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Review of  Le Proverbe Entre Langues Et Cultures

Reviewer: Gabriela Scripnic
Book Title: Le Proverbe Entre Langues Et Cultures
Book Author: Jean-Philippe Claver Zouogbo
Publisher: Peter Lang AG
Linguistic Field(s): General Linguistics
Anthropological Linguistics
Subject Language(s): French
Issue Number: 21.744

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AUTHOR: Jean-Philippe Claver Zouogbo
TITLE: Le proverbe entre langues et cultures
SUBTITLE: Une étude de linguistique confrontative allemand/français/bété
SERIES: Etudes contrastives, Vol. 10
YEAR: 2009

Gabriela Scripnic, Department of French Language and Literature, Dunarea de Jos
University of Galati, Romania


This book is a revised version of the author's PhD dissertation. Fully aware
that the proverb is worth being accounted for both from linguistic and cultural
perspectives, the author aims at comparing the proverbs in German, French and
Bete (a language spoken in the Ivory Coast) with the view to seize the
conceptual, metaphorical and symbolic differences and similarities. Placed under
the scope of confrontative linguistics ('linguistique confrontative'), the book
explores domains such as anthropology, ethnolinguistics, psycholinguistics and
sociology in order to put forward the linguistic features of the proverb and to
grasp the characteristics that make it a universal manifestation.

The book is divided into four chapters which address the proverb, from its
presentation in the literature to the comparative analysis and its results.

The first chapter deals with the correlation between language and culture and it
constitutes the author's 'plaidoyer' (speech for the defense) for maintaining
linguistic and cultural identities that seem to be at risk nowadays with the
globalization phenomenon. The author doesn't subscribe to the idea (he actually
considers it as 'naïve') that a unique language brings about mutual
comprehension and solidarity; he is in favour of multilingualism as a solution
to ensure comprehension while preserving people's identity. The author proceeds
to the presentation of Bete from the geographical, social and linguistic
perspectives. The information provided in this subchapter is very helpful for a
non-African reader before he embarks on the understanding of Bete proverbs.
Furthermore, the author points out the merits of the working method adopted,
namely confrontative linguistics, as compared to other methods available for
language comparison. Therefore, the author compares German (foreign language) to
Bete (first or mother language) mediated by French (second language) in order to
reveal the common points assumed to exist besides the more obvious differences.
Although in this approach the proverb was meant to function as the 'tertium
comparationis', i.e. the reference value allowing the confrontation between
languages, the book proves to be in fact an accurate and comprehensive semantic
and cognitive analysis of German / French/ Bete proverbs.

In the second chapter, the author is concerned with the multidisciplinary nature
of the proverb, encompassed by both paremiology (the study of proverbs) and
phraseology. In order to define the proverb and to retrace its approaches, the
author largely draws on the works of German paremiologists, from the pioneers of
this field (Friedrich Seiler, Archer Taylor, Matti Kuusi, Wolfgang Mieder) to
present day specialists (Cl. Buridant, F. Rodegem, W. Eisman, P. Grzybek),
finishing off with a brief presentation of the state of the art in African

Based on the theories developed in phraseology, the author sets out to establish
a typology of phraseological units ('phrasèmes') from the semantic and pragmatic
perspectives. This typology will help the author in placing the proverb among
the larger class of phraseological units, dealing with the common features as
well as the particularities of the proverb.

The end of the second chapter is dedicated to the pragmatic function of the
proverb. This part deals actually with various types of manipulations of the
proverb in order that it could fit into a given scheme required by a particular
discourse (literary text, media or publicity).

With the third and fourth subchapters, the author explores further theoretical
approaches of the proverb that enable the comparison between the three
languages: equivalent proverbs (total / partial / pseudo equivalences);
contaminated proverbs. At this point, the author attempts to provide a broad
definition of the proverb taking into account the aforementioned aspects (a
paremiological structure and a phraseological unit) and introducing new
perspectives such as social interaction or cultural semantics.

