/fohk"lawr', -lohr'/, n.1. the traditional beliefs, legends, customs, etc., of a people; lore of a people.2. the study of such lore.3. a body of widely held but false or unsubstantiated beliefs.[1846; FOLK + LORE; coined by English scholar and antiquary William John Thoms (1803-85)]
* * *Oral literature and popular tradition preserved among a people.It may take the form of fairy tales, ballads, epics, proverbs, and riddles. Studies of folklore began in the early 19th century and first focused on rural folk and others believed to be untouched by modern ways. Several aims can be identified. One was to trace archaic customs and beliefs. In Germany Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm published their classic collection of fairy tales in 1812. James George Frazer's The Golden Bough (1890) reflects the use of folklore as a tool to reconstruct ancient beliefs and rituals. Another motive for the study of folklore was nationalism, which reinforced ethnic identity and figured in struggles for political independence. The catalog of motifs of folktales and myths developed by Antti Aarne and Stith Thompson encouraged comparisons of variants of the same tale or other item from different regions and times. In the mid-20th century, new trends emerged. Any group that expressed its inner cohesion by maintaining shared traditions qualified as a "folk," whether the linking factor be occupation, language, place of residence, age, religion, or ethnic origin. Emphasis also shifted from the past to the present, from the search for origins to the investigation of present meaning and function. Change and adaptation within tradition were no longer necessarily regarded as corruptive.
* * *▪ academic disciplinein modern usage, an academic discipline the subject matter of which (also called folklore) comprises the sum total of traditionally derived and orally or imitatively transmitted literature, material culture, and custom of subcultures within predominantly literate and technologically advanced societies; comparable study among wholly or mainly nonliterate societies belongs to the disciplines of ethnology and anthropology. In popular usage, the term folklore is sometimes restricted to the oral literature tradition.Folklore studies began in the early 19th century. The first folklorists concentrated exclusively upon rural peasants, preferably uneducated, and a few other groups relatively untouched by modern ways (e.g., gypsies). Their aim was to trace preserved archaic customs and beliefs to their remote origins in order to trace the mental history of mankind. In Germany, Jacob Grimm used folklore to illuminate Germanic religion of the Dark Ages. In Britain, Sir Edward Tylor, Andrew Lang, and others combined data from anthropology and folklore to “reconstruct” the beliefs and rituals of prehistoric man. The best-known work of this type is Sir James Frazer's The Golden Bough (1890).Large collections of material were amassed in the course of these efforts. Inspired by the Grimm Brothers, whose first collection of fairy tales appeared in 1812, scholars all over Europe began recording and publishing oral literature of many genres: fairy tales and other types of folktales, ballads and other songs, oral epics, folk plays, riddles, proverbs, etc. Similar work was undertaken for music, dance, and traditional arts and crafts; many archives and museums were founded. Often the underlying impulse was nationalistic; since the folklore of a group reinforced its sense of ethnic identity, it figured prominently in many struggles for political independence and national unity.As the scholarship of folklore developed, an important advance was the classification of material for comparative analysis. Standards of identification were devised, notably for ballads (by F.J. Child) and for the plots and component motifs of folktales and myths (by Antti Aarne and Stith Thompson). Using these, Finnish scholars, led by Kaarle Krohn, developed the “historical-geographical” method of research, in which every known variant of a particular tale, ballad, riddle, or other item was classified as to place and date of collection in order to study distribution patterns and reconstruct “original” forms. This method, more statistical and less speculative than that of the anthropological folklorists, dominated the field throughout the first half of the 20th century.After World War II new trends emerged, particularly in the United States. Interest was no longer confined to rural communities, since it was recognized that cities too contained definable groups whose characteristic arts, customs, and values marked their identity. Although some Marxist scholars continued to regard folklore as belonging solely to the working classes, in other circles the concept lost its restrictions of class and even of educational level; any group that expressed its inner cohesion by maintaining shared traditions qualified as a “folk,” whether the linking factor be occupation, language, place of residence, age, religion, or ethnic origin. Emphasis also shifted from the past to the present, from the search for origins to the investigation of present meaning and function. Change and adaptation within tradition were no longer necessarily regarded as corruptive.In the view of “contextual” and “performance” analysis in the late 20th century, a particular story, song, drama, or custom constitutes more than a mere instance to be recorded and compared with others of the same category. Rather, each phenomenon is regarded as an event arising from the interaction between an individual and his social group, which fulfills some function and satisfies some need for both performer and audience. In this functionalist, sociological view, such an event can be understood only within its total context; the performer's biography and personality, his role in the community, his repertoire and artistry, the role of the audience, and the occasion on which the performance occurs all contribute to its folkloric meaning.
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