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The subject of proverb creativity is seldom considered by scholars, part of the reason being the presumed absence of creative potential in proverb use. This latter view of the proverb stems from the feature of brevity often associated with the genre, but it is also due to the relative paucity of ethnographies on proverb speaking.*

Until recently, scholars showed little interest in situated uses of the proverb. Proverb studies were essentially stylistic, structural, functional, comparative and lexicographic.1 Such decontextualized studies, by their very nature, do not portray the proverb as a living art form; they depict the proverb as frozen, fixed, and void of dynamics or creativity.

Studies of situated uses of the proverb include Herzog and Blooah's study of Jabo proverbs in Liberia,2 John Messenger's study of proverb use in Anang-Ibibio traditional courts,3 Arewa and Dundes' ethnography of proverb speaking among the Yoruba,4 Peter Seitel's analysis of Haya proverb use,5 and recently, Joyce Penfield's study of proverb speaking among the Igbo.6

These studies are important landmarks in the contextual study of the proverb, yet they do not focus on creativity in proverb use. Furthermore, proverbs cited in most of these works, are either based on hypothetical contexts, or are instances of recall by scholars or informants, and do not consistently reflect exactness of wording or phraseology in actual life situations. It is John Messenger's study of proverb use in Anang courts that consistently monitors proverb use in real life situations; that study, though, is function-oriented, and does not discuss creativity.

A study of the dynamics of proverb use would involve the documentation of situational contexts, the specific words of discourse interactants, as well as a citation of the verbal context in which the proverb was uttered--the speaker's words preceding and following the proverb. Such a close study of the proverb in interaction situations would help decipher and assess the proverb's contextual propriety in the discourse, any modification or embellishment to which it has been subjected, and the particular shade of meaning conveyed by the embellishment. Above all, it would enable us, subject to closer scrutiny, the view that proverb use is essentially an exercise in quotation.

The perception of the proverb as quotation seems logical, not only because it is often attributed to sources in performance situations, but also that this view is often affirmed by informants themselves.7 Yet statements by informants that they are mere conduits of lore ought to be more thoroughly examined, and interpreted in culture-specific terms. One takes a cue here from Albert Lord who, despite persistent claims by Serbo-Croatian epic singers that they are preservers of tradition, discovered variations from one performance to the other.8 Fact is, Serbo-Croation epic singers, like traditional practitioners of other genres, equate tradition with truth, and deny creativity in their performance in order not to appear as falsifying truth. In the words of Albert Lord, "The picture that emerges is not really one of conflict between preserver of tradition and the creative artist; it is rather one of preservation of tradition by the constant recreation of it."9

In this exposition, the proverb will not be considered ostensibly as quotation, which is rather restrictive, but as performance, in the sense that in proverb use, the speaker assumes responsibility to an audience for a display of communicative competence.10 The assignment of proverb use primarily to the realm of quotation does not seem to accord with a closer observation of proverb use. I argue that whereas the proverb text may exist as a cultural frame of reference in some modes of use, it is subject to creative deformation11 during performance, even as the proverb retains its historical identity. The significance of traditionality and historicity in lending acceptability to the proverb, is not denied here; for knowledge of history and tradition is, in several cultures, a privilege that may be used to key and heighten performance,12 authenticate, validate, as well as confer power and authority;13 and it is to the performer's advantage to invoke this knowledge to augment his word. Yet history and tradition may be reshaped and reinterpreted to incorporate the biases of the traditor in rhetorical situations.

In some modes of proverb use, the speaker may overtly attribute his rhetoric to a source (see below), as a strategy to highlight the cultural validity of his argument, demonstrate his rhetorical modesty and objectify the issues contested.14 But whether proverb use is overtly attributive or not, creativity is not necessarily ruled out. Creativity here may be interpreted in three senses: 1) the creation of novel proverbs, 2) the timely invocation of an effective proverb in a fitting rhetorical context,15 and 3) the adaptation and manipulation of existing proverbs. This paper essentially deals with the latter.

The full text of this article is published in De Proverbio - Issue 11:2000 & Issue 12:2000, an electronic book, available from amazon.com and other leading Internet booksellers.

