Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

First Advisor

Malcolm Richardson, II


Theoretically, this treatise is a study at the nexus of two fields: oral tradition and the philosophy of language. In application, it is a "reading" of the Anglo-Saxon epic narrative of Beowulf. It proceeds from the hypothesis that in its present, performative moment, the oral traditional narrative instantiates a moment of communicative meaning evincing characteristics of oral, thus speakerly, and thus intention-vitalized meaning, as defined by linguistic philosophers Austin, Grice, Searle, Schiffer, Strawson, and others. In the light of this theoretical perspective, the oral noetic and thus the communicative moment of the Beowulf poem is sought in its most dynamic and most illocutionary sense. In pursuit of these ends, the first chapter reviews the directions and conclusions of the highly contested question regarding the oral or written composition of Beowulf. The second chapter reviews the characteristics of orality as noetic, as articulated primarily by oral traditional theorists Walter Ong and Albert Lord, and develops further evidence of their voice in Beowulf. The third chapter reviews a number of the characteristics of language use and speaker meaning, as articulated primarily by linguistic philosophers J. L. Austin and H. P. Grice, expands upon them in consideration of the characteristics of oral poetry, and examines evidence of characteristics of oral communicative language in oral poetry. The fourth chapter, then, suggests a "reading" of the Beowulf poem through the paradigm of communicative meaning which grows out of the nexus of these two theoretical perspectives. Implicit in this discussion are several theoretical propositions, among which are these. First, language works. Second, the importance of the forms of orality is that they are the means through which oral peoples think and communicate, through which, in short, orality works. Third, the writing of an oral opus does not in itself or necessarily erase its oral working, its communicative force. Fourth, the "reading" of an oral work entails first and foremost the search for the ways in which its language works.