[INDOLOGY] Sources on Relationship btw Oral/Literary Traditions

Witzel, Michael witzel at fas.harvard.edu
Sun Nov 5 15:35:27 UTC 2017

I wonder why the seminal work by Harry Falk (and O. v. Hinüber) has not come up yet.  But of course that is in a foreign language...

FALK, Harry. "Goodies for India: Literacy, Orality, and Vedic Culture." In Wolfgang Raible, ed. Erscheinungsformen kultureller Prozesse: Jahrbuch 1988 des Sonderforschungsbereichs "Übergänge und Spannungsfelder zwischen Mündlichkeit und Schriftlichkeit. <file://localhost/javascript/open_window(%2522http/::lms01.harvard.edu/80:F:5JGVSF6UDR31JBJL45FARK9GLBQ66YRYN8HMA1U8PFJEDHTJCI-11202%3Ffunc=service&doc_number=001974740&line_number=0014&service_type=TAG%2522)%3B> Tübingen: Narr 1990: 103-120
—, Schrift im alten Indien : ein Forschungsbericht mit Anmerkungen. Tübingen: G. Narr, 1993
von HINÜBER, Oskar. Der Beginn der Schrift und frühe Schriftlichkeit in Indien.  Akademie der Wissenschaften  und der Literatur, Abhandlungen der geistes- und sozialwissenschaftlichen Klasse, 11, Mainz, 1989

On Nov 3, 2017, at 5:59 AM, Dermot Killingley via INDOLOGY <indology at list.indology.info<mailto:indology at list.indology.info>> wrote:

Dear Mark,

I think your student would benefit from some clarification or problematization of the pair oral-literary -- especially if she understands the phrase "textual sources" as referring to the same things as "written texts". Her last question shows she is aware of the possibility of nuances and cultural differences.

In the South Asian context, orally transmitted texts can have greater prestige, and be more stable, than written texts. This is true of Vedic texts, and perhaps also the Pali canon. The technique of memorization applied to such texts is very time-consuming and laborious, so it depended on a body of people whose status depended on applying it. I've discussed this, with some reference to theories about oral and written literature, in ‘Svadhyaya: An Ancient Way of Using the Veda’, Religions of South Asia, 8.1 (2014), pp. 109‑130.

Best wishes to you, and to Emma and her project.

Dermot Killingley

On 2 Nov 2017 at 17:21, Mark McLaughlin via INDOLOGY wrote:

Dear Indology mind-hive,

I have an undergraduate student who is interested in writing a paper on questions of oral and literary traditions. I would like to solicit your opinions on potential sources for her. Please see her message below for a more detailed delineation of her questioning.

Many thanks in advance!


Professor McLaughlin,

I read through a little more of the Pollock book last night to get a better feel for some questions. I think generally this is what I'm thinking:

What is the difference and relationship between the oral and literary tradition? How has that relationship evolved with the emergence of written texts, vernacularization, and the subsequent privileging of textual sources by the colonial West and the Academy? Who is excluded and/or included by the privileging of one kind of knowledge over the other? For scholars, what kind of nuanced understanding of literacy should be sought or acknowledged given that "to be literate" can mean different things in different cultures?

Let me know if this sounds like what I was talking about the other day!



Mark McLaughlin
Visiting Assistant Professor of South Asian Religions
Department of Religious Studies
College of William and Mary
Williamsburg, VA

Dermot Killingley
9, Rectory Drive,
Newcastle upon Tyne NE3 1XT
Phone (0191) 285 8053

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