Systematic quantitative analyses reveal the folk-zoological knowledge embedded in folktales

by   Yo Nakawake, et al.

Cultural learning is a unique human capacity essential for a wide range of adaptations. Researchers have argued that folktales have the pedagogical function of transmitting the essential information for the environment. The most important knowledge for foraging and pastoral society is folk-zoological knowledge, such as the predator-prey relationship among wild animals, or between wild and domesticated animals. Here, we analysed the descriptions of the 382 animal folktales using the natural language processing method and descriptive statistics listed in a worldwide tale-type index (Aarne-Thompson-Uther type index). Our analyses suggested that first, the predator-prey relationship frequently appeared in a co-occurrent animal pair within a folktale (e.g., cat and mouse or wolf and pig), and second, the motif of 'deception', describing the antagonistic behaviour among animals, appeared relatively higher in 'wild and domestic animals' and 'wild animals' than other types. Furthermore, the motif of 'deception' appeared more frequently in pairs, corresponding to the predator-prey relationship. These results corresponded with the hypothesis that the combination of animal characters and what happens in stories represented relationships in the real world. The present study demonstrated that the combination of quantitative methods and qualitative data broaden our understanding of the evolutionary aspects of human cultures.


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Code used for analyses in Nakawake & Sato, "Systematic quantitative analysis revealed zoological knowledge embedded in folktales"

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