Saturday, 5 May 2012


I wanted to look at proverbs from other cultures/different languages, just to see where similarities and differences were, some proverbs will obviously be relatable in all cultures and others will be more specific to ways of life etc.  Just generally looking at the definition of a proverb and the different types:


A short pithy saying in general use, stating a general truth or piece of advice.

proverb (from Latin: proverbium) is a simple and concrete saying popularly known and repeated, which expresses a truth, based on common sense or the practical experience of humanity. They are often metaphorical. A proverb that describes a basic rule of conduct may also be known as a maxim. If a proverb is distinguished by particularly good phrasing, it may be known as an aphorism.
Proverbs are often borrowed from similar languages and cultures, and sometimes come down to the present through more than one language. Both the Bible (including, but not limited to the Book of Proverbs) and medieval Latin (aided by the work of Erasmus) have played a considerable role in distributing proverbs across Europe, although almost every culture has examples of its own.//wiki
Typical stylistic features of proverbs (as Shirley Arora points out in her article, The Perception of Proverbiality (1984)) are:
  • Alliteration (Forgive and forget)
  • Parallelism (Nothing ventured, nothing gained)
  • Rhyme (When the cat is away, the mice will play)
  • Ellipsis (Once bitten, twice shy)
In some languages, assonance, the repetition of a vowel, is also exploited in forming artistic proverbs, such as the following extreme example from Oromo, of Ethiopia.
  • kan mana baala, a’laa gaala (“A leaf at home, but a camel elsewhere"; somebody who has a big reputation among those who do not know him well.)
Similarly, from Tajik:
  • Az yak palak ― chand handalak ("From one vine, many different melons.")
Notice that in both of these cases of complete assonance, the vowel is <a>, the most common vowel in human languages.
Internal features that can be found quite frequently include:
  • Hyperbole (All is fair in love and war)
  • Paradox (For there to be peace there must first be war)
  • Personification (Hunger is the best cook)


Proverbs in various languages are found with a wide variety of grammatical structures. In English. for example, we find the following structures (in addition to others):
  • Imperative, negative- Don't beat a dead horse.
  • Imperative, positive- Look before you leap.
  • Parallel phrases- Garbage in, garbage out.
  • Rhetorical question- Is the Pope Catholic?
  • Declarative sentence- Birds of a feather flock together.
However, people will often quote only a fraction of a proverb to invoke an entire proverb, e.g. "All is fair" instead of "All is fair in love and war", and "A rolling stone" for "A rolling stone gathers no moss.

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