You are on page 1of 11

Definitions of Folklore

Source: Journal of Folklore Research, Vol. 33, No. 3 (Sep. - Dec., 1996), pp. 255-264
Published by: Indiana University Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3814683
Accessed: 13/12/2010 20:01

Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use, available at
http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp. JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use provides, in part, that unless
you have obtained prior permission, you may not download an entire issue of a journal or multiple copies of articles, and you
may use content in the JSTOR archive only for your personal, non-commercial use.

Please contact the publisher regarding any further use of this work. Publisher contact information may be obtained at
http://www.jstor.org/action/showPublisher?publisherCode=iupress.

Each copy of any part of a JSTOR transmission must contain the same copyright notice that appears on the screen or printed
page of such transmission.

JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of
content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms
of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org.

Indiana University Press is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Journal of
Folklore Research.

http://www.jstor.org
Definitions of Folklore

Reprinted with permission from Maria Leach, editor


Funk and Wagnalls Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology, and Legend

(Harper & Row, 1959)

folklore Folklore comprises traditional tice in the use of tools, shows him how to
creations of peoples, primitive and civilized. cut a mortise and peg in a tenon, how to
These are achieved by using sounds and raise a frame house or a barn, how to string a
words in metric form and prose, and include snowshoe, how to carve a shovel, how to
also folk beliefs or superstitions, customs shoe a horse or shear a sheep;
and performances, dances and plays. More? Whenever in many callings the knowl?
over, folklore is not a science about a folk, edge, experience, wisdom, skill, the habits
but the traditional folk-science and folk- and practices of the past are handed down
poetry. Jonas Balys by example or spoken word, by the older to
the new generations, without reference to
4" Whenever a lullaby is sung to a child; book, print, or schoolteacher;
whenever a ditty, a riddle, a tongue-twister, Then we have folklore in its own peren?
or a counting-out rime is used in the nursery nial domain, at work as ever, alive and shift?
or at school; ing, always apt to grasp and assimilate new
Whenever sayings, proverbs, fables, elements on its way. It is old-fashioned,
noodle-stories, folktales, reminiscences of gray or white-headed perhaps, fast receding
the fireside are retold; from its former strongholds under the im?
Whenever, out of habit or inclination, pact of modern progress and industry, it is
the folk indulge in songs and dances, in an? the born opponent of the serial number, the
cient games, in merry-making, to mark the stamped product, and the patented stan?
passing of the year or the usual festivities; dard.
Whenever a mother shows her daughter Men of learning have in the last century
how to sew, knit, spin, weave, embroider, or so gathered, classified, and studied a vast
make a coverlet, braid a sash, bake an old- body of materials appertaining to folk tradi?
fashioned pie; tion. They are called folklorists. According
Whenever a farmer on the ancestral plot to their aptitudes and preferences they have
trains his son in the ways long familiar, or specialized in various aspects of their chosen
shows him how to read the moon and the field, some in folktales or folk songs, others
winds to forecast the weather at sowing or in handicrafts, others in dances and games,
harvest time; still others in beliefs and customs. Their
Whenever a village craftsman?carpen? tendency so far has been to restrict rather
ter, carver, shoemaker, cooper, blacksmith, than to let their research expand all the way
builder of wooden ships?trains his appren- to its natural scope.
256 Journal of Folklore Research

