FOLKLORE is expressive body of culture shared by a particular group
of people; it encompasses the traditions common to that culture,
subculture or group. These include oral traditions such as tales ,
proverbs and jokes . They include material culture , ranging from
traditional building styles to handmade toys common to the group.
* 1 Overview * 2 Origin and development of folklore studies * 3 Definition of folk
* 4 Genres: the lore of folklore
* 5.2 Tradition-bearer and audience
* 5.3 Framing the performance
* 5.4 In the subjunctive voice
* 5.5 Anderson\'s law of auto-correction
* 5.6 Context of material lore
* 5.7 Toelken\'s conservative-dynamic continuum
* 6 See also * 7 Notes * 8 Footnotes * 9 References
To fully understand folklore, it is helpful to clarify its component parts: the terms FOLK and LORE. It is well-documented that the term was coined in 1846 by the Englishman William Thoms . He fabricated it to replace the contemporary terminology of "popular antiquities" or "popular literature". The second half of the compound word, lore, proves easier to define as its meaning has stayed relatively stable over the last two centuries. Coming from Old English lār 'instruction,' and with German and Dutch cognates, it is the knowledge and traditions of a particular group, frequently passed along by word of mouth.
The concept of folk proves somewhat more elusive. When Thoms first
created this term, folk applied only to rural, frequently poor and
illiterate peasants. A more modern definition of folk is a social
group which includes two or more persons with common traits, who
express their shared identity through distinctive traditions. "Folk is
a flexible concept which can refer to a nation as in American folklore
or to a single family. " This expanded social definition of folk
supports a broader view of the material, i.e. the lore, considered to
be folklore artifacts. These now include all "things people make with
words (verbal lore), things they make with their hands (material
lore), and things they make with their actions (customary lore)".
TRANSMISSION is a vital part of the folklore process. Without communicating these beliefs and customs within the group over space and time, they would become cultural shards relegated to cultural archaeologists. For folklore is also a verb. These folk artifacts continue to be passed along informally, as a rule anonymously and always in multiple variants. The folk group is not individualistic, it is community-based and nurtures its lore in community. "As new groups emerge, new folklore is created… surfers, motorcyclists, computer programmers ". In direct contrast to high culture , where any single work of a named artist is protected by copyright law, folklore is a function of shared identity within the social group.
Having identified folk artifacts, the professional folklorist strives
to understand the SIGNIFICANCE of these beliefs, customs and objects
for the group. For these cultural units would not be passed along
unless they had some continued relevance within the group. That
meaning can however shift and morph. So
With an increasingly theoretical sophistication of the social sciences, it has become evident that folklore is a naturally occurring and necessary component of any social group, it is indeed all around us. It does not have to be old or antiquated. It continues to be created, transmitted and in any group is used to differentiate between "us" and "them".
ORIGIN AND DEVELOPMENT OF FOLKLORE STUDIES
Main article: Folkloristics § History_of_Folklore_Studies
The term Folkloristics, along with its synonym
"… means the traditional expressive culture shared within the various groups in the United States: familial, ethnic, occupational, religious, regional; expressive culture includes a wide range of creative and symbolic forms such as custom, belief, technical skill, language, literature, art, architecture, music, play, dance, drama, ritual, pageantry, handicraft; these expressions are mainly learned orally, by imitation, or in performance, and are generally maintained without benefit of formal instruction or institutional direction."
Added to the panoply of other legislation designed to protect the natural and cultural heritage of the United States, this law also marks a shift in national awareness. It gives voice to a growing understanding that cultural diversity is a national strength and a resource worthy of protection. Paradoxically, it is a unifying feature, not something that separates the citizens of a country. "We no longer view cultural difference as a problem to be solved, but as a tremendous opportunity. In the diversity of American folklife we find a marketplace teeming with the exchange of traditional forms and cultural ideas, a rich resource for Americans". This diversity is celebrated annually at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival and many other folklife fests around the country.
DEFINITION OF FOLK
The folk of the 19th century, the social group identified in the original term "folklore" , was characterized by being rural, non-literate and poor. They were the peasants living in the countryside, in contrast to the urban populace of the cities. Only toward the end of the century did the urban proletariat (on the coattails of Marxist theory) become included with the rural poor as folk. The common feature in this expanded definition of folk was their identification as the underclass of society.
Moving forward into the 20th century, in tandem with new thinking in the social sciences , folklorists also revised and expanded their concept of the folk group. By the 1960s it was understood that social groups , i.e. folk groups, were all around us; each individual is enmeshed in a multitude of differing identities and their concomitant social groups. The first group that each of us is born into is the family, and each family has its own unique folklore . As a child grows into an individual, its identities also increase to include age, language, ethnicity, occupation, etc. Each of these cohorts has its own folklore, and as one folklorist points out, this is "not idle speculation… Decades of fieldwork have demonstrated conclusively that these groups do have their own folklore." In this modern understanding, folklore is a function of shared identity within any social group.
