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The Rewards and Issues of Studying Oral Literature: Some Personal Reflections



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Finnegan, Ruth 


The study of oral literature brings many rewards, not just of personal inspiration and service, but also intellectual, humanistic and ethical/political. There are also intellectual, ethical and practical issues to confront, however, among them the two terms of the concept itself (both individually and combined); the widespread but sometimes misleading assumptions about its nature; its transcription and preservation; its political implications; and the problem of assigning due credit to its creators.

The presentation will not attempt any systematic review of the subject but consist merely of personal reflections based on my experience with oral literature – principally in Africa but also Fiji, Britain, and comparatively - beginning with anthropological fieldwork in Sierra Leone in the early 60s and before that, but unawares, in my earlier studies of classical Latin and Greek literature.



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