Childhood
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Folk speech
general
Rituals, festivals, holidays

“Little Piggy” – Russian Folk Song

Little Piggy

Transcript to Audio file (condensed and edited):

Informant: Okay, this one…in my broken Russian, she [my mom] wakes me up, takes my hand in her hand and with her finger circles my palm and sings [song], and then she’s taking my fingers…one by one [chant], and then when she gets to my thumb [chant] and then tickles me. It’s basically a “this little piggy” equivalent so she’s taking each of my fingers and when she gets to the last one, she’s not giving it to me.

Collector: Can you do the entire thing through? Here…[offering my hand] do it to me.

(Informant does so.)

 

When I asked him when he first learned the chant, the informant said that his mother had probably been doing that since he was baby. When asked whether he knew where she had learned it, he replied that he did not. “I would guess probably from her mother…It never really mattered to me,” he said. “I mean of course now I’m curious and I’ll probably ask her later today, but it had never crossed my mind to ask her. For me it was just a way she showed that she loved me.”

In this instance, the folklore functions as a link for the informant to his childhood, his mother, and his heritage. In the beginning of the recording, the informant prefaces by saying, “In my broken Russian…” Nevertheless, despite any uncertainty he may have regarding his language skills, he doesn’t stumble with any of the examples of folk speech he shares, having grown up with all of it. As soon as he was able, he began performing the chant for his little sister who is now in the ninth grade since she was a baby. “When I do it nowadays though,” he chuckled, “she gets annoyed.”

The value of this example of folk speech is in how easily it’s become transmitted from mother to child and then from child to sibling. Though it’s no surprise, it’s funny that a fourteen year old girl would be annoyed with her twenty year old brother for continuing to perform it with her, since the chant is so intertwined with childhood – pre-adolescence. But also, perhaps being that the chant is interlaced with a Russian heritage given that it’s in Russian, it’d be interesting to inquire into whether the annoyance of the transmission is also tied to a reluctance to associate with the heritage through its traditions.

What’s also worth noting in this example is that the informant himself made the connection between the two cultures he’s affiliated with; in fact, he gave me the title “Little Piggy” for the song, when in fact there is no literal mention of a pig in the Russian version. Of course, as one who knows very little about the Russian language and culture, I appreciated the connection from one piece of folklore into another, as well as witnessing how someone of two heritages can reconcile what necessarily seem like they must be separate through common lore. Why not? Considering that both the Russian song and the Western “little piggy” chant both involve the child’s hands and specifically the fingers.

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