Public discourse. Strategies of persuasion and interpretation



The human mind is capable of creativity and innovation unparalleled by any other species. At the same time, human beings elaborate and preserve complex and highly-stable traditions, transmitting them over very long time spans by means of the spoken word and through a variety of technologies, such as writing. How does human cognition give rise to such complex manifestations as oral poetic performance, and how are they affected by the introduction of writing? ORFORCREA investigates the cognitive basis of creativity in verbal art, examining its interplay with both oral tradition and literacy.

How can we approach as intricate a problem as verbal creativity with manageable, but at the same time ecologically valid and culturally situated data? While everyday human speech is extremely complex for analysis and has vast lexical and phraseological resources, the language material in oral traditions is typically organized in narrower terms, with idiomaticity enhanced because of poetic requirements, such as the constraints of the poetic line, rhyme patterns, plots, or themes, as well as form-meaning normativity (validity of a given expression within its poetic tradition1). The cognitive study of phrasal and grammatical structures in oral poetic traditions is thus comparable to working in a ‘natural’ lab, where the linguistic material, selected throughout long diachronies and innumerable performances, ideally fits the purpose of examining the creative use of formulaic resources. Thus ORFORCREA targets the essential feature of oral poetic traditions, idiomaticity, seeking to produce insights about the formulaic nature of language in general.

Such interdisciplinary research is already producing incipient insights about creativity, memory, multimodality, or language acquisition. ORFORCREA focuses on the ability to generalize or create new phrases and meanings by using pre-fabricated, fixed or semi-fixed lexical chunks. According to cognitive linguistics, this reflects our general capacity for instance-based generalization, which prompts us to manipulate and recombine existing patterns, including non-linguistic categories. To get fuller access to the mechanisms that condition the choices and creation of these chunks, ORFORCREA works with ‘irregular’ samples, that is, with those poetic texts that represent a transition from orality to the world of writing. Such transitional texts, which can be found in a great number of traditions, are of special interest because they combine two different modes of performing and transmitting poetry (or, in fact, human language) - oral and written. As of today, the general understanding expressed by both linguists and literary scholars is that although oral and written modes are not mutually exclusive in terms of human cognitive abilities, there are still major differences between them. By studying linguistic irregularities and their patterns in transitional texts and comparing them across languages, ORFORCREA will demonstrate to what extent such differences have an impact on traditional poetic composition.

ORFORCREA uses the following traditions: (1) Medieval Arabic poetry, (2) Medieval French chansons de geste, (3) oral epics from former Yugoslavia, collected during the 19th - first half of the 20th century by Parry & Lord and others, and (4) the still living oral tradition of the Jbala (Morocco), collected and analyzed by Gintsburg and Moscoso. The latter tradition will also serve as an in-depth case study for this project. The oral character and the formulaic nature of each of these four traditions have been thoroughly studied and the instances of formulaic use have been properly documented, thus making them an ideal material for this project.

This project received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Sklodowska-Curie grant agreement (Ref. 749952).


Sarali Gintsburg

Sarali Gintsburg
Extension: 803400
Office 1290 (1st floor, ICS)


European Commission

Marie Curie