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Jamshid J. Tehrani – Reply to Lajoye, d'Huy and Le Quellec (2013)

Reply to:
Patrice Lajoye, Julien d'Huy and Jean-Loïc Le Quellec  (2013),
Comments on Jamshid J. Tehrani (2013).

Jamshid J. Tehrani*



*Department of Anthropology, Durham University, Durham, U.K.


I thank the authors for taking an interest in my study and welcome the constructive spirit of their critique. While Lajoye, d’Huy and Le Quellec are broadly sympathetic to my approach, they raise a number of specific concerns which I would like to respond to here.


● In suggesting that I included Egbert’s 11th century poem “uncritically” in the ATU 333 corpus, Lajoye et al. seem to have misunderstood my aims, or got them back-to-front. The point is that we don’t know which tales can be classified as ATU 333 and which ones can’t a-priori, since we can’t even be sure it even exists as a distinct international type. Establishing these facts was precisely what my analyses sought to do. And it would have been very odd to omit a story that some scholars believe to be the earliest surviving variant of ATU 333. (As it turns out, my results suggest that these scholars were probably right).

● While I certainly can’t claim to have referenced every work on ATU 333 and ATU 123 – two of the most discussed international types in the folklore literature – some of the gaps identified by Lajoye et al. are in fact cited in the study: Eberhard (1970) and Ikeda (1971) both appear in the list of references, while samples of the material collected by Delarue and Rumpf were included in the analyses.

● Lajoye et al. similarly suggest that there are gaps in the motifs used in the character data. I should point out that one of the motifs they say I ignore - “villain gives victim remains of the grandmother to eat” – is actually present (indeed, they reference that very character in the sentence immediately prior to the one in which they say it was missing). They also claim that the number of characters is important for the effectiveness of phylogenetic method. This is not necessarily true. It doesn’t help to keep adding characters and character states if they are uninformative about phylogenetic relationships, redundant, or add noise to the analysis. Quality is more important than quantity. In this case, most of the characters and character states they point to as missing either do not occur in the tales I used, or only occurred in a single variant, making them phylogenetically uninformative.

● This brings us to the most substantive criticism made by Lajoye et al., namely that there are many more variants of ATU 333 and ATU 123 that have not been translated into English. They focus on the rich body of material collected by French folklorists in particular, including a fascinating version of ATU 333 from the Velay and the Dauphiné. I am grateful to the authors for drawing my attention to these variants, which certainly deserve further investigation. I absolutely accept (as stated in the paper itself) that there is much more work to be done, both at a regional scale and globally. However, I think that the need for multi-lingualism must go further than European languages like English, French and German. As I say towards the end of my paper, there is surely a wealth of Chinese, Turkic, Mongolian, etc. variants that would illuminate the many questions that remain concerning the origins and diffusion of these stories. In the meantime of course, we work with the materials we have. No corpus is ever complete – even the collections mentioned by Lajoye et al. represent a tiny sample of all the versions of those tales that exist in those populations. So that raises the question of how much data are enough data? 58 versions of ATU 123/333 may only be a snapshot, but it is one that nevertheless reveals an image of the big picture, if not all the details and nuances. Similarly, one of the authors of the above critique considered 13 versions of Pygmalion (d’Huy 2013 Rock Art Research 30) and 44 versions of Polyphemus (d’Huy 2013 NMC, 1) to be sufficient to make inferences about their diffusion and original forms over extremely large geographical and temporal distances. So I suppose it is a question we can ponder together.


I believe that future progress in this field will depend on international collaboration, and on making our data and findings available to one another. From that point of view, I welcome the reanalyses of my data that Lajoye et al. report here. The results are interesting, and support the same major clusters as my phylogenetic analyses. A word of warning though – multidimensional scaling like PCOA does not employ an explicitly evolutionary model to account for the dissimilarities among taxa, so we must be careful not to over-interpret what these clusters mean from a phylogenetic point of view, or make inferences about ancestor-descendent relationships.


Once again I thank the authors for their feedback. I hope that this response has proved useful and look forward to discussions on our future research.


Jamie (Jamshid) Tehrani


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