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Oral Traditions


Admission requirements

At least a BA or comparable degree in literary studies, linguistics or an Asian or Middle Eastern language.


“Oral Traditions” is used in the Humanities as a cover term for many different types of art all over the world. The main feature that they all share is that they are transmitted orally. Consequently, although oral traditions as a topic link several disciplines in the Humanities, their respective research traditions and scientific interests result in very divergent and sometimes mutually conflicting outputs.
This class focuses on different types of orality in Asia and intends to provide a frame work on how to study them.

This class is meant for students of literature, linguistics, and anthropology with an interest in Asian languages and cultures.

Course objectives

The goal of this class is to study different aspects in the theory, practice and study of oral traditions that play a role in the research of the lecturers that represent different fields of expertise and regions in Asia.


Second semester February – May 2011, Wednesday 9.00-11.00
1: February 2nd: Introduction to the topic, arrangements on assignment and paper
2: February 9th: On Folkloristics: the History of Oral Traditions Research
3: February 16th: Types of orality 1: examples of storytelling in Vanuatu, China and Berber.
4: February 23d: Mnemonic instruments in Oral Traditions: from oral to literate and back.
5: March 2nd: Preparing the storytelling assignment: evaluation and discussion
6: March 9th: Leti storytelling performance March 16th: no class in order to work out the assignment
7: March 23d: group presentations on the assignment
8: March 30th: Types of orality 2: Epic poetry in the Philippines (video)
9: April 6th: Types of orality 3: examples of folk poetry in Malay, Sanskrit and Arabic.
10: April 13th: Types of orality 4: Traditional music in Indonesia (video) April 20th: no class in order to prepare paper presentation
11: April 27th: first group of presentations
12: May 4th: second group of presentations
13: May 11th: final meeting in order to evaluate and set paper deadlines

Mode of instruction

Lectures, audio-taped performance, discussion

Assessment method

Performance assignment + group presentation: 20%
Paper presentation: 20%
Final paper: 50%
Attendance and participation: 10%


Reading material and assignments will be distributed through blackboard

Reading list

A reading list for the lectures will be put on Blackboard. The student is required to have read the following book on his own, preferably before the beginning of the class:
Ong, Walter, 2002 (or later), Orality and Literacy, The technologizing of the Word, London: Routledge


Exchange and Study Abroad students, please see the Study in Leiden website for information on how to apply

Contact information

“Dr. A. van Engelenhoven”:


The diversity of approaches and oral genres requires a substantial input of the student through consistent attendance to and active participation in the lectures and meetings.
Absence beyond three times implies further exclusion from class.