Informativity of Arabic Proverbs in Context: An Insight into Palestinian Discourse

Article excerpt

Abstract

This paper provided a linguistic analysis of five Arabic proverbs taken from the Palestinian culture. The five proverbs were analyzed in terms of sound features, cohesion and lexical expressions. The analysis showed how the uniqueness of the structure and content of proverbs make them informative and memorable. The proverbs were given to 10 native speakers of Palestinian Spoken Arabic (PSA), first out of context and then in 5 short dialogues to see whether they could be easily understood when they occur in their social contexts. The results showed that 80% of the subjects were able to provide the meanings of the proverbs in context, whereas only 48% were able to provide their meaning out of context. The results also revealed that the context that precedes the proverb gives more indication of its meaning compared to the context that follows it.

Keywords: Linguistics, Discourse analysis, Arabic proverbs in context, Informativity, Palestinian discourse, cohesion, Parallelism, lexical expressions

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1. Introduction

In general, humans utilize different methods and strategies to convey messages and to deal with various situations. Some people may prefer to be explicit and express their thoughts directly; preferring to use words and sentences in their literal sense. On the other hand, others prefer to be somewhat implicit and indirect, using devices designed to leave a greater impact on the audience or maybe to capture their attention via presenting a funny or metaphorical expression (Kövecses, 2002). Reasons for such behavior differ according to different speakers. However, people generally utilize such expressions to convert a tedious and boring communicative occurrence into something more interesting and intriguing. Some linguists even went on to argue that most of our normal conceptual system is metaphorically structured that is, most concepts, mainly abstract ones, are perceived in terms of other concepts (Lakoff and Johnson, 2003). Put differently, people usually perceive and experience one kind of thing in terms of another. For instance, people conceive of the abstract concept "anger" in terms of another concept which is more understandable to them based on their experience in the world, namely, "heat". Thus, they produce expressions like "he erupted in my face" (Boers, 2000).

There are various devices that could be used by different speakers to convey messages; an example of such devices is proverbs. Mieder (1985) a well-known proverb scholar defined a proverb as " a short, generally known sentence of the folk which contains wisdom, truth, morals, and traditional views in a metaphorical, fixed and memorizable form and which is handed down from generation to generation (cited in Mieder, 2004, p.3)". According to Mieder (2004), the study of proverbs could be traced back to Aristotle who analyzed different aspects of proverbs, a fact which reflects that people have been fascinated with the study of proverbs for centuries. Proverbs exist under the umbrella of a branch of linguistics called Phraseology. This field is concerned with studying and classifying fixed phrases such as proverbs, idioms, sayings, etc. Within Phraseology, there is an area that focuses on studying proverbs, namely, Paremiology. It is concerned with "the definition, form, structure, style, content, function, meaning, and value of proverbs (Mieder, 2004, p. xii)". Paremiography, however, is another area which deals with collecting and classifying different proverbs with no reference to their meaning or structure, hence, it is considered to be one side of the study of proverbs. In Paremiography, one can find different proverbs collected from different cultures. An example of Anglo-American proverbs is human nature is the same all over the world. Mieder (2004) referred to many scholars who studied proverbs, among them "Alan Dundes, Wolfram Eberhard, Stuart A. Gallacher, Richard Jente, Wayland D. …