During a church sermon at Agogo, in the Ashanti region of Ghana, the latter mode of interpretation was employed by the fifty-year-old preacher when he used the proverb. The preacher was urging his congregation to unite to solve each other's problems. The nation at the time was passing through a period of drought, starvation and hardship. Note the proverb in the last two lines, and the general tenor of the speaker's argument:

ese se yen nyinaa de dee yewo
Ene dee yebetumi b mu,
Ama y n nuanom nyinaa anya ahot
Funtumfrafu ne denkyemfrafu wo afuro baako,
Nso yeredidi a na yereko

We should all pool together our resources
And our means,
To bring joy to our kith and kin
The twin mythical crocodiles share a common belly,
Yet scramble over food

The proverb used here is cued by the message in the preceding discourse that calls for the pooling of resources in the solution of problems. In this mode of use, the speaker implies that even if the resources they strive for will eventually be in the interest of the common good, this should not deter them from competing with each other in the acquisition of the resources.

The ambiguity in the core meaning of the proverb above stems from the variable value imposed on 'competition.' In the positive use of this proverb as in the passage above, competition between kinsmen is a healthy sport. In the negative use, competition has the underpinnings of needless greed, expressed through guttural lust. This alternative interpretation is partly conditioned by the selective emphasis on the connective, (nso) 'yet,' between the two clauses which appears to pre-empt a disapproving evaluation of the activity in the following clause.

The type of ambiguity above, in which a proverb is given two contradictory evaluative readings by speakers has been exemplified by many proverb scholars. Herzog and Blooah refer, for example, to the following Jabo proverb which may be used to commend and condemn the same action:

They usually say it is the villager, they don't say it is the stranger who if he walks about town, walks leisurely.28

Similar instances of multiple meaning or proverb ambiguity, are cited by Heda Jason,29 Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett,30 and Peter Seitel,31 studying Jewish, English and Haya proverbs respectively.

In the instances of ambiguity above, there is little or no attempt on the part of the proverb speaker to manipulate the form or diction of the proverb. The speaker's creative genius may be measured on the basis of his discreet choice of a proper mode of proverb use in a fitting argument or discourse. Creativity here is defined in terms of propriety of proverb choice, or rather proverb congruence in an appropriate context. But creativity in proverb use also consists in the conscious embellishment and manipulation of proverb form and meaning. It is to such strategic modes of proverb performance that the rest of this paper is devoted.


In the performance of the Akan proverb, the speaker is not bound to indulge in a verbatim quotation, or lift the proverb en bloc and place it securely in discourse. In its 'flight,' the proverb may be modified, embellished, or transformed to suit the speaker's style, temperament, and the modalities of the discourse in which he participates. In the process, meaning may be reinforced, or modified. In other instances the resultant change in meaning is drastic and completely innovative. But the strategic manipulation of the proverb is best seen as not restricted to the proverb substance alone. Proverb manipulation begins with the strategic use, modification or omission of the 'pre-proverb formula' and extends to the stylized elaboration of the proverb image or metaphor to suit the speaker's strategies. In other instances, the proverb may be embellished with a narrative.

Formulae introducing the Akan proverb, during performance, are of two major types: one that highlights the creative source of the proverb--the source formula, and one that emphasizes the proverb as conventional knowledge, or eternal verity--the factivity formula.

Source formula

The full text of this article is published in De Proverbio - Issue 11:2000 & Issue 12:2000, an electronic book, available from amazon.com and other leading Internet booksellers.

Factivity Formula

Despite the existence of these set phrases, the proverb speaker may use or formulate any fitting phrase that presupposes the truth in the statement or proverb that follows. These phrases include, wonim se ("you know that..."), kae se (remember that..."). Such predicates fall into the category of what Paul and Carol Kirpasky in linguistic terms have called, factives--their use presupposes the truth of the following complement.32 The proverb speaker then, may resort to the use of any factive phrase as a technique to imply that the statement that follows is conventional knowledge that should facilitate appreciation of his argument. The structure of the factivity formula, in relation to the proverb, is as follows:

Apart from these two types of formula, proverb speakers sometimes introduce proverbs with the phrase, sebe ("apologies" or "with your permission"), with the aim of reducing the proverb's didactic flavor particularly in interactions with more sophisticated audiences.33


Beside the possible improvisation of the introductory formula within the set linguistic frames, the proverb itself may be subjected to manipulation. The pre-proverb formula may be dropped altogether since its use sometimes constrains the speaker to adhere to a standard or received format. In certain cases, the novelty of the speaker's mode of performance is not conducive to the structural constraints imposed by the introductory formula.

