at the 1996 Tokyo International Proverb Forum

Wolfgang Mieder (USA, University of Vermont, Professor)

Any attempt to describe the present state of proverb scholarship and its desiderata for the future must by necessity look back upon past accomplishments. There is indeed an impressive history of the two major aspects of proverb scholarship, i.e., the collection of proverbs (paremiography) and the study of proverbs (paremiology). Naturally these two branches are merely two sides of the same coin, and some of the very best research on proverbs combines the two in perfect harmony. Although the identification of traditional texts as proverbs and their arrangement in collections of various types are of paramount importance, proverb scholars have always known that the interpretation of their use in oral or written speech acts is of equal significance.

My lecture can only scratch the proverbial surface of the retrospective and prospective aspects of modern paremiology. Yet I will attempt to address some major issues of past, present, and future proverb research while giving representative examples of recent scholarship that can serve as models for what lies ahead. The longer published version of my remarks will touch on three categories, i. e., (1) fundamental resources, such as special journals, essay volumes, and bibliographies dedicated to proverb research, (2) the status of extant proverb collections and the direction of paremiography in the future, and (3) the impressive results of 20th century proverb scholarship and a glimspe at the desiderata for paremiology as we enter the 21st century. Due to time restrictions, I will unfortunately have to restrict my lecture to the third point, namely the state and future of modern paremiology.

My lecture will begin with a discussion of major comprehensive books on the proverb. This will be followed by comments regarding such matters as the definition of proverbs, the concept of "proverbiality", the intriguing aspects of empirical proverb research, the semiotic and linguistic approaches to the proverb, the question of the meaning of proverbs, and the use and function of proverbs in the social context. I will also comment on the use of proverbs by psychologists and psychiatrists for various types of mental and attitude testing. A short discussion of proverbs as expressing slurs and stereotypes will follow, and I also plan to say something about proverbs as expressions of worldview (mentality). Naturally the lecture will in addition deal with the necessity of tracing the origin, history, dissemination, and meaning of individual proverbs and their variants. Some comments on religious proverbs in the modern age will be included as well, and I will also discuss the pedagogical use of proverbs in child rearing and in the learning of foreign languages.

As is to be expected, the lecture will also touch on the interesting interrelationship of proverbs with other verbal folklore genres such as fables and fairy tales. A few points will be raised about the vast field of the integration of proverbs in literature of all types, including the important role that proverbs play in political rhetoric throughout the world. The iconographic interpretation of proverbs in woodcuts, emblems, tapestries, paintings, caricatures, cartoons, and comic strips will be mentioned as well, and finally there will be a more detailed discussion of the importance of studying the new proverbs of the modern age.

Modern paremiology is an absolutely open-ended phenomenon with many new challenges lying ahead. There is no doubt that proverbs, those old gems of generationally-tested wisdom, help us in our everyday life and communication to cope with the complexities of the modern human condition. The traditional proverbs and their value system give us some basic structure, and if their worldview does not fit a particular situation, they are quickly changed into revealing and liberating anti-proverbs. And there are, of course, the new proverbs of our time. The thousands of proverbs that make up the stock of proverbial wisdom of all cultures represent not a universally valid but certainly a pragmatically useful treasure. In retrospect, paremiologists have amassed a truly impressive body of proverb scholarship upon which prospective paremiology can build in good faith. Modern theoretical and empirical paremiology will doubtlessly lead to new insights about human behavior and communication, and by comparing these research results on an international basis, paremiologists might add their bit to a humane and enlightened world order based on experienced wisdom.

Wang Qin (China, Xiangtan University, Professor)

The proverb is existant in various peoples' languages and in circulation by formulaic phrases in spoken language as what comprehensively transmits experiences and lessons for a struggle of existence. Different peoples share with each other such features as proverbial forms and contents, because they share practical experieces and wisdom for human beings in order to survive.
The proverb is nevertheless rooted in the soil on which the people live and is realized as formulaic phrases in its language system. Therefore the character of the people is clearly branded in its proverbs. By comparing proverbs of different people with each other, we can find that each people's characteristics of history, economic life, cultural tradition, mentality, morality, sense of value , geographical environments and others are fully expressed in its proverbs. Consequently, in order to understand a people's proverbs, we should observe them in relation with such conditions as its history, economics, culture, customs and mentality. It is by the very method that we can get hold of a people's proverbs in a correct, scientific and deep way.

