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Folklore and Oral Tradition

Lauri Harvilahti

Whereas some of the cultural models for folklore are of a relatively
constant nature, performing situation and variation are characteristically
unstable features of oral tradition. There is no definition of folklore that
would cover the whole discipline. Folklore in its oral and traditional form is
in most cases transmitted orally and serves as shared tradition-based
creations of a cultural community. I would not include public sector or
applied folklore within this concept of oral tradition: the manifestations of
applied folklore include folk festivals, various folk song and dance
ensembles, or folklore festivals held all over the world. Applied folklore
does not have the status of folklore proper.
The Folklore Archive of the Finnish Literature Society has used an
inventory or classification system based on the division of folklore into
loosely defined genre groups. This system is particularly applicable to
manuscript materials (older material in archives) and is still in use. It should
be stressed that this system was created on the basis of Finnish folk material
and therefore includes non-universal, national categories. But it was
augmented as researchers in folk traditions turned their attention toward new
materials and subject areas. The bulk of early collecting efforts was
concentrated solely on ancient oral (folk) poetry in the Kalevala meter;
gradually interests broadened to include Märchen (tales) as well, and the
first half of the twentieth century saw the gradual inclusion of legends,
rhymed folksongs, proverbs, and so forth. In time, the system covered the
bulk of Finnish agrarian oral culture. For the sake of clarity, the following
sketch of contents has been slightly simplified.

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