Formulaic Language

James Parkhouse (Oxford)


Poetry in early Germanic vernaculars exhibits variations on a metrical form predicated on a pattern of alliterating stressed syllables linking two halves of a line (in contrast to syllabic metres in which scansion requires a fixed number of syllables per line). This gave rise to the phenomenon of recurring alliterative collocations – the repeated combination of alliterating words or word roots within a given poetic corpus. It is likely that such collocations originated as formulae in the Parry/Lord sense – building blocks for extempore composition during performance; however, there is strong evidence that Old Norse poetry was composed deliberatively and memorised for performance. Recurring collocations in Old Norse verse therefore reflect conscious artistic design rather than compositional expediency. I will consider how composers of Old Norse eddic verse exploited the traditional resonances of certain collocations to shape audience understanding of character and plot.


Flaminia Pischedda (Oxford)

Pyromancy was widely practiced in the territory of northeast China since the Neolithic. But it was only in the Bronze Age, during the late Shang period (ca. 1230-1045 BCE), that this practice reached its peak with the introduction of an important innovation: writing. Records of the divinatory act were inscribed on ox scapula and turtle plastrons by the scribes working at the Shang royal court. These records are usually referred to by modern scholars as Oracle Bones Inscriptions (OBI). It is now commonly accepted that at least part of the OBI was recorded after the divination took place; if this assumption is correct, we could then say that the OBI represent the written instantiation of an essentially oral ritual performed by the Shang kings and other members of the royal elite. Furthermore, a "full" inscription presents a formulaic structure which includes the following units: preface, charge, prognostication, and verification. This paper will first propose a definition of formula which takes into consideration the specificity of Old Chinese; it will then analyse the formulaic language of the OBI, showing its development and function within the context of the divinatory ritual.