Chong-wha Chung (Korea, Korea University, Professor)

Proverbs in traditional Korean society differ from those of western societies, in that they are a cultural heritage of the lower class of society and therefore they are not shared by the upper class, who had for their cultural vehicle the "sijo" poetry, the three-lined, forty-five syllabled form of vernacular language. Though there are some proverbs borrowed from Chinese and Korean classics, the majority of Korean proverbs were made by the common people as lessons and guidelines of life for themselves. This explains why the language is vulgar and coarse in most cases. The Korean word for proverb, "sokdam", in fact, means a vulgar saying of the common people. Proverbs often have scatological and abusive references, reflecting the crude and uncouth pattern of life.
The common people used the proverbs to describe the inner thoughts of their hardship, to warn against the dangers of life, to vent their grievance against the oppressions of the ruling upper class, and to express the joys of life. In short the proverbs disclose most revealingly the realities of lower class life. The proverbs in this sense function as important social documents. What is mirrored in these proverbs show how poor the common people were, who these poor vulgar people were, how they struggled to survive in tough circumstances, and what their philosophy of life was.
"If you starve for three days, there is no thought that does not invade your imagination." "A nobleman's calf does not know how a butcher kills." "Hit on the face in the main street of Chongno, he goes as far as the Han River and then sends back reproachful glances." "Even a worm turns round when trodden on." "Cross even a stone bridge after you tested it." "Don't try to bequeath money to the children; try to educate them." "If there is a rich man in the area three villages are ruined."
These are random selections from Korean proverbs which typically portray the life of the common people. They show a picture of a poor man, who does not like rich men, and who hates the noble, ruling class. Although he is always victimized, he is secretly longing for the days when he can have his revenge. Meanwhile he has to be quiet and careful not to make mistakes. All he can do is to help educate his children for a future opportunity.

In this paper I try to describe who the poor people were, what their identities were, how they lived, and what they regarded as the most important purpose of life. In so doing I aim at defining the core of the common culture of the traditional society of Korea.

Vadim Mihalev (Russia, Institute of Cinematography, Professor)

Russia is now in the new developing stage in which the foundation of capitalism has been formed and more incipient capitalistic capital is being accumulated, but it is yet to be known well what changes it will bring to society and culture. We are being a witness to how communal consciousness is colapsing at a tremendous speed and individual consciousness is on the rise instead. The process is influencing on the Russians' traditional life in various aspects. The changes in society and consciousness can be seen especially in such aspects as communication and association between individuals, because those human relations are formed and established very easily. It is in the structure of those individual relations and associations that the change of proverbs and cliches can be seen clearly in their function. The rise of individualism in the incipient stage of the development of capitalism leads, with rare exceptions, to losing traditional culture and picking up a new cosmpolitan culture. This is a change parallel to the general trend of joining the world market--Americanization of Russian culture. As that trend goes on, proverbs which are part of traditional culture lose their conventional significance.

The proverb used to be a form of collective consciousness and has evolved in its language based on traditional experiences. Transmission of proverbs was an essential part of culture and a prerequisite for education and the formation of self. Those past proverbs, however, have been driven away from education. What is more, the proverb is even on the verge of extinction. Anyway, those proverbs specific to Russia which are imperative and promote practical effects have ceased to play their role. The proverb has been left as mere information which is individualistic, but not imperative or social at all.

