oral transmission: motivation and memorization

thompson at jlc.net thompson at jlc.net
Wed Jun 11 19:35:48 UTC 1997

In response to J. Kingston Cowart's recent post:
>If the desire to overcome situational limits in order to produce a
>written work can be sufficient motivation for a memory task like
>Capote's (which involved "sterile" data), then ought we be surprised
>at similar--or greater--feats of memory (involving highly meaningful,
>cadenced, and rhymed word-images) stimulated by religious
>The issue is, ultimately, accuracy of transmission across memorizers
>over time.
>Inasmuch as it seems unreasonable to ascribe equal zeal to all
>memorizers, it seems reasonable to admit the likelihood of some
>transmission errors.  Cultural changes and migratory factors would
>probably increase this likelihood.

Another well-known and rather obvious point may throw some light on Vedic
"realism" when it comes to the fallibility of memory: Vedic recitation was
always a collective affair. A teacher would sit down with a number of
students and they would work their way through a recitation, correcting
each other when necessary. Occasionally a teacher might even stumble or
hesitate, and a student would step in to bridge the gap in the teacher's

So recitation as a collective effort would seem to function, among other
things, as a kind of self-correction device, just like the vikRtis, which
shuffle the sequence of a recitation in order to ring the changes on the
sandhi and apparently to prevent the accidental loss of of a pada

That's an interesting story about Capote.

Best wishes,
George Thompson

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