Vol. 1, No. 4

Folklorists regard as folk culture, or folklife, all knowledge and skills that we acquire through "oral tradition and customary example." The key words are tradition and customary. They call attention to the depth of historical circulation or use that has perpetuated any one aspect of folklife. That is, what is folk is never created from nothing, but has been around for some time, transmitted from one person to another or, more usually, from one generation to another. Folk items or practices resemble those that we have observed before, although often with interesting variations since they are informally transmitted and re-created and are therefore not fixed in form.

In this issue:

  • 3 read more Amish Joking

    Amish Joking

    by Ervin Beck

    The Amish jokes presented here by Ervin Beck represent folklore that has been passed on by oral tradition, that is, from person to person in informal settings, usually in small groups, by word of mouth. Most of these jokes had not been written down until they were transcribed from tape recordings for this essay. Some of the jokes can be documented as having been in circulation for hundreds of years. Before they were applied to Amish people, some of the items have circulated in other groups (who tell them about non-Amish ethnic groups) or as general moron jokes . The meanings of the jokes can be best understood in the context of their actual oral telling in intimate groups; but here they are analyzed in terms of the larger Mennonite culture that tends to perpetuate—and enjoy—such stereotyping of a rival cultural group. The jokes illustrate folklorists’ claims that the predominant folk narrative forms circulating in contemporary American culture are short joking stories and legends, i.e., stories believed to be true.

  • 2 read more “Hurry Back!”

    “Hurry Back!”

    by Vi Dutcher

    Letter-writing, and specifically the circle letter, as presented in the essay by Vi Dutcher, qualifies as folk expression, even though it is not an oral genre. But it is customary in that it is a written genre and custom that has been passed on over many years, and it is learned informally from the example of other members of the community—not from formal instruction in a classroom or office, as is the case with most formal composition today. Circle letters are practiced in North America mainly by women, of various social levels and ethnicities, but Vi analyzes the circle letter's culturally specific practice and meaning in an Old Order Amish community.

  • 0 read more Three Poems

    Three Poems

    by Shari Miller Wagner

    Shari Miller Wagner’s poems illustrate how the sphere of folk culture interacts with academic culture, where poetry-writing, with its origins in academic classrooms, is highly valued. Shari’s forms are sophisticated, from an academic point of view, but her subject is Mennonite and Amish folk culture. Four-part unaccompanied hymn-singing, home cooking, family legends and recreation, rural chores: all are re-created--and perhaps preserved--by being given artistic shape for a new, more cosmopolitan audience. The folk poets among us—such as cowboy poets and street rappers—do the opposite when they include academic and popular/mass culture subject matter in their folk poetry forms. Shari’s many other poems on interesting places in Indiana and on quirky Hoosiers illustrate her longstanding personal interest in folk culture wherever it is found.