Much still remains to be undertaken in ent in the medium of expression which is


the study of our folk arts and crafts. And employed. William R. Bascom
even our working definition of folklore itself
?f* In a purely oral culture everything is
should be broadened to embrace the forms
folklore. In modern society what distin?
of habitation, carving, statuary, metal work?
guishes folklore from the rest of culture is
iron, pewter, brass, silver, gold?weaving
the preponderance of the handed-down over
customs, and ancient domestic arts. Even
the learned element and the prepotency that
written documents and materials from our
the popular imagination derives from and
archives may belong as much to folklore as
to history, for instance, those bearing on the gives to custom and tradition. The transfer?
ence of oral tradition to writing and print
activities of the old guilds, on the pursuits of
does not destroy its validity as folklore but
workshops, and on the traditional schools of
manual training. And the door remains wide rather, while freezing or fixing its form,
helps to keep it alive and to diffuse it among
open to the comparative study of the folk? those to whom it is not native or fundamen?
lore harvest taken as a whole and in its
tal. For the folk memory forgets as much as
branches, for it all forms part of the culture
it retains and restricts and corrupts as much
of man from the remote past to the present.
as it transmits and improves. In the reci?
Marius Barbeau
procity of oral and written tradition and the
^ In anthropological usage, the term flux of cultural change and exchange, revival
folklore has come to mean myths, legends, plays as important a part as survival, popu?
folktales, proverbs, riddles, verse, and a vari? larization is as essential as scholarship, and
ety of other forms of artistic expression whose the final responsibility rests upon the accu?
medium is the spoken word. Thus, folklore mulative and collective taste and judgment
can be defined as verbal art. Anthropolo? of the many rather than the few. In this
gists recognize that an important group of process of creative remembrance, which is
individuals known as folklorists are inter? tantamount to the genius of a people, the
ested in customs, beliefs, arts and crafts, great collections of folk literature are the
dress, house types, and food recipes; but in product of the collaboration of countless
their own studies of the aboriginal peoples folk singers, folksayers, collectors, scholars,
of various parts of the world, these diverse religious teachers, and professional artists
items are treated under the accepted head? and interpreters of the arts with the inar?
ings of material culture, graphic and plastic ticulate folk?Sandburgs "laboring many";
arts, technology and economics, social and of the "scholar's learning about the folk"
political organization, and religion, and all with the folk's own learning.
are subsumed under the general term cul? Within the realm of the handed-down,
ture. There is, however, an important part several classes and levels of folklore and folk
of culture which does not fall under any of idiom may be distinguished, and each spe?
these convenient headings, and which is cies or individual item must be judged in
classed separately as folklore. Folklore in all relation to its history and function in its
its forms, thus defined, is obviously related own social and cultural setting, since folk?
to literature, which is written; but folklore lore originates and spreads in many differ?
may never be written even in a literate soci? ent ways and forms. The great bulk and
ety, and it may exist in societies which have central core of folklore consists not so much
no form of writing. Like literature, folklore in folk songs and stories (although these are
is an art form related to music, the dance, more obvious in their appeal as colorful and
and the graphic anal plastic arts, but differ- characteristic) as in the customs and beliefs
Funk and Wagnalls, Definitions of Folklore 257

