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New York Folklore Quarterly, Vol. XXIX, No. 1, March 1973

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NEW YORK FOLKLORE QUARTERLY
Vol. XXIX, No. 1, March, 1973

FOLKLORE AND GEOGRAPHY:
TOWARDS AN ATLAS OF AMERICAN FOLK CULTURE
W. F. H. Nicolaisen

THE STUDY OF FOLKLORE, like that of linguistics, has, among others, its synchronic and its diachronic aspects. Although the two sometimes overlap, investigations into the culture of the folk usually stress either one or the other — more often than not the former — when attempting to see or interpret an individual item in context. A particular ballad, like that of the “Unfortunate Rake” may have its historical development or, as some will have it, devolution, but it will also, it it occurs more than once in the present-day repertory of our folk-singers, have its geographical distribution according to the places where it is found (or at least recorded) today, or at any other point in time at which we wish to examine its spatial scatter. For the ballad in question this distribution would include at least England, Scotland, many parts of the United States, and die West Indies. Similarly, a folktale type like AT 922 “The King and the Abbot” which appears to have originated before 850 A.D. in a Jewish parish in the Near East, is known to have been collected in Europe, from both oral and written sources, from the Irish, the Scots, the Bretons, the Portuguese, the Spaniards, the Catalans, the French, the Walloon-speaking Belgians, the Italians, the Rumanians, the Germans, the Dutch, the Flemish, the Frisians, the English, the Danes, the Swedes, the Norwegians, the Icelanders, the Lithuanians, the Latvians, the Great Russians, the White Russians, the Ukrainians, the Poles, the Kashubians, the Czechs, the Slovaks, the Slovenes, the Cerbs, the Croats, the Bulgarians, the Finns, the Estonians, the Hungarians, the Turks, the Basques, the Greeks, and the Jews; it is also on record from the Tartars, certain Caucasus peoples and the Singhalese, as well as in Arabic, Coptic, and Anglo-American. This is a truly international distribution which cuts across national frontiers, language communities, economic spheres of influence, social strata, ethnic groups, physiographic boundaries, and geographic regions. As a third example — this time from Scottish onomastics — the place-name element Scottish Gaelic cill “church, churchyard” which has its origins in Latin cella “a (hermits) cell” and is found in connection with ecclesiastical names with profusion in Ireland, occurs in Scotland in such limited distribution, mostly in the very south-west of the country and in the more westerly parts of the Highlands, as to indicate an early area of settlement....


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