Language Issue

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Folk songs and social change in Jordan
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Issue 37
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The role of the extraordinary in characterisation: The tale of King Saif bin Dhi Yazan
Issue 37

By Safa Dhiyab


Extraordinary elements play a key role in characterisation in folktales. They reshape the character. These elements transformed King Saif bin Dhi Yazan, a child and a homeless young man, into a self-confident man who could fight any battle and emerge victorious. He could cross deserts without fearing the unknown and swim vast seas without knowing which land awaited him because he was certain that invisible metaphysical powers would protect him.


There are also internal extraordinary elements to the character, which may be biological, personal or psychological, whether the character is human, a jinn or inanimate. Shu’ayb Hulayfi states that there are two powers that shape the characteristics of an extraordinary character: internal and external. The extraordinary character is built up meticulously to reflect the character’s psychology and mentality.


When discussing the extraordinary character, we must search for the things that make the character extraordinary, taking the setting into account because the fictional setting plays a big role in the personification of the character.


Hulayfi explained that the extraordinary tale includes extraordinary actions, language and functions. Greimas said that the extraordinary elements are active units dependent on the structural semiotics. According to Lotman, the extraordinary tale is a collection of distinctive supernatural qualities, and the extraordinary character is a rich character created by intensive imagery.


The elements added by the narrator collaborate with the other extraordinary elements to weave an integrated web and make the characters more compelling.


The extraordinary character is an unusual being formed with unusual words with which the narrator endeavours to shape a fictional being from an ordinary one. The narrator combines the characteristics of different creatures to create a new character or to animate an inanimate object such as wood or ruby. If we look at the fictional characteristics of the extraordinary, we notice how valuable they are, because they add diversity and enrich every element of the tale.