attending the "periods of emotional stress in perienced, learned, and practiced across the
the life of an individual in relation to the ages as popular and traditional knowledge,
group?birth, graduation, coming of age, as distinguished from so-called scientific
marriage, burial" (Martha Warren Beckwith, knowledge. The distinction between the two
Folklore in America, 1931, p. 5), which the is not always definite. The materials of folk?
educated and sophisticated share with the lore are for the most part the materials of
uneducated and naive. Another consider? social anthropology that have been collected
able and important phase of folklore is made from the barbarous and "uncivilized" re?
up of the mass delusions and hallucinations gions of the world, as well as from the rural
of myths, especially in the presence of the and illiterate peoples of the "civilized" coun?
"wonders of the invisible world," and the tries. These materials have been obtained
apocrypha of hero-worship, with its legends from the anthropological data of history or
of doubtful exploits of historical personages have been collected by anthropologists and
and "untrustworthy traditions of doubtful folklorists in modern times. Specifically,
events." Both aspects of folk fantasy have folklore consists of the beliefs, customs, su?
their popular counterpart in the prejudices, perstitions, proverbs, riddles, songs, myths,
stereotypes, irrational beliefs, and daydreams legends, tales, ritualistic ceremonies, magic,
inspired or encouraged by commercial and witchcraft, and all other manifestations and
academic forms of mass communication and practices of primitive and illiterate peoples
mass organization of thought. and of the "common" people of civilized
As folklore approaches the level of the society. Folklore has very deep roots and its
literate and literary, it tends to become more traces are ever present even among peoples
elaborate and self-conscious in expression, that have reached a high state of culture.
to shape about itself a formal tradition with Folklore may be said to be a true and direct
prestige value, and to become absorbed into expression of the mind of "primitive" man.
the main stream of culture. As it approaches The science of folklore is that branch of
the level of the illiterate and subliterary, human knowledge that collects, classifies,
folklore constitutes a basic part of our oral and studies in a scientific manner the mate?
culture, in the proverbial folk-say and accu? rials of folklore in order to interpret the life
mulated mother wit of generations that bind and culture of peoples across the ages. It is
man to man and people to people with tra? one of the social sciences that studies and
ditional phrases and symbols. Folklore thus interprets the history of civilization. Folk?
takes root in the "humble influences of place lore perpetuates the patterns of culture, and
and kinship," of shared experience and wis? through its study we can often explain the
dom, and has its flower and fruition in those motifs and the meaning of culture. The sci?
works of art in which the individual artist ence of folklore, therefore, contributes in a
succeeds in identifying himself with a folk great measure to the history and interpreta?
tradition and giving it universal form and tion of human life.
significance. On both levels?folk culture AURELIOM. ESPINOSA
or folk art?folklore derives its integrity and
& A survey of materials published as folk?
survival value from a direct response to and
lore indicates that the subject is pretty much
participation in group experience, and the what one wants to make of it. I favor a
fusion of the individual and the common
conservative definition. Without attempt?
sense. B. A. Botkin
ing a formal statement, to me the term "folk?
4? Folklore, or popular knowledge, is the lore" is most meaningful when applied to
accumulated store of what mankind has ex- the unwritten literary manifestations of all
258 Journal of Folklore Research

peoples, literate or otherwise. Stories, cer? sufficient search one could no doubt dis?
tainly, whether myths, legends, folktales, or cover an atomic scientist who would refuse
anecdotes, are of primary importance. I to walk under a ladder. With sufficient ac?
would also add riddles, rimes, proverbs, folk quaintance we detect unique qualities in
songs, as well as folk beliefs and supersti? highly typical examples of folk products.
tions of almost all kinds. Regardless of how Folklore then may crop up in any subject,
they are presented, these materials are folk? any group or individual, anytime, anyplace.
lore. Beyond this point one finds materials It might be thought of as comprising that
which may be treated in folkloristic fash? information, those skills, concepts, prod?
ion?games, cat's-cradle, ceremonies, witch? ucts, etc., which one acquires almost inevi?
craft, to illustrate?but which in themselves tably by virtue of the circumstancesto which he
do not, as I see it, necessarily constitute is born. It is not so much deliberately sought
folklore. Outside the central literary core, (like learning) as absorbed. It is not deliber?
folklore is best defined in terms of treat? ately invented; rather it develops. It is present
ment rather than in terms of inherent in the environment, is accepted, used, trans?
nature. George M. Foster formed, transmitted, or forgotten, without
* Folklore is that part of a people's cul? arbitrary impetus from individual minds.
There may be deliberate efforts to combat
ture which is preserved, consciously or un?
it, as in the Westernization trends in China,
consciously, in beliefs and practices, cus? or to revive and preserve it, but these are
toms and observances of general currency,
extraneous to what it is.
in myths, legends, and tales of common
What was once a branch of learning, like
acceptance; and in arts and crafts which
astrology, may become folklore. What was
express the temper and genius of a group once folklore, like the swastika motif, may
rather than of an individual. Because it is a
be taken over and used or exploited in a
repository of popular traditions and an inte? non-folk manner. An individual work of
gral element of the popular "climate," folk?
art, like the Statue of Liberty, may become a
lore serves as a constant source and frame of
reference for more formal literature and art; group symbol, or a group symbol, like an
African mask, may go into the painting of
but it is distinct therefrom in that it is essen?
Picasso. These things are folklore, so long as
tially of the people, by the people, and for
the people. Theodor H. Gaster they are acquired, used, and transmitted in
the manner offolklore. When they cease to
& Folklore might be defined?not as ap? be, or before they are, used in that way they
plying to certain branches of lore rather than are not.
others, nor to certain kinds of people rather The nature of its development prevents
than others?but in terms of the ways in the setting of any rigid limits to folklore. It
which it is acquired, used, and transmitted. is most clearcut where the group is most a
It is true that certain subjects (like ballad) unit, with cohesion and continuity. Any?
are more associated in our minds with folk? thing which tends to break down the cohe?
lore than others, but there is nothing in the sion of a group?communications, diversity
basic meaning of lore which suggests that of knowledge, specialization, etc.?tends to
any subject is excluded. scatter its folklore. But we are not justified
It is also true that certain cultures or groups in thinking, because it then becomes more
have a more prevailing folklore than others. elusive, that it ceases to exist or evolve. Nor
But every group and every member of it is a can we think of groups simply in the tradi?
compound of elements that are folk and not tional racial or geographic terms; they may
folk; it is the proportion that varies. With be based on occupation, age, sex, econom-
Funk and Wagnalls, Definitions of Folklore 259