FROM LINGUISTIC-CULTURAL COLLECTIVE UNCONSCIOUSNESS TO CONSCIOUSNESS: Semantical relations between (mainly) metaphorical paremiae and superstitions, on the basis of British English material 
Catherine Blanchoud (France, Independent Researcher)

Like paremiae, superstitions cross ethnic boundaries. Various collections of European paremiae or superstitions have a very large stock of shared units. Superstition, a short folk genre like paremia, represents a knowledge on: world (belief); the valence of forthcoming destiny - luck/ill luck (omen); practices leading the human subject to a conjunction/disjunction with the former/latter (true superstition). Non realist "potential worlds" with "stylistic monsters" are generated by breaks in metaphoric isotopies with an effect of absurdity or impossibility ("He that has a head of wax...").
A space for potential emergence of folk or mythological motifs ("He that comes from a hen...") from various depths of collective unconsciousness, i.e.: of a semantic universe including paremiae and superstitions, the "potential worlds" provide the latter with paremiological integrating structures.
By connotation (a device related to a subject's linguistic-cultural competence -part of his personal unconsciousness-), the "superposition" of a superstition on a paremia (with segmental identity, or homonymy) enriches the plural reading of metaphor or specifies the meaning of a paremia by adding a premise to it (cf .:"Dew increases milk productiveness" and "The cow that's first up gets the first of the dew").

If the valence of a (preconscious) presupposed superstition is reversed within the discourse on the latter of a presupposing paremia, the (conscious) paremiological discourse on luck/ill luck evolves from a quasi-undifferentiation from the superstitious message ("One funeral makes many") to an extreme differentiation ("Care and diligence bring luck") when, by means of his work, man forsakes his superstitious anguish for free will in the face of his destiny.

Frank Detje (Germany, University of Bamberg, Research Assistant)

A psychological method of analysis has been developed (Detje, 1996) and will be presented in order to show which psychological mechanisms the proverbs use to reach their goal of giving help (or advise) for human action regulation and human action organization. Some examples will be given to show which psychological insight there is inside the proverbs. Dorner's theory of human action organization (e.g. Dorner, 1990, 1991) is used in this first analysis and compared with a lot of proverbs taken from Simrock, 1846. It can be shown that the proverbs have a very differentiated "knowledge" about human action organization and errors people make while planning and acting; even in complex and uncertain situations. Proverbs are "Guides to Right Behavior". This also means that a lot of psychologists' ideas of action organization are already included in "grandma's wisdom", although the proverbs use (of course) a quite different language. Since psychologists have used proverbs mainly for testing and differentiating groups of persons (e.g. Mieder, 1977), it will be very interesting to have an exchange between paremiologists and psychologists about the psychological significance of the wisdom in the proverbs.

PAREMIOLOGY IN GERMANY: Methods, Problems and Current Trends 
Susanne Hose (Germany, Sorbian Institute, Paremiologist and folklorist)

Newer results of phraseological researches show the oral and written communication largely base on usage of pattern speech. There is an evident relationship between formulas circulated in present time and traditional formulas like proverbs. Pattern speech plays an important role for style and content in literature as well as in mass media. The phraseology looks at the external form of pattern speech and its function in the sentence whereas the paremiology asks about the function of proverbial language in traditional and contemporary culture. Of course there is a very fluid transition between both subjects. The best examples for that are the new series "Studies of Phraseology and Paremiology", which Wolfgang Eismann, Wolfgang Mieder and Peter Gryzbek edit since 1994, and the empirical proverb-project to find out the present-day generally known German proverbs, which stay under the leadership of linguists in Essen and Graz. This questionnaire project has parallels in many European countries, for example in Hungary, Slovakia , Czech Republic and Croatia, but also in the U.S.A. On the base of these empirical projects will follow further comparative studies.

To answer the question for the "living condition" of proverbs in the modern society characterized by technology, mass culture and rapid urbanization we need more information than the collected texts only. Proverbs survive rigorously changing cultural circumstances during the centuries. Apparently they are suitable to take on a function in the culture, what is connected with the question how does culture transmit. Some diachronical studies give information on how we adapt proverbs to changing social attitudes. But for more of these studies we need a suitable proverbial stock, which contains the present-day well known proverbs with their contexts. Up to now all empirical studies have asked for proverbs, but the contexts did not care. For the whole German spoken region doesn't exist a modern collection of proverbs common used in the twentieth century.

