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Formulaic Diction and the Common Origins of Romance Lyric Traditions

Author(s): James T. Monroe

Source: Hispanic Review, Vol. 43, No. 4 (Autumn, 1975), pp. 341-350
Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/472433 .
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THE theories of Milman Parry and Albert B. Lord concerning
the oral-formulaic nature of much pre-modern epic literature
have profoundly altered our understanding of ancient and medieval epic verse in many languages.' Only recently, however,
has this theory been applied with promising results to certain
non-epic poetic traditions.2 These investigations have shown that
* This article is the first of a series studying the relations between Romance
and Arabic love poetry. See also: "Studies on the Uargas: The Arabic and the
Romance Uargas," Viator (in press), and "Estudios sobre las jargas: Las jarias
y la poesia amorosapopular norafricana,"NRFH (in press).
1Milman Parry, The Making of Homeric Verse: The CollectedPapers of
Milman Parry, ed. Adam Parry (Oxford, 1971); Albert B. Lord, The Singer
of Tales (Cambridge, Mass., 1964). For a listing of work done applying this
theory to literatures other than Greek, see James T. Monroe, "Oral Composition in Pre-Islamic Poetry," JAL, 4 (1972), 9, n. 2. A more recent survey is
that of A. B. Lord, "Perspectives on Recent Work in Oral Literature," FMLS,
10 (1974), 188-210.
2Wang, Ching-Hsein, "Shih Ching: Formulaic Language and Mode of
Creation" (Diss. University of California [Berkeley] 1971); James H. Jones,
"Commonplace and Memorization in the Oral Tradition of the English and
Scottish Popular Ballads," JAF, 74 (1961), 91-113; James Ross, "Formulaic
Composition in Gaelic Oral Literature," MPh, 57 (1959), 1-12; Robert Culley,
Oral Formulaic Language in the Biblical Psalms (Toronto, 1967); William
Whallon, "Formulaic Poetry in the Old Testament," CL, 15 (1963), 1-14;
"Old Testament Poetry and Heroic Epic," CL, 18 (1966), 113-31; Bruce A.
Beatie, "Oral-TraditionalCompositionin the Spanish Romanceroof the Sixteenth
Century," JFI, 1 (1964), 92-113; Ruth H. Webber, FormulisticDiction in the
Spanish Ballad, UCPMPh, No. 34, Pt. 2, 175-278; Murray B. Emeneau, "Oral
Poets of South India: The Todas," JAF, 62 (1958), 312-24; Murray B. Emeneau,
"Style and Meaning in an Oral Literature," Language, 62 (1966), 323-45;
Murray B. Emeneau, Toda Songs (Oxford, 1971); James T. Monroe "Oral,
Composition . . . ," 1-53; Michael Zwettler, The Oral Tradition of Classical

Arabic Poetry: Its Characterand Implications (Diss. University of California

[Berkeley] 1972).

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James T. Monroe

HB, 43 (1975)

even in short compositions arising from a traditional milieu, formulas, textual instability, and composition according to set traditional themes and motifs all occur with sufficient frequency to
warrant our labelling such poems oral. Nevertheless, the formulaic approach has not yet been applied to the popular medieval
Romance love lyric.
Here we are faced with a difficulty inherent in the texts that
have survived; one that has been felt keenly by most scholars
who have studied the popular lyric, namely the fact that it is
often difficult, if not impossible, to distinguish between authentically oral poetry of that genre, and the literate pastiches composed in imitation of it by learned poets. Furthermore, the
brevity of the texts leads to unsatisfactory results when an attempt is made to compile statistical information about their
formulaic density following the procedures outlined by Parry and
Lord. Despite this difficulty, however, the verbal repetitions
found in Galician canciones de amigo, Castilian villancicos, Mozarabic haryas, and Old French refrains, are often quite striking,
whether they be considered fully formulaic or not. At the same
time, composition according to fixed themes is characteristic of
the whole corpus. Therefore, leaving aside for the moment the
question of its orality, it may be accurately described as traditional in style.
Scholarly consensus regarding the four poetic traditions mentioned above would seem to indicate the existence of an authentic
popular or folk lyric dealing with love and expressing the latter
both from the masculine and the feminine viewpoint. Later, and
at different periods in the history of Galician, Castilian, FrancoProvengal, Arabic, and Hebrew literature, learned poets began
to imitate the popular tradition in different ways; either by borrowing themes that were popular, or by adopting popular prosodic
forms in learned poetry. At times the learned pastiche is so
cleverly contrived that it is impossible to detect the forgery,
while at others, the imitation is obvious. For the purposes of
the present article, therefore, it can be safely assumed that underlying the four traditions there is a substratum of popular poetry
that may not in all instances have survived in its purest form,
but which is reflected to some extent in later and learned imitations.
This assumption can be supported by previous observations
made by Romance scholars, the ultimate implications of which

