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  • "Said a Word, Uttered Thus":Structures and Functions of Parallelism in Arhippa Perttunen's Poems
  • Jukka Saarinen (bio)

Parallelism is one of the most outstanding features of the Finnic (or Balto-Finnic) tradition of oral poetry that is found throughout areas of present-day Estonia, Finland, and adjacent parts of Russia. Performers of this poetry speak several different but closely related languages: Finnish, Karelian, Ingrian, Votic, Estonian, and Seto. Nevertheless, the poetic idiom, or register, is quite uniform, sharing the basic characteristics of meter, non-stanzaic structure, alliteration, and parallelism, with some anticipated regional variation.1 It has various names in different languages. In Finland and Karelia, the most common designation is Kalevala-metric or kalevalaic poetry2 or runolaulu ("runo song").3 In Estonia it is usually called regilaul or regivärss.4

The poetic form has a strikingly broad range of uses for diverse genres, such as narrative poems, lyric and ritual songs, recited incantations, proverbs, and riddles. Many genres were connected to different sorts of social situations or discourse functions and a variety of modes of performance that also varied regionally. Across diverse communities and language areas where this poetry was documented as a living tradition, the poetic form exhibits great dynamism in its continuities and historical endurance in contrast to its range of uses in different practices. When considering variation in the poetic form, the most significant historical factor has been changes in language and dialect. In both western regions of Finland and to the south near the Gulf of Finland, words became somewhat shorter, but further south in Estonia the shortening of words was greater and began earlier. The metrical form historically was based on a trochaic tetrameter with flexibility in the first foot, which means that a basic line had eight syllables, although an extra syllable or two could be added in the first two positions.

Alliteration is another distinctive feature in kalevalaic poems, although it is not technically required within every verse line. There are two kinds of alliteration in these poems: in "strong alliteration," words begin with the same vowel, as in Ulappalan ukko vanha, or with the same consonant followed by the same vowel, as in Vaka vanha Väinämöini; in "weak alliteration," only the first consonant is repeated, as in Vihannalla vainivolla. Changes in the lengths of words and other phonological changes increase variation in the syllabic rhythm of the tetrameter to different degrees on a regional basis, while the shortening of words allows more words to be used in a line, which can enhance alliteration in some regions (see Sarv 2008:171-183 and Frog and Stepanova 2011:198-204). Semantic parallelism in this poetic form has also been observed to vary somewhat between the northern and southern regional divisions previously mentioned, with an increase in repetition of sounds and words across parallel lines in the southern region, but this has been suggested to be related to the increase in the number of words possible in parallel lines where words become shorter (Sarv 1999:131-32).

Background of Research

In Finnish research, parallelism has been recognized for a long time. Henrik Gabriel Porthan, an eighteenth-century scholar who wrote an influential study of Finnish poetry, De Poesi Fennica (1766-88), dedicated a substantial part of his presentation to parallelism. He calls it "repetition of thought"; according to Porthan (1766:22), parallelism was considered "quite indispensable" in this poetry. Other scholars have dealt with parallelism in their writings. Elias Lönnrot (1802-84), compiler of the Finnish national epic Kalevala (1835 and 1849), wrote extensively on metrics and alliteration in poetry, for example, in the preface of Kalevala, but he failed to write on parallelism. Lönnrot's lack of discussion on this topic is more striking because he expanded the use of parallelism in Kalevala much more than it was found in original folk poetry (Steinitz 1934:17 and Krohn 1918:73).

Discussions of parallelism in the northern form of this Finnic tradition were given a central position in international discussions on parallelism by the German linguist Wolfgang Steinitz in his study Der Parallelismus in der Finnisch-Karelischen Volksdichtung ("Parallelism in Finno-Karelian Folk Poetry"). Steinitz studied...

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