Morphological Mumbling

I decided to focus the paper I am giving at the International Society for the Study of Contemporary Legend a little less than two weeks from today on a group of twenty treasure legends collected in south Louisiana. The legends range in size from a little over one hundred words to a little over a thousand words in length. Of the twenty legends, fourteen focus on the experience of seeking treasure, four focus on how the treasure came to be located where it is, and two include both the seeking and the burying of treasure (one in that order and one in chronological order).

With that distinction aside, the texts are remarkably similar, and since the two kinds of stories above, the stories about seeking treasure and the origin stories, actually appear in two texts, I think it is best to think of the two kinds as really two components in a larger morphology of Louisiana treasure legends.

Since I am trying to develop a morphology, I decided to label tese two larger pieces of the narratives τ and α. Most readers will be familiar with α as the first letter of the Greek alphabet and also a common symbol for origins. A brief search of the interweb suggested that τ is sometimes used to designate experience, and that was good enough for me. All of this is work-in-progress and so I am open to any suggestions: I just needed some stable nomenclature that also didn’t get in my way as I worked on the legends. I originally used A and B, but the letters of the Latin alphabet are typically used for morphological functions … and at least one schema I worked with had capital letters (A and B), then numbers for variants, and then smaller letters for actions within each component. Too much.

For now, τ has the following *functions*, to use Propp’s term, in it:

A – goto location # woods, well, country
B – given interdiction # don’t talk
C – dig for treasure OR do an agricultural task
D – see spirit

As most folklorists, and other readers of Propp, will note, C should probably be split into two functions: one for digging for treasure and one for performing agricultural task. Often, doing the latter actually reveals the treasure — e.g., in the course of plowing, someone comes upon a treasure — but even then the treasure can be lost again, as it would be in those texts where people dig for treasure.

It’s how to represent this material that I find both fascinating and frustrating. I am on the third, or maybe fourth, complete revision of the table holding all this material and thus of the morphology itself. Every time I come across something new, it shifts columns in the table right or left, or sometimes moves a cell right that causes a cascade of failures that usually results in me seeing where a previous analysis had been in error or not complete.

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