Oral tradition, or oral lore, is a form of human
Oral tradition is information, memories and knowledge held in common by a group of people, over many generations, and it is not the same as
The study of oral tradition is distinct from the academic discipline of
According to John Foley, oral tradition has been an ancient human tradition found in "all corners of the world". Modern archaeology has been unveiling evidence of the human efforts to preserve and transmit arts and knowledge that depended completely or partially on an oral tradition, across various cultures:
The Judeo-Christian Bible reveals its oral traditional roots; medieval European manuscripts are penned by performing scribes; geometric vases from archaic Greece mirror Homer's oral style. (...) Indeed, if these final decades of the millennium have taught us anything, it must be that oral tradition never was the other we accused it of being; it never was the primitive, preliminary technology of communication we thought it to be. Rather, if the whole truth is told, oral tradition stands out as the single most dominant communicative technology of our species as both a historical fact and, in many areas still, a contemporary reality.— John Foley, Signs of Orality
In Asia, the transmission of folklore, mythologies as well as scriptures in ancient India, in different Indian religions, was by oral tradition, preserved with precision with the help of elaborate
In ancient Greece, the oral tradition was a dominant tradition.
Writing systems are not known to exist among Native North Americans before contact with Europeans. Oral storytelling traditions flourished in a context without the use of writing to record and preserve history, scientific knowledge, and social practices. While some stories were told for amusement and leisure, most functioned as practical lessons from tribal experience applied to immediate moral, social, psychological, and environmental issues. Stories fuse fictional, supernatural, or otherwise exaggerated characters and circumstances with real emotions and morals as a means of teaching. Plots often reflect real life situations and may be aimed at particular people known by the story's audience. In this way, social pressure could be exerted without directly causing embarrassment or social exclusion. For example, rather than yelling,
Native American storytelling is a collaborative experience between storyteller and listeners. Native American tribes generally have not had professional tribal storytellers marked by social status. Stories could and can be told by anyone, with each storyteller using their own vocal inflections, word choice, content, or form. Storytellers not only draw upon their own memories, but also upon a collective or tribal memory extending beyond personal experience but nevertheless representing a shared reality. Native languages have in some cases up to twenty words to describe physical features like rain or snow and can describe the spectra of human emotion in very precise ways, allowing storytellers to offer their own personalized take on a story based on their own lived experiences. Fluidity in story deliverance allowed stories to be applied to different social circumstances according to the storyteller's objective at the time. One's rendition of a story was often considered a response to another's rendition, with plot alterations suggesting alternative ways of applying traditional ideas to present conditions. Listeners might have heard the story told many times, or even may have told the same story themselves. This does not take away from a story's meaning, as curiosity about what happens next was less of a priority than hearing fresh perspectives on well-known themes and plots. Elder storytellers generally were not concerned with discrepancies between their version of historical events and neighboring tribes' version of similar events, such as in origin stories. Tribal stories are considered valid within the tribe's own frame of reference and tribal experience.
Stories are used to preserve and transmit both tribal history and environmental history, which are often closely linked. Native oral traditions in the Pacific Northwest, for example, describe natural disasters like earthquakes and tsunamis. Various cultures from Vancouver Island and Washington have stories describing a physical struggle between a Thunderbird and a Whale. One such story tells of the Thunderbird, which can create thunder by moving just a feather, piercing the Whale's flesh with its talons, causing the Whale to dive to the bottom of the ocean, bringing the Thunderbird with it. Another depicts the Thunderbird lifting the Whale from the Earth then dropping it back down. Regional similarities in themes and characters suggests that these stories mutually describe the lived experience of earthquakes and floods within tribal memory. According to one story from the