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Locked between formulas: creativity in oral and transitional poetic texts

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - ORFORCREA (Locked between formulas: creativity in oral and transitional poetic texts)

Reporting period: 2017-08-01 to 2019-07-31

The human mind is capable of creativity and innovation unparalleled by any other species. At the same time, human beings elaborate and preserve complex and highly-stable traditions, transmitting them over very long time spans by means of the spoken word and through a variety of technologies, such as writing. How does human cognition give rise to such complex manifestations as oral poetic performance, and how are they affected by the introduction of writing? ORFORCREA investigated the cognitive basis of creativity in verbal art, examining its interplay with both oral tradition and literacy.

At a more general level, ORFORCREA aimed to contribute to establishing the new interdisciplinary field of cognitive oral poetics. At the risk of jumping ahead, I will say that this task has been fully achieved: my research became the only one among other existing publications in the field that builds on living traditions and uses only empirical data, something that is much needed not only in cognitive poetics but also in cognitive linguistics in general.

In order to tackle this issue, the following objectives were defined:
(1)To model the main form-meaning pairing procedures underlying formulaic patterns in poetic transitional texts from oral traditions.
(2)To draw the main theoretical and methodological implications for the general study of language and cognition, in particular for construction grammar, frame semantics, and conceptual scripts and schemas.
(3)To understand the interplay of innovation and tradition in the linguistic usage evidenced by transitional texts. In particular, what are the cross-cultural creative strategies of oral singers for coining novel expressions, based on traditional formulas or on linguistic materials from outside the tradition?
(4)To establish the semantic, functional, and cognitive differences in the frequency and use of formulaic language, between transitional texts and fully-oral texts as well as within different degrees in the use of written techniques in transitional texts.
(5) To develop new methods for studying oral traditions, especially at their transitional stage: the ER will combine combining approaches and techniques from literary studies, cognitive linguistics and corpus linguistics.
(6) To analyze how factors other than oral/written produce variation in traditional formulaic language use: genre requirements, performance content&style, or cultural differences.

Importance for society: ORFORCREA is a theoretical project that does not have an obvious and direct impact on the society. However, in the course of implementing my project, I was able to achieve results that are of value to society: for instance, through organising dissemination events I demonstrated to the society (and also research community) the importance of safeguarding our cultural heritage both for societal and research needs. In addition, through the same dissemination events I was also able to talk to general public (including schoolchildren) about the meaning of creativity, the role it plays in our lives, as well as how creativity is linked to orality and literacy.
During my fellowship, I organized and participated and participated in various seminars and workshops. For instance, in November of 2017 I participated in the seminar organised by the National Archive of Morocco, where I presented my project and assisted the Moroccan side in preparing a portfolio on the oral tradition of the Jbala, which was then submitted to UNESCO with the purpose of including this tradition in the list of Intangible Cultural Heritage;

I went to 5 field work sessions in total, during which I collected data from the Moroccan (in 2018) and Socotri informants (in 2018 and 2019). During these sessions I worked with oral and literate artists and poets. I was, therefore, able to make audio and video records of them performing their poetry and songs live and then dictating their poetic texts to me. In addition, I collected a database of poetic texts created with the help of writing (i.e. transitional texts). Furthermore, I also interviewed poets, musicians and their audience. In the course of interviews I was able to clarify linguistic technicalities, as well as better understand the metaphorical language used by poets, the role of music and performance in general, and the the audience plays in the process of creation and performing. The materials obtained during these sessions have enabled me to conduct my research and, therefore, achieve my project’s objectives. As a result, I collected databases of oral and transitional texts covering 2 living traditions (Moroccan and Socotri) and 1 extinct (Basque).

In collaboration with the City council of Pamplona and Mintzola (Basque cultural foundation) ORFORCREA organised an outreach event for both researchers and general public. The event consisted of two parts: the first one was session of poetic duelling between a Basque and a Moroccan oral poets, the second one - a round table, during which both researchers and general public could interact with each other and the poets;

Together with members of GRADUN, the research group I am affiliated with, we organised a conference on transitional texts. The outcomes of this conference will be published as a special issue of RILCE, a 1st quartile philological journal published by the University of Navarra;
Toward the end of the two year time span that I spent working on my project, I was able to achieve the following results:

(1) as a result of conducting five sessions of field work I: (a) recorded poetry performed live; (b) recorded poetry being dictated; (c) collected written poetic texts; (d) worked closely with the poets and their audience in order to clarify linguistic technicalities, better understand the role of performance and music, and study the role of interaction between poet and his audience. These unique materials obtained directly from the bearers of living traditions allowed me to conduct truly empirical research.

(2) elaborated a new analytical methodology, that integrated elements from literary, anthropological, general linguistic and cognitive approaches;

(3) tested approaches, earlier suggested by other researchers, working in the field of cognitive poetics;

(4) contributed to better understanding of transitional phase in between oral and written texts;

(5) demonstrated possible manifestations of creativity in oral and transitional texts through the lens of frame, scripts and formula.

(6) through comparative analysis demonstrated that my approach is valid across cultures.

Potential impacts and the wider societal implications of the Project:
As mentioned above, the theoretical nature of my project ORFORCREA does not allow for achieving any direct economical impact. However, my project has demonstrated to the society and also research community the importance of safeguarding our cultural heritage both for societal and research needs. This has been done through dissemination events. In the course of the duration of ORFORCREA I was able to disseminate my project not only in Europe but also in Morocco - the country whose oral tradition I used extensively.

In addition, although this was not the aim of ORFORCREA, my project demonstrated the importance of preserving and studying oral cultural heritage from scholarly viewpoint through organising dissemination event with the City council of Pamplona and collaborating with the National Archives of Morocco.
sample of transitional texts I collected during my fieldwork in Morocco in 2018
During fieldwork session with the Jebli poet Mohamed Gandar
Fieldwork session with Socotri informants. Moscow 2018
Poster designed for the dissemination event (Basque-Moroccan poetic duelling)
Screenshot of the digital journal published by the school where I did my outreach activity
During a fieldwork session with the Jebli poet Abdelmalek al-Andaloussi and his group. Tangier, 2018
screenshot of the news piece produced by the ICS CommUnit
dissemination event: Moroccan-Basque poetic duelling. Pamplona 2018
Dissemination article I wrote for Moroccan audience in co-authorship with J. Zunz
Workshop in Rabat dedicated to preparation of portfolio for UNESCO. November 2017