From my perception (native German, lived in UK) German culture is more focused on the written word and values precision and perfection when expressing yourself. English culture on the contrary endorses spontaneous conversation (debating, pub culture) more and I generally perceive English speakers to be more tolerant to mistakes.

My question is, if the correct terms would be "oral" and "written" cultures, and whether there is any literature that supports or challenges this subjective view, as I seem to remember to have read something about this, but can't seem to find it now.

1 Answer 1


As far as I know, the notion "oral culture" refers to a culture which passes on its history, traditions, social conventions and collective knowledge in an oral manner, that is by word of mouth.

The German as well as English culture are generally seen as paradigms of the exact opposite.

Of course there may be differences between the two, but there are definitely also differences within the two regarding social status, background, education and situational context of the group of language users observed.

Generally and subjectively I would say: In our time and age of text messaging and social networks, as well as multicultural societies, the relative output of written language opposed to spoken language in Germany and England will most probably not differ tremendously, but this is not based on solid sources.

Also the error-tolerance in written, as well as spoken language to me seems rather influenced by the media involved, the addressee and the setting (professional, private...) than by national culture.

(I'm putting this in an answer, because it is too long for a comment)

  • Thanks for you thoughts. Yes, that's how I know oral/written culture as well. Is there a better term for what I'm describing? Also, DE/EN being "paradigms of the exact opposite" sounds interesting, could you elaborate a bit? Jul 5, 2013 at 20:22
  • 2
    Well, the written word is vital for the development of all european cultures ever since the Roman Empire, but since Gutenberg and Caxton in the 15th century general education and the circulation of knowledge and information in native tongue broke through and eventually lay the foundations for the industrialized and now digitalized societies we became. The whole development essentially relies on the written word.
    – bouscher
    Jul 6, 2013 at 12:20

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.