Academic journal article Western Folklore

American Proverbs: An International, National, and Global Phenomenon

Academic journal article Western Folklore

American Proverbs: An International, National, and Global Phenomenon

Article excerpt

Proverbs as one of the smallest ubiquitous folklore genres have been collected and studied since die beginning of written records. Both paremiographers and paremiologists have been hard at work at publishing collections and treatises throughout the world. In fact, proverb scholarship has reached such a phenomenal level of accomplishment that it is difficult for the fledgling proverb scholar to deal with the plethora of valuable information (see Moll 1958, Mieder 1982, 1990, 1993, 2001). And yet, as is true for most intellectual endeavors, there still remains much work to be done in both areas of proverb studies. The varied use and function of proverbs as cultural signs and strategically placed rhetorical devices need to be investigated in much more detail by paying attention to different historical periods (Burke 1941, Seitel 1969, Obelkevich 1987, Profantová 1998). Much can also still be learned by socio- and psycholinguistic approaches that look at proverbs from the point of view of cognition, comprehension, and communication (Mieder 2003a). Above all, much more attention should be paid to the continued employment of proverbs in the modern age of technology, the mass media, the internet, and general globalization (Mieder 1993). But additional proverb collections based on serious lexicographical principles are also a definite desideratum, including regional, national, and international compilations. While much is known about common European proverbs, it is high time to assemble comprehensive and comparative African as well as Near and Far Eastern proverb collections. Such compendia will eventually enable paremiographers to isolate fundamental proverb types that connect peoples through common wisdom all over the world (Mieder 1990, Grigas 1996, 2000a). The following discussion represents an attempt to show how American proverbs relate to these issues as an international, national (also regional) , and global phenomenon.

THE INTERNATIONAL BASE OF AMERICAN PROVERBS

The sub-field of comparative paremiography can indeed look back on a strong tradition with several hundred polyglot collections having been assembled during the past centuries. This is especially the case for European proverbs with their common classical, Biblical, and Medieval Latin origins. However, many of these collections are mere enumerations of texts without any scholarly apparatus revealing the origin and historical dissemination of such common proverbs. It is for this reason that the Lithuanian paremiographer and paremiologist Kazys Grigas some thirty years ago was justified to begin the introduction to his significant comparative proverb collection Lietuviif potarles (1976) with the statement that "the correlation between national and international elements in proverbs of different nations has received very little attention" (Grigas 1976:294) . And the following paragraph from these introductory remarks holds as true today as when they were composed by Kazys Grigas:

What are the laws of interrelation between the linguistic and extralinguistic factors which govern the origin, evolution, dissemination, longevity and death of proverbs and, finally, the penetration of their imagery into different languages? What are the levers which direct the movement of proverbs into one or another channel? What is the correlation of qualitative linguistic differences and similarities in proverbial texts? What elements reflect individual cultures - ethnic traditions and the mode of spiritual life, - and what has to be ascribed to phenomena typical of many cultures? What facts of language, linguistic stylistics and history of culture must be summoned up to investigate the national sources of proverbs and proverbial phrases of one's own people? And, finally, what is the ratio of internationally disseminated proverbs to proverbs of restricted distribution within the lore of one nation? (Grigas 1976:295)

These questions occupied Kazys Grigas throughout his long and active life, and he has provided many answers, regarding especially the national corpus of Lithuanian proverbs and its relationship to European proverbs in such superb publications as his comparative proverb collection Patarlitf patarlés (1987), his magisterial national collection of Lietuvitf potarles ir priezodziai (2000b) that will eventually comprise five massive volumes, and numerous essays tracing die origin and international distribution of individual proverbs (Grigas 1995, 1998). …

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