Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Folklore: Definition and Scope


Folklore is a term which refers to the collection of beliefs, customs, and tradition pass on from generation to generation. A primary emphasize in folklore studies is on tradition. A second key emphasize in folklore is on those activities that are generated by people themselves, rather than formal institutions. It encompasses myths, legends, jokes, proverbs, fairy tales and folk tales.


The term was coined in 1846 by William Thomas who wanted to come up with generic term to encompass the rich oral tradition of culture around the world. Folklore is "compound of folk as in common people and lore as in knowledge or tradition"




According to Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary, "Folklore is the tradition and stories of a country or community."


Folklore is a body of traditional belief, custom, and expression, handed down largely by word of mouth and circulating chiefly outside of commercial and academic means of communication and instruction. Every group bound together by common interests and purposes, whether educated or uneducated, rural or urban, possesses a body of traditions which may be called its folklore. (Benjamin A. Botkin, 1938)


…folklore is artistic communication in small groups.  *1



[Folklore study is] the study of communicative behavior with an esthetic, expressive, or stylistic dimension. *2


Folklore comprises the unrecorded traditions of a people; it includes both the form and content of these traditions and their style or technique of communication from person to person.


Folklore is the traditional, unofficial, non-institutional part of culture. It encompasses all knowledge, understandings, values, attitudes, assumptions, feelings, and beliefs transmitted in traditional forms by word of mouth or by customary examples. *3




# Folklore is the creation of the ordinary illiterate people.

# It is normally the creation of an individual, but at times it may be the creation of a group such as some songs, proverbs.

# Though it is the creation of an individual or a group, with the passage of time, it becomes the property of a large number of people, and then it appears as Folklore

# Folklore is normally orally born, nourished and transferred from one generation to the next. With the passage of time, it may emerge as the property of the whole mankind. Orally it travels from one country to another. Folk literature whether it be oral or written, transmits… from one generation to other. *4


# One of the most important natures of  Folklore is that it is simple. This commoner's narrations assumes a variety of forms, but its very essence is simplicity . *5


# Folklore has two aspects- its material aspect such as traditional implement, and its artistic aspect such as folk song and folk tale etc.


* Folklore is the outcome of the human mind imbued with creative feelings. Since ancient time, two faculties of the of the human mind have been responsible for the creation, preservation and transmission of folklore :1. The creative idea and urge ;2. Aesthetic and artistic impulse. Traditional learning was inspired by there two to help creation of folklore . The field of folklore expanded as the experience of man became broader and deeper.


 *The knowledge in folklore is the result of experience of not a person, but of the community or the society at large. It may be called as the wisdom of the people or the learning of the community.  The individual earns knowledge through experience and when experience and knowledge  are combined together, they voice the same feelings which becomes the feelings of the society. American  scholar Francis Gummeri viewed that folklore is the creations of the community.


* Levi Bruhl, refers folklore "the collective representation of thought". (1949,preface),

The english proverb "Necessity knows no law" or a Bengali proverb "To oil a oily head" represents the collective thought of the society.

* Folklore is dynamic in the sense that with the social  and culture and cultural change, as an important part of culture, it also accepts some changes to suit the new situation.            

* Folklore is timeless and is as much a part of the present as it is of the past.

* Folklore is made up of informal expressions passed around long enough to have become recurrent in form and context, but changeable in performance.


The greatest quality of the folk literature is its unwritten form. It is orally created and memory dependant. Almost all the researchers call folk literature oral literature.


Poetical metre of folk literature is not main, pathetic imagination and unintelligibility are its anti nature. So this literature is universal and eternal. Thus the folk literature is called the dealing of charming simplicity.



Besides, three characteristics of folklore draw our attention, viz- the body of knowledge, mode of thought and kind of arts, drawn as reflection from culture. These bear a considerable significance of the students of folklore. Apart from these two other factors are also important to determine its characteristics:


a)      Folklore requires to be collected through fieldwork.

b)      Its study has to be fundamentally based on traditional heritage.

Scope of Folklore:


Folklore encompasses the customs, games, beliefs, festivals and some practices which human societies have owned through tradition from generation to generation; the literature, performing and non-performing arts, paintings, Sculptures, arts and crafts, alpanas; and their related mechanism and designs, which have been handed on by tradition of the societies from previous generations through word of mouth or traditionally by normal means; the patterns of houses, fences, tools, and many other material being used by the societies, as well as those materials, their traditional manufacturing techniques and architectural designs, which the human societies have inherited from their forefathers; the medicines and other objects invented through experimentations and  traditional scientific method which passed on as heritage to the societies through generations. The process of creation, making, designing and construction of these elements as well as their substance in the societies, has been  in operation since ancient times and in a similar manner their transmission diffusion, creation of variants, reshaping and renewal have also been a continuous phenomena since long past. Some of these elements were handed down through the oral tradition, some through the written method, practice and imitation, some through observation, but all have been the products of tradition. The process of their transmission is still vague in the present day societies and this will remain so in the future to come.


*1, 4, 5 (Dan Ben-Amos. Toward a Definition of Folklore in Context, in Américo Paredes and Richard Bauman, eds. Toward New Perspectives in Folklore. Austin: University of Texas Press for the American Folklore Society, 1972. pages 3-15 )

*2 ( Dell Hymes. Foundations in Sociolinguistics: An Ethnographic Perspective. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1974.)

*3 (Jan Brunvand. The Study of American Folklore: An Introduction, 2nd edition. New York: W.W. Norton, 1978.)

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