Institute for Informatics
Georg-August-Universität Göttingen

Databases and Information Systems

Uni Göttingen

Semantic Web 2(12), pp. 219-239, 2021.

Of Lions and Yakshis

Franziska Pannach, Caroline Sporleder, Wolfgang May, Aravind Krishnan, Anusharani Sewchurran


Vladimir Propp's theory Morphology of the Folktale identifies 31 invariant functions, subfunctions, and seven classes of folktale characters to describe the narrative structure of the Russian magic tale. Since it was first published in 1928, Propp's approach has been used on various folktales of different cultural backgrounds.
We built an ontology that models Propp's theory by describing narrative functions using a combination of a function class hierarchy and characteristic relationships between the Dramatis Personae for each function. A special focus lies on the restrictions Propp defined regarding which Dramatis Personae fulfill a certain function.
We investigated how an ontology can assist traditional Humanities research in examining how well Propp's theory fits for folktales outside of the Russian-European folktale culture.
For this purpose, a lightweight query system has been implemented. To determine how well both the annotation schema and the query system works, we annotated twenty African tales, and fifteen tales from the Kerala region in India.
We evaluate the system by examining two case studies regarding the representation of characters and the use of Proppian functions in African and Indian tales. Our findings are in line with traditional analogous Humanities research.
This project shows how carefully modelled ontologies can represent and re-evaluate traditional theories of literary scholars, and how they can be utilized as a knowledge base for comparative folklore research.