Usually the Nenets songs are divided into "epic", "lyric" and "ritual (i.e. shamanistic)" songs, according to the traditional tripartite view in folklore studies (cf. Kupriyanova 1960, 17-19; 1965, 19; Khomich 1966, 315). This analytical division is based on the characteristics of the thematic and structural features in the contents of the song texts. While this division can be broadly applied as an overview of the Nenets song culture, it has some problems, discussed below.
It has to be noted, that Kupriyanova does not discuss her use of the concept of "genre". She only presents them a priori (cf. Kupriyanova 1965, 20). On the other hand she refers to the song genres mainly with the concepts of "type" or "term". Later, however, for example Pushkarëva1 for example differentiates in her folklore research the characteristics of scientific-analytic conceptualization of genres from that of intracultural conceptualization, and their applications among different researchers (Pushkarëva 1990, 81-82).
As such, the implicit views of the Russian scholars about the definition of the concept of genre can be seen as converging with the views of folklore studies in the beginning of our century. Genres were thought as ideal types, which existed categorically, and which were not subject to changes. The living traditions had to be fitted to these categories. The origins of this kind of thinking can be traced to Linnaean views in the natural sciences. On the other hand, the main purpose of this kind of thinking was classification for purposes of organizing and archiving the documented materials. (cf. Ben-Amos 1981, xv-xvi)
In other respects, however, the views of the Russian scholars reflect also evolutionist concepts of genre in human oral culture. While the genres were seen as existing as cultural entities, and representing a categorical stability in the tradition as a whole, their contents were subject to change. This was thought to happen by the transfer of the themes of culturally crucial genres to the more marginal genres. (For example when a myth becomes obsolete, its content may continue its life in children's songs, riddles etc.) On the other hand, a genre could disappear from usage by loss of its social relevance. (cf. Ben-Amos 1981, xxi)
The traditional genre analysis in folklore studies has its point of departure in oral texts, which were seen as unchanging once they were documented. The genre distinctions were seen to emerge from the characteristics of textual content, like the structural features of the theme and content. This situation lasted surprisingly long in folkloristics, as pointed out already by Honko (1967, 3-6). The discussion of the ontological status of the folklore genres is also worth noticing here. Are the genres the analyst discerns, conceptualizes and analyzes fundamentally assumed to be real or only ideal types? This vigorous but inconclusive controversy between conceptual realism and nominalism does not require detailed discussion here. Honko (ibid., 20) has proposed that the solution to this discussion lies in the way the empirical data and the theoretical framework can be put into a fruitful relationship with each other. In other words, the realistic and the nominal conceptualization should not necessarily be regarded as mutually exclusive.
With the Nenets material, for example, I was interested from the beginning to see what kinds of organizational principles - converging or contrasting - there are between the emic terminology and the genre categories formulated and applied by scholars.
In addition, the fundamental assumptions regarding terminology used in the analytical conceptualization, have been extensively discussed in folklore studies beginning with the Grimm brothers (cf. Dundes 1980, 38). According to Honko (1967, 12-16), Bascom2 refers to three basic criteria, with which it is possible to organize a corpus of oral narratives. The first consideration is the form of the text, whether it is uttered in prose or verse form. Second is the definition of the truth status, whether the performer/audience believes the tale to be true or not. Third, the time of the events in the narration should be considered: whether they happened in the mythical or historically definable past, or whether it is irrelevant to date them.
While studying songs, it is worth noticing that the sung text is sometimes a specialised form in itself, suggesting distinctions between genres or subgenres (as in the Nenets lahanako ('fairy tale') compared with syosawei lahanako ('sung fairy tale')). This way, in the study of a song culture, it becomes relevant to distinguish between texts performed in prose narration, verse form narration or sung verse form narration. Theoretically, also a "sung prosaic narration" could also be possible, but there appear to be no actual examples of this, at least in the Nenets material. Perhaps the (partially improvised) drinking songs (see below) come closest to that, but the relationship between singing and the verse form text is so deeply entrenched, that the singer, even improvising in a drunk state, tries to express him/herself in verse form as best as (s)he can.
In itself, the criteria according to which the analyst forms the generic concepts, should manifest some kind of uniformity. Let it be only referred to Honko, for example, who considers it important to include the following points as fundamentals of the terminological analysis preceding the analytic formation of the generic concepts: 1) content; 2) form; 3) style (of performance); 4) structure (of the text); 5) function; 6) the frequency (of the appearance or the actualization); 7) distribution; 8) age; 9) origin. This is not presented here as an exclusive and final list of the features worth consideration, but as a useful illustration for purposes of orientation (1967, 22). Moreover, there are some elements (like the truth status), which should be included in those mentioned above, depending on the specific nature of the material. As far as the available empirical data allow, these points will be examined in this paper.
However, when the texts are created (and recreated) in the performance situation as a genre-specific verbal communication, the genre analysis also has to take into account the analysis of the performance situation and its social contexts, as has been increasingly done during recent decades. Thus, the subject of the genre analysis is no longer merely the documented text, but also the text as performance. When the analytical interest shifts from the analysis of the story to include the story-telling, also the genre analysis has richer potential. The story-telling can be analysed as verbal, social and symbolic situation of interaction, the nature of which is defined in the convergence the verbal text, the competence of the performer and the degree of the participation of the audience. This applies also to the genre analysis of the Nenets songs.
The paradigmatic shift of genre studies from the text or document oriented analysis to the analysis of the performance and context is not new as such. Abrahams (1981, 193), for example, presents such ideas about the social and interactive levels in genre analysis. According to him, the analysis has to be directed to the relationship between the performer and the audience, in clarifying the special strategies that the performer has to master while communicating in a given genre. This kind of performance analysis helps to provide a closer understanding of the emic genre terminology, otherwise left quite obscure.
Abrahams specifically refers to the role of the performer. While the oral tradition is realized particularly in performance, the performer has to be aware - in addition to the material performed - of the appropriate time and place for the performance of a given genre, the traditions of performance and, most of all, the art of the performing. (see Abrahams 1981, 195) This has been quit often the problem of the traditional genre analysis: the contextual structure of the performance and the analysis of the participants engaging in the interactive performance situation have been left out of consideration. The crucial point is that quite often the analysis of the performance and its textual and social elements leads to a better understanding of the generic distinctions. Thus the fundamental motive for genre analysis is not so much the segmentation and organization of the material corpus, as seeing it as the ethnography of communication. This way of thought leads naturally to the study of ethnic or emic systematisation of oral tradition.
Thus, I propose to base my study primarily upon the traditional view of genre in folklore studies, but to complement and supplement this with the notion of genre in terms of performance and interactive communication, where to do so will enable us to enlarge our perspective on the relationship between the Nenets song genres and the emic terminology. At the same time I wish to emphasise specifically musical analysis. As this is relatively under-represented in the study of folklore genres, this emphasis should thus add another level for the understanding not only to Nenets song genres, but to the discussion of genre more generally.
________________________________________ 1Elena Timofeevna Pushkarëva (née Lapsui) is herself a Nenets by nationality. 2Bascom, William 1965. The Forms of Folklore: Prose Narratives. Journal of American Folklore 78. Philadelphia. 3-20.