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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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Introduction

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The development of a comprehensive written visual language caused civilization to grow more complex. (…) Literacy gives cultures the privilege of knowing the past.

— Denise Schmandt-Besserat (2007: 105) When Writing Met Art. From Symbol to Story. Austin: University of Texas Press.

1. Subject matter

The research objective of the following dissertation is to present a chronotope of the cultural and linguistic changes which took place in the British Isles during the period between the fourth and eighth centuries. These changes affected the geographical areas of Wales and England, which were inhabited by the representatives of two distinctive cultures — Anglo-Saxon speech communities inhabiting England and post-Roman Celtic speech communities in Wales. The nature of the aforementioned changes can be observed within cultural practices or in the oral and pre-literate communities that came into contact with the technology of writing. It is therefore imperative to assess the scale, range, nature and chronology of civilisational advancements that led to the introduction of Latin, ogham and runic scripts among the inhabitants of Wales and England.

2. Research perspective

Understanding what the possible pre-conditions for writing to emerge are may require taking a closer look at these stages of cultural development, which precede full-fledged literacy. Therefore, the first chapter deals with the notions of orality and literacy. Orality, understood here in the view of Walter Ong ([1982] 2002: 6–30), is established as a starting point for any civilisation or culture that seeks to...

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