- Editor's Column
With this issue Oral Tradition returns to its customary miscellany format, offering half a dozen essays that examine as many strands in humanity's complex of verbal traditions: a previously overlooked theme in Old Germanic poetry; a pictorial system for representing narratives devised by the Naxi dongba in Southwestern China that conjugates the oral and the literary in the same vehicle; an illustration of contemporary shamanistic augury and communication with the dead practiced by women from the Vlach minority community in Eastern Serbia; an account of genre classification schemes for Trans-Atlantic Gaelic song traditions; and, finally, the debut in the pages of Oral Tradition of "lexomics," an analytic tool that is brought to bear on a passage of Beowulf to suggest that its antecedents belong to a highly-formulaic unwritten source.
First up, we feature an essay from Paul Battles and Charles D. Wright that identifies "The Scop's Repertoire" as an Old English traditional theme, one that associates verse-making with three motifs: copiousness, orality, and antiquity. Close analogues in Old Saxon, Old and Middle High German, and Old Norse poetry suggest that "The Scop's Repertoire" theme originates in an oral Germanic tradition of versification. Thus, the theme sheds light on the myth of the oral poet, depicted either as divinely inspired or bearer of tradition.
Douglas Poupard's essay examines the orality of ritual texts written in the Naxi dongba script in southwest China. Historically the inherent orality of these texts was largely overlooked by scholars who instead conceived of them as visual "hieroglyphics." Here, the author makes the case that the Naxi texts represent an intermediary stage between the "oral" and the "written," and calls into question the reality of any sort of stark divide between orality and literacy, that is, the so-called Great Divide theory.
Maria Vivod reports on her fieldwork among the fairy-seers of Southeastern Europe, usually women, who are able to communicate with the invisible realm of the fairies. The fairy-seers sometimes fall into trance-like states to establish communication with the fairies. During the trance, the fairy-seers can prophesy future events and bear messages to the living from their deceased relatives. The author's essay relates case studies of two such women belonging to the Vlach community of Eastern Serbia.
The essay by Virginia Blankenhorn illustrates the importance of songs and singing in traditional Gaelic society. Revisiting earlier attempts to classify Gaelic song genres, she examines whether or not constructing such typologies remains a worthwhile scientific objective. Finally, the author characterizes the place and role yjsy singing occupies in contemporary Gaelic, particularly in the light of the contextual and aesthetic changes shaping Gaelic song performances in the current commercially-driven "world music" environment.
Mary Knight offers a thorough examination of textual features of the Qur'ān that appear to emerge more prominently as a result of hearing the text recited aloud. Such features that may enhance insights that listeners gain during slow or silent readings of the text. Comparison with ancient Greek oral works, such as Homer, and an examination of Classical memory methodologies provide support for the communicative efficacy of some of the oral features identified. In particular, the author analyzes a series of linguistic devices regarding structure, meaning, diction, syntax, and sound.
Drout and Smith deploy new "lexomic" methods of computer-assisted statistical analysis to identify a concentration of unusual lexical, metrical, grammatical and formulaic features in lines 607-61 of Beowulf, a scene in which Queen Wealhtheow passes the cup of friendship to the assembled warriors. Although the passage contains a number of proper names, the authors demonstrate that it is highly formulaic and adaptable, and conclude that the Beowulf-poet drew on an unwritten, highly traditional source for these lines.
This issue of Oral Tradition arrives in virtual space thanks to the combined efforts of a much reduced staff of the Center for Studies in Oral Tradition—Elise Broaddus, Katy Chenoweth, managing editor, and Evelyn Yamoah. Mark Jarvis, who transforms the edited essays into electronic files available around the world, continues to excel in his new-old role of indispensable consultant.
Finally, as is my custom, I recognize...