This chapter traces the concept of oral tradition to theological debates between Catholics and Protestants concerning the authority of customary or 'unwritten' practices and doctrines. It argues that the emergence of this concept in the Enlightenment was linked to a much wider revolution of ideas about language, history and culture. During the age of Enlightenment, intellectual culture nourished a new understanding of non-literate language and culture. The chapter reviews some of the main features of the scholarly process that led to a clearer recognition of the special features of spoken language. Many projects of seventeenth-century scholars including Francis Lodwick, Cave Beck, George Dalgarno and John Wilkins envisioned a visual language that mirrored the nature of things more accurately than any existing form of speech. With the separation of writing and speech in theories of language, European scholars also began to imagine oral and literate cultures as quite separate and dissimilar.
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