Word of mouth

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Word of mouth is the passing of information from person to person using oral communication, which could be as simple as telling someone the time of day.[1] Storytelling is a common form of word-of-mouth communication where one person tells others a story about a real event or something made up. Oral tradition is cultural material and traditions transmitted by word of mouth through successive generations. Storytelling and oral tradition are forms of word of mouth that play important roles in folklore and mythology. Another example of oral communication is oral history—the recording, preservation and interpretation of historical information, based on the personal experiences and opinions of the speaker. Oral history preservation is the field that deals with the care and upkeep of oral history materials collected by word of mouth, whatever format they may be in.


Storytelling often involves improvisation or embellishment. Stories or narratives have been shared in every culture as a means of entertainment, education, cultural preservation and in order to instill moral values.

The earliest forms of storytelling were thought to have been primarily oral combined with gesture storytelling for many of the ancient cultures.[2] The Australian Aboriginal people painted symbols from stories on cave walls as a means of helping the storyteller remember the story. The story was then told using a combination of oral narrative, music, rock art, and dance.[3]

Traditionally, oral stories were committed to memory and then passed from generation to generation. However, in literate societies, written, televised, and internet media have largely replaced this method of communicating local, family, and cultural histories. Oral storytelling remains the dominant medium of learning in some countries with low literacy rates.

Oral tradition[edit]

Oral tradition (sometimes referred to as "oral culture" or "oral lore") is cultural material and traditions transmitted orally from one generation to another.[4][5] The messages or testimony are verbally transmitted in speech or song and may take the form, for example, of folktales, sayings, ballads, songs, or chants. In this way, it is possible for a society to transmit oral history, oral literature, oral law and other knowledges across generations without a writing system.

Sociologists emphasize a requirement that the material is held in common by a group of people, over several generations, and thus distinguish oral tradition from testimony or oral history.[6] In a general sense, "oral tradition" refers to the transmission of cultural material through vocal utterance, and was long held to be a key descriptor of folklore (a criterion no longer rigidly held by all folklorists).[7] As an academic discipline, it refers both to a set of objects of study and a method by which they are studied[8]—the method may be called variously "oral traditional theory", "the theory of Oral-Formulaic Composition" and the "Parry-Lord theory" (after two of its founders). The study of oral tradition is distinct from the academic discipline of oral history,[9] which is the recording of personal memories and histories of those who experienced historical eras or events.[10] It is also distinct from the study of orality, which can be defined as thought and its verbal expression in societies where the technologies of literacy (especially writing and print) are unfamiliar to most of the population.[11]

Oral history[edit]

Oral history is the recording of personal memories and histories of those who experienced historical eras or events.[10] Oral history is a method of historical documentation, using interviews with living survivors of the time being investigated. Oral history often touches on topics scarcely touched on by written documents, and by doing so, fills in the gaps of records that make up early historical documents. Oral history preservation is the field that deals with the care and upkeep of oral history materials, whatever format they may be in.[12]

Verbal Communication[edit]

Verbal communication in the literal sense is oral communication with words that a person or other people speak out loud.[13]

Social media[edit]

Social media is a form of electronic communication through which users create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages, and other content (such as videos).[14] Social media involves the way individuals communicate with others online. Social media in itself is not word of mouth, but it is one way that word of mouth spreads.[15] In fact, half of all word of mouth takes place online. Practitioners have started using electronic word of mouth for consumer insight through text analytics, sentiment, hashtag analytics, and other machine learning tools.[16] However, researchers of the Keller Fay Group found discussions are often face-to-face and not primarily dominated by social media.[17] Alluding to offline word of mouth (real life conversations) being just as persuasive as online word of mouth.

Researchers argue that social media itself is not word of mouth, but rather a medium through which word of mouth spreads. Word of mouth is a story or verbal recommendation, as some researchers view social media as a mechanism.[15] Social media is thus a big part of how word of mouth travels between people.