This folklore can include jokes, sayings and expected behavior in multiple variants, always transmitted in an informal manner. For the most part it will be learned by observation, imitation, repetition or correction by other group members. This informal knowledge is used to confirm and re-inforce the identity of the group. It can be used both internally within the group to express their common identity, for example in an initiation ceremony for new members. Or it can be used externally to differentiate the group from outsiders, like a folkdance demonstration at a community festival. Significant to folklorists here is that there are two opposing but equally valid ways to use this in the study of a group: you can start with an identified group in order to explore its folklore, or you can identify folklore items and use them to identify the social group.
Beginning in the 1960s, a further expansion of the concept of folk began to unfold in folkloristics. Individual researchers identified folk groups which had previously been overlooked and ignored. One major example of this is found in an issue of "The Journal of American Folklore", published 1975. This edition is dedicated exclusively to articles on women's folklore, with approaches that were not coming from a man's perspective. Other groups that were highlighted as part of this broadened understanding of the folk group were non-traditional families , occupational groups, and families that pursued production of folk items through multiple generations.
GENRES: THE LORE OF FOLKLORE
Individual folklore artifacts are commonly classified as one of three types: material, verbal or customary lore. For the most part self-explanatory, these categories include physical objects (MATERIAL FOLKLORE), common sayings, expressions, stories and songs (VERBAL FOLKLORE), and beliefs and ways of doing things (CUSTOMARY FOLKLORE). There is also a fourth major subgenre defined for children\'s folklore and games (CHILDLORE), as the collection and interpretation of this fertile topic is peculiar to school yards and neighborhood streets. Each of these genres and their subtypes is intended to organize and categorize the folklore artifacts; they provide common vocabulary and consistent labeling for folklorists to communicate with each other.
That said, each artifact is unique; in fact one of the characteristics of all folklore artifacts is their variation within genres and types. This is in direct contrast to manufactured goods, where the goal in production is to create products which are identical, and variations are considered mistakes. It is however just this required variation that makes identification and classification of the defining features a challenge. And while this classification is essential for the subject area of folkloristics, it remains just labeling, and adds little to an understanding of the traditional development and meaning of the artifacts themselves.
Necessary as they are, genre classifications are misleading in their
oversimplification of the subject area.
The formal definition of verbal lore is words, both written and oral, which are "spoken, sung, voiced forms of traditional utterance that show repetitive patterns." Crucial here are the repetitive patterns. Verbal lore is not just any conversation, but words and phrases conforming to a traditional configuration recognized by both the speaker and the audience. For narrative types by definition have consistent structure, and follow an existing model in their narrative form. As just one simple example, in English the phrase "An elephant walks into a bar…" instantaneously flags the following text as a joke . It might be one you've already heard, but it might be one that the speaker has just thought up within the current context. This is folklore in action. Another example is the child's song Old MacDonald Had a Farm , where each performance is distinctive in the animals named, their order and their sounds. Songs such as this are used to express cultural values (farms are important, farmers are old and weather-beaten) and teach children about different domesticated animals. This is folklore in action.
Verbal folklore was the original folklore , the artifacts defined by William Thoms as older, oral cultural traditions of the rural populace. In his 1846 published call for help in documenting antiquities, Thoms was echoing scholars from across the European continent to collect artifacts of verbal lore. By the beginning of the 20th century these collections had grown to include artifacts from around the world and across several centuries. A system to organize and categorize them became necessary. Antti Aarne published a first classification system for folktales in 1910. This was later expanded into the Aarne–Thompson classification system by Stith Thompson and remains the standard classification system for European folktales and other types of oral literature. As the number of classified oral artifacts grew, similarities were noted in items which had been collected from very different geographic regions, ethnic groups and epochs, giving rise to the Historic-Geographic Method , a methodology which dominated folkloristics in the first half of the 20th century.
William Thoms first published his appeal to document the verbal
lore of the rural populations, it was believed these folk artifacts
would die out as the population became literate. Over the past two
centuries this belief has proven to be wrong; folklorists continue to
collect verbal lore in both written and spoken form from all social
groups. Some variants might have been captured in published
collections, but much of it is still transmitted orally and indeed
continues to be generated in new forms and variants at an alarming
rate. The story of
Below is listed a small sampling of types and examples of verbal lore.
Horse and sulky weathervane, Smithsonian American Art Museum
The genre of material culture includes all artifacts that you can
touch, hold, live in or eat. They are tangible objects, with a
physical presence intended for use either permanently or just at next
meal. Most of these folklore artifacts are single objects which have
been created by hand for a specific purpose. However folk artifacts
can also be mass-produced, such as dreidels or