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The CommonOrigins of Romance Lyric Traditions 343

have not yet been suspected, to the best of my knowledge. When
in 1948 Samuel M. Stern discovered that the trar-as in a number
of Hebrew muwassais were actually poems in an ancient Hispanic
dialect he termed Mozarabic,3 he made what is possibly the most
important recent advance in the study of Romanee literatures,
by pushing back the documented history of the popular love
lyric to the early eleventh century (references by Arab authors
to the existence of this type of poetry would carry us back as
far as the late ninth century). Following upon Stern's discovery,
a complex bibliography has developed around the study and
interpretation of the hargas, and new texts have gradually surfaced, raising the total number of these poems to sixty-four.4
It is symptomatic that in attempting to decipher these garbled
texts copied by Arabic and Hebrew scribes unfamiliar with the
Mozarabic dialect, scholars had to refer to poems of a similar
type in Galician and Castilian. The latter, though recorded later
in time, frequently contained similar themes and verbal parallels5;
and it soon became apparent to #arfa scholars that they were
dealing with a tradition that, though earlier, was both genetically
a "Les vers finaux en espagnol dans les muwassahs hispano-h6braiques:
une contribution A l'etude du vieux dialecte espagnol 'mozarabe'," Andalus,
13 (1948), 299-346. The term "Mozarabic"to designate the dialect in question
is not a happy choice: It obscures the fact that Romance was also spoken at
the time by Muslims and Jews, not only by Christians. Furthermore,it may
represent not one unified dialect, but a cluster of several closely related ones.
4The most recent and up-to-date edition of the Romance bargas, containing a complete bibliography of all prior work, is J. M. Sola-Sole, Corpus
de poesia mozdrabe:Las barga-s andalusies (Barcelona, 1973). To the fifty-nine
Romance Iargas found in Arabic or Hebrew muwassahsand contained in that
book add Monroe, "Two New Bilingual Uargas (Arabic and Romance) in
Arabic Muwassahs," HR, 42 (1974), 243-64; "Two Further Bilingual lJarwas
(Arabic and Romance) in Arabic Muwassahs,"HR (in press), raising the total
number of texts culled from muwaUsahsto sixty-three. Add further one targa
found in a za'al by Ibn Quzman included in Sola-Sole (pp. 335 ff.) that has not
been assigned a number. All referencesto Romance bar"asin this article follow
the Soli-Sole system of numeration (Roman numerals), to which four new
kargasshould be added (Monroe; Arabic numerals).
6 See especially F. Cantera Burgos, "Versos espafioles en las muwassahas
hispano-hebreas,"Sefarad, 9 (1949), 197-234; Ddmaso Alonso, "Cancioncilas
'de amigo' mozarabes," RFE, 33 (1949), 297-349; E. Garcia G6mez, "Veinticuatro jaryas romances en muwassahas arabes," Andalus, 17 (1952), 57-127;
R. Men6ndez Pidal, "Cantos romanicos andalusies, continuadoresde una lirica
latina vulgar," BRAE, 31 (1951), 187-270.

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James T. Monroe

HB, 43 (1975)