The folkloristic interest in the role of proverbs in human life is similar to the question about the role of proverbs in literature. The study of literature sources shows the use and the function of proverbs nearly as well as study of a social group - like the work of the famous German folklorist Mathilde Hain. Moreover, there is a relationship among writing proverbs, reading proverbs and using proverbs. The best example for the relationship between the proverbial literacy and orality give the bible and the well known bible proverbs.

We know, that proverbs have not lost their popularity. "Proverbs Are Never Out of Season" - not only the ten chapters of a so titled book written by Wolfgang Mieder show this. The empirical registration proof with the help of statistical methods the current knowledge of proverbs in the modern world, too. That's why we have to think and discuss about suitable methods how to organize the collecting and preservation of proverbs in this way, that the scholars can compare the national stocks to get a stock of worldwide common known proverbs with all their various functions in several cultures.

Kyosti Korpiola (Finland, Dentist at Finnish Student Health Service)

Health and disease are everyone's concern. Everybody faces the threat of injuring himself and all of us are worried about the impact of environment to our healths. We are also concerned of how diseases influence the social relationships. Most of us are afraid of aging and untimely death. What is the role of the physician, witchdoctor or nurse? How to cure diseases? So it is no wonder that all over the world there are many proverbs on health and diseases. In this paper the author presents a classification for proverbs on health and disease. The author deals with difficulties in defining what is proverb or not. He also tries to elucidate which are proverbs on health and diseases and which are not . Some proverbs are used metaphorically, some are simply advice or warnings. As examples he mainly uses proverbs from Japan and Finland, but also presents some proverbs known all over the world.

Gyula Paczolay (Hungary, Veszprem University, Retired Professor)

Universal proverbs -- On comparing proverbs of culturally unrelated parts of the world, one finds several ones having not only the same basic idea but the form of expression, i.e. the wording is also identical or very similar. These are mainly simple expressions of simple observations or simple ethical concepts, but not all expressions of simple observations became proverbs in every language.
Regional proverbs -- In culturally related regions - on the pattern of loan-words - many loan-proverbs appear beside the indigenous ones. A considerable part ot them can be traced back to the classical literature of the region's past, in Europe the Greco-Roman classics, the Greek and Hebrew Bible and Medieval Latin, in the Far East to the Sanskrit and Chinese classics.
Local Proverbs -- In a cultural region often internal differences appear, the classics (e.g. the Bible or the Confucian Analects) are not equally regarded as a source of proverbs in every language. Geographical vicinity gives also rise to another set of common local proverbs.
These considerations are illustrated in several European and Far-Eastern languages, e.g. Japanese, Korean and Chinese.

MOBILE PROVERB MUSEUMS: The Concept of Proverb Authorship in an African Culture 
Kwesi Yankah (Ghana, University of Ghana, Associate Professor)

Is it ever possible to trace a proverb's author in a predominantly illiterate community? Even in written traditions where the authorship of a literary proverb would seem to present little difficulty, proverb scholars have often expressed skepticism. The likelihood of individual authorship based on collective wisdom is indeed, the conventional position assumed in paremiology. This crystallizes in Lord Russel's oft-quoted reference to the proverb as, "The wisdom of many, and the wit of one."

In formulating the process of proverb composition, however, it has not been easy specifying authors of proverbs. Archer Taylor, for instance, states that the search for a proverb's inventor in written lore, "is often an idle task."

In the scholarship on orally expressed proverbs, uncertainty about proverb composers is even more evident, owing to the evanescence of verbal art. B.J. Whiting in his excellent essay on the origin of proverbs, refers to the study of Malagasy proverbs where sayings are noted to have been "fathered upon an individual long dead".

The above perception of authorship, evidently, neglects to consider indigenous notions. Among the Akan of Ghana, the effective handling of context by a proverb speaker is enshrined in the notion of proverb authorship. The basis of proverb authorship is best seen in the art of the "proverb custodian" who registers people's proverb compositions, by giving them visual representations and hanging them on a string. He then moves from town to town and gives a narration of the proverb's authorship, and the original context in which the composer used it.

