Book

Fragments and Meaning in Traditional Song

Mary-Ann Constantine and Gerald Porter

Published by British Academy

Published in print August 2003 | ISBN: 9780197262887
Published online February 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191734441 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5871/bacad/9780197262887.001.0001

Series: British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship Monographs

Fragments and Meaning in Traditional Song

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This book is about traditional songs. Folk song scholarship was originally obsessed with notions of completeness and narrative coherence; yet field notebooks and recordings (and, increasingly, publications) overwhelmingly suggest that apparently ‘broken’ and drastically shortened versions of songs are not perceived as incomplete by those who sing them. This study turns the focus on these ‘dog-ends’ of oral tradition, and looks closely at how very short texts convey meaning in performance by working the audience's knowledge of a highly allusive idiom. What emerges is the tenacity of meaning in the connotative and metaphorical language of traditional song, and the extraordinary adaptability of songs in different cultural contexts. Such pieces have a strong metonymic force: they should not be seen as residual ‘last leaves’ of a once complete tradition, but as dynamic elements in the process of oral transmission. Not all song fragments remain in their natural environment, and this book also explores relocations and dislocations as songs are adapted to new contexts: a ballad of love and death is used to count pins in lace-making, song-snippets trail subversive meanings in the novels of Charles Dickens. Because they are variable and elusive to dating, songs have had little attention from the literary establishment: the authors of this book show both how certain critical approaches can be fruitfully applied to song texts, and how concepts from studies in oral traditions prefigure aspects of contemporary critical theory. Coverage includes English, Welsh, Breton, American, and Finnish songs.

Keywords: traditional songs; folk songs; narrative coherence; oral tradition; short texts; connotative language; metaphorical language; adaptability; cultural contexts; metonymic force

Book.  278 pages. 

Subjects: Ethnomusicology

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Table of Contents

Introduction in Fragments and Meaning in Traditional Song

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Singing the unspeakable in Fragments and Meaning in Traditional Song

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Conclusion in Fragments and Meaning in Traditional Song

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