Anglo-American and Polish Proverbs

Linguo-Cultural Perspective on Traditional Values

by Bożena Kochman-Haładyj (Author)
©2021 Monographs 290 Pages


The main purpose of the publication is to present a linguo-cultural picture of traditional values (such as the value of life, freedom, dignity, family, religion, community, truth, good, beauty, and God) reflected in Anglo-American and Polish paremiology. The author analyzes the proverbs with the use of semantic approach and divides them into several thematic categories and subcategories related to the sphere of values. The paremiological analysis carried out from a contrastive perspective provides additional evidence to support the claim that, despite some widespread axiological views common to languages, there exist distinct differences characteristic only of a given linguo-culture, naturally caused by different, among others, geographical, historical, social, and cultural environments.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Acknowledgements
  • Table of Contents
  • List of Tables
  • List of abbreviations
  • CHAPTER ONE Proverbs – theoretical underpinnings
  • 1.1. An overview of proverbs – features, definition attempts, and functions
  • 1.2. Inquiry into the language-culture nexus
  • 1.2.1 Proverbs as a tool for storage and transmission of culture
  • 1.2.2. Linguistic Culturology – terminology and research perspectives in world and Polish tradition
  • 1.3. Contrastive paremiography and paremiology
  • 1.3.1. Semantic approach to contrastive paremiology
  • CHAPTER TWO Values – conceptual framework
  • 2.1. Values – definition, major publications, and selected approaches
  • 2.1.1. In search of universal value system
  • 2.1.2. The issue of contemporary value crisis
  • 2.2. Language as a source of information about values
  • 2.2.1. Proverbs – linguistic evidence in the reconstruction of the value system
  • CHAPTER THREE Semantic analysis of values encoded in traditional Anglo-American and Polish proverbs – comparison and contrast
  • 3.1. Introduction
  • 3.2. Personal values in Anglo-American and Polish paremiology
  • 3.2.1. The value of life
  • The value of life encoded in Anglo-American proverbs
  • The value of life encoded in Polish proverbs
  • Analysis of the value of life in Anglo-American and Polish proverbs – comparison and contrast
  • 3.2.2. The value of freedom
  • The value of freedom/liberty encoded in Anglo-American proverbs
  • The value of freedom encoded in Polish proverbs
  • Analysis of the value of freedom/liberty in Anglo-American and Polish proverbs – comparison and contrast
  • 3.2.3. The value of dignity
  • The value of dignity encoded in Anglo-American proverbs
  • The value of dignity encoded in Polish proverbs
  • Analysis of the value of dignity in Anglo-American and Polish proverbs – comparison and contrast
  • 3.3. Common values in Anglo-American and Polish paremiology
  • 3.3.1. The value of family
  • The value of family encoded in Anglo-American proverbs
  • The value of family encoded in Polish proverbs
  • Analysis of the value of family in Anglo-American and Polish proverbs – comparison and contrast
  • 3.3.2. The value of religion
  • The value of religion encoded in Anglo-American proverbs
  • The value of religion encoded in Polish proverbs
  • Analysis of the value of religion in Anglo-American and Polish proverbs – comparison and contrast
  • 3.3.3. The value of community
  • The value of community encoded in Anglo-American proverbs
  • The value of community encoded in Polish proverbs
  • Analysis of the value of community in Anglo-American and Polish proverbs – comparison and contrast
  • 3.4. Absolute values in Anglo-American and Polish paremiology
  • 3.4.1. The value of truth
  • The value of truth encoded in Anglo-American proverbs
  • The value of truth encoded in Polish proverbs
  • Analysis of the value of truth in Anglo-American and Polish proverbs – comparison and contrast
  • 3.4.2. The value of good
  • The value of good encoded in Anglo-American proverbs
  • The value of good encoded in Polish proverbs
  • Analysis of the value of good in Anglo-American and Polish proverbs – comparison and contrast
  • 3.4.3. The value of beauty
  • The value of beauty encoded in Anglo-American proverbs
  • The value of beauty encoded in Polish proverbs
  • Analysis of the value of beauty in Anglo-American and Polish proverbs – comparison and contrast
  • 3.4.4. The value of God
  • The value of God encoded in Anglo-American proverbs
  • The value of God encoded in Polish proverbs
  • Analysis of the value of God in Anglo-American and Polish proverbs – comparison and contrast
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Bibliographic note
  • Index of names
  • Thematic index
  • Streszczenie
  • Series index

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List of tables

Table 1. The universal value hierarchy established by Żuk (2016) serving as a model typology for the research of the value-related proverbs in the present study

Table 2. Logemes and sublogemes differentiated within life-related Anglo-American and Polish proverbs

