Interdisciplinary Workshop: Folk and Fairy Tales Digital

, 8:30 am to

Where? At the historical building of the Göttingen State and University Libray, Papendiek 14 (lecture room on the first floor).

For better planning, please be so kind and register for the event by sending an email to ed.negnitteog-inu.duts@hcannap.aksiznarf.




8:30-8:45 Greetings and Introduction


Folktale Phylogenetics: Modelling the Evolution of Oral Traditions

Dr Jamie Tehrani, Durham University

Folktales, like genes and languages, are products of "descent with modification": stories get passed on from generation to generation, mutate, and eventually diversify into distinct but related lineages. In this talk I will discuss how the evolution of folktale traditions can be modelled using techniques that were developed in biological systematics and population genetics. I will also consider the extent to which the descent histories of folk traditions can be linked to population histories, using data from the Aarne Thomson Uther Index of international tale types together with language phylogenies and whole-genome sequences. These analyses suggest intriguing but complex historical relationships between the spread of international folktales, linguistic diversity and human migrations, some of which can be traced back to prehistoric times.



Myths and Fairy Tales as Stoffe and a Methodological Approach for the Reconstruction of Stoff Variants
Dr. Christian Zgoll, Georg-August Universität, Göttingen

The paper is about the problem of distinction between literary genres and Stoff types and the development of a method for analysing variants of specific Stoffe. Myths and fairy tales serve as examples for two different Stoff types, which can be separated due to the observation of certain „family resemblances“ (Wittgenstein). Variants of a myth (or a fairy tale) are not identical with concrete manifestations of these variants in a specific medium like a text or an image; the Stoff variants have to be reconstructed from these manifestations with the help of a standardized method, developed in the „Research Group 2064 STRATA – Stratification Analyses of Mythical Narratives (Stoffe) and Texts in Ancient Cultures“ (Universität Göttingen).


Coffe break



Schema und Spiel: Hans Christian Andersen und das ‚Volksmärchen‘

Prof. Dr. Heinrich Detering, Georg-August Universität Göttingen

Der weltliterarische Siegeszug von Hans Christian Andersens ‚Märchen und Geschichten‘ beginnt mit sehr freien Bearbeitungen von Stoffen und Erzählverfahren des ‚Volksmärchens‘. Mit dessen narrativen Schemata hat Andersen sich immer wieder in so witziger und kreativer Weise beschäftigt, dass an einigen dieser Experimente die Unterschiede zwischen ‚Volks-‘ und ‚Kunstmärchen‘ exemplarisch erörtert werden können. Im Mittelpunkt des Vortrags stehen Andersens ‚Das Feuerzeug‘ und ‚Hans Tolpatsch‘.



Multilingual Ontologies for the Representation and Instantiation of Annotation Schemes for Folk Tales

Thierry Declerck, DFKI Saarbrücken

In this talk I will review some of the work we have been pursuing at DFKI and University of Saarland, in cooperation with the past projects D-SPIN (, the NWO project AMICUS ( and more recently with the "Digital Breadcrumbs of Brothers Grimm" project that was conducted at the Göttingen Centre for Digital Humanities.

I present the development and use of (multilingual) ontologies for encoding well-known classification and indexation systems for folk tales, as well as elements supporting the empirical, formal or structural analysis of such tales. I will show how an ontological framework can effectively support the cross-linking and integration of those different approaches to the treatment of folk tales, like the "Motif-Index of folk-literature" (Stith Thompson, 1955-1958), the "Aarne-Thompson-Uther Classification of Folk Tales" (Hans-Joerg Uther, 2004) and the "Morphology of the Folktale" (Vladimir Propp, 1928, revised English edition, 1968).

But ontologies are not only appropriated for encoding, cross-linking and merging such theories, they are also offering excellent means for encoding annotations that conform to such theories, and those annotations can also be optimally combined with other types of annotations, for example linguistic or world-knowledge annotations, and so lead to practical application in the broader field of folkloristics.


12:45-13:15–Lunch Break



Aspects of folk narrative performance. The case of the Mwera (Tanzania)

Dr. Uta Reuster-Jahn, Universität Hamburg


The oral performance of folk narratives in Africa is a complex cultural form and event. Here, a story is not just told but brought to life in the imagination of the performer and her or his audience. This is achieved through various verbal as well as non-verbal means. In my presentation, I will concentrate on story telling performances of the Mwera in Tanzania which I recorded in the 1980s and 90s. In their story telling performances, the Mwera use a number of theatrical techniques, such as direct dialogues, voice modulation, gestures, song and body movements. In addition, ideophones are used to represent events or courses of events in a very immediate way. Another aspect of the oral story telling performance of the Mwera is the communicative interaction between performer and audience, who interact in a number of roles in order to achieve a story that is acceptable within the cultural and social framework.



Cultural entrenchment of folktales is encoded in language

Dr. Folgert Karsdorp, Meertens Insitute Amsterdam

In this talk, I explore the understudied effects of growing cultural entrenchment on the form of stories with a long reproduction history. Drawing on insight from literary theory, theoretical linguistics, and cultural evolution theory, I argue that changes in the cultural entrenchment of fairy tales and folk stories are reflected in (small) structural ‘mutations’ in the story. More specifically, I aim to show that with the increasing familiarity of “Little Red Riding Hood”, its story frame and characters have gradually become part of the author and audience’s shared world knowledge, which is encoded in the type of linguistic devices used to introduce the characters. To this end, I performed a Bayesian Logistic Regression analysis (e.g. Hoffman and Gelman 2014) on a diachronic collection (late 18th century - 2015) of the world’s most iconic fairy tale, using automatically generated time estimations for a subset of undated reproductions in the story lineage (De Jong et al. 2005; Bamman et al. 2017) and including these estimates and approximated measurement error in the statistical model (Blackwell et al. 2017). Results show that there is indeed a marked increase of linguistic markers that indicate that the characters are already know or “accessible” to the audience. This development reflects the author’s changing intuitions and beliefs about the familiarity of the story, and, indirectly, the changing expectations of the story’s audience regarding the appearance of certain characters in the story frame. Notably, this study is the first to quantitatively describe the diachronic development of a story (and the concepts associated with it) into the realm of ‘shared knowledge’, showing that it is a slow and gradual process. The results help refine our understanding of cultural evolution as well as the workings of speaker-addressee dynamics. Conceptualizing the observed linguistic mutations as an instance of guided variation (Boyd and Richerson 1985), I argue that the increase of definite first mentions as a function of cultural entrenchment can be treated as an example of variation guided by pragmatic principles such as Grice’s (1975) Maxim of Quantity, making character introductions as informative as (and not more informative than) required.



Summary and Wrap-Up