NEW YORK FOLKLORE QUARTERLY
Vol. XX, No. 4, December, 1964
ON GAME MORPHOLOGY:
A STUDY OF THE STRUCTURE OF NON-VERBAL FOLKLORE
by Alan Dundes
ARE children’s games, a form of non-verbal folklore, and
folktales, a form of verbal folklore, structurally similar? I
am suggesting in the following article that they are and
also that there are many other non-verbal analogues to verbal folklore
forms. Consequently, the definition of folklore should not be
limited to verbal materials.
Although structural analysis, as an effective means of descriptive
ethnography, has been applied to a number of types of folklore
expression, it has not been employed in the study of children’s
games. Yet games, in general, and competitive games, in
particular, are obviously patterned. In competitive games, the
participants are aware that play is governed by definite limiting
rules. The application and the interrelationship of these rules
result in an ordered sequence of actions by the players, and
these action sequences constitute the essential structure of any
In order to delineate the structure of a game, or any other
form of folklore, one must have a minimum structural unit. Only
with such a unit can there be any precise segmentation of the continuum
of game action. As a trial unit, I propose to use the motifeme,
a unit of action which has been used in structural studies
of folktales. One obvious advantage of employing the motifeme
is that if game action can, in fact, be broken down into motifemes,
then it would be relatively easy to compare the structure of games
with the structure of folktales....
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