Folklore is the expressive body of culture shared by a particular group of people; it encompasses the traditions common to that culture, subculture or group. These include oral traditions such as tales, proverbs and jokes. They include material culture, ranging from traditional building styles to handmade toys common to the group. Folklore also includes customary lore, the forms and rituals of celebrations such as Christmas and weddings, folk dances and initiation rites. Each one of these, either singly or in combination, is considered a folklore artifact. Just as essential as the form, folklore also encompasses the transmission of these artifacts from one region to another or from one generation to the next. Folklore is not something one can typically gain in a formal school curriculum or study in the fine arts. Instead, these traditions are passed along informally from one individual to another either through verbal instruction or demonstration. The academic study of folklore is called folklore studies, and it can be explored at undergraduate, graduate and Ph.D. levels.[1]


To fully understand folklore, it is helpful to clarify its component parts: the terms folk and lore. It is well-documented that the term was coined in 1846 by the Englishman William Thoms. He fabricated it to replace the contemporary terminology of "popular antiquities" or "popular literature". The second half of the compound word, lore, proves easier to define as its meaning has stayed relatively stable over the last two centuries. Coming from Old English lār 'instruction,' and with German and Dutch cognates, it is the knowledge and traditions of a particular group, frequently passed along by word of mouth.[2]

The concept of folk proves somewhat more elusive. When Thoms first created this term, folk applied only to rural, frequently poor and illiterate peasants. A more modern definition of folk is a social group which includes two or more persons with common traits, who express their shared identity through distinctive traditions. "Folk is a flexible concept which can refer to a nation as in American folklore or to a single family."[3] This expanded social definition of folk supports a broader view of the material, i.e. the lore, considered to be folklore artifacts. These now include all "things people make with words (verbal lore), things they make with their hands (material lore), and things they make with their actions (customary lore)".[4] Folklore is no longer circumscribed as being chronologically old or obsolete. The folklorist studies the traditional artifacts of a social group and how they are transmitted.

Transmission is a vital part of the folklore process. Without communicating these beliefs and customs within the group over space and time, they would become cultural shards relegated to cultural archaeologists. For folklore is also a verb. These folk artifacts continue to be passed along informally, as a rule anonymously and always in multiple variants. The folk group is not individualistic, it is community-based and nurtures its lore in community. "As new groups emerge, new folklore is created… surfers, motorcyclists, computer programmers".[5] In direct contrast to high culture, where any single work of a named artist is protected by copyright law, folklore is a function of shared identity within the social group.[6]

Having identified folk artifacts, the professional folklorist strives to understand the significance of these beliefs, customs and objects for the group. For these cultural units[7] would not be passed along unless they had some continued relevance within the group. That meaning can however shift and morph. So Halloween of the 21st century is not the All Hallows' Eve of the Middle Ages, and even gives rise to its own set of urban legends independent of the historical celebration. The cleansing rituals of Orthodox Judaism were originally good public health in a land with little water; now these customs signify identification as an Orthodox Jew. Compare this to brushing your teeth, also transmitted within a group, which remains a practical hygiene and health issue and does not rise to the level of a group-defining tradition.[8] For tradition is initially remembered behavior. Once it loses its practical purpose, there is no reason for further transmission unless it has been imbued with meaning beyond the initial practicality of the action. This meaning is at the core of folkloristics, the study of folklore.[citation needed] With an increasingly theoretical sophistication of the social sciences, it has become evident that folklore is a naturally occurring and necessary component of any social group, it is indeed all around us.[9] It does not have to be old or antiquated. It continues to be created, transmitted and in any group is used to differentiate between "us" and "them".

Other Languages
Afrikaans: Folklore
العربية: فلكلور
aragonés: Folklore
asturianu: Folclore
Avañe'ẽ: Tavarandu
azərbaycanca: Folklor
تۆرکجه: فولکلور
Bân-lâm-gú: Bîn-sio̍k
беларуская: Фальклор
беларуская (тарашкевіца)‎: Фальклёр
brezhoneg: Folklor
català: Folklore
Чӑвашла: Фольклор
čeština: Folklór
Cymraeg: Llên gwerin
dansk: Folkeminde
Deutsch: Folklore
ދިވެހިބަސް: ނާޑުކަތާ
eesti: Rahvaluule
эрзянь: Фольклор
español: Folclore
Esperanto: Folkloro
euskara: Folklore
فارسی: فولکلور
français: Folklore
Frysk: Folkloare
furlan: Folclôr
Gaeilge: Béaloideas
Gagauz: Folklor
galego: Folclore
한국어: 민속
հայերեն: Ֆոլկլոր
हिन्दी: लोककथा
hrvatski: Folklor
Bahasa Indonesia: Folklor
interlingua: Folklore
íslenska: Alþýðumenning
italiano: Folclore
עברית: פולקלור
Jawa: Folklor
ქართული: ფოლკლორი
kaszëbsczi: Fòlklor
қазақша: Фольклор
kurdî: Folklor
Кыргызча: Фольклор
Ladino: Folklor
latviešu: Folklora
lietuvių: Folkloras
Limburgs: Folklore
magyar: Folklór
македонски: Фолклор
മലയാളം: നാട്ടറിവ്
Malti: Folklor
मराठी: लोककथा
მარგალური: ფოლკლორი
Bahasa Melayu: Budaya rakyat
Nāhuatl: Macehualiztli
Nederlands: Folklore
नेपाली: लोककथा
日本語: 伝承
Napulitano: Folklore
нохчийн: Фольклор
Norfuk / Pitkern: Foeklor
norsk: Folkeminne
norsk nynorsk: Folkeminne
ਪੰਜਾਬੀ: ਲੋਕਧਾਰਾ
پنجابی: لوک ریت
Papiamentu: Folklor
polski: Folklor
português: Folclore
română: Folclor
русиньскый: Фолклор
русский: Фольклор
Scots: Fowklair
shqip: Folklori
sicilianu: Folklori
Simple English: Folklore
slovenčina: Folklór (kultúra)
کوردی: فۆلکلۆر
српски / srpski: Фолклор
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Folklor
Basa Sunda: Folklor
svenska: Folklore
татарча/tatarça: Фольклор
тоҷикӣ: Фолклор
Türkçe: Folklor
удмурт: Фольклор
українська: Фольклор
Tiếng Việt: Văn hóa dân gian
walon: Foclore
粵語: 民俗
žemaitėška: Fuolkluors
中文: 民俗