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Translation and Orality in the Old English Orosius

Deborah VanderBilt

Oral Tradition Volume 13, Number 2

The focus of oral studies in Anglo-Saxon literature has been primarily on poetic texts; the poetry’s oral-formulaic language and its way of transforming narratives according to its own traditional idiom have made it a fascinating area of study. Within this field, however, critical analysis has deepened from early, often rote applications of the Parry-Lord theory toward more precise consideration of the “tradition-dependent” features of oraltraditional texts in Old English, features that may or may not find parallels in texts from other oral cultures. Additionally, the direction of oral studies of the past two decades in medieval literature generally as well as in AngloSaxon literature in particular has included issues of audience, reception, and transmission—what we might characterize as the dynamics of orality, that is, how orality operates as one of the “socially conditioned and socially functional modes of approach to the transmission of knowledge” (Bäuml 1980:246). A recent, broad-ranging collection of essays on medieval literature subtitled Orality and Textuality in the Middle Ages reflects emphasis on the fact that orality and literacy always involve social, and in the latter case technological, constructions that support the mode(s) of communication at each extreme of the oral/literate dichotomy and all along the spectrum in between.

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