The concept of proverb authorship in parts of Africa, then is not far-fetched. It is enshrined in the context of proverb use and is firmly procured in institutions one may call "mobile proverb museums" - the art of a proverb registrar.

ON OKINAWAN PROVERBS - With Reference to Japanese and English Proverbs 
Zenko Shimabukuro (Japan, University of the Ryukyus, Professor)

Okinawa Prefecture includes the Ryukyu Islands which contain forty-eight(48) inhabited islands and 112 uninhabited islands. The major islands are Okinawa, Miyako, and Ishigaki (Yaeyama). Of these three major islands, Okinawa is the largest one in which the capital city, Naha and the prefectural government are located. The population of Okinawa Prefecture is approximately 1,270,000 in 1996 and the total land area is 2,245 square kilometers.

Although the common, official language of Okinawa Prefecture is, of course, the Japanese language, each island possesses its own unique dialect and proverbs . The sort of dialect spoken on Okinawa Island is generally called "the Okinawan Dialect". It is regarded as one of the Japanese dialects. However, the native speakers of Japanese seem to have difficulty in understanding the Okinawan dialect becauese the pronunciation and the vocabulary of the Okinawan dialect are quit e different from those of the Japanese language. Moreover, the numerous small villages of Okinawa have their dialects. Hence sometimes the dialects are not intelligible even among the residents of the adjacent villages. Their proverbs are concerned, however, many of them are reported to be very similar in their forms and meanings throughout Okinawa Island.

Consequently, based on the notion that the proverbs exemplified here represent the typical Okinawan proverbs, this presentation will be made in the following order: (1)Difinition: They are Okinawan slungs (Zukugu), Okinawan golden sayings (Kuganikutuba), or the sayings of ancient Okinawans (Nkasinchu nu kutuba); (2 )Usage: They are mainly used to teach children moral lessons; (3)Origin: They are chiefly of three varieties: (a)Those of Okinawan origin, (b)Those of Japanese origin, and (c)Those of Chinese origin; (4)Classification:(omitted); (5)Comparison with Japanese and English provebs in cultural contexts; and (6)Conclusion.

Tadao Shimomiya (Japan, Gakushuin University, Professor)

Bread is the staff of life. It is the king of foodstaffs. "Breawinner" is the person who supports his family. Wander's Dictionary of German proverbs (which contains 200,000 German proverbs) has 400 German proverbs relating to bread. "Wessen Brot ich esse, dessen Lied ich singe" (literally: I sing the song of the person whose bread I eat; the English equivalent being "Let every man praise the bridge he goes over") is reminiscent of the medieval Germanic era when the court poets, Hofdichter, Scandinavian skalds, Anglo-Saxon scops composed the poems praising the deeds of their kings. This proverb has its equivalents in Romance languages (French:Il faut louer celui dont on mange le pain; Spanish:Aquel loar debe mos, cuyo pan comemos; Italian:Canto di colui che mi da pane).

Shigeyoshi Fukuda (Japan, Broadcasting Culture Research Institute of NHK, Senior Researcher)

Since 1986, Broadcasting Culture Research Institute of NHK has been conducted the surveys on the various aspects of usage of Japanese language. Recently two surveys were carried out on the usage of proverb. One conducted in 1992 aimed at the general public. And last May the opinion of fifty students of the faculty of arts of Chiba University was convassed. I would like to present the results of these two surveys, focusing on the former. It is said that deluge of information, the growth of the nuclear family, and the decrease of personal contacts combined to a lesser usage of proverbs in Japan.

To determine whether in fact proverbs are seldom used, or are used with a meaning different from the original one, this survey probing the modern consciousness of Japanese proverbs was undertaken.

This survey studied three issues, the level of interest in and use of proverbs in general, the level of use and acceptance of individual proverbs, and expression and various interpretations of proverbs and idioms. The survey yielded the remarkable result that over two out of three people are interested in proverbs.

The survey shows that there are many case in which misusage of the certain proverbs are now widely accepted, and that the way of use depends on the speaker' s age.

