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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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Chapter Two: On the Emergence of Writing


Defining what a culture is may seem an impossible task. Depending on the academic field, each and every definition is likely to remain on the surface of a subject rather than provide a clear-cut and generally agreeable solution. The purpose of providing a definition is not limited to explaining the notion at hand. What is more important is the light, or approach from which a given definition is formulated or on which it is based. It may therefore seem simple to define what an oral or literate culture is, yet any attempts at explaining it would likely incorporate at least a glimpse of its author’s world view.

1. Selected remarks on the notions of culture and cultural groups

The variety of definitions can be confusing, yet thanks to the efforts of Kroeber and Kluckhohn (1952) it is possible to acquaint oneself with some rudimentary knowledge on how to approach not only culture as a definable entity, but definitions themselves. As Kroeber and Kluckhohn (1952: 41) state “[t]here is a scattering of denotations and connotations that might be compared to the clustering of steel filings around a magnet. (…) [A]s a magnet is a point of reference, so are the key concepts centres of symbolic crystallization in each culture.” A definition which stems from psychology is likely to focus on the concepts of the human mind, habits, customs, or philosophical ideas, while a historically-oriented definition is likely to emphasise the importance of temporal flow,...

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