Convention, Variation and Social Identities Reflected in Song


This presentation will offer a brief introduction to 'multiforms' as compositional units in North Finnic or kalevalaic epic poetry, which I have recently outlined in "Multiformit kalevalamittaisessa epiikassa" ["Multiforms in Kalevalaic Epic"] (2010). The term multiform is used to refer to a verbal compositional system which may be made of individual lexical items, formulae, or constellations of formulae and other compositional strategies. In simplified terms, multiform in kalevalaic epic regularly seems like a crystallized sequence of lines which is regularly used to represent a unit of content such as an image, object, action, event or character.

The relationship between multiforms as meaning-bearing units will be briefly introduced. An example of a multiform will be taken from Kilpalaulanta, which offers examples distributed across tradition areas from Ingria to Viena. The multiform addressed is used to represent the collision of the sleighs of Väinämöinen and Joukahainen. This example will show that in some cases the multiform as a compositional system cannot be reduced to a simple collocation of formulae. The paper will look at different forms taken by the multiform in different regions. Finally, the paper will argue that in areas where multiple forms of the same multiform were clearly maintained in close contact and proximity (such as Viena Karelia), singers would chose one form of the multiform over another, with the implication that this choice was meaningful – the choice of the multiform functioned to identify the singer with other singers who used the same multiform, and that a multiform constituted one of an accumulating set of metonymic identity markers which functioned to construct the singer's identity in relation to other singers within the community and/or across communities.