Are There “Correct” Versions of Traditional Nursery Rhymes and Songs?

People often write to us looking for the correct version of a song or rhyme. Monique Palomares, who I work with on the songs and rhymes that are posted on Mama Lisa’s World wrote the following about this topic…

Until mass media devices were available, songs were mostly passed down through generations by oral transmission. Some of them are known to have authors because we can track them back to a written document mentioning the authors’ names and how they wrote them. But most traditional songs are anonymous. Therefore, there were no set versions. People would adapt the songs to their own surroundings or would forget a word and sing another, swap verses or lines or add a new one. This is why there isn’t such a thing as “THE TRUE version” or “THE CORRECT lyrics”… when talking about anonymous traditional songs.

What seems to be for each of us “the true, genuine, correct…lyrics ” is the version we learned, generally when we were a child. So it’s “always” been that way for us in our heads.

Unless a song has an author who left a copy of his work, when a song/rhyme has variants, there is only a” MOST KNOWN/SPREAD version”. Some songs have tens of versions… so imagine all the nursery rhymes or finger plays that every mom sings to her baby, multiplied by all the mothers out there, multiplied by all the times they may sing them differently according to their sense of humor, the babies’ sense of humor…! (Check out the many versions of Ride Ride Ranke and you’ll see what I mean!)

Monique Palomares has translated most of Mama Lisa’s World into French and Spanish. You can see her translations on Mama Lisa’s World en français and Mama Lisa’s World en español.

This article was posted on Thursday, May 28th, 2009 at 11:58 am and is filed under Children's Songs, Countries & Cultures, Folk Songs, History of Nursery Rhymes, History of Nursery Rhymes, Languages, Lullabies, Mama Lisa, Nursery Rhymes, Questions, Variations of Nursery Rhymes. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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