Proverbs, Anti-Proverbs and Language Learning

Sana’ Ababneh, Mohammed Khalid Al-Ajlouny


Proverbs express public wisdom and reflect public attitudes. In the traditional definition they are untouchable when it comes to form. Like other idiomatic expressions, they are learnt as whole, indivisible chunks. As such, they should be included in language classes, if a native-like mastery is to be achieved since they constitute an indispensible component of one’s linguistic repertoire.

Recent studies have shown that proverbial form is not as “holy” as tradition holds it. Speakers “commit” different kinds of transformations to popular proverbs, their sanctity notwithstanding. Examples of different types of mutations are discussed in this paper and categorized under the headings of: sound imitation, word play, stunting (or cropping), combining more than one proverb, and introducing a completely new “proverb”. These different types are seen to produce proverb-like statements which could eventually turn into proverbs proper. This paper argues that all such transformations have a purpose not unlike the purpose of proverbs proper: they are often utilized by their users to “decorate” their texts with what sounds like traditionally accepted truths very similar to the truths expressed by proverbs.

Inclusion of this part of language in language classes becomes integral to the process of teaching since knowledge of these expressions, like that of other idiomatic expressions, is essential for perfecting a learner’s mastery of a target language.

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