ics, education, interest, etc., and in a com? that these popular forms be considered in
plicated society new groupings are constandy terms of the criteria, concepts, and prob?
presenting themselves. lems of any living literature.
The "group characteristics" which result Melville J. Herskovits
from the accumulated nature of folklore,
4r Folklore in the specific sense, which is
and by which we attempt to recognize and
the usual one in the United States, embraces
label it, are not to be thought of as opposed
those literary and intellectual phases of cul?
to individuality. Folklore is something which
ture which are perpetuated primarily by oral
the individual has in common with his fel?
tradition: myths, tales, folk song, and other
lows, just as all have eyes and hands and
forms of oral traditional literature; folk
speech. It is not contrary to himself as an and dialect as the medium of these
individual but a part of his equipment. It speech
materials; folk music and folk dancing be?
makes possible?perhaps it might be de?
cause of their intimate relation to folk song;
fined as that which constitutes?his rapport
also customs, beliefs, and "folk science."
with his particular segment of mankind.
Folklore thus exists in the city as well as in
M. Harmon
the countryside, and within groups that cut
& Originally the study of cultural curi? across such a division, but by preference it
osities, and held to be the survivals of an has been that of the countryside.
earlier period in the history of "civilized" A wider meaning, of "folk life," more
literate peoples, folklore has come more and familiar in
Europe and Latin America, cov?
more to denote the study of the unwritten ers the entire culture of a "folk"
group, usu?
literature of any group, whether having writ?
ally a rural group whose mode of life is
ing or being without it. This development rather different from that of its urban coun?
followed naturally upon the refinement of
terpart. Such a wide expansion of meaning,
ethnographic method, which yielded con?
stemming from a special "folk" concept, has
tinuously deeper insights into the nature not been
and functioning of human culture, and re? applied in the study of "primitive"
or preliterate societies where the
vealed the defects of the older comparative
anthropologist's background in social sci?
approach, on which the concept of cultural
survival was based. It became clear that the ence and linguistics appears indispensable
customs of living "primitive" folk could not for the study of native cultures as a whole,
and also for a fruitful evaluation of the func?
properly be equated with those of the actual
historic predecessors of Western European tion and history of oral folklore.
nations. In other words, "primitive man," The division of interest and of labor, sug?
wherever found, is not a contemporary an? gested by these distinctions, has followed
cestor. In Europe, recognition of this fact the different inclinations and methods of
resulted in the development of the study of the student of culture and of society"?
peasant cultures and other manifestations of whether anthropologist, rural sociologist, or
earlier custom as a discipline separate from social psychologist?and of the folklorist as
folklore. This newer orientation, by defin? a
literary scholar. No doubt both can only
ing more critically its field and approach, gain by greater familiarity with each other's
has freed folklorists for the study of popular
methods, points of view, knowledge, and
literary forms, among peoples everywhere, insights. GEORGEHerzog
whether they have a written language or
not. This analysis is to be carried on, more? & Folklore is a branch of cultural eth?
over, not only in the study of plot and inci? nology. The data of folklore are the myths,
dent, or to recover the place of origin and legends, traditions, narratives, superstitions,
original form of the tales, but also to the end religions, rituals, customs, dances, and ex-
260 Journal of Folklore Research