In the context of performance, Akan speakers may transform proverb statement to question, or change its basic impersonal format to personal. Speakers may also subject the proverb to elision, or elaboration, and intersperse the proverb with emphatic markers, or question tags. To the witty proverb speaker, the format of the proverb in discourse does not have to be replicated in all other instances of use.

Yet even where a proverb has been transformed or manipulated, its basic identity is retained; for each proverb has a reference or datum point, such as a key image, lexis, or phraselogy, that remains relatively stable in the face or structural dynamics.

A very common proverb transformation in Akan is that of question. In this case, the speaker poses the proverb as a rhetorical query whose answer is conventional knowledge. Such uses of the proverb have an implicit allusion to the factivity formula. An example follows.

This was during a conversation among three men of approximately 3034. The discourse participants were discussing the lack of respect prevailing among teenagers in the country, deploring the current subversion of traditional values by the young ones. The speaker, who is a male high school teacher, cited an instance of a student's show of disrespect as he was teaching in class. He followed his deprecation of the student's attitude with two proverbs, the first of which was initially jumbled:

De ma woka no, Se nantu koso kyen sere a na yarba wo mu, na ehu enyido atsew a efuw kyen abodwese pen?

As they say, if the leg grows bigger than the thigh, there is disease in it; and have you seen the eyebrow outgrow the beard?

According to the first proverb, the growth of the leg should be proportionate to the thigh, which is bigger; if the leg outgrows the thigh in size, it reflects a physical defect. By inference, it is a sign of moral chaos if children show disrespect for adults. While the speaker expresses this proverb in a statement form, he augments it immediately with a logically parallel proverb which is posed as a question. This corroborative proverb points up the proportionate growth of the eyebrow to the beard, a reversal of which depicts physical anomaly, or social order by implication. Significantly, the second proverb is an interrogative rendition. The basic form of the latter proverb. "The eyebrow does not outgrow the beard," is not used here. Instead, the speaker considers the mood of the discourse and refrains from a direct quotation.

In this performance, the original negation which conveys a sense of remonstrance, or interdiction (...does not) is transformed into a question--a rhetorical, sarcastic question whose answer is automatically negative. In preposing the proverb with the phrase, ehu ("have you seen") the speaker seeks to involve his audience in the performance, and compel them to agree with his viewpoint.

Such sarcastic renderings of proverbs are similar to sarcastic interrogatives in American proverbs, as exemplifed by Charles Doyle (Is the Pope Catholic?).35 In both cases, the answer to the question is conventional knowledge. The difference between the Akan and American counterparts, however, is that the sarcastic American interrogatives don't have non-interrogative counterparts in active use by speakers--the interrogative forms are not proverb derivations. In the Akan case, the interrogatives are derived from indicative forms that exist in the proverb repertoire.

Also common in Akan proverb performance is the interspersing of proverbs with emphatic markers which in various degrees topicalize or bring into sharp focus, aspects of the proverb that the speaker wishes to foreground at that point in time.36 The following proverb, which basically does not contain an emphatic marker, was used with markers in one mode of performance:

Onyame nim odwan a obeye asisie
Na oyee no dwantoro

God knows the lamb that will grow into a bully
And gives it a defective eye. 

