nonliterate societya society in which the population do not have access to a system of writing. Whilst it is often regarded as being an evolutionary stage prior to civilization, this view takes no account of the possible complexity of oral traditions. Lengthy myths and systems of genealogy can be preserved by word of mouth, but the possibility of information being disseminated by texts and not individuals undoubtedly contributes to substantial cultural change. It is also important to note that there have been situations in which the minority do have access to writing but the majority do not, thus creating a privileged class of scribes with the power to define versions of the status quo for the nonliterate. See also LITERACY.
Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000