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2018 | 70 | 39-66

Article title

Suulisus kirjakultuuri ajajargul


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The article focuses on the question of the orality and literacy of folklore on the example of Estonian folklore research. When folklore is defined in academic and popular-science papers, its orality has a significantly more prominent role than in practical studies. For instance, in the period when folkloristic standpoints were modernised in the 1930s, orality was a requisite in the definition of folklore. At the same time, folklorists also studied the written forms of folklore (e.g. works by Walter Anderson). When assessing the authenticity of earlier folk songs and tales, the decisive aspect was the oral origin and spread of the texts. However, older folk songs as well as folk tales were mostly written down in the era when the performers of these songs or tales were literate. It was common that newer folk songs spread in writing, but researchers nevertheless used them to the same extent as archival texts that had been written down based on oral performance. They argued that the texts which were spread in manuscript songbooks could also be performed orally, and this justified their treatment as folklore even though they were written texts. In parallel with the development of folkloristics, the question of the relationships of folklore and literature and folklore and (oral) history has continuously been on the agenda. In both cases, folklore opens up from the viewpoint of written culture. The topic of the orality and literacy of folklore also emerges in connection with the recording of oral performances, as well as creating and organising archives of manuscripts. It similarly extends to research: written records of oral presentations were analysed, using the methods for the analysis of written texts. In the second half of the 20th century, however, the question of the orality of oral sources was increasingly raised. In these cases, orality is important from the aspect of performance and the creative process, differently from the earlier notion, which saw the oral creation, origin, and spread as the prerequisite of folklore. It is also significant that orality studies are interdisciplinary (involving, for example, the research methods of linguistics, anthropology, history, etc.).


  • Department of Estonian and Comparative Folklore, Institute of Cultural Research, University of Tartu, Ülikooli 18, 50090


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Publication order reference


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