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This message is for me connected to a problem I have been thinking about for
some time: cultural inscription seems to have moved from oral, to written
and more recently to audio-visual forms: Irish literature was for example in
existence on moral-memory form before being written down. What has this
evolution meant, caused or been caused by, from a memetic point of view?
It would be easy to surmise that pre-writing narratives would have to be less reliably copied from one bardic generation to the next, and thus have a faster rate of evolution. But I'm not sure how correct that assumption is, as I understand that the Koranic scholars of parts of sub-Saharan Africa have preserved their memorised works virtually intact for probably about 400 years.
Is there an accepted metric for quantifying the 'distance' between 2 texts? Given, say, 7 versions of a narrative epic, could a pairwise distance matrix be constructed? How would you handle cases where the plot was essentially the same, but the text extensively rewritten? And what about the converse, where the text was virtually identical but subtle changes alter the entire complexion of the narrative?
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