Oral Traditions In Storytelling

In the 1930s, Lord Albert Bates studied oral storytelling from field transcripts of Yugoslav oral bards and the texts of classics such as the Odyssey and Beowulf. It was found by him that a big part of the stories consisted of text which had been made up during the oral process of telling the story. In this article, we will focus on the oral traditions in Storytelling.


Lord Bates recognized two types of vocabulary used in oral storytelling. The first was called 'formulas' by him , for example:  "the wine-dark sea," or the "rosy-fingered dawn,". He found that across many oral storytelling traditions, around 90% of an oral epic is gathered from lines repeated word for word. The phrases accumulated from a lifetime of oral storytelling traditions made the basis of these stories.

The other type of story vocabulary found by him was the theme, which is a series of story actions that makeup a tale. The teller of oral stories proceeds from event-to-event using themes. One of the universal themes is repetition,   of which there is plenty of evidence in Western folklore -the 'rule of three'. Some common well known examples are three attempts are made or three brothers set out etc;


As part of oral traditions in Storytelling, a theme can be big enough to be a plot element.
Although the theme may not belong to a particular story, but it may be present with slight deviations in many different stories. Themes may represent universal truths or they may be ritual-based on religious truths.


Experts sometimes separate oral stories into two main groups: Märchen and Sagen, which are German terms. There are no exact English equivalents. Märchen, consisted of loosely translated “fairy tales" taking place in a kind of different "once-upon-a-time" world, pointing to nowhere-in-particular. They clearly indicate that they are not to be understood as true. People with rather flat characters, clearly defined incidents are the hallmarks of traditions in oral storytelling.



Sagen, on the other hand, are supposed to have actually happened. These "legends", occurring at a particular time and place very often, draw much of their influence from this fact. Even with the intrusion of supernatural, it does so in an emotionally loaded manner. Ghost and lovers' leap stories, UFO-stories and stories of supernatural beings fall under these oral storytelling traditions.

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