Literature consists of written productions, often restricting to those deemed to have artistic or intellectual value. Its Latin root ''literatura''/''litteratura'' (derived itself from ''littera'', letter or handwriting) was used to refer to all written accounts, but intertwined with the roman concept of ''cultura'': learning or cultivation. Literature often uses language differently than ordinary language (see literariness). Literature can be classified according to whether it is fiction or non-fiction and whether it is poetry or prose; it can be further distinguished according to major forms such as the novel, short story or drama; and works are often categorised according to historical periods or their adherence to certain aesthetic features or expectations (genre).
The concept has changed meaning over time: nowadays it can broaden to include non-written verbal art forms, and thus it is difficult to agree on its origin, which can be paired with that of language or writing itself. Developments in print technology have allowed an evergrowing distribution and proliferation of written works, culminating in electronic literature.
== Definitions ==
There have been various attempts to define "literature". Simon and Delyse Ryan begin their attempt to answer the question "What is Literature?" with the observation:
The quest to discover a definition for "literature" is a road that is much travelled, though the point of arrival, if ever reached, is seldom satisfactory. Most attempted definitions are broad and vague, and they inevitably change over time. In fact, the only thing that is certain about defining literature is that the definition will change. Concepts of what is literature change over time as well.
Definitions of literature have varied over time; it is a "culturally relative definition".〔Leitch ''et al.'', ''The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism'', 28〕 In Western Europe prior to the eighteenth century, literature as a term indicated all books and writing.〔 A more restricted sense of the term emerged during the Romantic period, in which it began to demarcate "imaginative" literature.〔Ross, "The Emergence of "Literature": Making and Reading the English Canon in the Eighteenth Century", 406〕〔Eagleton, ''Literary theory: an introduction'', 16〕 Contemporary debates over what constitutes literature can be seen as returning to the older, more inclusive notion of what constitutes literature. Cultural studies, for instance, takes as its subject of analysis both popular and minority genres, in addition to canonical works.〔
The value judgement definition of literature considers it to exclusively include writing that possesses high quality or distinction, forming part of the so-called ''belles-lettres'' ('fine writing') tradition.〔Eagleton, ''Literary theory: an introduction'', 9〕 This is the definition used in the ''Encyclopædia Britannica'' Eleventh Edition (1910–11) when it classifies literature as "the best expression of the best thought reduced to writing."〔Biswas, ''Critique of Poetics'', 538〕 However, this has the result that there is no objective definition of what constitutes "literature"; anything can be literature, and anything which is universally regarded as literature has the potential to be excluded, since value-judgements can change over time.〔
The formalist definition is that the history of "literature" foregrounds poetic effects; it is the "literariness" or "poeticity" of literature that distinguishes it from ordinary speech or other kinds of writing (e.g., journalism).〔Leitch ''et al.'', ''The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism'', 4〕〔Eagleton, ''Literary theory: an introduction'', 2–6〕 Jim Meyer considers this a useful characteristic in explaining the use of the term to mean published material in a particular field (e.g., "scientific literature"), as such writing must use language according to particular standards.〔 The problem with the formalist definition is that in order to say that literature deviates from ordinary uses of language, those uses must first be identified; this is difficult because "ordinary language" is an unstable category, differing according to social categories and across history.〔Eagleton, ''Literary theory: an introduction'', 4〕
Etymologically, the term derives from Latin ''literatura/litteratura'' "learning, a writing, grammar," originally "writing formed with letters," from ''litera/littera'' "letter".〔(【引用サイトリンク】url=http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=literature&allowed_in_frame=0 )〕 In spite of this, the term has also been applied to spoken or sung texts.〔〔 〕
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