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Books of proverb collections, examples of paremiography

Paremiography (from Greek παροιμία - paroimía, "proverb, maxim, saw"[1] and γράφω - grafō, "write, inscribe"[2]) is the study of the collection and writing of proverbs. A recent introduction to the field has been written by Tamás Kispál.[3] It is a sub-field of paremiology, the study of proverbs.

There are many published collection of proverbs, ranging from ancient Akkadian clay tablets to internet sites. A proverb collection has been describe as "the oldest book in the world".[4] Published collections of proverbs are formatted in a variety of ways. Some are simply alphabetized lists, some are arranged by topic (e.g. laziness, respect for elders), others are arranged by key word (e.g. dog, rain). Some are from single languages (e.g. Russian), others are multilingual but from a single country (e.g. Nigeria), others are collections from around the world. Others are collections of anti-proverbs rather than the more standard proverbs (Reznikov 2009). Some have collected proverbs and sayings of a certain structure, such as wellerisms (Mieder and Kingsbury). Some collections are a combination of these, such as proverbs about women from around the world (Schipper 2003). Every year, the journal Proverbium contains a listing of newly published (or newly discovered) collections of proverbs from around the world.[5]

Collecting proverbs in languages with a literate heritage is usually done by looking for examples in the available literature. There are published collections in many languages with long written traditions, Greek, Latin, Russian, French, German, Greek, Chinese, etc. In addition, there are published collections from languages that do not have a long written tradition, such as Temne, Oromo, Bambara, Bassa.

The most famous published collection of proverbs is the Latin Adagia collected by Erasmus, mostly from ancient literature. As people from across Europe read the proverbs it contained, they often translated them into local languages, spreading them across Europe. This is the source of many English proverbs, including "In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king" from "In regione caecorum rex est luscus".

There are continuing efforts to collect proverbs not just from published sources, but from the speakers of languages. For example, there has been a project to collect proverbs from multiple generations of French speakers in Belgium.[6]

There has been a call for collecting and documenting the proverbs of undocumented languages, especially those that are endangered (Himmelmann 1998), as part of the broader task of language documentation. However, when scholars collect proverbs from languages without a literate history, it requires different approaches than for languages with a written heritage, such as methods described by Yankah (1989), Unseth (2008), and Tadesse Jaleta Jirata (2009).

Collecting proverbs from speakers is best done in the language community's home area. However, proverbs have also been collected in emigrant communities, such as among the Georgian-speaking community in Israel[7], the Assyrian community in California.[8] and German speakers in Los Angeles.[9]

Edward Zellem has developed a method for collecting proverbs via social media. In this way, he was able to collect hundreds of proverbs from the Pashto language of Afghanistan and Pakistan, even though he was in the USA. Another advantage of this method was that the members of the community also interacted with each other about their proverbs, tweeting comments and retweeting proverbsback and forth within the Pashto-speaking community.[10][11]

Many pioneering proverb collections having been collected and published by Christian workers, both from within language communities, such as Aster Ganno of Ethiopia and Samuel Ajayi Crowther of Nigeria, and by those from outside the language communities, such as William Shellabear of Malaysia and others.[12][13][14][15] There is an ongoing series of collections of proverbs gathered from small languages of eastern Africa being published under the inspiration of Joseph Healey, published both in hard copy and on the web.[16]

However, the collection and documentation of proverbs even in languages with a literate history is never completely done, new proverbs are constantly being created and old ones fall into disuse. No collection is either totally complete or up to date (Taylor 1969). An attempt to update the list of recent English proverbs is The Dictionary of Modern Proverbs from 2012, which contains only proverbs documented after 1900, such as "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" and "Stop and smell the roses."[17]

Some scholars collect and list the proverbs used by certain authors or speakers, such as Chaucer, Martin Luther (Cornette 1997), Abraham Lincoln (Mieder 2000), and Agatha Christie (Bryan 1993).

A listing of proverb collections from around the world has been published as International Bibliography of Paremiography (Wolfgang Mieder 2011).