and generically related to that of Galicia and Castile. In an

important article, Margit Frenk Alatorre extended the field of
investigation beyond the confines of the Iberian Peninsula, and
showed that there were further verbal similarities between the
hargas and the Old French refrains from the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.6 Around the same time, Aurelio Roncaglia
began to speak of a "structural isomorphism" common to all four
linguistic branches of the popular love lyric,7 and he was followed by M. Criado de Val who made a study of the verbal correspondences between the hargas and the Galician canciones de
amigo.8 Although surviving Provengal poetry is far more learned
in nature than the lyrical poetry of its Romance sisters and is
therefore more difficult to fit into the general picture, Samuel G.
Armistead has recently been able to relate a popular Provengal
strophe to a Romance harga.9 These investigations have enabled
us to detect in learned Arabic and Hebrew muwasgais, composed
between the mid-eleventh and late thirteenth centuries, echoes of
a contemporary popular Romance poetry that was prosodically,
thematically, and verbally similar to the thirteenth-century canclones de amigo, to one popular Provengal strophe copied in the
fourteenth century, to Old French refrains from the same general
period, and to the Castilian villancicos, many of which were committed to writing beginning in the fifteenth century.10
This being the case, what can the oral-formulaic theory reveal
about popular love poetry belonging to the Romance tradition?
It appears that none of the scholars who has discussed verbal
correspondences between the four Romance traditions has ever
used the word formula in the technical Parry-Lord sense, either
6 "Jaryas mozArabesy estribillos franceses,"NRFH, 6 (1952), 281-84.

"Di una tradizione lirica pretrovatoresca in lingua volgare," CN, 11

(1951), 213-49.
8 "Sobre los origenes del iberorromance: correspondencia verbal de las
jarchas y las canciones de amigo," BF, 19 (1960), 3.
9 "A Mozarabic Iarga and a Provencal Refrain," HR, 41 (1973), 416 ff.
10The earliest known villancicois:

En Cafiatafiazor
perdi6 Almanror
ell atamor.
It was recorded in 1236 by the chroniclerLucas de Tuy, but it alludes to the
defeat and death of al-Mansuribn Abi eAmir, which took place in 1002.

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The Common Origins of Romance Lyric Traditions 345

because formulaic analysis has only recently begun to penetrate
the field of Romance studies or because of inhibitions stemming
from the to-date almost exclusive use of the Parry-Lord method
in the study of epic poetry. But if the Romance hargas alone are
considered, the highly formulaic nature of a meager corpus of
sixty-four texts becomes strikingly apparent and this fact is significant, even though a number of barga reconstructions are still
quite tentative."
The most common formulas in an oral poetic tradition, Parry
and Lord have explained, are those used to express its most common ideas. Now, in harga texts, the main theme is love, often
(though not always) expressed from the feminine point of view,
and in many cases involving a triangle consisting of the enamored
girl (who provides the lyrical voice), the girl's mother (who functions as her silent confidante),l2 and the lover (sometimes characterized by his absence, either because it is impending or because
it has already taken place). The girl usually complains of her
love, and asks her mother to solve her predicament. A further
peculiarity of the bargas is that the girl at times addresses the
lover as though he were a small child.l3 Because the above are
two common #arga situations, they are linked to a set of formulas
and formulaic systems, as the following table indicates:
ke fare
ke fareyo
gar ke fareyo
mamma, gar ke farei
bera?ke fare
ke fare,
ke fareyo,



mamma, mio l-babib eft ad yana

mamma, mio 1-babib ya bay-4e

ya mamma, mio 1-sabib


bay-?e e no me


bay-?e mio qoraion

ke farei, ya ummi


n See the words of

warning by Richard Hitchcock, "Some Doubts About
the Reconstruction of the Kharjas," BHS, 50 (1973), 109-19.
12 For the theme of the
mother-confidante, see James T. Monroe, "Estudios
sobre las jargas: Las jar4as y la poesia amorosa popular norafricana," NRFH
(in press).
13 For the theme of the lover-son, see J. T. Monroe, "Estudios sobre las
jarpas . . .

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James T. Monroe


ya mamma
ya matre
ya fatin
a fatin

HB, 43 (1975)

ya babibi



ya mio amor
mio amore
mio qorazon
mio qorazoni
ya rabb
ya raqic
ya 1-asmar
bon amar


Abf 1-Qasim


Abf 1-Ha.gag'

bon filio de ibn ad-Dayyani

de ibn Muhagir
adamei filiolo alieno
komo Ai filiolo alieno
komo rayo de Sole ye?id
a rayo de manyana
la qeras multare
no qeras manuni




(xxiv, xxxvIIm)




