The Concept of Life in English Proverbs

by Bachelor Degree Alexandrina Barajin (Author)

Essay 2016 6 Pages

English Language and Literature Studies - Linguistics



Many attempts have been made to define a proverb. There are many definitions of these phenomenal figures, still scholars are not satisfied with them as more attempts to define a proverb are being made.

A proverb is supposed to indude the following aspects:

- a form of a simple or œmpound sentence;
- preservation of proverb meaning outside the context;
- unknown author;
- widespread usage;
- eхpression of universal truths of human eхperience;
- conveyance of some educational sense; and
- brevity, figurativeness and metaphorical character.

From a linguistic standpoint, a proverb is a phonological, syntactic, semantic pragmatic and, some would add, a semiotic (complex sign) entity.

- А proverb (PV) is a short, standard, spoken, written or stored statement (sometimes allowing for one or a few standard variants too and sometimes in a poetic form), having an evident or implied general meaning (or general idea) (GI) related to a particular typical common or typical rare field of general human conditions (hc), attitudes or actions, with implied proper scope and limitation of validity. The reference to the general meaning/idea may be direct (maxim-type proverb) or implied (metaphoric proverb). It has a currency (cr), i.e. it is well-known and often quoted in a period of time (At) in a certain small or large language community (lc) (or in a part of the community), sometimes in a short form (the rest being implied). In common knowledge it has no known author or literary source. (Paczolay 1998:264)

Having eхamined a suffident number of definitions, it is possible to conclude that all of them are unquestionably correct, although, they indude not all relevant features of proverbs. Proverbs criticize moral problems either by directing future actions or by altering a point of view towards something that has already happened. Usually they are didactic or evaluative and act as warnings, judgements, encouragements, morals, some advice. They function as responses to circumstances which require certain remarks, but, at the same time, their application is limited to a particular set of situations based on similar evaluations.

They have a very wide range of employment from friendly everyday conversations to politic speeches and pedagogy. Still, it would be expedient to observe in more detail what diversified aspects of human life and thinking are reflected in English proverbs.

The figurative meaning of proverbs is not always obvious and it requires certain level of contemplation. The stylistic devices in the proverbs range from metaphors, metonymies, hyperboles, allegories, paradoxes, similes to litotes and irony.

It is possible to note that proverbs are rich in stylistic devices which are used as means of expressing human thinking in indirect and figurative way. It must be considered that proverbs, as well as everything in mankind history, have an etymology - they have been produced either orally or appeared in some written form for the very first time. Consequently, the origin of certain proverbs can be retraced through certain ancient sources. The discussion below reveals that proverbs, therefore, have a long history.

Before appearing in written forms, some of these proverbs were used in everyday speech by common people. The earliest collections of proverbs were recorded on Sumerian cuneiform tablets which date back from the third millennium BC. Another sources prolific in proverbs are the religious writings. In addition, the Latin language of the Middle Ages, which at that time performed the role of the lingua franca, can be regarded as a source of proverbs, because these proverbial expressions can not be traced back to antiquity. Every nation has its vast collections of proverbs.

On the other hand, not all nations have rich proverbial tradition, which is the result of late introduction of writing and poor literary history. The proverbs of these races have been collected during the last few hundred years and because of this, the process of evolution of separate proverbs is hardly predictable. Even though they may have less variants, obviously, this does not mean that they are of less importance as a cultural heirloom.

Proverbial tradition is, at least, a few thousand years old. The first proverb collections have influenced the appearance of more collections and further studies of these peculiar sayings. Consequently, a question arises what a proverb really is and how it is defined by different scholars. Hence, this issue will be discussed theoretically in the following part of the research paper.

The character of proverbs can be realized through the saying “Proverbs are like butterflies, súme are caught, súme fly away”. It is possible that certain proverbs can disappear ог be forgotten due to certain circumstances. Оп the other hand, other proverbs and their interpretations seem to be universally true at all times despite the occurring social, cultural and other changes. It is possible to conclude that proverbs, despite the occurrence of anti-proverbs, are preferable units of folklore due to their simplicity, conciseness of form and their universally true character. That is why it seems to be reasonable to discuss the origin and various sources of proverbial tradition.

The proverbs with figurative meanings are used to designate situations in a metaphorical way without actually naming the idea. The implied sense of the proverbs is created by invoking figures of speech. Such stylistic devices, which contribute to the rhetorical efficiency of proverbs, are metaphor, personification, hyperbole, paradox, metonymy, simile, allegory, litotes, irony.

Certain poetic traits, such as rhyme, alliteration, assonance and ellipsis, also add peculiar rhetoric force to proverbs. These images and stylistic refinements make proverbs more vivid, emotive and, of course, more memorizable.

The study of proverbs has revealed that certain proverbs tend to deny the issues of other proverbs. The contradictions observed during the analysis occur in the proverbs that reflect inner, outer and social worlds of a human being. It should be considered that all of these proverbs are true in the situations that they appear, of course, if used correctly. Therefore, it would be expedient to distinguish between direct and figurative readings of proverbs. Both of these aspects will be explored and exemplified in the subsequent section. It has already been mentioned in the research paper that proverbs can have literal and non-literal meanings. This notion can be proved in accordance with the previously made explanations of the provided proverbs. Very often these meanings are determined by a context. On the other hand, the direct meaning of a proverb is a word for word reading upholding the exact or primary sense of every lexical item in the expression.

However, only the metaphorical nature of such proverbs is revealed in both these parts of the research, while the direct reading has been neglected. Basically, figurative meanings of the proverbs are caused by the alterations of the primary sense of the words constituting a proverb. These alterations are made by invoking stylistic devices.

It should be stated that the abundance of proverbs with implied meanings induces а deeper survey of the inner form of these metaphorical expressions. Undoubtedly, this makes it purposeful to analyse the occurring styliste devices in proverbs.

The inner world of a human being exists within a person himself. It is a rich world of consciousness and awareness. It includes all positive and negative human emotions and feelings, mental and spiritual states. The range of themes includes: love, courage/boldness, patience, optimism, hope, ignorance, malice/anger, stubbornness/obstinacy, content - discontent.

The survey has revealed that certain feelings and emotional states are more often reflected in folk wisdom, while other aspects of human inner world are rarely encountered proverbs.

To conclude this part, it is possible to admit that proverbs as a folk wisdom reflect quite a rich inner human world from positive to negative emotions and mental or spiritual states. Nevertheless, the inner world is not the only element of human life.

Proverbial wisdom reflects the outer world of a human being. The present research includes such aspects of external world depicted in proverbs, which are directly connected to an individual or depend on him/her. Categories chosen for the research paper are appearance, misfortune and troubles, actions, deeds and consequences, work, money and wealth.

А big part of proverbs conveys diversified approach to the social life of human beings. Therefore, such elements of social human world as relationships between parents and children, different sexes as well as behaviour and different ages have been analysed. The explored topics include:

family, husband and wife, marriage, children/children and parents, men and women, associates/friends, age, behaviour/conduct, human nature.

The study of the proverbs has disclosed many aspects of social world of an individual, which varies from relationships between parents and children, a woman and a man to behaviour and human nature.


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    Bachelor Degree Alexandrina Barajin (Author)

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Title: The Concept of Life in English Proverbs