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Genetic Tracing of Folk Origins

JohnInKansas 14 Nov 13 - 01:22 PM
Desert Dancer 14 Nov 13 - 05:52 PM
JohnInKansas 14 Nov 13 - 07:37 PM
Lighter 14 Nov 13 - 07:39 PM
GUEST,Fred McCormick 15 Nov 13 - 12:14 PM
Lighter 15 Nov 13 - 05:31 PM
GUEST,Fred McCormick 16 Nov 13 - 06:33 AM
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Subject: Genetic Tracing of Folk Origins
From: JohnInKansas
Date: 14 Nov 13 - 01:22 PM

Two recent reports have suggested a "new method" for tracing the origins and migrations of cultural characteristics.

The first report applied "genetic lineage analyses" in an attempt to determine the origins of the "Little Red Riding Hood" tale, and concluded that existing theories that the western european versions derived from older oriental stories were bassackward, and that the story originated in european traditions and then migrated to Asia.

The "genetic lineage" method has been used to study "how similarities in DNA" are linked in a variety of places. The "Little Red" analysis applied the same method to "how similarities in story structures" are linked, to determine the "most likely migration paths.

Neither of the articls is particularly long, but posting them together here would be a bit much.

The "Little Red Riding Hood" report is at:

Such deep roots you have: How Little Red Riding Hood's tale evolved
Alan Boyle, Science Editor NBC News. 13 November 2013

"Computer software that's traditionally used to trace evolutionary trees helped a scientist untangle the origins of one of the world's best-known stories — the tale of Little Red Riding Hood — but the end of this story turned out to be anything but traditional. …

"Most folklorists had assumed that Little Red Riding Hood's roots went back to Asia, because the tales told in that region reflect elements of "Little Red Riding Hood" as well as "The Wolf and the Kids." They suggested that the original story made its way westward along the Silk Road, and that different versions diverged along the way.

"My analysis demonstrates that in fact the Chinese version is derived from the European oral traditions, and not vice versa," Tehrani said in a news release. It turns out that "Little Red Riding Hood" and "The Wolf and the Kids" are more closely related to each other than they are to the Asian tales. In biological circles, that's a tip-off that the common ancestor of those two main versions originated in the West, and not in the East."

The second report describes an analysis of "phylogenetic similarities" in folksongs as a method of determining the migrations of the people who know the varous versions of the lore:

Take note: Folk music could track human migrations
Tia Ghose LiveScience
14 November 2013

"Music could be used to track human migration patterns over history, new research suggests.

"That conclusion, described Tuesday in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, came from examining a genetic analysis of indigenous populations in Taiwan along with the people's folk music. Populations with more similar folk music also tended to be more closely related, the researchers found.

"Scientists propose that the Austronesian-speaking people who populate the Pacific, from Papua New Guinea to the Philippines to Hawaii, originally set sail from Taiwan between 10,000 and 6,000 years ago. To trace this migration, researchers have studied the genetics of pigs, coconuts and head lice, as well as archaeological remains and linguistics.

"Though most people in Taiwan today are ethnically Chinese, the island retains a small population of aboriginal people, who are likely descendants of this ancestral Austronesian population.
"Steven Brown, a neuroscientist at McMaster University in Canada, and his colleagues wondered whether music held clues to human migration. …"

This second article does, perhaps show some understanding of folk traditions, in the statement:

"It's becoming increasingly hard to pin down what folk means — the idea that it equates with authentic and untainted is really a romantic and untenable one," Tan told LiveScience."

Both articles are fairly brief, but worth a look. The "math(s)" and the programs used in the application of these "methods of tracing" lineages are probably a little outside the interest range of those who just want to know "who wrote that song," but if the method proves useful it may be used for additional researches and it might be helpful for some here to be aware of how it's done when more "results" are offered.

John


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Subject: RE: Genetic Tracing of Folk Origins
From: Desert Dancer
Date: 14 Nov 13 - 05:52 PM

Interesting. Thanks for the links.

~ Becky in Long Beach


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Subject: RE: Genetic Tracing of Folk Origins
From: JohnInKansas
Date: 14 Nov 13 - 07:37 PM

There's two sides to the application of well-known methods to new subjects:

1. Will it work on the new stuff.

2. If it doesn't, how sure are we that it was working on the old stuff?

One plot of "linkages" in the first report looks like someone dragged a porcupine backwards through a hole that wasn't quite big enough.

(I'm sure it makes sense to the people who've had a little practice with such stuff, but I'm not one of their "in" group so far.)

John


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Subject: RE: Genetic Tracing of Folk Origins
From: Lighter
Date: 14 Nov 13 - 07:39 PM

> more closely related to each other than they are to the Asian tales. In biological circles, that's a tip-off...

Interesting results concerning "Little Red," but except for the computers and the DNA lingo, the method sounds no different from the kind of morphological analysis of "motifs" that folklorists have been doing for a hundred years.

As for the music research, I have to doubt that "music" will be "used to track human migration patterns" since the genetic evidence is more direct, more objective, and more reliable. If, for example, I wanted to know where Kansans came from, I think I'd check their DNA rather than their tastes in music.

Thanks for the links.


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Subject: RE: Genetic Tracing of Folk Origins
From: GUEST,Fred McCormick
Date: 15 Nov 13 - 12:14 PM

Actually it's not true that folklorists have been using morphological analysis for a hundred years. The practice was discredited several decades ago, partly on account of unreliabilty and partly because it was impossible to rule out bias on the part of the analyist. As one pundit put it, "it's amazing to see how many so called 'objective analyses lead the reader right back to the analyst's country of origin".

But mostly the method ran out of steam simply because of its lack of utility. To put it another way, people don't tell folktales or sing folksongs because the tales or songs originated in Asia or Europe or anywhere else. They tell folktales and sing folksongs because they find something in the tale or song which makes it worth singing or saying.


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Subject: RE: Genetic Tracing of Folk Origins
From: Lighter
Date: 15 Nov 13 - 05:31 PM

But Fred, in that case the issue is whether the use of computers can improve and revive the old method.

Since humans have to program the machines, the answer may well be "no" or "not by much." My point was that there doesn't seem to be anything theoretically new here.

Also, I doubt that Propp or Thompson would have insisted that a son or story was popular just *because* it originated in some specific place. But if that place could be identified and was far enough away in the days before trains, planes, and automobiles, that itself would be interest, if not fundamentally significant - as it might have seemed to an earlier generation.

It's much like etymology. Does it matter to us today that the word "fool" (a frequent example) derives from a Latin word for "bellows"?

Presumably not, except as a point of interest. The value of computerized tracing of traditions will have to stand or fall on the quality and interest of the work.


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Subject: RE: Genetic Tracing of Folk Origins
From: GUEST,Fred McCormick
Date: 16 Nov 13 - 06:33 AM

Precisely. I agree that use of computers might guarantee a higher standard of accuracy, although since the original teller of the story will have been dead for hundreds, if not thousands of years, how would we know?

The point is not just whether morphological analysis, computer aided or no, produces accurate results, but whether those results actually tell us anything. A bit like your etymology example in fact.


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