What Is A Preliterate Culture?


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Patricia Devereux Profile
The term "preliterate" refers to a society that has not yet (or may never) develop a written language.
Many modern societies have spoken languages or dialects without a written equivalent. An example is the Creole language of Honduras; Garifuna people learn to read, write, and speak Spanish, but speak a Creole that is not written.
In preliterate cultures, lore is passed on by oral traditions. Children memorize long treatises of history or folklore, and shamans are the ultimate arbiters of spoken elements which bind a society together.
The languages of many preliterate cultures have been transliterated, often inaccurately. Body language and facial expressions are a big part of oral tradition, and these are lost in written translation.
Although writing is used to convey most concepts, laws, and economic exchanges, literacy is not a requisite for an "advanced" civilization.
The Incas of South American had one of the most vast empires in history, yet their only "written" language was the quipu, as series of specially knotted strings that conveyed numbers. The high cultures of West Africa lacked writing, as did the Aztecs of Central Mexico. Still both societies maintained vast governmental and trade networks. American Indian people had a complex system of laws, without the benefit of writing.

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