The discourse interaction involved a 40 year-old colleague of this writer, who was chatting with a female relative of over 65.37 The woman had narrated an incident in which one of her nephews, a boy of 25, had insulted her and threatened to eject her from the house belonging to the lineage. The boy was the most ferocious among all her nephews, yet was a cripple. Aware of the culprit's deformity, the young man listening to the account remarked with the proverb, Onyame noara na onim odwan a obeye asisie na oyee no dwantoro ("It's God Himself that knows the lamb that will grow into a bully, and gives it a defective eye.") The proverb was eventually co-cited by the proverb speaker and the woman. In this mode of use, the speaker introduced the emphatic markers, to lend prominence to various aspects of the proverb he considered significant in the context. Using this proverb, the speaker implied that, but for his handicap, the miscreant would have been more reckless; God knew this, and afflicted him with a leg deformity. In citing this proverb, the speaker inserted the focus markers na and noara, to emphasize the omniscience of God. Significantly, when I asked him after the discourse to repeat the proverb he had used, the proverb speaker omitted the emphatic markers, implying that these do not belong to the core proverb, but are his own embellishment.

Similarly, a proverb's impersonal form may be relinquished and the proverb personalized in response to the relevant social context. In the following example a middle-aged man personalizes a proverb in talking to a man of 60. In reference to the proverb, 

Yentutu anomaa ho nkyere panin

One does not remove the bird's plumes
And then show it to the elder to name it

the speaker partially personalizes the proverb as follows:

Mon ara na mokaae, yentutu anomaa ho mmekyere mo

It's you the elders that said it, we don't remove the bird's plumes and then show it to you to name it. 

The young man used the proverb after getting out of a car in which he sat with an elder.38 After a short dialogue with the elder, the two agreed to meet another day. When the old man asked which day would be most suitable for the meeting, the young man said, Mmre biara... ("Any time"), and added the statement above. The speaker by this proverb implies that the second meeting is timely and crucial toward the solution of his problems since the elder would lend his wise counsel to offset a possible exacerbation of the problem. The elder best solves a problem if it is presented at the appropriate time, just as he is able to name a bird only when its feathers have not been removed by the fretful child. In this mode of use, the word panin, 'elder,' in the proverb concept is replaced with the pronoun, mo (you), as a way of accommodating the social context within the strategies of performance. The speaker personalizes the proverb to reduce its didactic flavor, express his humility and respect, and acknowledge the sophistication of his listener.

Using Peter Seitel's system of proverb correlation,39 it may be said that the proverb above was used in the first person singular/second person singular correlations since entities in the proverb used refer to the speaker and listener respectively. Unlike Seitel's exemplification, however, our first and second person correlations are not analytical concepts; they have been objectified by the proverb speaker. 

Perhaps the most common form of proverb transformation is truncation or abbreviation, whereby a proverb is not fully cited but only alluded to. In this case, the proverb's already condensed form is subjected to further abbreviation on the assumption that both speaker and listener share the same socio-cultural history and do not require the use of elaborated codes for mutual understanding.40 Among the Akan, proverbs that are often truncated include, Esie ne kagya nni aseda ("The anthill and the kagya plant need not thank each other"). This is commonly rendered by highlighting only the two images, Esie ne kagya ("The anthill and the kagya plant"). In an interaction situation below, however, this proverb is fully cited and even elaborated with an etiological tale as rhetorical ploy.

The full text of this article is published in De Proverbio - Issue 11:2000 & Issue 12:2000, an electronic book, available from amazon.com and other leading Internet booksellers.

This situation involves 5 young men and a woman of 60.48 During a brief break in a conversation over an expensive royal funeral, one young man seeing a bundle of cash in the hand of his colleague, asks him for money so he could buy food to eat. This request annoys his colleague, who immediately replies with a proverb followed by a literal comment:

Wo dee wotee puupuu ara
Na worewo bi adi
Wogye di se sika kuta me nti,
Na mede rekoto ama woadi?

When you heard the sound of pounding,
You began pounding to eat?
Because I have money in hand,
You thought I would buy to feed you?

