Language Issue
The folktale: Origins and variations
The folktale: Origins and variations
Issue 45

By Dr Said Bu Ayta, Morocco


This study attempts to compare three versions of the same folktale. At first glance, these examples may appear to be different stories but when we deconstruct their basic elements we discover that these three versions are one story.


The three different manifestations of the folktale are the old Arab folktale ‘Wafaqa Shanun Tabaqa’ (birds of a feather flock together), an Egyptian version and a Syrian version, ‘The Clever Girl’.


In this study, I will not go into the details of each of these three versions, because those will be provided in the appendix. To identify the stories’ aspects, I will focus on the structure of each story. I will track the development in each to determine the plot, which is the basis of these three examples and the common denominator among them. I will identify the similarities and differences among the three versions, the source and the structural changes that the versions underwent as they branched off.


In this study, I applied the comparative approach to these three versions of the folktale.


Almost all anthropological and folkloric studies agree that, regardless of form, all forms of folk expression are originally created by universal motives that seek to present people’s perceptions of existence and life.


Folk expressions also seek to bridge the gap between the known and the unknown with regards to interpretations of phenomena that the human mind cannot understand. In this sense, folklore helps societies retain their history and their past experiences, and heritage is unlimited by space and time.


Every society has its folk culture and its traditional heritage. This often leads to a universality of stories, myths and proverbs. Desirable values and acts such as tolerance, justice and good deeds and bad qualities such as injustice and tyranny are universal; they do not vary based on time and place.


It is not surprising, for example, to find an old Indian story that is very similar to a story in the Arab world. For this reason, it is not possible to limit types of folk expression to a single land, although brothers Jacob and Wilhelm believed that fairy tales are originally from the Indo-German era and Theodor thought India was the original birthplace of fairy tales. All researchers who have attempted to authenticate the local or national identity of folklore and folk heritage have been unable to deny that their folklore is similar to folklore in other cultures, that types of folk expression are similar in terms of form and content, and that folktales have global dimensions.