The transition from orality to literacy in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms.
This is an interdisciplinary study which attempts to assess
certain general linguistic theories about the adoption of literacy
and its effects on society by considering them in relation to a
specific historical society; Anglo-Saxon England. A major premise
of the work is that many of the general theories about orality and
literacy cannot be applied to specific societies without considerable
qualification. A second, and equally important, premise is that
the argument for a "literate consciousness", different from that
of the consciousness of the non-literate, has not so far been
In pursuing this study I have concentrated on Early English
prose; in particular the early law codes and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.
The reasons for this are two-fold: law and history tend to be the
first areas whose substance is committed to writing in any society
which adopts extensive use of literacy; and their committal to writing
can often be more precisely dated than that of story-telling, be it
in poetry or prose. While this does not overcome the problems of
discussing orality in a pre-soundrecording age, it does help to
The substance of the thesis, then, is concerned with an examination
of the reasons for Anglo-Saxon expansion of their use of
literacy, the identification of probable oral elements in early
Anglo-Saxon prose and the tracing of the development of more formal
expository prose in the vernacular.