Why Do We Quote? The Culture and History of Quotation

 Why Do We Quote? The Culture and History of Quotation Author: Ruth Finnegan
Paperback ISBN: 978-1-906924-33-1 £15.95
Hardback ISBN: 978-1-906924-34-8 £29.95
Digital (pdf) ISBN: 978-1-906924-35-5 £5.95

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This is a rich and engaging work of outstanding scholarship. Scholars in sociolinguistics, literature, and folklore will recognize the importance of the book for their fields. General readers will find it just plain interesting.
—Professor Amy Shuman, Ohio State University

Quoting is all around us. But do we really know what it means? How do people actually quote today, and how did our present systems come about? This book brings together a down-to-earth account of contemporary quoting with an examination of the comparative and historical background that lies behind it and the characteristic way that quoting links past and present, the far and the near.

Drawing from anthropology, cultural history, folklore, cultural studies, sociolinguistics, literary studies and the ethnography of speaking, Ruth Finnegan’s fascinating study sets our present conventions into cross-cultural and historical perspective. She traces the curious history of quotation marks, examines the long tradition of quotation collections with their remarkable recycling across the centuries, and explores the uses of quotation in literary, visual and oral traditions. The book tracks the changing definitions and control of quoting over the millennia and in doing so throws new light on ideas such as 'imitation', 'allusion', 'authorship', 'originality' and 'plagiarism'.

We have also published Ruth Finnegan's more recent title Oral Literature in Africa. Click here to visit the book page.

Why Do We Quote? The Culture and History of Quotation
Ruth Finnegan | March 2011
Number of Pages: xvi + 327
Dimensions: 6.14" x 9.21" (234 x 156 mm)
Illustrations: 41 Black and White
ISBN Paperback: 9781906924331
ISBN Hardback: 9781906924348
ISBN Digital (PDF): 9781906924355
DOI: 10.11647/OBP.0012
BIC subject codes: JHMC (Social and cultural anthropology, ethnography); CB (Language: reference and general)



1. Prelude: a dip in quoting’s ocean

2. Tastes of the present: the here and now of quoting

3. Putting others’ words on stage: arts and ambiguities of today’s quoting


4. Quotation marks present, past, and future

5. Harvesting others’ words: the long tradition of quotation collections

6. Quotation in sight and sound

7. Arts and rites of quoting

8. Controlling quotation: the regulation of others’ words and voices


9. What is quotation and why do we do it?

Appendix 1: Quoting the academics

Appendix 2. List of the Mass Observation writers

Ruth Finnegan is Visiting Research Professor and Emeritus Professor in the Faculty of Social Sciences at the Open University where, as a founder member of the academic staff, she has spent much of her academic career. With a first degree in classical languages and literatures (Oxford’s Literae Humaniores) she moved into anthropology as a graduate and spent several years conducting fieldwork and teaching in Africa. Her publications have consistently been inspired by these overlapping literary, historical and anthropological backgrounds. Her particular interests are in the anthropology/sociology of artistic activity, communication, and performance; debates relating to literacy, 'orality' and multimodality; and amateur and other 'hidden' activities. She has published widely on aspects of communication and expression, especially oral performance, literacy, and music-making. She was elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 1996 and an Honorary Fellow of Somerville College Oxford in 1997; and was awarded an OBE for services to Social Sciences in 2000.

Publications, rooted in cultural anthropology but also drawing on a range of disciplinary traditions, include: Limba Stories and Story-Telling 1967, 1981; Oral Literature in Africa 1970; Modes of Thought (joint ed.), 1973; Oral Poetry, 1977 (2nd edn 1992); Information Technology: Social Issues (joint ed.), 1987; Literacy and Orality: Studies in the Technology of Communication,1988; The Hidden Musicians: Music-Making in an English Town 1989 (2nd edn 2007); Oral Traditions and the Verbal Arts 1992; South Pacific Oral Traditions (joint ed.),1995; Tales of the City: A Study of Narrative and Urban Life, 1998; Communicating: The Multiple Modes of Human Interconnection, 2002; Participating in the Knowledge Society: Researchers Beyond the University Walls (ed.), 2005; and The Oral and Beyond: Doing Things with Words in Africa, 2007.
Ruth Finnegan discusses Open Access and the future of academic publishing on Open University's Platform. She predicts that "the long reign of the weighty academic tome is nearing its end". You can read her full article here.
The anthropologist Ruth Finnegan’s study testifies to the sheer diversity of motives people have had and still have for quoting, and to the surprising variety of forms that quotations take and have taken, throughout history and across cultures ... A matter of particular interest to students and critics of literature emerges in chapter 6, in Finnegan’s discussion of oral performance. Because one can signal quotation in oral performance by shifts of tone, gesture, and inflection, a speaker can suggest that certain words are held at a greater distance than others, with different attitudes towards those words held nearer and further away, so that there exists in oral performance a ‘gradient of quotedness’ ... The power of her study’s central principle is that it does not reduce all human communication to a uniform, single practice; it does not imply that all words or voices are the same. The principle of a gradient insists upon diversity as the essential characteristic of quotation. The strength of Finnegan’s study as a whole is the way in which it testifies to the principle’s truth by the sheer variety of quotations and quoting practices that she showcases, describes, and analyses.
— Owen Boynton, Essays in Criticism 62 (2012)

Written for a broad readership by a respected scholar of, among other things, oral literature, Why Do We Quote? is above all an eminently enjoyable read. [...] If the main part of the book is blissfully rich in data past and present, woven together through Finnegan’s meaningful analytic voice, she opts not to bow to but make visible the scholarship that has been devoted to facets of quoting and footnoting in an appendix entitled "Quoting the Academics” [...] The added benefit: Finnegan does not just sketch how this terrain has been researched, but she also elaborates on how she would characterize her own approach vis-ŕ-vis these others, claiming a place for her mixture of ethnographic, literary, and historical perspectives that is indeed unique — and that should be appealing to folklorists and ethnographers of communication.
— Regina Bendix, Journal of Folklore Research (28 Sept 2011)
You can read the full review here

Quotation, with its bedfellows imitation and allusion, is at least as old as written civilisation. Through ever-increasing distances from the present and the personal, this book from the innovative Open Book Publishers (it can be read online for free) works through the thicket surrounding the verbal and grammatical mechanics of quoting. It has enlightening things to say about the Western tradition of compiling books of quotations. [...] Finnegan offers analyses of proverbs, storytelling and the rich intricacy that signals spoken quotation that do much to illuminate the complexity of oral communication. The verbal realisation of quotation is the core concern of the volume, which crosses academic and cultural disciplines with effectiveness and confidence.
Colin Higgins, Times Higher Education (1 Sept 2011)
If you subscribe to the Times, you can read the full review here.