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Ethnolinguistics, Cultural Change and Early Scripts from England and Wales


Jacek Mianowski

The study presents a chronotope of linguistic and cultural changes that took place in England and Wales between the 4th and 8th centuries. It encompasses the areas of South Wales and Eastern England and describes the cultural practices of preliterate Anglo-Saxon and Celtic speech communities and their adaptation of runic, ogham and Latin scripts.

The study is based on the concepts of anthropological linguistics, ethnography of communication and discourse analysis. It incorporates 23 selected ogham- and Latin-inscribed stones from Wales, and 10 rune-inscribed everyday objects from England. The presented inscriptions were designed as text occurrences with well-planned, graphical content distribution, intentionally placed in the public space to increase the range of their potential audience.

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Final conclusions


The most rudimentary aim of this thesis was to present the process of cultural change which occurred in the course of adopting the technology of writing. In order to achieve that, however, one has to take a closer look at a variety of aspects — linguistic, cultural and historical — which can be considered in the study of oral-literate transition. The first chapter of this thesis aimed at presenting various approaches to the study of oral cultures. The notion of orality evades all attempts at strict definitions, yet it can be described by addressing those aspects of oral reality that remain in opposition to what is known to the members of literate cultures. In this regard much can be owed to Walter Ong’s perspective of orality, literacy and the technology of writing. Ong’s concepts provided a sound basis for the study, but one has to bear in mind that describing the surrounding reality through binary oppositions may not be sufficient. There are indeed numerous similarities between the oral and literate worlds, as the study of Paul Zumthor has shown. At the same time one can remark on the notion of how people construct thoughts and conclude that logical reasoning remains in opposition to the linear thinking of the oral mind.

The here and now is what an oral mind sees and feels, while what is remembered can only be recorded by the means of human memory. Thus, orality pays much attention to how everyday language is used, as...

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