes towards speech. Students in this course will consider just how “clear” the perception of orality might have been among literate people in this period as they study developments in oral and literate practice in eighteenth-century Britain. We will learn what scholars have had to say about orality and literacy, and we will read the works of eighteenth-century poets, dramatists, rhetoricians, clergymen, and cultural commentators.

Course requirements will include class presentations, a take-home exam, an annotated bibliography, and a final research paper building upon the research completed for the annotated bibliography. This course will be rewarding to students interested in the eighteenth century, literary history, rhetoric, media studies, cultural studies, and critical literacy studies.

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CFP: History of Reading

Via the listserv of the History of Reading Special Interest Group:
50th Annual International Reading Association Convention
San Antonio, Texas
May 1-5, 2005
In response to the International Reading Association’s desire to have consistency in all programs for the 50th Annual Meeting in San Antonio, the History of Reading SIG must have its programs ready to submit to IRA Headquarters by June 1, 2004. Therefore, proposals for presenting at the History of Reading SIG in Toronto [sic, I think they mean in San Antonio] must be received by May 1, 2004.

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