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Ethnolinguistics, Cultural Change and Early Scripts from England and Wales

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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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Chapter One: Some Remarks on Oral Cultures

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The origin of writing systems has not been definitively established. Despite various attempts and numerous theories, there is no single, conclusive hypothesis as to the origin of the concept of writing.1 It may seem impossible to determine whether there are any universal rules governing the emergence of writing systems, yet it is feasible to determine the stages of evolution of numerous scripts throughout history. In order to better understand the chronological, historical and linguistic peculiarities of writing and its uses, it is important to take a closer look at the earliest stages of cultural development, during which the production, continuation and reshaping of intellectual achievements, philosophical concepts or even elaborate literature is carried out without the use of writing.

The main premise of this chapter is to define and describe the notion of oral cultures. Orality is a subject widely discussed in literature (see Malinowski [1926] 2003, [1935] 2003, Finnegan [1977] 1992, Ong [1982] 2002, Havelock 1986, Johnson 2006, Aitchison 2007). At the same time, the vast majority of publications deal with contemporary research results and describe cultures which still exist in various parts of the world. The sources on the notion of early-medieval oral cultures, especially in a comparative or interdisciplinary perspective, are scarce. Therefore, the chapter also aims at presenting contemporary knowledge on various aspects of everyday life in an oral society and constructing a concise characteristic of features common to all societies which function without the use of writing, regardless of the time...

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