Table 3. Logemes differentioned within freedom-related Anglo-American and Polish proverbs

Table 4. Logemes differentioned within dignity-related Anglo-American and Polish proverbs

Table 5. Logemes differentioned within family-related Anglo-American and Polish proverbs

Table 6. Logemes differentioned within religion-related Anglo-American proverbs

Table 7. Logems and sublogemes differentiated within truth-related Anglo-American and Polish proverbs

Table 8. Logemes and sublogemes differentiated within good/goodness-related Anglo-American and Polish proverbs

Table 9. Logemes and sublogemes differentiated in the body of beauty-related Anglo-American and Polish proverbs

Table 10. Logemes and sublogemes differentiated within God-related Anglo-American and Polish proverbs

Table 11. The quantitative analysis of value-related proverbial thematic categories embedded in Anglo-American and Polish paremiological wisdom

Table 12. The qualitative analysis presenting the subcategories – with the attributed logemes – singled out within the thematic categories of Anglo-American and Polish value-related proverbs

Table 13. The qualitative analysis of semantic themes (sublogemes) within the selected main logemes of the differentiated subcategories of Anglo-American and Polish value-related proverbs

←22 | 23→

CHAPTER ONE Proverbs – theoretical underpinnings

1.1. An overview of proverbs – features, definition attempts, and functions

The following paragraphs portray theoretical considerations on proverbs in terms of their salient features, which decide about the proverbiality status, and multitude of functions, for which they are employed in various contexts and situations. Additionally, an attempt is made to include a definition of the term proverb with its most prominent characteristics. Importantly, the issues addressed in this part – particularly defining matters and functional aspects of proverbs – are approached according to their direct reference to the research topic and languages subject to analysis in the present study.

And so, proverbs are very special phraseological units11 which represent a heterogeneous collection of certain recurrent sayings deriving from the discourses of a language community (Norrick 2014: 7), traditionally associated with peasant and rural culture. One of the commonly known divisions of proverbs, which may be successfully used to study their genesis, is their distinction into two categories, i.e. folk proverbs, of unknown origin, which appeared first in a spoken form and later were recorded in writing, and proverbs of literary provenance, i.e. those created by the act of written works (Szpila 2003: 47). In practice, however, the discussed distinction is blurred and proverbs lose genetic reference in the minds of users (ibid.). Predominantly, the short stereotyped texts are devised by one specific person in a deliberate or accidental manner, which is rightly voiced in Lord John Russell’s renowned one-line proverb description that has caught on a proverbial status: “A proverb is the wit of one, and the wisdom of many” (ca. 1850) (Mieder 1993: 25, 2004: 9). The author of proverbs is, however, generally unknown, hence proverbs function independently in the social circuit and their anonymity makes them belong to the collective property (Kowalikowa 2004: 113).12 Beyond question is also the fact that “proverbs are an inseparable ←23 | 24→element of our linguistic action and are present in a great number”13 (Szpila 2003: 7). Moreover, by virtue of their widespread usage, proverbs are intuitively recognised, mainly on the basis of typical distinctive features which decide about their proverbiality. Wherefore, in the following, prior to the description of the definition attempts, the salient defining properties of proverbs are enumerated and exemplified.

To begin with, proverbs have a relatively stable, concise (with the average length of a proverb comprising about seven words),14 pithy and generally recognizable form, which lets them be treated as “ready-made comments on personal relationships and social affairs” (Mieder 2004: 1). Moreover, from a linguo-cultural perspective, in comparison with all other literary genres, “they seem to somehow best bridge the gap between vastly different languages, epochs, historical periods, natural landscapes, ethnic groups, social classes, religions, ideological affiliations, generations, or levels of education” (Petrova 2016: 381). Without doubt, the feature which decides about the status of their proverbiality is the concept of traditionality, both in terms of age and currency. Additionally, proverbs frequently fall into the category of formulaic and metaphorical language which makes them a significant rhetorical potential in various modes of communication. Sometimes they have a rhymed form used for “the purpose of staying in the memory with little effort but with much psychic reward” (Lipiński 1997: 5). In order to extend the list, apart from the features provided in the foregoing, the following additional peculiarities of proverbs may be added, including: self-containedness, didactic content, poetic features (Norrick 2014: 8), ←24 | 25→two-dimensional meaning, pictoriality, international universality (Krzyżanowski 1969–1978: VII–VIII), reproducibility, laconicity (Szutkowski 2015: 59).15