In other modes of usage I had heard this proverb, it appeared as, Wote puupuu a wo bi di ("When you hear the sound of pounding, pound yours and eat"). This is the form often cited by informants out of context and in other modes of performance. It is a statement consoling the poor man to be satisfied with his plight since apparently wealthy people are not as happy as they seem. The image in the proverb is that of the fufu meal, often prepared by pounding boiled yam (or cassava) and plantain in a mortar, and eating the resultant paste with soup. The basic message in the proverb concept here is as follows: "When in your poverty, you hear your neighbor preparing fufu, don't be fooled into thinking the ingredients he uses are expensive; don't despair; prepare yours within your means, for you neighbor's dish may be less glamorous than you thought." This more common mode of usage is exemplified in the following excerpt from a popular Akan song:

Wote puupuu a, me nua
Wo bi di
Na obiara nni ho a owo ahoto.
Osikani ntumi naa anadwo;
Okura reba a ose okoromfoo.49

When you hear the sound of pounding,
Pound yours and eat, my brother,
For no man is entirely happy.
The rich man cannot sleep at night;
The prowl of the mouse is to him a thief's approach.

In the innovative usage, however, the proverb's recommendation is portrayed as imprudent. This subversion of the proverb's more common use is executed through a formal manipulation of the proverb's main clause, which is transformed from statement into question. This way, the speaker questions, in overtly syntactic terms, the positive value often imposed on taking a precipitate consolatory step. In relation to the specific situation to which the speaker reacts, he implies as follows: "Your instant reaction on seeing my cash (like the poor man who began pounding to eat on hearing the sound of pounding), is foolish." Note how this situational meaning agrees with the literal comment that follows the speaker's proverb, "Because I have money in hand, you thought I would buy to feed you"? It is significant that both the speaker's proverb and his contextualization comment are cast in the interrogative mood. Together, they emphatically ridicule the beggar's precipitate reaction.

Another example of proverb manipulation with a concurrent meaning change involves the proverb, Sapofo, yefa no hiada ("The wretched sponge is picked up in times of need"). In other modes of use, this proverb has the ring of "A beggar has no choice," such as in the following example where a young man was debating whether he should avail himself of a provision of unattractive wares that a man was offering free of charge. When his colleague, in need of the wares at the time, dismissed the deal as cheap, the speaker suggested to his colleague to make the best of the situation since, "The wretched sponge is picked up in times of need."

In this mode of use, the speaker is recommending, or justifying a relatively worthless choice in the absence of better alternatives. In the innovative usage that follows, however, the speaker elaborates the proverb and in a sarcastic tone, deplores her partner's contemptuous attitude to her.

In this situation, two former lovers argue.50 The male seeks reconciliation after several years of break in relationship. The woman disagrees and resists, arguing that the man seeks a reunion only because he has been disappointed by other lovers. She speaks disapprovingly of the man making her last resort; for that implies he holds her in contempt.

Wode me asi "no paaken"
Na woakofa obi.
Afei dee woaba.
Kyenkyen ara a,
Sapofunu yi a egu mantwea yi,
Kyere menkotam nhohoro ho bi saa e

Wonye sapofo.

You disappointed me in the past,
And picked another.
Now you come back persisting:
This wretched sponge abandoned at the nook,
Let me pick it up and wash it clean

Man: You are not a wretched sponge.

The woman, in this example, makes allusion to the proverb, "The wretched sponge is picked up in times of need;" but she uses it not from her own viewpoint but as an imaginary projection into the thoughts of her former lover. She disapproves of the admonition in the proverb (in relation to the situation at hand) and her lover's attitude--for both depict her as worthless. But the speaker also implies that what appears as worthless may later become handy. The basis of the semantic divergence between the proverb here and its citation in the earlier example is that here the phrase "wretched sponge" has a first person correlation with the speaker herself. In the previous use, the correlation is third person--referring to an entity not on the scene of the interaction.

In comparing this proverb to the thoughts and attitude of her former lover, the speaker significantly elaborates the proverb, giving the "sponge" an imaginary location--nook--that reinforces the triviality associated with the object. The innovative speaker takes the filthy sponge through a process of purification, unknown in the more common modes of the proverb's performance.

