The spoken word

Oral history

The spoken word



In Galapagos there are countless fragments of memory that are not preserved in physical media (books, reports or other graphic, audiovisual or written documents), but through orality: the spoken word. The Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF) Oral History program focuses precisely on recovering such narratives.

But what is orality?

Orality, the expression of the spoken word, is the most natural, elemental and original way of producing human language. It is independent of any other system: it exists by itself, without the need to rely on other elements. This characteristic distinguishes it from writing, a secondary and artificial structure that would not exist if, previously, there were not some type of oral expression.

Language has been the basic element that has facilitated communication, which is its fundamental function. It is a social fact that allows the acquisition of own and community customs, beliefs and histories, the relationship with other people and groups and the transmission of experiences and knowledge. Such communication generates social links, and, through them, configures human societies with their own identities and cultures, based precisely on shared knowledge.

The latter point is of crucial importance for human beings, for culture is taught and transmitted through the spoken word. In fact, humans learn their languages in the same way (and at the same time) that their cultures, and the construction of both elements is carried out as a dialogue: one generates the other and vice versa. The most important cultural traits (including language) make up the identity of a person and a society: a set of characteristics that delineate personalities and make a human group a unique and special entity.

The spoken word has always been the most important means of information transfer and personal contact, both in traditional cultures and in modern urban contexts. The survival of social ties, emotional structures and thousands of memories that cement the lives of many human beings depend on its continued practice.

Through the spoken word, human societies learn a good part of the practices that constitute their daily lives. Thanks to it, as the Peruvian writer Octavio Paz pointed out in his book El arco y la lira, people are what they are.

[The photograph that illustrates this text was taken by Edgardo Civallero].


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Publication date: 1 December 2021
Last update: 1 December 2021