Notably, the feature which makes them distinct from other items of folklore embodied in a language system, such as, for example, fairy tales, legends, jokes, and riddles is the fact that they are “the most concise but not necessarily the simplest in form” (Mieder 2004: 1). In turn, what differentiates them from non-sentential items, such as, for example, idioms (e.g. beat around the bush), binomials (e.g. back and forth), proverbial expressions (e.g. to look for a needle in a haystack), proverbial comparisons (e.g. as busy as a bee, to look like a million dollars), and twin (binary) formulas (e.g. rags and riches), etc. is the fact that “proverbs are characteristically used to form a complete utterance, make a complete conversational contribution and/or to perform a speech act in a speech event” (Norrick 2014: 7). Putting it differently, they contain complete thoughts and wisdom that can stand by themselves (Mieder 2004: 13). Importantly, treating proverbs as minitexts of a specific syntactic form, that is a single sentence structure, is a feature which almost always appears in scientific definitions (Szpila 2003: 26). A form of sentences in which proverbs appear, as reported by Mac Coinnigh (2015: 113), may be grouped into four distinct types depending on the number of clauses and sub-clauses they are constructed of. The sentence types are as follows: simple (e.g. Silent waters run deep), compound (e.g. Falseness lasts an hour and truth lasts till the end of time), complex (e.g. When the wine is drawn, one must drink it), and compound-complex (e.g. When the oak is before the ash, then you will only get a splash; when the ash is before the oak, then you may expect an oak).

Regarding poetic aspects of proverbs, in the division made by Seiler (1922: 4), two kinds of features that proverbs possess are distinguished, that is to say, external and internal ones (see also Szpila 2003: 34). Notably, the various stylistic features, otherwise called markers, exhibited by proverbs, decide about the statement’s proverbial status. As postulated by many proverb scholars (see e.g. Arora 1984, Mieder 2004, Mac Coinnigh 2015), the following exemplary stylistic external markers may be identified: alliteration (e.g. Live and let live), parallelism (e.g. Where there’s will, there’s a way), rhyme (e.g. When the cat’s away, the mice will play), ellipsis (e.g. Sooner begun, sooner done), repetition (e.g. Boys will be boys), assonance (e.g. A rolling stone gathers no moss). In turn, the internal features (which refer to the figurative aspects of proverbs) are, among other ←25 | 26→things, hyperbole (e.g. A watched pot never boils), paradox (e.g. The nearer the church, the farther from God), and personification (e.g. Money talks). There are also proverbs involving metonymic transfer (e.g. Far from eyes, far from heart) or metaphorical extensions (e.g. Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth), yet equally popular are non-metaphorical proverbs as well (e.g. Honesty is the best policy).16

When it comes to the structural paradigms, which additionally help to identify traditional proverbs, certain structures and patterns might be enumerated (see Peukes 1977). Suffice to mention the more common ones, being found in various world languages, not only English: “Better X than Y” (e.g. Better late than never), “Like X, like Y” (e.g. Like father, like son), “No X without Y” (e.g. No gain without pain), “One X doesn’t make a Y” (e.g. One swallow does not make a summer), “If X, then Y” (e.g. If at first you don’t succeed, then try, try again), “Where there’s X, there’s Y” (e.g. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire).17 Moreover, proverbs are said to be fixed and have a certain order, but there is a margin of flexibility in their use. In oral speech as well as in literature or the mass media instead of bringing the full sentence, its reduced fragment is often employed because, as indicated by Norrick (1985: 45), “for well-known proverbs, mention of the crucial recognizable phrase serves to call forth the entire proverb” (see also Szpila 2003: 30, Norrick 2014: 12). For instance, instead of verbalizing the whole proverbial expression, native speakers shorten it to phrases, as in An apple a day… instead of An apple a day keeps a doctor away; Well the early bird… instead of The early bird gets the worm.

Finally yet importantly, the feature of proverbs which is worthy of particular attention is the fact that proverbs are subject to various alterations and modifications, especially when it comes to producing playful effects or satirical and ironic commentaries. Such deliberate proverbs innovations and reactions to traditional proverbs are referred to as anti-proverbs (see e.g. Mieder and Litovkina 1999, Mieder 2003a, Litovkina and Mieder 2019, Litovkina 2019). They emerge in a variety of forms out of which the most common are: replacing a single word (e.g. He who hesitates is constipated), substituting two or more words (e.g. One man’s drive is another man’s funeral), changing the second part of the proverb (e.g. If at first you don’t succeed, give up), adding a tail to the original text (e.g. Half the world doesn’t know how the other half live – but they are sure trying ←26 | 27→to find it), adding literal interpretations (e.g. When one door shuts, another opens … which means that you live in a drafty house), punning (e.g. Where there’s a will, there’s an inheritance tax), word-repetition (e.g. The man who lives by bread alone, lives alone), melding two proverbs (e.g. A penny saved gathers no moss), and word-order reversal (e.g. Better never than late) (Litovkina 2019: 29–34). What bears special importance to any linguo-cultural paremiological analysis is the fact that anti-proverbs “reveal humorous or satirical speech play with traditional proverbial wisdom” (Mieder 2004: 28), as a result of which accepted proverbial lore might be called into question.

