The term ecotype was first introduced to the field of folkloristics by Carl Wilhelm von Sydow (1878–1952), who proposed the idea that folktales develop from base forms due to transformations triggered by specific environmental conditions before eventually stabilising within cultural districts. The general analogy was popular amongst folklorists who readily invoked the concept to deconstruct a wide range of genres including rhyming couplets, folk ballads, folktales, fairy-tales, personal narratives, legends and urban legends. It is unfortunate, however, that ecotypes have largely been ignored by scholars working in the fields of paremiology, especially when one considers not only the established inter-relationships between proverbial material and other folkoristic genres, but also the recent pioneering cross-cultural analyses of idiomatic expressions in European languages and beyond.
This paper will provide a template for the analysis of folk expressions by examining the life history of an Irish ecotype, tied stones and loose dogs. It will show that folk expressions are a fertile area of research that can be deconstructed using literary and historical research based on the historic-geographic method. At the heart of this template, I argue, is the need to read texts within their contemporary cultural, historical and socio-economic frameworks to decode meanings according to instantiation, the motivations for their use, and the question of agency in folk groups. By collecting, examining and construing inter-relations between folkloristic texts across a range of cultural products – folklore collections, popular culture periodicals and political discourse – and by informed cultural contextualisation of its instantiations, we can re-construct the extensive cultural underpinnings that inform a range of everyday folk expressions.
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