In contrast to epic poetry, in which lines tend to be relatively

long and to exhibit a certain quantitative or syllabic regularity,
the Romance lyrics of the type studied here have relatively short
lines or segments characterized by a distinct tendency to favor
anisosyllabism and, in the Hispanic tradition at least, to display
a variation or irregularity in the stress patterns used. It should
never be forgotten that this poetry was sung and that, because
musical rhythm is quite independent of prosodic rhythm, the
irregularities in stress could be disguised by the music, as could
the syllabic irregularity by lengthening or compressing syllables
to fit the melodic rhythm. The prosody of the poems is in a sense
controlled by the melody, as can be observed to this day in the
Spanish folksong. It is, therefore, not surprising that formulas
are sometimes far shorter in the hargas than in the epic, and that
they are flexible enough to permit the insertion of extraneous

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The Common Origins of Romance Lyric Traditions 347

elements into their structure. Indeed, it would seem that the
formula is a far looser and less rigid entity in the lyric than it is
in the epic, and that the lyric composer may have placed less
reliance upon it than his epic counterpart. It is therefore more
difficult to derive statistical conclusions concerning the formulaic
density of a lyric; and, given the present state of research, finding
satisfactory internal evidence to distinguish the oral poem from
the literate pastiche is still a problem. But even if we were to
adopt the extreme position that the Romance hargas, rather
than being authentic popular compositions, are all learned imitations made by bilingual Arabic and Hebrew poets, the very fact
that they are imitations suggests the existence of a model, for
where there is an echo, there must be a voice.
Moreover, the Arab poets were acutely aware that these poems
were related to a tradition of sung poetry, for many of the haryas
are introduced as the words of a girl who is singing a song, and
occasionally even the musical instrument she uses is mentioned
in the Arabic part of the muwasaih. In fact, the existence of
popular poetry that was sung in Andalus, both in Romance and
in colloquial Arabic, is no longer a matter of mere conjecture.
Insofar as the Romance song is concerned,14 Gustave E. von
Grunebaum indicated the existence of vernacular songs (often
secular and even orgiastic) that were sung in churches during
Visigothic times, much to the dismay of Saint Valerius, who
condemned the practice.15 According to the thirteenth-century
Arab musicologist Tifadi, "in ancient times the song (gina') of the
people of Andalus was either in the style of the Christians, or in the
style of the Arab camel drivers, and they knew of no rules to
follow until the establishment of the Umayyad dynasty." 16
Although various inferences have been drawn from this muchquoted text, it seems likely that Tifasi is referring to a folk tradition that appears to him to obey no rules, largely because its rules
14For Arabic
counterparts, see James T. Monroe, "Studies on the g:argas:
The Arabic and the Romance IJargas," Viator (in press).
15" 'Lirica romanica' Before the Arab Conquest," Andalus, 21 (1956),
16Apud E. Garcia G6mez, "Una extraordinaria pagina de TifAi, y una

hip6tesis sobre el inventor del zejel," t.tudes d'orientalisme dediges a la mewoire

de Levi-Provenqal (Paris, 1952), ii, 517-23, esp. 519.

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James T. Monroe

HB, 43 (1975)

were not those of classical Arabic prosody, but instead, the flexible
principles of popular poetry (a tradition intimately connected
with singing). As early as the mid-ninth century Alvarus of
C6rdoba denounced the indecent songs with which Muslims insulted Mozarabic priests whenever the latter appeared in public,
declaring: "Sacerdotes Dei [. . .], improperioso et infami nomine
derogantes, vulgali [sic] proverbio, et cantico inhonesto sugillant." 17
It is thus highly likely that at least some, if not all, of the hargas
are a reflection of a Christian poetic style that existed at that
time. Certainly, the tradition could not have been invented by
the Arabs, because, as recent investigations have shown, the
prosody of the Romance hargas closely parallels that of Hispanic
popular poetry.18
The formulas in the hargas are remarkably similar to those
found in Galician and Old French poems, as Margit Frenk Alatorre
and Criado de Val have shown,19 and the Castilian villancicos,
though relatively late, exhibit parallel formulaic features. The
question ke fareyo? is found in all four traditions, and is often
associated in rhyme position with other elements common to them,
such as the verbs morireyo and bibreyo:

Gar ke fareyo

komo bibreyo
este al-habib egbero bor 61morireyo.


O! que ferai?

D'amer mourrai.
Ja n'en vivrai.20

H6, Dieus! dous Dex! queferai?