In exhibiting such skills in proverb recreation, Akan speakers do not necessarily quote the proverb. They delete, paraphrase, elaborate, and transpose elements in the proverb; speakers indeed reconstruct the proverb. The relationship between the proverb concept and its situational manifestations is loosely comparable to any linguistic abstraction (la langue,51 phoneme, etc.) that has a potential range of physical realizations. In this case, the factors dictating the use or formulation of a formal or stylistic proverb variant include the mood and tenor of the discourse, social context, as well as the performer's style and rhetorical strategies. Notwithstanding the possible reformulation of a proverb in the context of discourse, a proverb may also be presented in its kernel format where the prevailing rhetorical context does not justify a transformation. In this case, the performance may be marked by a particular tone, pause duration or emphasis to achieve a particular rhythm.52

Generally, the creative proverb speaker kills two birds with one stone: he demonstrates his creative skills while preserving the traditional identity of the proverb he echoes. As he relies on the traditionality of the proverb to persuade, the witty speaker also relies on his own compository skills to reinforce, modify and transform proverb meaning; for as the informant rightly stated, "the proverb does not stay at one place, it flies."


Previously published in Proverbium 3 (1986), pp. 195-230.
Permission to publish this article granted by Proverbium (Editor: Prof. Wolfgang Mieder, University of Vermont, USA). 

*This paper is, in part, a revision of chapter six in my doctoral dissertation, "The Proverb in the Context of Akan Rhetoric" (Indiana University, 1985).

1 Examples of stylistic analysis of the proverb can be found in, L.A. Boadi, "The Language of the Akan Proverb," in African Folklore, ed. Richard Dorson (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1972), pp. 183-191; and Archer Taylor, The Proverb (Hatboro: Pennsylvania, 1962), pp. 135-183. Structural studies of the proverb include Alan Dundes, "On the Structure of the Proverb," Proverbium, 25 (1975), 961-973. On a functionalist approach to the proverb, see John Messenger, "The Role of the Proverb in a Nigerian Judicial System," Southwestern Journal of Anthropology, 15 (1959), 64-73. An example of a comparative approach to the proverb is, Wolfgang Mieder, "'Wine, Women and Song'. From Martin Luther to American T-Shirts," Kentucky Folklore Record, 29 (1983), 89-101; and lexicographies on the proverb include, F.P. Wilson, The Oxford Dictionary of English Proverbs (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1970).

2 George Herzog and C. Blooah, Jabo Proverbs from Liberia (London: Oxford University Press, 1936).

3 John Messenger, op. cit.

4 Ojo Arewa and Alan Dundes, "Proverbs and the Ethnography of Speaking Folklore," American Anthropologist, 66, 6 pt. 2 (1964), 70-85.

5 Peter Seitel, "Saying Haya Sayings: Two Categories of Proverb Use," in The Social Use of Metaphor, ed. David Sapir and J. C. Crocker (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1977), pp. 75-99. See also his doctoral dissertation, "Proverbs and the Structure of Metaphor among the Haya of Tanzania" (University of Pennsylvania, 1972).

6 Joyce Penfield, Communicating with Quotes: The Igbo Case (Westport: Greenwood Press, 1983).

7 See, for example, Penfield, ibid.

8 See Albert Lord's discussion of this in his, The Singer of Tales (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1960), pp. 27-28.

9 Ibid.

10 See Richard Bauman, Verbal Art as Performance (Rowley, Massachussets: Newbury House Publishers, 1977), p. 11. This concept of performance originates from Dell Hymes; see his, "Breakthrough into Performance," in Folklore: Performance and Communication, ed. Dan Ben-Amos and Kenneth Goldstein (The Hague: Mouton, 1975), p. 18.

11 'Creative Deformation' is a term used by Michael Herzfeld to explain a similar process in Glendiot poetic creativity. See his, The Poetics of Manhood: Contest and Creativity in a Cretan Mountain Village (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985).

12 Herzfeld, Poetics; see also Bauman, Verbal Art as Performance, p. 21, where he alludes to the use of tradition to key performance.

13 See Gilian Feeley-Harnik, "Divine Kinship and the Meaning of History among the Sakalava of Madagascar," in Man, 13 (1978), 403-417. History among the Sakalava is a rare rhetorical resource which may be used to enrich ritual performances, and the knowledge of which enhances social position. See also Michael Herzfeld, "The Etymology of Excuses: Aspects of Rhetorical Performance in Greece," American Ethnology, 9 (1982), 644-663. Herzfeld here discusses the Greek use of history and etymology as a form of rhetoric.