In the third chapter, the author explains his choice in terms of the method
adopted in comparing the proverbs of the three languages, namely the
onomasiological approach (proverbs are organized according to the conceptual
fields they belong to) as compared to the semasiological approach (proverbs are
classified based on a lexeme that functions as the key word of the entire unit).
Furthermore, the author minutely describes the choice of the corpora of proverbs
under analysis; aiming at accurate results, he is not satisfied with items found
in dictionaries of proverbs, but he has them tested by native speakers as far as
their actual usage.

The semantic approach on the corpora resulted in a three-leveled conceptual grid
which allows for the comparative analysis: at the first level the author places
the conceptual fields (general abstract ideas functioning as hypernyms for the
concepts themselves); at the second level there are the concepts (more
restrictive abstract ideas overarching several proverbs); at the third level, we
find the proverbs that are placed under a certain concept according to their
overall metaphorical meaning. In this context, the author identifies eight
conceptual fields common for all the three languages: Feelings (with six
concepts); Features of character (with thirteen concepts); Relationships and
life in community (with 25 concepts); Activities (with nine concepts); Attitudes
towards money (with four concepts); Speech acts (with four concepts); Human
anticipatory skills (with six concepts); Difficulties in life (with fourteen
concepts). This semantic classification offers a first answer to the assumptions
made at the beginning of the book, namely the fact that proverbs in German,
French and Bete deal with the same concepts.

Each concept is provided with a short explanation meant to ground its place
within a given conceptual field and is highlighted, almost in all cases, by
means of three proverbs belonging to the three languages under study.

The last chapter is entirely concerned with the comparative analysis per se,
directed towards answering the following questions: 1) do proverbs in the three
languages appeal to the same images in order to render the same conceptual
content? 2) is the proximity between French and German proverbs more obvious
than in the other two couples (German / Bete and French / Bete)? 3) do the
proverbs analyzed reveal similarities in terms of morphological structure or
trope usage?

Firstly, the author takes a closer look at the morphosyntactic structure of
proverbs in order to put forward the regularities related to the use of
hypotaxis, specific correlatives, negation, and comparative formulas. He draws
on the work of Seiler (1922) in order to give a typology of idiomatic patterns
in which proverbs could fit according to their morphosyntactic structure.
However, the author enlarges this typology, providing a series of other
idiomatic patterns common for the three languages and patterns that are specific
to only one language. Having agreed on the fact that proverbs carry norms of
talking and behaving, the author proceeds to a pragmatic assessment of proverbs,
bringing to the fore the ways in which these norms are expressed (report of a
fact, warning, advice, interdiction, satirical denunciations).

The comparison between proverbs is made based on the images (extralinguistic
elements which have undergone a process of anthropomorphisation) each of them
makes use of in order to acquire metaphorical meaning. There are four domains
functioning as providers of images: elements of the human body, zoology, botany
and cosmology. Proverbs belonging to each of the eight conceptual fields and to
all concepts previously identified in the third chapter are taken in turn with a
view to seize the images used in creating the meaning of the paremiological
unit. The tables provided are a proof of the author's minute empirical analysis
to reveal the occurrences of a given image within the proverbs of the three
languages. Based on the analysis of the corpora, the author is able to give an
overall presentation of the concordances existing in terms of concepts, images
and structures used in proverbs.

The author puts forward the total concordances (understood as the use of the
same concepts, images and structures) existing between German and Bete proverbs
on the one hand and between French and Bete proverbs, on the other hand. Partial
concordances (seen as the use of equivalent concepts and images, but different
structures) and pseudo-concordances (defined as the use of equivalent concepts
and structures, but different images) are also identified between the proverbs
of the same couples of languages.

The author succeeds in grasping the symbolic value of the most used images
belonging to the four domains: parts of the human body, elements of zoology, of
botany or of cosmology. The comparative analysis leads to the following
conclusions: the three languages deal with the same concepts in their proverbs
(the author worked with eight common conceptual fields and 83 concepts); more
often than not, the couples of languages under study make use of the same images
in order to render the same semantic concept (between German and French there
are 48 total concordances, 9 partial and 5 pseudo-concordances; between German
and Bete there are 5 total, 6 partial and 24 pseudo-concordances and finally
between French and Bete there are 8 total, 12 partial and 27 pseudo-concordances).