  1. ^ παροιμία, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus
  2. ^ γράφω, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus
  3. ^ Paremiography: Proverb Collections
  4. ^ Petrova, Roumyana. 2014. Contrastive study of proverbs. Introduction to Paremiology. A Comprehensive Guide to Proverb Studies edited by Hrisztalina Hrisztova-Gotthardt and Melita Aleksa Varga, p. 243-261. Berlin: De Gruyter Open. Online: Open Access version.
  5. ^ Bradbury, Nancy Mason. 2002. Transforming Experience into Tradition: Two Theories of Proverb Use and Chaucer’s Practice. Oral Tradition, 17/2: 261-289, see p. 262, fn. 2.
  6. ^ Marina GARCÍA YELO. El refranero hoy en Bélgica. Paremia 18: 2009, pp. 225-244.Electronic access
  7. ^ Galit Hasan-Rokem. 1994. Georgian proverbs of dialogue and dialogue of proverbs in Israel. Proverbium 11:103-116.
  8. ^ Joyce Bynum. 1972. Syriac proverbs from California. Western Folklore 31: 87-101,
  9. ^ German proverbs collected in Los Angeles. California Folklore Quarterly 4(4). 432-434.
  10. ^ Edward Zellem. 2014. Mataluna: 151 Afghan Pashto Proverbs. Tampa, FL: Culture Direct.
  11. ^ Peter Unseth. Comparing methods of collecting proverbs: Learning to value working with a community
  12. ^ Christaller, Johann. 1879. Twi mmebusem, mpensã-ahansĩa mmoaano: A collection of three thousand and six hundred Tshi proverbs, in use among the Negroes of the Gold coast speaking the Asante and Fante language, collected, together with their variations, and alphabetically arranged. Basel: The Basel German Evangelical Missionary Society.
  13. ^ Bailleul, Charles. 2005. Sagesse Bambara - Proverbes et sentences. Bamako, Mali: Editions Donniya.
  14. ^ Johnson, William F. 1892. Hindi Arrows for the Preacher's Bow. (Dharma Dowali) Allahabad, India: Christian Literature Society.
  15. ^ Jensen, Herman. 1897. A classified collection of Tamil proverbs. Madras: Methodist Episcopal Publishing House and London: Trübner.
  16. ^
  17. ^ Charles Clay Doyle, Wolfgang Mieder, & Fred Shapiro. 2012. The Dictionary of Modern Proverbs. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Further reading[edit]

  • Bryan, George B. 1993. Black Sheep, Red Herrings, and Blue Murder: The Proverbial Agatha Christie. Peter Lang.
  • Cornette, James C., Jr. 1997. Proverbs and Proverbial Expressions in the German Works of Martin Luther, edited by Wolfgang Mieder and Dorothee Racett. (Sprichwörterforschung. Bd. 1.) Peter Lang.
  • Himmelmann, Nikolaus. 1998. Documentary and descriptive linguistics. Linguistics 36:161-195.
  • Mieder, Wolfgang. 2000. The Proverbial Abraham Lincoln. Peter Lang.
  • Mieder, Wolfgang. 2011. International Bibliography of Paremiography. (Supplement Series of Proverbium, 34.) Burlington, VT: University of Vermont.
  • Mieder, Wolfgang and Stewart Kingsbury (eds). 1994. A dictionary of Wellerisms. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Reznikov, Andrey. 2009. Old wine in new bottles: Modern Russian anti-proverbs. (Supplement series of Proverbium, 27.) University of Vermont.
  • Tadesse Jaleta Jirata. 2009. A contextual study of the social functions of Guji-Oromo proverbs. Saabruecken: DVM Verlag.
  • Schipper, Mineke. 2003. Never marry a woman with big feet: Women in proverbs from around the world. New Haven: Yale University Press.
  • Taylor, Archer. 1969. How nearly complete are the collections of proverbs? Proverbium no. 14:369-371.
  • Unseth, Peter. 2008. How to collect 1,000 proverbs quickly: field methods for collecting proverbs. Proverbium 25: 399-418. Web version
  • Yankah, Kwesi. 1989. Proverbs: problems and strategies in field research. Proverbium 6:165-176.

External links[edit]

  • Video of Wolfgang Mieder calling for ongoing collecting of proverbs [1]
  • Website with collections of proverbs from eastern Africa [2]