Scansion in the Folk Song


  • Zmaga Kumer



A modern ethnomusicologist should regard nothing he observes when recording, transcribing or exploring the folk tradition as insignificant. For it may happen that something he considers as only of little interest proves to be an important, characteristic feature. One of such phenomena is for instance the scansion of the texts of folk songs. Until now nobody has written widely on this subject. It is mentioned only by D. Holý in his book »Probleme der Entwicklung und des Stils der Volkmusik« (Brno 1969, p. 176) where he says – when dealing with dance songs – that the singers do not scan according to the rules of grammar but sing according to the dance rhythm. In Slovenia there are only a few genuine dance songs. However, the rhythm of melody is even in narrative songs of such importance that, if necessary, the singers sacrifice, the word stress to it. The first Slovene ethnologists considered the folk songs only as a literary art and took no notice of the melodies. Later recorders of the melodies paid attention primarily to the tune of the song. If the text was dictated to them they only seldom took heed of its harmony with the melody, let alone paying attention to the scansion. Only when transcribing from tape, writing the melody and text of each stanza directly one under the other, can we observe how the folk singers divide the syllables. This phenomenon is interesting, but it is not yet sufficiently explored. Until now it was found that the folk singers do not always scan according to the principles of singing, nor according to the rules of grammer, and that one and the same word is not necessarily scanned the same way twice. They often end a syllable with a consonant, divide a consonant group, which we usually write together or combine neighbouring syllables in a diphtong or leave together syllables which are difficult to pronounce etc. An exact marking of scansion is not an end to itself, but rather a good means to find out the rhythm of the verse and its relation to the rhythm of the melody. In this way our attention is also drawn to he rhythmic form of prose speech which is still a blank chapter of Slovene dialectology. This short article acts as a kind of warning that we still have a great number of problems to explore, before we succeed in finding out the principles which govern our folk song and our everyday speech.


Download data is not yet available.



How to Cite

Kumer, Z. (1970). Scansion in the Folk Song. Musicological Annual, 6(1), 89–98.