28 sept. 2011

Theories of the Proverb

So today for class I want to develop a half dozen theories of the proverb. I don't mean a theory that will explain everything, but just a half-way interesting idea. I'm doing it on my blog first because I am too lazy to come up with these ideas as part of my working day. If I do it on the blog it's just part of my blogging hobby and will be sheer play. and hence be much easier.

1. Proverbs are a form of cultural competence, or the place where linguistic and cultural competence meet. They draw on cultural concepts that are widely shared like Dios or pan (God; bread).

2. Proverbs are part of daily life; they are pragmatic and refer to ordinary experience, like the weather, eating, drinking, human relationships, animals that might be observed around the house or barn. They have a semantic field confined to the everyday, and have pragmatic implications.

3. The meaning of a proverb is its use, not the meaning of its semantic elements.

4. Proverbs are instantiations of conventional metaphorical schemata, like "The Great Chain of Being" as explained in Lakoff's and Turner's More than Cool Reason.

5. Proverbs have a definite ideology, when viewed as a whole and not individually. This ideology can be described as "cynical conservatism." In other words, wisdom is following the accepted path, but being distrustful of human motivations.

6. A proverb has to "click" or "snap" prosodically and structurally. A proverb is a small poem.

7. [Your job, dear reader, is to come up with the 7th idea.]

5 comentarios:

Jordan dijo...

Blakean proverbs run counter to #5, I think.

Re #3: the meaning is the use is the correction of human folly? Limit-setting? Like that bacteria that releases a chemical that slows down the multiplication of bacteria (I made this example up)...

Anthony Robinson dijo...

A proverb-based poetics could provide an interesting, but entirely unuseful antidote/corrective to Language poetries and a backlash against the backlash against commodification of language.

Jonathan dijo...

Meaning is use like "Gesundheit" means someone just sneezed. The pragmatic use is to to indicate your concern with someone's sneezing. With a proverb, the use has to do with the specific situation in which is is typically spoken. What provokes someone to use a proverb? What is the desired effect?

Amateur Reader (Tom) dijo...

Some of these are also theories of the joke - 1 and 6, certainly, maybe some others, maybe 5. But 3 and 4 are distinguishing.

Vance Maverick dijo...

Jordan's point about Blake suggests that #5 should be split in two.

5a. Proverbs have a definite ideology.

5b. In folk proverbs, the ideology is "cynical conservatism".

Putting this together: literary proverbs may claim attention by subverting one or the other. Blake, Cioran, and Jenny Holzer upend 5b; those who attack 5a, sometimes, include Blake and Stein.