Aspects of traditional verbal control : threats and threatening figures in Newfoundland folklore

Widdowson, J. D. A. (John David Allison) (1972) Aspects of traditional verbal control : threats and threatening figures in Newfoundland folklore. Doctoral (PhD) thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland.

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Abstract

Adults in many different cultures employ certain traditional verbal devices to control the behaviour of children. These verbal controls, which frequently take the form of threats implying punishment or retribution, have existed at least since the days of ancient Greece and are still widely. From the many entities which are regarded as frightening, each culture selects certain figures as focal points in the threats. These figures and the linguistic structures which incorporate them exist in bewildering variety in each culture. Both the threats and the figures, however, exhibit certain typical structural and semantic features which reflect the social context in which they are used. The threats may be classified into a small number of fundamental structural categories which are expressed in a myriad different ways, including the potentially infinite variation of the central threatening figure. The figures themselves include not only supernatural or invented entities but also living people, animals and inanimate objects. -- A survey of traditional verbal controls in Newfoundland in the five-year period 1963-1968 reveals something of the wealth of such usages in the Province and reflects similar findings in other parts of the English-speaking world and beyond. The wealth of data contributed in both manuscript and tape-recorded form to the Memorial University of Newfoundland Folklore and Language Archive not only illustrates the considerable range and linguistic variety of such structures but also shows that they have an important functional role. Their primary function is to control unacceptable behaviour, but they are also used for such specific purposes as the protection of the child from the hazards of his environment. Further, they serve as a release mechanism through which adults give vent to their anger and frustration, and they act as a substitute for physical punishment. -- While supernatural and invented threatening figures continue to be used in Newfoundland, as in other parts of the western world, belief in them is declining. Alongside them, a number of living people, especially those who have authority or who are abnormal in some other way, appear very frequently in threats and their use is apparently increasing. Society endows them with the aura of supernatural beings and makes them appear more fearsome in their threatening role. The considerable variety of figures used makes it difficult to evolve a comprehensive typology, but in itself indicates something of the richness of these traditional usages in Newfoundland and elsewhere. This study therefore makes available a substantial body of data which demonstrates the linguistic, semantic and functional complexity of the verbal controls and provides a basis for alternative interpretations of the material.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral (PhD))
URI: http://research.library.mun.ca/id/eprint/5512
Item ID: 5512
Additional Information: Bibliography: v. 2, leaves 562-591.
Department(s): Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of > Folklore
Date: 1972
Date Type: Submission
Geographic Location: Canada--Newfoundland and Labrador
Library of Congress Subject Heading: Folklore and children; Folklore--Newfoundland and Labrador

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