planations of nature and man, acceptable to the pleasure we get for example from the
individual ethnic groups in each part of the repetition of "family jokes," the folklore of
world at any historical moment. Because each group tends to strengthen the group
these are all structures of the human imagi? and to bring a sense of security and there?
nation and frequently operate most power? fore superiority to the members of it.
fully when the groups or the individuals Modern times have brought a new apol?
who constitute them are experiencing mo? ogy for an old impulse. The "scientific" folk?
ments of crisis, the data of folklore are im? lorists search frenetically for origins and fill
mediate and potent evidence of the nature their pages with discussions of "original"
of man when man is defining his fears and dawn myths, stellar myths, totemism,
aspirations and searching for a security which diffusionism, and other pretentious expla?
always eludes him. Folklorists whose busi? nations of an incomplete logic. Instead of
ness it is to study folklore frequently become having only one meaning, each fact in folk?
infected and find that instead of studying lore has many meanings, even for the people
folklore they are in fact making it. of the group who most fanatically accept it.
The methods of the study of folklore are: Until this semantic complexity has been
1) collection of the data as they actually grasped and a suitable grammar of discourse
occur without, if possible, the intrusion of has been constructed to accommodate it,
the folklorist's own mythopoeia, a primitive folklorists will continue to toy with the skirts
impulse which creates folklore; 2) a com? of a great mystery. In the meantime the
parison of the data to determine what are humanists, undismayed by a terminology
the similarities and differences of these phe? which implies but does not present a scien?
nomena in the several ethnic groups; 3) an tific approach, will continue to meditate on
examination of the beliefs implicit in the the sorts of gaiety and terror which the
data; 4) of the social and psychological im? peoples of all times and places record in the
pulses which produce them, and 5) the func? human structures known as folklore.
tions folklore performs for the individuals R. D. Jameson
and the social groups through which they
operate. 4* Folklore is the science of traditional
Though persons concerned with folklore popular beliefs, tales, superstitions, rimes,
in our present period of Occidental culture all dealing preeminently with the supernatu?
are known as folklorists, they have been ral, and picturization of these beliefs in fes?
called at other times mountebanks, priests, tive customs, games, mime, song, dance. It
poets, mystics, medicine-men, scholars. A is essentially a communal product, handed
general purpose of all these people whether down from generation to generation, and com?
they are producing an epic poem or editing mitted to writing by trained investigators.
the Pentateuch or an encyclopedia of folk? The domains of folklore arouse debate.
lore is to put their data together in such a Its narrowest definition confines it to the
way that they will make sense. The sorts of shadowy remnants of ancient religious rites
sense folklorists attempt to derive are vari? still incorporated in the lives of illiterates
ous: Many are determined to prove that and rustics. More broadly it includes secular
their social group is superior to others be? legends and songs, tales figmented from fact,
cause their superstitions being generally ac? superstitions of recent origin, and fragments
cepted by their group are sound doctrine, persisting among sophisticated urban resi?
whereas superstitions not accepted by the dents.
"we-group" are wicked, or at best quaint, Folktale is distinguished from mythologi?
heterodoxy. In this way and many others, cal tale by attenuation of religious signifi-
Funk and Wagnalls, Definitions of Folklore 261

