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2008 | 40 | 25-50

Article title

ANIMAL LORE IN ESTONIAN RIDDLE PERIPHERY (Zoofolkloorseid aspekte eesti keerdkusimustes, liitsonamangudes ja piltmoistatustes)


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The study focuses on the use of animals in three major recently emerged subgenres of what has become to be called riddle periphery: conundrums, compound word games, and droodles. About one fourth of all Estonian conundrums feature animal names, and like in folk narratives (folktale, joke, tall tale) or other genres of verbal art (fable, cartoons, plays) the animal is associated with highly diverse imagery. Quite often these genres include anthropomorphic personification, where human characteristics attributed to a zoological creature tend to function as specific stereotypes and the animals often talk about us and serve as embodiments of humans. The use of animal characters who act as representatives of different types of humans allows safe ridiculing of the vices of humans and the society. In other minor forms of folklore (proverbs and phrases), the most popular animals are generally local domestic animals and fowl, but the most popular animal characters in Estonian conundrums are rather exotic (elephant, hippopotamus, etc.). One reason for this is perhaps the predominance of international material (e.g., elephant jokes originating from the Anglo-American culture area) in the Estonian riddle material, and the exotic stranger is still appealing in folklore texts. The situations and settings in which the animal characters are presented in conundrums (and droodles) are often distanced from the reality, which is why the material associated with animals can be seen as zoological absurdity. The compound word games point to the favouring of compounds in the Estonian language, and the frequent occurrence of zoological creatures as elements of the Estonian compound words prove that the animal kingdom has greatly inspired the naming of things, phenomena and qualities with compounds. Compound word games are most often based on fixed metaphors (e.g., kohtukull 'legal hawk', raamatukoi 'bookworm'), in which the figurative image has become secondary and the user no longer recognises it. In Estonian language, animals tend to be used as the end constituent of the compound noun, though there are many others in which the animal name figures as a genitive substantive in the attributive constituent. One third of the entire corpus of Estonian droodles depict representatives of the animal kingdom, though the most popular ones are those with characteristic appearance (the hare's long ears, the elephant's trunk, the camel's humps, the giraffe's long and spotted neck, the zebra's stripes), because these are simple to sketch and thus are easily adopted in the tradition. The text samples used in the article have been taken from online folklore databases of Estonian conundrums (Eesti keerdküsimused, http://www.folklore.ee/Keerdkys, approx. 25,000 texts), of Estonian compound word games (Eesti (liit)sonamangud, http://www.folklore.ee/Sonamang, approx. 5,000 texts) and of Estonian droodles (Eesti piltmoistatused, http://www.folklore.ee/Droodles, approx. 7,500 texts).







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  • Piret Voolaid, Estonian Literary Museum, Vanemuise 42, 51003 Tartu, Estonia


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