At this point, the author concludes that, generally speaking, the analysis
performed revealed more similarities than differences between proverbs in terms
of morphosyntax, semantic content and use of images.


I am grateful to Jean-Philippe Claver Zouogbo for offering a careful study of
the proverb and a systematic comparative analysis of the concepts and images
occurring in the paremiological units in German, French and Bete. This book is
valuable not only due to the linguistic insights it brings to the fore, but also
because it provides interesting data on interculturality.

The tactical scheme used in the analysis per se is somehow canonical, going from
general to particular, in a chain of regressive relations, in which each element
is placed under a superordinate, hyperonymous element. Through observation and
description, the author succeeds in answering his initial assumptions concerning
the proverb as a cross-language and cross-culture manifestation. Even though for
the first two languages, the author could benefit from the dictionaries of
proverbs, namely Beyer & Beyer 1990, Düringsfeld & Düringsfeld 1872 for German
and respectively Maloux 1997, Montreyard, Pierron et Suzzoni 1993 for French, it
is to be admired the effort the author has made in order to gather proverbs in
Bete and to give a written form to these so far oral manifestations. Due to
this, the book may be regarded as a significant contribution to the study of an
African language and culture.

I appreciate how the author, in order to deal with the complex nature of the
proverb, described it in terms of paremiological structure and phraseological
unit. In tackling the state of the art in these two fields, it is to be noticed
the author's lack of reluctance in critically assessing earlier contributions to
the study of proverbs. In this context, my comment pertains to the following
issue: when dealing with the distinction between proverbs and generic sentences,
it would have probably been appropriate to introduce, besides Anscombre (1994,
2000) and Kleiber (2000) who treat proverbs as major linguistic manifestations,
the perspectives given by Schapira 1999 (the relationship between genericity and
the notion of truthfulness), and by Michaux 1999 (the genericity of the proverb
as a result of a known referential relationship between the proverb as a
linguistic sign and the thing denoted).

The end of the second chapter is concerned with the modifications proverbs may
undergo in order to fit into certain schemes (of the literary texts or of the
media, for example). However, the title of the subchapter, ''Le proverbe en
contexte: function pragmatique du signe linguistique,'' is somehow misleading and
created different expectations as far as its content is concerned. Modifications
such as paronymic or homonymic replacement do represent the proof that
paremiological units are adapted to a given purpose, but they do not fall under
the scope of pragmatic functions. I would have expected that the subchapter
would draw on the work of Austin 1970 in order to deal with the illocutionary
value of proverbs as well as on the work of Perelman and Tytéca 1988 in order to
analyze the proverb as a rhetoric device meant to defend a standpoint by means
of a reasoning based on analogy.

The third chapter discloses the first results of a careful attempt at
identifying the conceptual fields common for the three languages meant to enable
a regressive organization of units, from abstract idea (as the general level) to
the images used in the paremiological units (as the particular level). The
information is very systematically displayed and the diagrams given point out
explicitly the relationship between a conceptual field (the overarching very
abstract idea) and the subordinate concepts (the more restrictive abstract
ideas). Each concept is well illustrated by proverbs taken from the three languages.

The author builds up the analysis carefully, starting from morphosyntactic and
pragmasemantic resemblances between proverbs and finishing off with the symbolic
and metaphorical value of the common images occurring in the proverbs under
study. His keen observation reveals intriguing aspects of interculturality that
may serve as an excellent starting point for further inquiry on human mentality
and language functioning.

The existence of common concepts is explained in Zouogbo's book through the
universality of human beings, who face the same realities despite the different
cultures they belong to. The absence of a certain concept is given pertinent
anthropological and sociological explanations (as is the case with the concept
of MONEY which is not represented in Bete proverbs). Furthermore, under the
points 4.2. and particularly 4.3., the author performs a minute and well
exemplified analysis of the proverbs with respect to the images they make use of
in order to render a certain semantic concept. The tables provided here are the
proof of a careful observation of the corpus; the main difficulty at this point
seems to have been the fact that a given proverb could make use of images
belonging to different fields. The author chose to take into account all the
images existing in a proverb and not to prefer just one. This solution, which
obviously has made the approach more difficult, points out the author's
scientific accuracy. The comparison results in the establishing of three types
of concordances (total, partial, pseudo) based on the identity, equivalence or
difference regarding the concepts and images the proverbs contain and the
structures they display. The results come to confirm two assumptions (French,
German and Bete deal with the same concepts in their proverbs; and that there is
a more obvious proximity between French and German proverbs than between German
and Bete or French and Bete) and to contradict one hypothesis (proverbs in three
languages make use of different images to express the same concept) that the
author stated at the beginning of the book. I have no quarrel with the author's
general conclusion according to which the studied corpora have revealed more
resemblances than differences concerning the morphosyntax, the conceptual
content and the usage of images in the proverbs of the three languages.

