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Introduction: Speech and Oral Culture in Early Modern Europe and Beyond*

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Abstract From preaching to academic discussion, from intimate conversation to the circulation of rumors in the marketsquare, the exchange of ideas and information in the early modern world was predominantly and overwhelmingly by word of mouth. Despite the growing impact of the printing press, texts themselves circulated and were received in a context that was pervasively oral. The majority of the population communicated primarily in speech rather than in writing, and even when they accessed written texts, they were most likely to do so through the mediation of speech by listening to others read out loud. Many literary and scholarly genres moreover, from poetry to theater, were conceived for oral diffusion. From the Renaissance interest in the study of classical rhetoric to conversation manuals, from civic decrees punishing blasphemy to the preoccupation with rumors and the collection of word-of-mouth testimonies in judicial settings, this was a culture that thought deeply about talk.

Affiliations: 1: New Mexico State University


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