Identification and Function of Formulae

Stephen Coleman (Westminster Theological Seminary)

In the wake of Milman Parry’s and Albert Lord’s groundbreaking discovery of oral composition in Homeric epics, biblical scholars analyzed the formulaic language of the biblical psalms with a view toward establishing a similar compositional function. This approach met with little success. Among the many recent refinements to the Oral-Formulaic theory is the distinction between oral composition and oral conception, a distinction which allows for identifying oral features of a “text” which do not necessarily reflect composition in performance. The goal of this article is two-fold. First this article proposes a new model for identifying oral formulas based on the theory of prototypical categorization developed within the field of cognitive sciences, particularly cognitive linguistics. Second, this article argues that the psalmic oral formulas are best understood as linguistic registers which evoke a performance arena, a feature of orally derived literature described most extensively by John Miles Foley.

Martina Astrid Rodda (Oxford)

My doctoral work focuses on quantitative analysis of the behaviour of recurring expressions (noun and verb phrases) in archaic Greek epic poetry. While my work ultimately seeks to describe the behaviour of formulae, that is, recurring phrases that are processed as units on some level for the purpose of oral composition and performance, I tend to adopt a fairly theory-agnostic approach: it is fairly clear to me that different kinds of phrases are employed as formulae in early Greek epic, and my goal is to reach an accurate quantitative representation of their behaviour rather than to start from a discussion of whether they count as “formulae”. I am, therefore, very open to discussing different views of formularity that go beyond the Greek tradition. I can also present on some of my current results: among other things, my data show that the behaviour of recurring set phrases in archaic Greek epic is measurably different from both set phrases in non-epic material and recurring expressions in later Greek epic (Hellenistic poetry in particular), something that is of interest to people wanting to characterise formularity in any tradition.