Honeck, Richard P.
A Proverb in Mind: The Cognitive Science of Proverbial Wit and Wisdom.
Mahwah, NJ and London: Lawrence Erlbaum, 1997.

See also Honeck's other works (abstracts)

From the Preface

"The proverb is a complex, intriguing, and important verbal entity. As a result, it has been the subject of a vast number of opinions, studies, and analyses. To accommodate this outpouring, seven views of the proverb have been outlined: personal, formal, religious, literary, practical, cultural, and cognitive. Because the goal of this volume is to provide a scientific understanding of proverb comprehension and production, I have drawn largely on scholarship stemming from the formal, cultural, and cognitive views. In particular, the cognitive view provides the leitmotif for this volume. The essence of this view is that there are universal principles that underlie proverb cognition, irrespective of the individuals who use proverbs or the particular situations and cultures in which they are used. To address this emphasis, it has been necessary to draw on much of what cognitive scien e has to offer regarding minds. The general point is that in the long run an interdisciplinary perspective will provide the best chance of understanding all aspects of proverb functioning.

There is a great deal of speculation in this volume. The speculation is mainly about proverbs, but I have also attempted to provide a larger perspective by relating the proverb to other forms of figurative language and to intelligence. The reason for this is that it is unsatisfying to treat proverbs in isolatioin from other language forms and from mental capacity and activity in general. In particular, proverbs have been framed in terms of a building metaphor for intelligence, and intelligence further still in terms of indirectness. Thus, for all forms of figurative language there is an indirect, nonliteral relationship between what is said and both that about which it is said and the intention in saying it. An individual's understanding of indirection would seem to require an ability to generate, build on, and integrate different layers of information. Significantly, this sort of process is apparent in every realm of human information processing, whether perception, memory, or thought.

Regarding proverbs per se, the conceptual base theory of proverb cognition has been extended via the cognitive ideals hypothesis and the DARTS model. The latter is a speculative model about cerebral hemispheric contributions to proverb comprehension. The former holds that proverbs arise from, and are comprehended and used, in part, to satisfy constraints on the universal human urge to view the world in idealistic, perfectionistic terms. The further claim is that, on some level, these ideals are relatively common to humanity. It follows from both this premise and from the premise of cognitive science that principles of great generality are at work in proverb processing.

On the surface, this approach seems to ignore the more prevalent view that proverbs are culturally specific linguistic forms that tap into unique cultural values, or even taht proverbs themselves take on different weights and are used in different ways in different cultures. That, however, is not the case. The cognitive ideals hypothesis allows, nay welcomes, this diversity, while nevertheless maintaining that there are basic cognitive processes involved in all proverb usage.

This approach, though, has several consequences that many proverb scholars may find objectionable. In general, it justifies looking at proverbs independently of a given culture, context, or individual. It legitimizes all manner of experimentation with proverbs.

Of course, this sort of methodological reductionism has been the thrust of every science. Tehre is no compelling reason to abandon it while pursuing the proverb. Perhapy my fundamental belief in this endeavor is that proverbs emerge and function to satisfy basic biocognitive urges to codify and comment on the state of the world relative to some ideal. In this case, it would be inconsistent to approach proverbs exclusively from a culturally based perspective. Moreover, a great dal of mental processing occurs in a very short period of time, and htis matter is left untouched by the cultural view. In the long run, however, Humpty Dumpty must be put back together, requiring the synthesis of several views on the proverb" (vii-ix).

     Views of the proverb.
     The tangle of figurative language.
     Cognitive foundations.
     Theories of proverb cognition.
     Under, inside, and outside the proverb.
     Brain, development, and intelligence.
     New horizons.
     Appendix: Proverb source materials.
     Author index.
     Subject index.

Honeck is an experimental psychologist at the University of Cincinnati. Wolfgang Mieder "provided commentary on the entire volume," and George Lakoff also commented on parts (x).  

Contact information:

Richard Honeck, PhD.
University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1969
Professor, Department of Psychology
University of Cincinnati






Maintained by Francis F. Steen, Communication Studies, University of California Los Angeles