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  1. Last 7 days
    1. The inscription on Macdonald’s rock included the name of a person (“Ghayyar’el son of Ghawth”), a narrative, and a prayer. It was the narrative that stood out to Al-Jallad. Reading it aloud, he noted a sequence of words repeated three times, which he suspected was a refrain in a poetic text.
    2. The history of Arabia just before the birth of Islam is a profound mystery, with few written sources describing the milieu in which Muhammad lived. Historians had long believed that the Bedouin nomads who lived in the area composed exquisite poetry to record the feats of their tribes but had no system for writing it down. In recent years, though, scholars have made profound advances in explaining how ancient speakers of early Arabic used the letters of other alphabets to transcribe their speech. These alphabets included Greek and Aramaic, and also Safaitic; Macdonald’s rock was one of more than fifty thousand such texts found in the deserts of the southern Levant. Safaitic glyphs look nothing like the cursive, legato flow of Arabic script. But when read aloud they are recognizable as a form of Arabic—archaic but largely intelligible to the modern speaker.

      Safaitic is an example of the beginning of writing in Arabia at the rise of Islam and may have interesting things to reveal about orality on the border of literacy.

      Compare this with ancient Welsh (and related Celtic languages and stone inscriptions) at about the same time period.

  2. Jan 2024
  3. johnhalbrooks.substack.com johnhalbrooks.substack.com
    1. This image resonates with the earliest description of an English poet, which we find in Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People, completed in the year 731. Bede, a prolific monk and scholar from the monastery of Jarrow in Northumbria, provides an account of a certain Caedmon, an illiterate brother at the abbey at Whitby, who is visited by God and taught to sing beautiful poetry. Caedmon remains an oral poet, but his literate brothers write down his poetry for him.
    2. To illustrate this liminal space between the oral and the literate, here is an illustration from the Vespasian Psalter, a manuscript from the late eighth century, that depicts King David singing the Psalms: David is accompanying himself with a harp, and there are horn players and a couple of people apparently clapping along with the beat. But there are also two scribes behind him, who are writing down his song. Here we have a representation of a culture in a transitional stage between oral and literate transmission of poetry—the oral performance of a poem and the written transmission of the same poem are both present in the image.

  4. Mar 2022
    1. Peter Eseli of Mabuiag Island (known locally as Mabuyag)in the western Torres Strait began writing down traditional knowledgein the Kala Lagau Ya language in the early twentieth century. By1939, Eseli had amassed a 77-page manuscript, complete withdrawings, songs and genealogies as well as a wealth of starknowledge, some of which is included in this book. He continuedadding to it until his death in 1958. His manuscript was latertranslated into English.
    2. In 1898, Māori man Te Kōkau and his son, Rāwairi Te Kōkau,began recording traditional star knowledge in the Māori language.After 35 years, they had amassed a 400-page manuscript that

      contained over a thousand star names. Rāwairi passed the manuscript to his grandson, Timi Rāwairi. In 1995, Timi’s own grandson asked him about Matariki, a celebration that kicks off the Māori new year, heralded by the dawn rising of the Pleiades star cluster. Timi went to a cupboard, pulled out the manuscript and handed it to his grandson, Rangi Mātāmua.

      Was it partially coincidence that this knowledge was written down and passed on within the family or because of the primacy of the knowledge within the culture that helped to save in spanning from orality into literacy?

      What other examples might exist along these lines to provide evidence for the passing of knowledge at the border of orality and literacy?

      Link this to ideas about the border of orality and literacy in Welsh and Irish.