USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘children’s rhymes’
Childhood
Game
Humor
Musical
Riddle

Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear

This is a skipping rhyme told by a male second grader. As he was singing it some of her peers joined in the song.

“Teddy bear, teddy bear, turn around. Teddy bear, teddy bear, touch the ground. Teddy bear, teddy bear, tie your shoes. Teddy bear, teddy bear, get out of school.”

The skipping rhyme was shared by one student within a small group of second graders and myself. The rhyme associates childish themes, such as the teddy bear and tying shoe laces, with more controversial ideas such as ditching school, or perhaps dropping out. This is an oikotype of Teddy Bear skipping song. Upon further research, I found a different rendition of the song that replaced “get out of school” with “say your prayers.” The latter version was a nursery rhyme that may have been passed down my parents and then modified by the children. The children from whom I collected this rhyme couldn’t remember where that had learned the rhyme, therefore it is unclear whether they changed the lyric themselves or had heard it in that form. Either way, the line “get out of school” reflects children’s frustration with the education system. The skipping rhyme was well known by most of the second graders in the classroom, therefore the negative connotation of school was widely spread amongst them and possible others in different grades or classrooms.

For another version of this song, see 201 Nursery Rhymes & Sing-Along Songs for Kids by Jennifer M. Edwards.

Folk speech
Humor

Armenian Days of the Week Rhyme

Armenian: Ուրբաթ, Շաբաթ, Կիրակի, արջը գնաց մարզանկի, ուսթա Սակոն կրակեց, արջի փորա դրակեց.

Phonetic Translation: Urbat’, Shabat’, Kiraki, arjy gnats’ marzanki, ust’a Sakon krakets’, arji p’vora drakets’.

English Translation: Friday, Saturday, Sunday. A bear went to the gym. A hunter saw the bear. The hunter shot the bear, and the bear’s stomach exploded.

Context: The informant, who is Armenian, and I were having a conversation on April 24th, the anniversary of the Armenian genocide. She shared this rhyme, which is used to teach children the days of the week, with me during this conversation.

Interview Transcript:

Informant: The way that… So, in Armenia the way that parents will teach their children the days of the week is we have this rhyme. So, you say the days of the week, Monday through Friday. Armenians start with Mondays, we don’t start with Sundays. And it goes: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday. A bear went the gym. A hunter saw the bear. The hunter shot the bear, and the bear’s stomach exploded.

[Laughter]

Me: Wow…

Informant: And it’s… it is really violent, but it rhymes really well, and so it’s caught on a lot to Armenian kids.

Me: Where do children usually learn this from?

Informant: Hmm… Armenian education systems are different than in America. For example, a child is expected to go to elementary school with… sort of the basics already down… Like the mother is expected to be a very good mother in that sense, if you think that a mother teaching you, you know, education at such a young age is a quality of a good mother. Um, they were supposed to come in with like a working knowledge, and the rhyme was generally taught by the mothers. So it was just a fun way for the kids to like, learn it and, you know, it was funny. Like, the violence in it, in Armenian stories in general. Just like in Grimms’ fairy tales. They’re very violent, and it’s just what makes them funny.

Analysis:

This rhyme is an example of violent children’s humor. Children’s media, such as the Warner Bros. television show Looney Tunes, often contain violence and, specifically, violent humor, despite the association of children with innocence. This rhyme also provides children with an easy way to remember the days of the week, as the rhyme associates memorization of them with something funny.

Game
Humor
Kinesthetic

“This is Buggy”

Context: The informant is an 11-year-old resident of Southern California, of Indo-Pakistani descent. She lives with two older siblings, parents, and grandparents and attends a public middle school in the South Bay area. She has close friends of many different religious and ethnic backgrounds, and the following narrative sequence is one she learned from one of these friends while she was still in elementary school.

Transcript of video:

“This is Buggy!

Buggy says hi!

Buggy can fly!

Yay for Buggy!

Oops, Buggy died.”

Analysis: The informant says she learned it only a couple years ago and remembered it because she “thought it was cool” and “kind of funny”. The informant relates that she enjoys many types of art, including drawing and painting, and often is in charge of making signs for events among her friend group, like yard sales and party invitations. So the personal appeal to a young artist or craftsperson is obvious.

I think the general appeal here is similar: the fact that with a few simple drawings and letters, an entire story can be told with little effort. The idea that there are just enough fingers on a person’s hand to write “T-H-I-S” on the knuckles, and then fold different fingers to show different words, must be appealing to kids who are just starting to appreciate the difficulties of both language and tactile crafts such as beading, painting, or cursive handwriting. The simple story is also humorous and a common enough occurrence: trying to save a little bug only to find that you unfortunately don’t know your own strength; or simply the humor of seeing something that causes many small children, especially girls, some anxiety–“creepy crawlies”–being put out in such a messy and unceremonious manner helps them cope with those anxieties indirectly while not being called out as a “scaredy cat” or a “sissy”.

Folk speech
Game
Kinesthetic
Musical

Lilli Lilli Auzak: Farsi nursery rhyme and hand game

Context: The informant is a grandmother of 8 whose parents were originally from Afghanistan but settled in Pakistan. She also lived in Saudi Arabia for many years and has a working knowledge of Farsi, Arabic, and Punjabi along with her native Urdu. The following nursery rhyme is one in Farsi that she and her siblings learned from their mother when they were very young, but that few of their children (and subsequently grandchildren) learned in their turn.

