What is folklore and folklife?
…the traditional art, literature, knowledge, and practice that is disseminated largely through oral communication and behavioral example. Every group with a sense of its own identity shares, as a central part of that identity, folk traditions–the things that people traditionally believe (planting practices, family traditions, and other elements of worldview), do (dance, make music, sew clothing), know (how to build an irrigation dam, how to" nurse an ailment, how to prepare barbecue), make (architecture, art, craft), and say (personal experience stories, riddles, song lyrics).
It’s important to note, though, that definition of folklore and its related terminology has a long and complex history, going back to the coining of the term “folk-lore” in 1846 by William J. Thoms. Though folklorists agree on the components of the definition, the term “folklore” has been difficult to define succinctly. In that same article above (“What is Folklore?”), the American Folklore Society has compiled a list of these varied definitions created and shared by folklorists over the years, but first notes:
The word "folklore” names an enormous and deeply significant dimension of culture. Considering how large and complex this subject is, it is no wonder that folklorists define and describe folklore in so many different ways. Try asking dance historians for a definition of "dance,” for instance, or anthropologists for a definition of "culture.” No one definition will suffice–nor should it.
Learn how Arkansas Folk and Traditional Arts, a statewide public folklore program of University of Arkansas Libraries, defines these terms by visit their website.