The Pragmatic Recontextualization of Oral Tradition in Central Asia

Author: Eva-Marie Dubuisson (Nazarbayev University, Kazakhstan)
Speaker: Eva-Marie Dubuisson
Topic: Textualization, Contextualization, Entextualization
The (SCOPUS / ISI) SOAS GLOCAL CALA 2020 General Session


Across Eurasia, a wide variety of long-standing oral traditions including reflect a shared cultural and historical geography of the region. These traditions, including many forms of oral and epic poetry as well as music and song, provide an important source of knowledge about the genealogies and life-ways of Inner Eurasian populations. The power demonstrated by these traditions lies precisely in their longevity – the ability to be transmitted and to stay culturally relevant. In this paper presentation I will focus on the oral traditions of aitys (improvisational poetry or verbal dueling), and bata (the spoken blessings of the ancestors) among Kazakhs in Kazakhstan today. In addition to traditional spaces of articulation and performance – such as on stage, in the home, or at life-cycle events – in which new contexts of social media, text, and public life may these oral traditions be found? How do contemporary audiences encounter, for example, lines from epic or improvisational poems, or the blessing words of their ancestors? How do oral traditions continue to have not only relevance, but also the power to influence society today?

Within and beyond the idea of ‘culture,’ in this project I suggest that study of oral tradition can also enrich our understanding of social ‘texts’ (relative semiotic fixity, cf Bakhtin 1982; Briggs and Bauman 1992; Silverstein and Urban 1986), as well as the ways in which that generic form is repeated, carried, and changed or expanded throughout a multitude of persons, circumstances, and linguistic, social, and media environments over time. Every performance – as well as each performance tradition as a whole – carries with it the ability to be socially scripted in this manner, and when the script moves from one context to another, it may carry or obtain the weight of social authority (see Park and Bucholtz 2009), and it may also be modified, changed, or amplified in different symbolic ways in a new social discourse or environment.

Thus at a theoretical level, in this ethnography of language and culture, I consider specifically the pragmatic recontextualization of oral tradition: what voices and participant frameworks are present or represented in new contexts of utterance, what new dialogic and intertextual possibilities are created for these words in the world? How can oral traditions be creatively carried through new generations, and continue to impact and change the social and historical environments of which they are part?

Keywords: Oral tradition, pragmatics, culture, recontextualization, intertextuality, poetry, performance, Central Asia, Kazakhstan, Kazakh