cance, from fairy tale by the still extant (how? folk songs, popular sayings, arts, crafts, folk
ever vague) faith in veracity and efficacity. dances, and the like. John L. Mish
Likewise, by the current loss of function,
folk dance and folk music are distinguished & Folklore is a lively fossil which refuses
from ritual forms by their anonymous heri? to die.
tage and from revival and individual com? It is a precipitate of the scientific and
position by folk style. cultural lag of centuries and millennia of
Gertrude P. Kurath human experience.
In early times change was slower and less
4" Folklore is the generic term to desig?
frequent, so earlier customs and beliefs had
nate the customs, beliefs, traditions, tales,
longer to form and to become deeply en?
magical practices, proverbs, songs, etc.; in trenched in the racial unconscious. These
short the accumulated knowledge of a ho?
primitive patterns and mandalas, ripened
mogeneous unsophisticated people, tied to? and mellowed like hand-rubbed woods, have
gether not only by common physical bonds, persisted beneath the hasty veneers of later
but also by emotional ones which color their civilizations, to surprise us with their beauty
every expression, giving it unity and indi? when we chance to uncover them. Beauty
vidual distinction. All aspects of folklore,
they have because they were formed slowly
probably originally the product of individu? close to nature herself, and reflect her sym?
als, are taken by the folk and put through a metry and simplicity. So, in a sense, folklore
process of re-creation, which through con? is how we used to do it and wish we could
stant variation and repetition become a group now. Hence, folklore is always the delight of
product. MacEdward Leach children because it is the poetic wisdom of
the childhood of the race. It is also the
4* The term folklore as used today is am?
pleasure of the old who are wise enough to
biguous. The context in which it appears renew their youth by rebaptism in the eter?
reveals whether the user is referring to all nal simplicities in completing the circle of
the unwritten narratives of primitive people life.
and thereby drawing a line between the lit? There is also, beside the juvenile, a strong
erature of primitive and civilized peoples; or feminine element in folklore, because its
to a poorly defined category of stories vaguely
origin antedates the emergence of reason
distinguished from mythology (an equally and belongs in the instinctive and intuitional
ambiguous term) by being of less serious areas. It is irrational and highly imaginative:
content and significance to their primitive much of it truly is termed "old wives' tales."
narrators. A connotation which adds to the Women have always been the savers and
confusion is a hang-over from the earlier conservators of beliefs, rites, superstitions,
European use of the word folklore to cover rituals, and customs.
peasant customs, beliefs, and narratives? So folklore develops as the traditional,
the anthropology of peasants. and usually oral, explanation of the origins
Katharine Luomala and early history of man, as distinct from
history, which is the factual record in writ?
?f? The entire body of ancient popular ing.
beliefs, customs, and traditions, which have The word folklore is used both for the
survived among the less educated elements body of tradition and the science of study?
of civilized societies until today. It thus in? ing it. Folklore is the survival within a
cludes fairy tales, myths, and legends, su? people's later stages of culture of the beliefs,
perstitions, festival rites, traditional games, stories, customs, rites and other techniques
262 Journal of Folklore Research