Pour sa grant biautei morrai.2

A un mal que me sobreveo

alma minha, ,que farei?

nao sei, nao sei.2
17Indiculus Luminosus, ? 6c, in PatrologiaLatina, cxxi, 521.
18See especially Garcia G6mez, Las jarchas romances de la serie drabe en
su marco (Madrid, 1965); Todo Ben Quzmdn, 3 vols. (Madrid, 1972).
19See notes 6 and 8, above.
20Apud M. Frenk Alatorre, "Jaryas mozdrabes . . ," p. 282.
21Apud M. Frenk Alatorre, "Jaryas mozArabes . . . ," p. 282.
22J. M. Alin, El cancionero espanol de tipo tradicional (Madrid, 1968), No. 693,

p. 649.

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The Common Origins of Romance Lyric Traditions 349

Vi-me libre d'un cuidado,
,que farei?
que noutro maior entrei.23

Aquella sefiora mfa

de quien yo me enamore
no me quiere, ,que fare?24
Mas triste yo, ,que hare?,
que yo, que no s6 nadar,
There are many other formulaic parallels between the four
Romance groups here considered. These have been classified by
the scholars mentioned above, and more recently in a masterly
study by Martha Schaffer.6 Thus, there is no reason to belabor
the point. Instead, it can be inferred that four poetic traditions
in four languages spoken by four peoples closely related in space,
time, and culture, which exhibit so many thematic and formulaic
correspondences, as well as a common stress-syllabic prosody, can
only have resulted from a common source. This source could have
been either Vulgar Latin or one of the four Romance languages,
but the evidence of the Mozarabic hargas, which are the earliest
documented texts in the group, points in the direction of Vulgar
Latin because they employ archaic forms such as fareyo (C.L.
FACERE HABEO > V.L. fare ayo), tibe (L. TIBI), mibe (C.L. MIHI
> V.L. mibi).27 This observation leads to three plausible if hyM. Alin, El cancionero,No. 697,p. 650.
M. Alin, El cancionero,No. 36, p. 322.
25 J. M.
Alin, El cancionero,No. 388, p. 536. Medieval Italian folk poetry
is not well known. Nevertheless, a woman's lament over a knight gone off
to the Crusades is preserved in a learned poem by Rinaldo d'Aquino of the
Sicilian School (xiiith cent.). The lady echoes the formula quoted above,
23 J.


Ed io, lassa dolente,

como degg'iofare?
(Attilio Momigliano, Antologia della letteraturaitaliana [Milano, 1952], I, 28).
In this example, however, the learned nature of the imitation is evident from
the fact that the formula kefareyo? has been rephrasedand turned into a cliche.
26 "Formulaic Systems in the Cantigas de
Amigo," unp. research paper
(Berkeley, 1974).
27In the har.as the mother is normally addressed as mamma. The term

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HB, 43 (1975)

James T. Monroe

pothetical conclusions:

1. There must have originally existed a Vulgar Latin tradition of

love poetry in Western Romania that the Romans disdained to record,
given their classical ideal of Latinitas (although there are echoes of a
stress-syllabic poetry in Latin from Saint Augustine on).
2. This tradition must originally have been all oral one, expressed
through fixed themes and formulas.
3. Gradually, as Vulgar Latin began to evolve into the different
Romance languages known today, the four poetic traditions began to
diverge from one another in significant ways.
Romance scholars such as Mendndez Pidal have already argued
for the existence of such a tradition on prosodic, thematic, and
linguistic grounds. Further support for the traditionalist theory
can now be provided, by pointing out that the formulaic nature
of the expressions used in the Romance love lyric of a popular
type betrays a common Vulgar Latin ancestry for the poetry in
at least four languages. Just as linguists have had to assume
the existence of a Vulgar Latin tongue to explain the origin of
the Romance languages, literary scholars may be able to account
for many mysteries in the obscure background of Romance folk
poetry by positing the existence of a Vulgar Latin oral literature
from which it undoubtedly developed.

University of California, Berkeley

can be related to a Latin epitaph in which a mother laments the death of her
Reliquisti mammamtuam
gementem, plangentem, plorantem.

Virginemeripuitfatus malus.
Destituisti, iutilia mea,
miseram mammamtuam!

William Beare, Latin Verse and European Song: A Study in Accent and Rhythm
(London, 1957), p. 178. Mamma in Classical Latin meant "breast" hence
the above usage with the meaning "mother" is colloquial and popular. Note
the formulaic nature of the expression manzmam tuam.

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