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Folklore and Folklife Studies: The Discipline of Analyzing Traditions (May 2013): Literary and Textual Approaches

By Simon J. Bronner

Literary and Textual Approaches

Work in textual analysis continues, particularly in identifying motifs, types, and symbols in folktales.  Indispensable to any reference collection of folklore is Hans-Jörg Uther’s The Types of International Folktales: A Classification and Bibliography, a major revision of a classificatory system known by folklorists as the Aarne-Thompson (AT) tale type index (folkloristic essays now refer to Uther’s numeration of folktale types as the ATU system).  Addressing the criticism of the foundational Aarne-Thompson tale type index as Eurocentric, a massive tale type index for the Arab world is Types of the Folktale in the Arab World, by Hasan M. El-Shamy.  El-Shamy is also author of a motif index based upon Stith Thompson’s Motif-Index of Folk-Literature, the two-volume Folk Traditions of the Arab World: A Guide to Motif Classification, and coeditor with Jane Garry of a handbook for textual analysis titled Archetypes and Motifs in Folklore and Literature.  Some attempts to reconcile literary and performative approaches are apparent in historical reconstructions of oral contexts for epics by folklorists such as John Miles Foley in Traditional Oral Epic: The Odyssey, Beowulf, and the Serbo-Croatian Return Song.  In How to Read an Oral Poem, Foley expands upon this analysis with reference to the “oral-formulaic” theory for composition of long epics, in Albert B. Lord’s seminal The Singer of Tales.  The application of folkloristic perspectives on literature that reveal contexts of narrative in oral and printed forms is evident in exemplary work such as Frank de Caro and Rosan Augusta Jordan’s Re-Situating Folklore: Folk Contexts and Twentieth-Century Literature and Art, Sandra K. Dolby Stahl’s Literary Folkloristics and the Personal Narrative, and Encyclopedia of Folklore and Literature, edited by Mary Ellen Brown and Bruce A. Rosenberg.

Works Cited