of adjustment to the world and the super? A brief discussion of the three schools of
natural, which were used in previous stages, folklore active at the present time will help
but the word also designates the scientific to illustrate the kinds of problem to which
study of those survivals by later more so? the folklorist devotes himself.
phisticated persons whose own adjustment 1) The Indie school has been most strongly
patterns make the survivals seem quaint, influenced by the studies of Maurice
irrational, and superstitious, but also some? Bloomfield. The members of this school
times fascinating and nostalgically desirable. began as Sanskrit scholars. They are both
The experienced folklorist is never patron? linguists and humanists. Their study of San?
izing toward primitive patterns of life- skrit sources led direcdy to consideration of
adjustment. Charles Francis Potter folklore, and some of our most valuable ex?
aminations of the continuity of motifs in
*f* It is usual to define folklore either time and space, and of shifts in meaning of
literally as the lore of the folk or, more phrase and incident, have come from these
descriptively, in terms of an oral literary men. In addition, their work with native
tradition. The first of these is a good broad Indian scholars taught an appreciation of
definition including belief, superstition, and oral materials not usually to be found in the
religious practice, as well as myths and tales. approach of the historian. Though relatively
But it suffers from the difficulty which arises few in number and little known by the aver?
whenever any attempt is made to define "the age folklorist, their work is extremely im?
folk." It is doubtful that the uneducated or portant to our understanding of folklore.
illiterate can be considered apart from other 2) The anthropological school has worked
persons, and the hypothesis which estab? largely, to date, in the American Indian
lishes the existence of such a folk identity field and owes its major emphases to Franz
would be almost impossible to validate. Boas. Its members are social scientists and
Modern interest in folk music and folk danc? are interested as much in linguistics as are
ing has done much, however, toward per? the scholars of the Indie school. They, too,
petuating this definition. The second defi? have insisted that if language materials are
nition relies upon a distinction between an to be fully understood they must be most
oral and a truly literary tradition represented accurately recorded and most minutely stud?
in such productions as novels, poetry, and ied. There is no substitute for texts and
holy books. Many folklore analyses have linguistic analyses. Faced, however, with the
been dependent upon oral materials gath? American Indian situation the emphasis has
ered in societies with a written literary tra? somewhat shifted. Whereas the Indie school
dition, but a definition resting upon this worked in a continuous tradition of written
contrast between the oral and the written language, the Americanist had to deal with
fails utterly to meet conditions found among unwritten and unrecorded languages which
American Indian and other societies for? were not only mutually unintelligible but
merly without the art of writing. also belonged to entirely different language
In order to avoid the pitfalls into which stocks. Other cultural aspects differed as
either of these types of definition carry us, it markedly, and the Americanist was forced
seems wisest to define folklore simply as the to a consideration of basic differences. Upon
study of verbal materials in all their variet? his recognition of such cultural difference,
ies. Technical linguistics, music, the dance, he developed an approach which has since
and the graphic and pictorial arts would been fruitfully applied in other world areas
thus become closely related but essentially as well. His attention has been directed to?
separate fields of investigation. ward an intensive analysis of culture pat-
Funk and Wagnalls, Definitions of Folklore 263

terns existing contemporaneously in the games occupies a position intermediate be?