There are some issues related to editing that could be easily dealt with, such
as words written together and not separately as should have been the case (pages
85, 92) or capital letters in the middle of the sentence (page 101). Grammar
problems are to be seen at page 95 (the use of the first person subjunctive
instead of the third), at 101 (the use of a restrictive negation ''que'' with the
negation ''pas'') and at 40 (the adverb ''peut-être'' should be replaced by the
verbs ''peut être'').

Inconsistencies appear between the bibliographical references given at the end
of the book and the way the books are cited in the text: at page 103, Anscombre
is cited with the year 2003, but in the bibliography it is written 2000 (this is
the right year); the same happens with Dalmas cited at page 101 with the year
1999 and at the end with 2000, with Rodegem cited at page 207 with the year 1974
and at the end with 1984; the reference given at page 57 (Greimas & Courtes
1979: 403) cannot be found with a full reference at the end. The name of the
linguist Roman Jakobson should be written with K instead of C (page 351). The
alphabetical arrangement of the authors at the bibliography needs a second look
since Joulian F. should be placed before Journet N. (pages 351-352). Based on
these observations, I think that the references in the text and the bibliography
need extra revising so that these inaccuracies could be solved.

To conclude, Jean-Philippe Claver Zouogbo's book points to careful research
performed by a keen observer endowed with solid scientific background and an
organized mind. Due to the wealth of information, it is certainly of great
interest for specialists in paremiology and language comparison while being a
valuable contribution to interculturality.


Anscombre, Jean-Claude (1994) Proverbes et formes proverbiales: valeur
évidentielle et argumentative, Langue française 102, 95-107.
Anscombre, Jean-Claude (2000) Parole proverbiale et structures métriques,
Langages 139, 6-26.
Austin, John Langshaw (1970) Quand dire, c'est faire, Éditions du Seuil, Paris.
Beyer, Annelie, Beyer, Horst (1990) Sprichwörterlexicon, Verlang C-H Beck.
Düringsfeld von, Ida, Düringsfeld von Reinsberg, Otto (1872) Sprichwörter der
germanischen und romanischen Sprachen, Hermann Fries, Leipzig.
Kleiber, Georges (1994) Sur la définition du proverbe, Nominales : Essais de
sémantique référentielle, Armand Colin, Paris, 207-224.
Kleiber, Georges (2000) Sur le sens des proverbes, Langages139, 39-58.
Maloux, Maurice (1997) Dictionnaire des proverbes, sentences et maximes,
Larousse-Bordas, Paris.
Michaux, Christine (1999) Proverbes et Structures Stéréotypées, Langue Française
123, 85-104.
Montreynaud, Florence, Pierron, Agnès Suzzoni, François (1993) Dictionnaire des
proverbes et dictons, Dicorobert, Paris.
Perelman, Chaïm, Olbrechts-Tyteca, Lucie (1988), Traité de l'argumentation. La
nouvelle rhétorique, Editions de l'Université de Bruxelles, 5 e édition.
Schapira, Charlotte (1999) Les stéréotypes en français : proverbes et autres
formules, Ophrys, Paris.
Seiler, Friedridi (1922) Deutsche Sprichwörterkunde, Beck, München.

Gabriela Scripnic is a lecturer PhD at 'Dunarea de Jos' University of Galati, Romania. Her PhD dissertation dealt with fixed expressions with comparative structure in French. As a member of the Discourse Theory and Practice Research Centre, she is currently working on the study of rhetorical devices in argumentation, laying special emphasis on the use of evidentials in the argumentative discourse.

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