The spoken web : an ethnography of storytelling in Rannafast, Ireland
Lambert, Kathleen Sheehan
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The transcription, translation and interpretation of Irish conversational narratives should not screen out the musical sound of the speaker's voice. Putting the "skin" on a story is the mark of an interesting conversationalist, the sign of a good storyteller. The rhythmic measures of speech alternating with silences order spoken discourse for the listener, while musical flourishes and tonal colors aid interpretation of meaning and affect in spoken webs of caint--talk, comhra--conversation, or sceal--story. The way the speaker intones the spoken word reveals the point behind a conversation, highlights key messages and aids recall of important information. The way the storyteller puts "flesh" on the "bones" of a story discloses his intention to the listener--ridicule, jest, reproach, amusement, instruction. Despite the importance of the way the spoken word is phrased and orally interpreted in Irish conversational narratives, most research has been based on textual transcriptions. It also has been conducted through the historical geographic lens, so virtually nothing is known about the ways themes and content items are embedded in spoken narrative discourse, how ordinary ways of speaking frame conversational narratives or the way categories of oral discourse shape the form and manner of telling a story in traditional performance events. First, an overview of the influence of the historical geographical method on the study of traditional Irish conversational narrative is presented. Then, the key traditional concept, bealoideas, or "oral instruction," is outlined, followed by description of some of the ways of speaking that frame Irish conversational narratives. Next, the way the ethnic framework shapes categorization of Irish conversational narratives is examined in relation to discourse features, thematic focus, verisimilitude and narrative imagination. Finally, the study raises the necessity of making visible scripts of performance for the study of spoken narratives, outlines some of the compositional strategies used by Irish storytellers in their traditional role as a cultural spokesman for the "'old' people" and concludes with an analysis of the oral discourse and performance style of one example of seansceal or "'old' story" and a brief discussion of some problems of interpretation and translation.
Audio accompanying Kathleen Sheehan Lambert's Ph. D. thesis; recording of Leanbán Chonaill, interpreted by Aodh Ó Duibheanaigh.