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In this article, we shall look at the meaning of literature, the forms of literature and their examples, and the importance of literature.

Meaning of literature
Literature refers to anything written or spoken. Etymologically, literature is from the Latin term ‘literatura’ or ‘litteratura’ which means ‘learning, a writing, grammar’. It is derived from another Latin term litera Which means ‘letter’. Any work of art that is written or spoken can be termed literature. E.g textbooks, proverbs, memoirs, riddles etc.

Forms of Literature
There are basically two forms literature;

  1. Oral Literature; This is a form of literature whose medium of transmission is by the word of mouth. This form of literature is not written down, hence, it has no authors, however, knowledge of oral literature is transmitted from generation to generation through the word of mouth. E.g proverbs, songs, dirges, myths, folktales, folklore etc.

Features of Oral Literature
a. There are no authors; There is no person who can claim ownership of oral literature. It belongs to the entire society.
b. It is transmitted through the word of mouth; Oral literature is not preserved in books where future generations can read, but rather, it is transmitted from generation to generation through the words of the mouth.
c. Oral literature is centred on performance.
d. Audience actively participate in oral literature.

  1. Written Literature; This is a form of literature that is written down. Because this type of literature is written down, there are authors, that means people can claim ownership of written literature. E.g. Textbooks, articles, journals, newspapers etc.

Features of Written Literature
i. Written literature is documented; unlike oral literature, written literature is written down and preserve in books so that future generations can have access to it in books.
ii. It has authors; written literature is composed by individuals who can claim ownership of it. This individuals who compose written works of art are called authors. Their names may vary from one genre to the other. For instance, the author of a play is called Playwright.
iii. It is not centred on performance; Once it is written, it is not all about performance, unlike its oral counterpart, which is performed and whose performance is influenced by the audience.
iv. It remains relatively stable over a period of time; One main characteristic of written literature is its feature of stability. Because it is written down and preserve in books, it is difficult to alter it.

Importance of Literature
a. Literature serves as a source of entertainment; After the day’s work in most African communities, especially in the evening, they listen to folktales and Ananse stories in order to relieve stress and boredom. Poetry recitals and drama also provide some form of fun and entertainment to audience.
b. It serves as a source of income; Authors of literary works of art sell their books, and as they sell them, they earn income.
c. Literature also provides employment opportunities for people; Through literature, many people are employed to teach it as a discipline, others are employed to act, all these serve as source of employment.
d. Literature also preserves the customs and practices of society.
e. Literature enriches our vocabulary.

f. Literature also teaches us morals through didactic stories.


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