Mudcat Café message #3342769 The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #22617   Message #3342769
Posted By: GUEST,Lighter
24-Apr-12 - 05:06 PM
Thread Name: Origin: High Germany
Subject: RE: Origin: High Germany
Well argued, Rob.

As I suggested before, there's an unmistakable stylistic difference between songs we know were created by people who, if not necessarily illiterate, were not creating a commercial product meant to appeal to the masses (even if they belonged to the masses themselves).

One doesn't have to be an expert to detect a completely different artistic sensibility between oral-traditional songs like "The Old Chisholm Trail" or "Goodbye, Old Paint" or "John Henry" or any sea shanty, and mannered compositions like "High Germany," "The Dark-Eyed Sailor," and "The Flying Cloud." No cheap printing of "The Flying Cloud" is known, but its style places it squarely in that tradition. Even if it never circulated in print or writing, its author (and I use the word advisedly) was influenced unquestionably by elite conventions (just consider the phrase, "in sorrow to repine") - and "The Flying Cloud" is one of the less sentimentally expressed 19th C. ballads. And that would be true no matter how much oral folklore he knew.

Overwhelmingly oral-traditional genres like superstitions, traditional tales, melodies, jokes, proverbs, and the like are far easier to remember, repeat, and elaborate with no help from print. The tales obviously come closest to the ballads, but how many unsatisfyingly brief versions of a Jack tale must have been told for every outstanding one? More to the point, except for a few requisite mannerisms and a unifying structure, how many folktales rely as heavily on flowery language as do so many 18th C. broadsides? Flowery language itself ("euphuism") seems to have been a fashionable development of the 16th-17th C. An unusually dedicated non-literate person might have mastered the style - with the proper set of unusual opportunities - but how far would his or her composition have been likely to travel?

Since we have so little solid information on how specific songs were created, and by whom, all general arguments about origin are based on probability. And the probabilities themselves are also uncertain. Ordinarily one can't show beyond doubt that a particular traditional song was created by a literate or a non-literate or a semi-literate person.

Even so, there's no evidence that I'm aware of that mannered or flowery language in English is a spontaneous "folk" creation employed by the average person. ("The Iliad" and "Beowulf" were created by specialists, and in a very different sort of tradition.) It's hard for me to imagine that mannered or flowery songs weren't based on literate convention, even if in some cases a truly non-literate person of unusual accomplishment actually created the song.