Long-established systems using word-of-mouth include:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "by word of mouth". thefreedictionary.com. Retrieved 4 April 2018.
  2. ^ "Why did Native Americans make rock art?". Rock Art in Arkansas. Retrieved 9 May 2016.
  3. ^ Cajete, Gregory, Donna Eder and Regina Holyan. Life Lessons through Storytelling: Children's Exploration of Ethics. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 2010, ISBN 0253222443
  4. ^ Vansina, Jan: "Oral Tradition as History", 1985, James Currey Publishers, ISBN 0-85255-007-3, ISBN 978-0-85255-007-6; at page 27 and 28, where Vansina defines oral tradition as "verbal messages which are reported statements from the past beyond the present generation" which "specifies that the message must be oral statements spoken sung or called out on musical instruments only"; "There must be transmission by word of mouth over at least a generation". He points out that "Our definition is a working definition for the use of historians. Sociologists, linguists or scholars of the verbal arts propose their own, which in, e.g., sociology, stresses common knowledge. In linguistics, features that distinguish the language from common dialogue (linguists), and in the verbal arts features of form and content that define art (folklorists)".
  5. ^ Ki-Zerbo, Joseph: "Methodology and African Prehistory", 1990, UNESCO International Scientific Committee for the Drafting of a General History of Africa; James Currey Publishers, ISBN 0-85255-091-X, 9780852550915; see Ch. 7; "Oral tradition and its methodology" at pages 54-61; at page 54: "Oral tradition may be defined as being a testimony transmitted verbally from one generation to another. Its special characteristics are that it is verbal and the manner in which it is transmitted."
  6. ^ Henige, David. Oral, but Oral What? The Nomenclatures of Orality and Their Implications Oral Tradition, 3/1-2 (1988): 229-38. p 232; Henige cites Jan Vansina (1985). Oral tradition as history. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press
  7. ^ Degh, Linda. American Folklore and the Mass Media. Bloomington:IUP, 1994, p. 31
  8. ^ Dundes, Alan, "Editor’s Introduction" to "The Theory of Oral Composition", John Miles Foley. Bloomington, IUP, 1988, pp. ix-xii
  9. ^ Henige, David. Oral, but Oral What? The Nomenclatures of Orality and Their Implications Oral Tradition, 3/1-2 (1988): 229-38. p 232; Henige cites Jan Vansina (1985). Oral tradition as history. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press
  10. ^ a b "UNC Writing Center Has Moved". www.unc.edu. Retrieved 4 April 2018.
  11. ^ Ong, Walter, S. J., "Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word". London: Methuen, 1982 p 12
  12. ^ Keakopa, M. (1998). The role of the archivist in the collection and preservation of oral traditions. S.A. Archives Journal, 40,87-93.
  13. ^ Kaplan, Zoe (2022-08-19). "What Are Verbal Communication Skills?". Forage. Retrieved 2023-05-16.
  14. ^ "Definition of SOCIAL MEDIA". www.merriam-webster.com. 2023-04-28. Retrieved 2023-05-16.
  15. ^ a b Baer, Jay (2018-10-31). "Why Social Media and Word of Mouth Are Not the Same Thing". Convince & Convert. Retrieved 2023-05-16.
  16. ^ Verma, Sanjeev; Yadav, Neha (2022). "Past, Present, and Future of Electronic Word of Mouth (EWOM)". Journal of Interactive Marketing. 53: 111–128. doi:10.1016/j.intmar.2020.07.001.
  17. ^ Keller, Ed; Fay, Brad (2012-12-01). "Word-of-Mouth Advocacy: A New Key to Advertising Effectiveness". Journal of Advertising Research. 52 (4): 459–464. doi:10.2501/JAR-52-4-459-464. ISSN 0021-8499.
  18. ^ Dolgin, Alexander (6 October 2008). The Economics of Symbolic Exchange. Springer Science & Business Media (published 2008). p. 228. ISBN 9783540798828. Retrieved 2014-12-03. Word of mouth can overcome the information cascade devised by marketing specialists. This is important as objective testimony to the power of the bush telegraph.
  19. ^ "Luther asserted, 'It is the manner of the New Testament and of the gospel that it must be preached and performed by word of mouth and a living voice. Christ himself has not written anything, nor has he ordered anything to be written, but rather to be preached by word of mouth.'" Quoted in: Whitford, David M (25 September 2014). "Preaching and Worship". T&T Clark Companion to Reformation Theology. Bloomsbury Companions. Bloomsbury Publishing (published 2014). p. 161. ISBN 9780567445087. Retrieved 2014-12-03.