Literature, most generically, is any body of written works. More restrictively, literature writing is considered to be an art form, or any single writing deemed to have artistic or intellectual value, often due to deploying language in ways that differ from ordinary usage.
Its Latin root literatura/litteratura (derived itself from littera: letter or handwriting) was used to refer to all written accounts, though contemporary definitions extend the term to include texts that are spoken or sung (oral literature). The concept has changed meaning over time: nowadays it can broaden to have 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 ever-growing distribution and proliferation of written works, culminating in electronic literature.
Definitions of literature have varied over time: it is a “culturally relative definition”. In Western Europe prior to the 18th century, literature denoted all books and writing. A more restricted sense of the term emerged during the Romantic period, in which it began to demarcate “imaginative” writing. Contemporary debates over what constitutes literature can be seen as returning to older, more inclusive notions; Cultural studies, for instance, takes as its subject of analysis both popular and minority genres, in addition to canonical works.