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As They Say In Zanzibar

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Язык: Английский
Год издания: 2018 год
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Proverb collections have used many methods of organization, from alphabetical order to a broad thematic classification. For the present book, I felt the most interesting principle would be to organize the material into semantic fields, as it is in these domains that we are likely to encounter interesting cultural comparisons. Semantic fields are ways of organizing words (more strictly, lexemes: see Index 4 (#litres_trial_promo)) into related groups, such as ‘furniture’, ‘fruit’, and ‘parts of the body’.

There is no single way of grouping words (and thus proverbs) semantically. Within the category of ‘parts of the body’, for example, we can distinguish such contrasts as ‘upper’ v ‘lower’, or ‘head’ v ‘trunk’ v ‘limbs’, or ‘arms’ v ‘legs’, or ‘fingers’ v ‘hands’, and so on. For the present book, I have allowed my depth of detail to be influenced by the nature of the proverbial material. Proverbs talk quite a lot about parts of the body, so I have devoted several sections to them (232–250). By contrast, there are very few proverbs devoted to musical instruments, so I have grouped all types of instrument under a single heading (272).

But how to organize the semantic fields into a sequence? Some collections adopt an arbitrary solution, listing them alphabetically, beginning with ‘Ability’ (or some other A-notion) and ending with such categories as ‘Year’ or ‘Youth’. This has the disadvantage of separating groups that we feel should belong together. Others list proverbs according to the ‘most significant word’ – an approach which is doomed to confusion, faced with the many proverbs that contain words that compete for our attention. Which is the most significant word in The sweeter the perfume, the uglier the flies which gather round the bottle? Plainly, all the main words make a contribution to the sense, and all need to be recognized.

I much prefer an approach which sequences proverb categories on the basis of the semantic relationship between them. I could have started from scratch, and devised a new system, but what is the point, when we already have a system of semantic classification that has been in widespread use for the past 150 years? I am referring to Roget’s Thesaurus, first published in May 1852. Roget has become the standard tool for people who want a thesaurus which organizes words into fields of meaning (as distinct from those thesauruses which list words in alphabetical order along with sets of synonyms and antonyms). I felt the level of generality which Roget used in his approach would be close to that required in a thematic classification of proverbs, so I adopted his logic as a means of sequencing the themes I needed to recognize in this book. Sometimes Roget’s categories were too abstract, and I had to break them down into more specific domains. Sometimes they were too narrow, and I had to group them into broader types. But on the whole the exercise was helpful, and many of my themes are in a one-to-one relationship with Roget’s. The approach may also help those who wish to take Roget in new directions. I have always regretted the absence of proverbs in that work, and Indexes 2 and 3 of the present book can be used to add a proverbial dimension to it.

How then to handle the complexity of such proverbs as The sweeter the perfume, the uglier the flies which gather round the bottle? If one of the constituent words stood out – flies, say – it would be possible to place the proverb into the appropriate category (‘Insects’) and cross-refer all the other words to it. But that would mean five cross references – from sweet, perfume, ugly, gather round, and bottle. Clearly, such a method of classification would flood a book with cross references, and readers would be forever jumping around with their fingers in different pages.

The alternative is to place the proverb into each of the semantic fields that its constituent words belong to. So, we would locate this proverb once under ‘Bottles’, once under ‘Sweet’, and so on. The demerit of this approach is that a single proverb appears several times throughout the book. But this is far outweighed, in my view, by the convenience of seeing each proverb in its appropriate semantic place, without the need for cross reference. The statistics are as follows: the book as a whole has some 7,500 listings, representing 2,015 different proverbs, grouped into 468 semantic fields, representing around 650 themes. For a list of the semantic fields and their order, see the Contents page (#ua6a7baf1-4FFF-11e9-bcb1-0cc47a5203ba). For a complete listing of all the themes recognized within these fields, see Index 1 (#litres_trial_promo).

Anthologies are never finished, only abandoned. In the case of proverbs, one has to recognize very early on that the field is one of extraordinary magnitude. The proverbs of the world are numbered not in thousands but in millions. What is a couple of thousand among so many? I believe that small-scale compilations have their place, for there are still many avenues in the investigation of proverbs which remain to be explored. For this book, I have attempted to integrate just two dimensions – the cross-cultural and the semantic. But they are dimensions which are not usually considered together, and I hope thereby to make a small contribution to the evolution of this fascinating field.

This has also been an exercise in standing on shoulders. My research has taken me from the early classical collections, such as Ray’s Proverbs of 1767, into modern popular collections, of the ‘Thousand Chinese Proverbs’ type, and from there into the World Wide Web, where there are now some remarkable intercultural sites. I give some references in Further Reading (#litres_trial_promo). I warmly acknowledge the help I have had from earlier paremiographers, and hope that this latest anthology does them, and their field, no disservice.

David Crystal

THEMATIC CLASSIFICATION (#)

1  Existence (#)

2  Family (#)

3  Sameness (#)

4  Difference (#)

5  Small amount (#)

6  Large amount (#)

7  Increase – Decrease (#)

8  One alone (#)

9  One of two (#)

10  One of several (#)

11  Accompaniment (#)

12  Two – Twice – Both (#)

13  Three – Third (#)

14  Four or more (#)

15  Next to nothing (#)

16  Multitude (#)

17  Better – Worse (#)

18  Uniting (#)

19  Separating (#)

20  Chain – Rope – String (#)

21  Whole – Part (#)

22  Full – Entire (#)

23  Empty – Lacking (#)

24  Sequence – Order (#)

25  Assemblages (#)

26  Contents (#)

27  Kinds (#)

28  Always happening (#)

29  Conformity (#)

30  Repetition (#)

31  Time (#)

32  Years – Seasons – Months – Weeks (#)

33  Days – Nights (#)

34  Mornings – Afternoons – Evenings (#)

35  Hours – Minutes – Seconds (#)

36  Long time (#)

37  Never (#)

38  Clocks – Watches (#)

39  Beginnings – Endings (#)

40  Beforehand (#)

41  Afterwards (#)

42  Past – Present – Future (#)

43  Sooner or later (#)

44  Newness (#)

45  Oldness (#)

46  Age (#)

47  A time and a place (#)

48  Sometimes (#)

49  Lasting (#)

50  Ceasing (#)
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