To prevent a generational communication gap, it is recommended that the mass media use proverbs carefully. Although it is difficult to predict the future of proverbs besed only on this survey, it appears likely that the use of proverbs in daily conversation will continue to diminish, and that some proverbs whose meaning are traditionally considered to be incorrect may have a chance of survival. Each proverbs has its own linguistic future.

Miori Fujimura (Japan, Translator of German)

With our sense organs we receive stimuli and information from our external environment, so we are connected with the outside world. The physical function itself as the senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch must be fundamentally similar through all ages and countries, but the external conditions and social situations are quite different according to the time and place.Which proverbs in relation to the senses are used today in the Japanese and German languages?

Many proverbs about the senses by eyes,ears, nose, tongue and skin show the body activity, and, at the same time they have something to do with the mind. How to deal with the outside world,cannot be separated from the judgement of subject.In these proverbs the cultual and physical character must be also reflected.Japanese proverbs in the field of basic five senses are compared with German ones and common and different points are looked over.

Yoko Mori (Japan, Meiji University, Professor)

Japanese traditional culture and the art of Pieter Bruegel the Elder seem to everyone to be worlds apart. However, there are many common proverbs and sayings which convey the same message, even though the phrasing may differ. In this speech I focus on discussing Bruegel's "Netherlandish Proverb"(1559) in Berlin and compare Flemish proverbs with Japanese ones. "Zij zou de duivel op het kussen binden" ("She would bind the devil himself to a pillow") is apparently a satire against a powerful and dominant wife. He paints an ugly and malicious looking woman who binds the limbs of a devil lying on a pillow. The equivalent Japanese proverb would be "Teishu o shiri ni shiku" ("She sits on her husband"). The Japanese painter Kawanabe Kyousai (1831-1898) depicts a wife sitting on her husband who holds her tobacco kit while she smokes. She is carelessly dressed, and in the trace of smoke one can read the words, "Noroma mono" ("what a simpleton!"). "Ro zen voor de varkens strooien" ("To strew roses before the pigs") refers to giving important advice to someone who is not paying attention. Bruegel's peasant looks foolish to cast to his pigs such precious and fragrant flowers as roses. The equivalent Japanese proverb would be, "Neko ni koban" ("Giving gold coins to a cat"). Kuwagata Keisai depicts this proverb in "Keisai Ryakugashiki"(1813), in which a cat sits on a warmer, the "Nekoanka" showing no interest towards money. The illustration does not seem to imply an admonition, but simply amuse the viewer. It is worth to point out that there are essential differences in the visual messages between Bruegel's and Japanese proverbs. Bruegel's proverbs painting is very instructive and give the observers serious moral lessons, advices to guard from deceit and to avoid foolish behaviour. However, images of Japanese proverbs provide the viewer with entertainment and light satire. Edouard Suenson, a Danish officer, wrote his impression during his stay in Japan in 1866 that Japanese of all the social classes had the tendencies to love humor and make a joke.

Masahiro Yoshioka (Japan, Hakodate National College of Technology, Professor)

In proverbs, we find a lot of discriminatory expressions, that is, malignant ridicule and abusive words about women, weak or disabled people, minorities, etc. These are evidently a reflection of old fixed beliefs and prejudices. From today's viewpoint, these expressions are absolutely intolerable.

But is it right that we close our eyes to these old poisons? Or,is it proper that we replace them by other non-poisonous expressions? I do not think so. Such treating would be contrary to freedom of expression and kill the vividness of proverbs.

What we should do is not to hide or reject those harmful proverbs, but to confront or contemplate them as a real proof of human ugliness and cruelties in the past ages. And it is rather the present-day proverb scholars' duty to expose the unjustice of those proverbs and make critical comments on them.

Proverbs have, on the other hand, their universal and global character. We have a lot of proverbs that regard all human beings as an equally precious existence. These are, so to speak, "proverbs beyond discrimination". Respecting various differences, we should try, at the same time, to transcend discrimination. These international proverbs should be our real treasure. 


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