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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