Diction and Tradition: Questions of Hermeneutic Scale in Oral Epic Studies

Oral epic research requires the mastery of numerous interpretive techniques and methods, some of which may imply highly different perspectives: the analysis of a region’s corpus of story patterns, for example, will require methods different than those used for the musicometrical aspects of the epic singing language. Is there a theoretical question of interpretive scale here? Are we justified in moving from microlevels of diction and linguistic behavior to explanations for decades-long behavior in narrative and performance? Are the same kinds of arguments that apply to linguistic change justified for tradition variation and change? These problems are acute in the study of the oral epics of the former Yugoslavia, and I will give examples. I begin with the analysis of a case where an obscure song in Serbocroatian oral epic has been said to reveal an archaic layer of myth and continue with the debate over the oft-claimed Indo-European origin for the Serbocroatian “long line” verse form. Throughout, the concern is both methodological and theoretical: do our intepretive vantage points shift with respect to hermeneutic scalarity and if so, what are the effects for the analysis and the conclusions drawn?

     Keywords:Aaron Tate