world today. Folklore has served as an excel? tween the folklore of physical objects and
lent tool in this analysis; it has been used to the folklore of ideas. Typical ideas transmit?
investigate, and to illustrate, differences more ted as folklore are manifested in the customs
intimate than formal and more psychologi? associated with birth, marriage, and death,
cal than linguistic. In recent years, although with the lesser events of life, with remedies
the anthropological school has not lost sight for illnesses and wounds, with agriculture,
of changes occurring in folklore over space the trades, and the professions, and with
and time, it has tended to examine bodies of religious life, notably with Christmas, Eas?
folklore with an eye for their uniqueness. ter, and other holy days or saints' days. Ver?
3) The Aarne-Thompson school of folk? bal folklore includes words considered for
lore differs from the other two in that its their own sake and words occurring as con?
methods have derived primarily from a study nected discourse. Typical words that the
of European folktales. It works in a purely folklorist studies without special regard for
humanistic atmosphere, and is impressed by their use in connected discourse are place
the existence of an oral tradition which stands names, personal names (both family and
apart from the written or sophisticated like Christian names), and nicknames. Folklore
a parallel growth. Members of this school in the form of connected discourse includes
have been particularly interested in the col? tales of various kinds (marchen, jests, leg?
lection and classification of folklore materi? ends, cumulative tales, exempla, fables, etio-
als and have emphasized the importance of logical tales), ballads, lyric folk song,
obtaining numerous variants of a tale. Their children's songs, charms, proverbs, and
influence has been widely felt in both the riddles. The study of folklore consists in the
United States and abroad, and has today in collection, classification, and interpretation
the United States become associated with of these traditional materials. Classification
the field of intercultural relations. involves interpretation to some extent. In?
Marian W. Smith terpretation seeks to discover the origin,
meaning, use, and history of these materi?
?$? Folklore consists of materials that are als, to state and explain their dissemination,
handed on traditionally from generation to and to describe their stylistic peculiarities.
generation without a reliable ascription to Archer Taylor
an inventor or author. Although proverbs,
ballads, and other items of folklore are often & Although the word folklore is more
credited to a particular person, this is itself a than a century old, no exact agreement has
stylistic peculiarity of the genre, and the ever been reached as to its meaning. The
individual's claims are ordinarily dubious in common idea present in all folklore is that
the extreme. If they are capable of proof, we of tradition, something handed down from
find that the material has suffered alteration one person to another and preserved either
or adaptation in the process of transmission. by memory or practice rather than written
This "communal recreation" proceeds char? record. It involves the dances, songs, tales,
acteristically according to associative rather legends, and traditions, the beliefs and su?
than logical ways of thinking. The materials perstitions, and the proverbial sayings of
handed on traditionally may be physical ob? peoples everywhere. It also includes studies
jects, ideas, or words. The folklore of physi? of customs, of traditional agricultural and
cal objects includes the shapes and uses of domestic practices, types of buildings and
tools, costumes, and the forms of villages utensils, and traditional aspects of social or?
and houses. The folklore of gestures and ganization; but for these latter aspects there
264 Journal of Folklore Research

seems to be a general agreement to consider ally learned arts and handicrafts and a vast
them, when found in a primitive or pre- body of social and religious beliefs and cus?
literate society, as a part of ethnology rather toms, subsumed by the anthropologists un?
than folklore. This latter division of labor is der the general term ethnography.
largely a matter of convenience and is not The educated layman's usage of the word
universally accepted. At least among literate folklore lies between the anthropologist's
peoples all the subjects mentioned above are and the humanist's. This or that fact or
considered as folklore, since all of them are theory, transmitted orally or in popular
truly traditional. Stith Thompson sources as well as traditional prose and verse
material, is folklore. Instead of using the
4* Among American-trained anthropolo-
outmoded term superstition, the layman is
gists concerned with the cultures of now more apt to refer to a folkloristic belief.
preliterate peoples, the term folklore cus? There is at present a noticeable tendency
tomarily has been used to refer to the vari?
ous genres of orally transmitted prose and among cultural anthropologists to use un?
written literature, or primitive literature, or
verse forms existent in primitive groups. Such
forms include myths and tales, jests and literary forms, to designate material which,
even a decade ago, would have been called
anecdotes, dramas and dramatic dialogs,
folklore. With more and more attention be?
prayers and formulas, speeches, puns, riddles,
ing paid by humanists to the study of the
proverbs, and song and chant texts. traditional in folk cultures, it may well be
This limitation of the term to designate
that the new terms for the anthropologists'
one part only of any preliterate culture con?
trasts sharply with the customary usage of relatively restricted materials will gain cur?
the same term by students of Euro-Ameri? rency, and ethnography continue in use by
anthropologists as practically synonymous
can, European, and other folk and peasant with the humanists' use of the term folklore.
cultures. In folk cultures a large part, but
Erminie W. Voegelin
only a part, of the total culture is trans?
mitted orally; all such orally transmitted 4* Folklore is that art form, comprising
material is generally regarded by humanists various types of stories, proverbs, sayings,
as folklore. In this extended sense, then, spells, songs, incantations, and other for?
folklore encompasses not only all traditional mulas, which employs spoken language as
prose and verse material, but all tradition- its medium. Richard A. Waterman