Audio File

Text in Farsi:

Text in Farsi for Nursery rhyme "Lilli Lilli Auzak"

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Transliteration:

Lilli lilli auzak

dowre auzak sauzak

Tutti (murghe) aamad au khord

Paish lakkad au bourd

Ee gereft, ee pukhte kard

Ee rasad kard, ee khord

Ee  aamad:

     “Khala khala?”

               “Jaane khala.”

     “Rasad-e-ma kojaast?”

              “Meene doli.”

     “Meene doli neest.”

               “Peeshek khourd.”

     “Peesheke softe neest?”

               “Une aamad, miaouw, miaouw, miaouw”

Translation:

[note: This translation was not a line-by-line rendering; rather, the informant gave a general idea of what the little narrative was about, in Urdu. The conversation was then translated into English, which is what appears below.]

Inf.: There was a auzak, you know, like how do you say?

Me: Like a fountain?

Inf.: No, not fountain.

Me: A pool?

Inf.: No, not a pool–but anyway, there was–and you know how at the edge of the water that greenish chip-chip [sticky] stuff that grows you know? Around the auzak that slippery stuff was growing and a murgha [rooster*] came to drink water, and his foot slipped on the green stuff, so, he fell in and drowned. One got him, one cooked him, one served him on the table, one ate him; and the fifth came and said, khala (mother’s sister=aunt), where is my piece? And she said, It’s in the doli (pot). And he said, No it’s not. And she said, Then the cat must’ve eaten it. And he says, the cat’s not here, there’s no trace of the cat, and she said, No look, here he comes going “meow meow meow”.

*[note: in the transliteration above, both murgha (rooster) and tutti (parrot) are mentioned; in the audio, the informant almost says tutti but says murghe instead; and in the written text, only tutti is mentioned, but spelled two different ways.]

Physical description: Like the Western nursery rhyme “This Little Piggy”, this rhyme also has a tactile/physical component. The performer takes the child’s hand in theirs and begins the first two lines by tracing a circle on the child’s palm. At the third line, the performer imitates a bird’s peck coming to land in the center of the child’s palm (representing the rooster/parrot coming to drink water from the pool) then twists the tips of the fingers around to indicate the drowning. At lines 5 and 6, the performer closes one finger into the child’s palm for every action mentioned (i.e., “one caught it”=a finger down, “one cooked it”=second finger down, etc.) and at the seventh line, the performer holds the child’s thumb and wiggles it to match the conversation between the little boy and his aunt. At the mention of the cat coming (“meow meow meow”) the performer usually walks their fingers up the child’s arm and tickles them.

Analysis: This nursery rhyme is one of the only ones that is somewhat familiar to the informant’s children, who are all Urdu-speaking themselves, not Farsi-speaking. It is relatively easy to remember because so much of it rhymes and many of the words are the same in Farsi and Urdu (like rooster, parrot, foot, pot, aunt, etc.). Like many nursery rhymes with a physical component, this one in particular may be popular with young children because an integral part of the performance is the physical contact and the subsequent connection established between the parent (or other beloved adult) and the child, who relishes the special attention. The tickle at the end especially is eagerly waited and enjoyed, because the child and the adult both know it’s coming, and the slow buildup to it is part of the appeal.

As for the content, it seems to be a common occurrence in nursery rhymes, both Western and otherwise, for animals or even people to be violently injured or killed, and/or cooked and eaten (for instance, Sing a Song of Sixpence). The cat taking the blame for the boy’s missing share is an interesting element: the aunt (and other family members, of course) have eaten their find and left none for the boy, who immediately notices and outright asks the aunt, who outright lies to him and redirects his attention elsewhere. Both are quite aware of what the other is up to, but engage in this playful banter anyway. I think this may exhibit and model a joking relationship between aunts and their sisters’ kids, or more generally, between children and their parents’ siblings that is also present in real life. In the informant’s family, for instance, her youngest sister is only a few years older than the informant’s oldest daughter, and so the aunt and niece maintain a very casual, joking, teasing (but still respectful) relationship.

Customs
Folk speech
Musical

The Little Piccolo Player

“Prišel je tsiganček

sajast kako vranček;

Igral je na piščalko

Milo in pelo

Kakor malo kdo.”

Translation:

“There came a little gypsy boy

Black with soot/dirtlike a crow; [Dark as a crow]

He played on the piccolo

gently and beautifully

like very few could.”

This  is a traditional Slovenian nursery rhyme, one that I was raised listening to as my mother sang it to me as a child. She said that it was a song generally sung with many children who held hands and danced in circles. The rhyme itself imbibes a deeply racist sentiment towards the Romani people, who are widely refered to across Europe as “tsiganci” or “gypsies. ” The second line, “sajast kako vranček,” works two fold: 1) “sajast” means sooty or dirty, implying that the boy is unclean or uninterested in being washed. 2) the line likens the boy’s skin color to that of a dark crow, calling special attention to his non-aryan complexion.

However, the informant and I both have affectionate relationships with this rhyme, as it is sung with a gleeful, youthful tone, thereby removing much of the willful malice of its inherent bigotry. In fact, it was only when the informant and I revisited the rhyme did she and I truly grasp how deeply the racial sentiment was pronounced. The informant is unclear as to where in particular it originated, though when she was growing up in the late 60s, it was a very popular children’s rhyme in the Slovenske Konjice, a region of northeastern Slovenia.

[geolocation]