It is time to refer at this point to the defining matters of the discussed linguistic occurrences. First and foremost, a precise definition of the term proverb has provoked intensive academic discussion of various disciplines and caused much confusion over the centuries. From Aristotle, who made the first definition attempts in antiquity, to present times numerous proverb scholars in the abundant source literature (suffice to mention e.g. a number of Anglo-American and Polish publications: Taylor (1931), Whiting (1932, 1994), Bystroń (1933), Gallacher (1959), Kindstrand (1978), Russo (1983), Arora (1984), Norrick (1985), Dundes (1987), Krzyżanowski (1990), Paczolay (1998), Zakrzewski (2002), Winick (2003), Szpila (2003, 2017), Mieder (2004), Kłosińska (2004)) have attempted to formulate a precise proverb description that would appease paremiologists and generate a concrete basis for various scientific considerations and investigations.18

Nonetheless, as one can read in the literature on the subject, “we should not expect [...] a single inclusive definition of the proverb” (Norrick 2014: 7) because every “attempt to unequivocally define a proverb is [...] doomed to failure” (Zakrzewski 2002: 3). Furthermore, what is particularly noted by proverb specialists is the fact that, firstly, it is too difficult to reward the effort (Taylor 1931: 3)19 and, secondly, “not even the most complex definition will be able to identify all proverbs” (Mieder 2004: 4). In like manner, Szpila (2003: 10) regards proverb as “a phenomenon largely indefinable, evading easy and categorical descriptions” due to the diversity of perspectives from which we can look at it.

←27 | 28→

Notably, one foremost reason why scholars have not been able to provide a satisfactory general definition that would be universal and suitable for every context or situation is the fact that they have taken into consideration various features of proverbs (such as the ones provided above, i.e. popularity, traditionality, brevity, familiarity, figurativeness, etc.).20 Furthermore, some proverb experts have looked at the use and function of proverbs, whereas others were rather more interested in the meaning of proverbs, which may vary per circumstances (Mieder 2004: 4). However, other paremiologists who also indicate a problematic character of this abstract concept and refer to the impossibility of defining it stress another proverb definition distinction, i.e. either according to the classical theory of features or to the prototype theory (see, e.g. Szpila 2003: 3, Kispál 2015: 229). As one can read in Kispál (2015: 229), if proverbs are defined within the framework of the prototype theory, they are interpreted as proverbs in a broader sense, so they might include better examples of the proverb category (e.g. Make hay while the sun shines) and worse examples too, in the form of proverbial comparisons (e.g. as black as night), wellerisms (e.g. “We’ll have to rehearse that,” said the undertaker as the coffin fell out of the car), weather signs (e.g. When the wind is in the north, the skilful fisher goes forth), and superstitions (e.g. When smoke from a chimney falls, it’s going to storm), or even idioms (e.g. sick as a dog). Nevertheless, proverbs can also be interpreted in a narrower sense within the framework of features (such as the ones enumerated above, i.e. sentence, rhyme, alliteration, ellipsis, moral authority, didactic intent, et al.), and in that case there are only sentential statements included (e.g. A fish always rots from the head down).

Despite much confusion and indecision in regard to proverbs definition let us decide on the ones that are most widely recognised and respected. And so, a present-day general definition of the term created by a highly acknowledged world’s leading paremiologist Wolfgang Mieder is the one which is well worth quoting. First and most importantly, it is a result of many modifications of other definitions suggested by various proverb specialists which contains most ←28 | 29→essential elements, and, secondly, it expresses a sort of social injunction by the use of a direct reference to transmitting morals; the latter point being relevant to the main theme of the present study. The scholar after a long-term review of numerous attempts at defining the notion provides a short version of his own saying that:


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2021 (September)
value-related proverbs valuation linguo-culture linguistic worldview contrastive paremiology
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2021. 290 pp., 13 tables.

Biographical notes

Bożena Kochman-Haładyj (Author)

Bożena Kochman-Haładyj has been affiliated with the English Department of Modern Languages at the University of Rzeszow, Poland, where she holds a teaching and research position in the section of Contemporary and Historical English and Comparative Linguistics. Her scientific interests embrace sociolinguistics, semantics, paremiology, contrastive paremiology, linguistic culturology.


Title: Anglo-American and Polish Proverbs
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290 pages