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Swapping Stories: Folktales from Louisiana

Edited by Carl Lindahl, Maida Owens, and C. Renée Harvison


About the Transcriptions and Translations - The Texts of the Tales

Most of the following tales were collected in 1990 and C. Renee Harvison in 1991. As the book developed, however seven transcribers (four of whom also contributed translations of foreign-language performances) added fifty-three tales to the volume.1

As there is no universally accepted or entirely satisfactory method for representing an oral performance on the printed page, the transcribers varied greatly in their approaches. Carl LindahL Maida Owens, and Denise Wenner have worked to create a consistent transcription style that would make the tales both as readable and as faithful to the spoken originals as the printed word allows.

A normalized style required us to avoid "eye dialect"-attempts to make texts "look the way they sound." Many folktale collections present partial attempts at eye dialect-for example, by using "Ah" to represent the pronoun "I" as pronounced by some African-American and European-American Southerners; spelling "shore" to represent a certain pronunciation of "sure"; or writing "runnin' " or " 'cause" to indicate that the speaker has not pronounced all the sounds in the standard forms of the words "running" and "because." All such systems, however, are ultimately subjective and distorting (Preston 1982; Ancelet 1994). Thus, we chose to use standard English, French, and Spanish spellings throughout.2

Although the editors have provided the titles for these tales, the texts themselves come directly from the storytellers. Our ideal has been to reproduce the spoken tales word for word, with four notable exceptions:

1. We have eliminated incidental sounds, such as "er" and "ah," made by storytellers when searching for the right word.

2. Ellipses- . . . -are used to represent words eliminated from the oral original. In certain cases, the tape-recorded voice of the storyteller was inaudible, or a member of the audience broke in with a comment that would make no sense to a reader who was not present at the original telling. In other cases, the speaker mentioned the name of an individual who has not given us permission to refer to him or her in this book. Only in such cases are words removed and ellipses substituted in their place.

3. Square brackets-[ ]-supply information that cannot be gleaned merely from listening to the teller's words. A phrase in brackets may describe a gesture made by the speaker that is important to the sense of the story; describe significant audience reactions; translate foreign-language expressions (for example, elle a cassé la paille [she broke it off]); or correct an inconsistency (if, for example, the teller uses "she" in describing a male character, the word will be replaced by [he]).

4. We have used italics for three specific purposes: a) to represent, stories, phrases, and words in foreign languages; b) to render onomatopoeic and nonlexical sounds made by the narrators: Sshboom, psst, mama-li-to, etc.; c) to signal words that the narrator spoke with obvious emphasis, in cases in which we felt that providing such stress would enhance the reader's sense of the story.

In a few cases, particularly when the narrator relied heavily on onomatopoeic sounds (for example, tales #56, 133) or when two or more people contributed to the storytelling (tales #68, 80, 121-23), we have had to use brackets, ellipses, and italics, and to transcribe a relatively large number of nonlexical sounds and audience remarks. As a rule, however, we have attempted to use these intrusive markers sparingly in hopes that the reader will experience the stories as directly as possible.


Barry Jean Ancelet transcribed and translated the tales of Wilson "Ben Guiné" Mitchell (#32-36) and oversaw the transcription and translation of all other tales told originally in Cajun or Creole French; Samuel G. Armistead transcribed and translated the Isleno décimas of Irvan Perez (#153-56) and the tales of Joseph "Chelito" Campo (#194-95); Annette Huval transcribed the Creole tales of Enola Matthews (#49-55) and Julia Huval (#188-89); Geoffrey Kimball transcribed and translated two of Bel Abbey's tales told in Bel's native Koasati (#45 and 47); Carl Lindahl transcribed the English-language tales of Alfred Anderson (#56-62), translated the Creole language tales of Enola Matthews (#49-55) and Julia Huval (#188-89), and transcribed and translated Barry Ancelet's Gaillum, Singo et Moliseau (#210); Arthur "Arturo" Pfister contributed his own written version of "Shine and the Titanic (#149) which he treats both as an oral piece and as a literary text; and Denise Wenner transcribed twenty-two tales collected for the video production Swapping Stories by Pat Mire and Maida Owens from Sarah and Robert Albritton (#69, 70, 120, 193), Barry Ancelet (#122), Sidna Coughlin (#68), Bertney Langley (#196-98), Harry Lee Leger (#67), Dave Petitjean (#80,131-33), Loulan and Glen Pitre (#174-77), and A. J. Smith (#79, 80,121,123,130).

In three instances we have included "eye dialect" at the insistence of the storytellers. After reading our transcription of 'The Politician Gets His" (#103) Hubert L. "Anatoo" Clement, a professional storyteller who tells his jokes in an exaggerated Cajun accent, wrote out his own version of the story to convey his idea of the way his accent should look on paper. Arthur Pfister submitted his own written version of the toast "Shine and the Titanic" (#149). Mildred Osborne's tale, initially titled "Who's Going to Sleep with Me?" (#184), has been changed to "Who's Gon'na Sleep with Me?" because, according to Osborne, "My family would hardly recognize the story without 'Gon'na.' "


National Endowment for the Arts.

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