“Orality” refers to reliance upon the spoken, rather than written, word for communication. Orality is an ancient phenomenon that continues to the present. Before writing was developed, ethnic groups passed along their cultural traditions, including their history, identity, and religion, through their stories, proverbs, poems, songs, riddles, etc. These are all oral art forms; that is, they are spoken, sung, or chanted. They were (and still are) often woven into ceremonies, dramas, and rites of passage. Purely oral societies pass along everything that matters from one generation to another without putting anything into writing. They rely on the spoken word (including its sung and chanted forms).

That reliance on the spoken word is “orality.” But the term means more than that to the experts who study this phenomenon. When people live by orality, it affects a great many things about their culture. If they do not write anything down, for instance, they have to work more on remembering things, so they tend to repeat well-known, treasured sayings and stories. Oral cultures prefer the familiar. It follows that oral cultures may be slow to accept new information, particularly if it does not come in a memorable format.