14 See Roger Abrahams, "A Rhetoric of Everyday Life: Traditional Conversational Genres," Southern Folklore Quarterly, 32 (1968), p. 56.

15 This aaspect of proverb creativity is fully discussed in Chapter Seven of my doctoral dissertation. See Kwesi Yankah, "The Proverb in the Context of Akan Rhetoric" (Indiana University, 1985). See also Kwesi Yankah, "Toward a Performance-Centered Theory of the Proverb," Critical Arts (A Journal of Media Studies), 3:1 (1983), 29-43.

16 See Roger Keesing and Felix Keesing, New Perspectives in Cultural Anthropology (New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston Inc.), p. 351.

17 Michael Lieber, "Analogic Ambiguity: A Paradox of Proverb Usage," Journal of American Folklore, 97 (1984), 423-441.

18 For an important discussion on fluidity in proverb meaning, see Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, "Toward a Theory of Proverb Meaning," in The Wisdom of Many: Essays on the Proverb, ed. Wolfgang Mieder and Alan Dundes (New York: Garland Publishing Inc., 1981), pp. 111-121.

19 This is exemplified in Lieber, "Analogic Ambiguity," op. cit.

20 This broad concept of the proverb has parallels among the Jabo, Zande, Fulani, and several ethnic groups in Africa. See Ruth Finnegan Oral Literature in Africa (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1970), pp. 419-423. Similar examples may be found in Greek, Aramic, Syriac and old English; see Archer Taylor, The Proverb, p. 27.

21 A theoretical view of folklore as a dynamic process is well argued in Dan Ben-Amos, "Toward a Definition of Folklore in Context," in Toward New Perspectives in Folklore, ed. Americo Paredes and Richard Bauman, (Austin: Texas University Press, 1971), pp. 3-15.

22 Informant A, Yaw Nsoah, 48 of Offinso.

23 Informant B, J.K. Amoako, 40.

24 Informant C, Adubofuor, 40 of Offinso.

25 Michael Lieber, "analogic," op. cit.

26 R.S. Rattray, Ashanti (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1923), p. 313.

27 Informant, Nana Akyeampong, Chief of Ohum in the Ashanti region.

28 Herzog and Blooah, Jabo Proverbs, op. cit. p. 188.

29 Heda Jason, "Proverbs in Society: The Problem of Meaning and Function," Proverbium, 17(1971), 621.

30 Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, "Toward a Theory of Proverb Meaning," in The Wisdom of Many, ed. Wolfgang Mieder and Alan Dundes (New York: Garland Publishing Inc., 1981), pp. 112/113.

31 Seitel, Haya Sayings, pp. 79-82.

32 P. Kiparsky and C. Kiparsky, "Fact," in Syntactic Argumentation, ed. Donna Jo Napoli and Emily Norwood Rando (Washington D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 1979), pp. 328-368.

33 The phrase sebe or its reduplicated form, is also used as an apologetic preface to the use of obscene or vulgar language.

34 I recorded this in Cape Coast, Ghana.

35 Charles C. Doyle, "Sarcastic Interrogative Affirmatives and Negatives," Midwestern Journal of Language and Folklore, 1:1 (1975), 33-34.

36 For a discussion of topicalization in Akan, see L.A. Boadi, "Focus Marking in Akan," Linguistics: An International Review, 140 (1974), 5-57.

37 This was recorded in Soame, a suburb of Kumasi.

38 Recorded in Kumasi.

39 Peter Seitel, Haya Sayings, pp. 79-83.

40 The term "elaborated code" is used in B. Bernstein, "Social Class, Language, and Socialization," in Language and Social Context, ed. Pier Paolo Giglioli, (Penguin, 1972), pp. 157-158.

41 C.M. Doke, "Review of Proverbes Mongo," African Studies, 18 (1959), 150.

42 The Yoruba proverb was cited for me in 1982 by Efurosibina Adegbija, a student of Indiana University. It is also cited in a recent article by Oyekan Owomoyela. See his "Proverbs: An Exploration of an African Philosophy of Social Communication," Ba Shiru, 12:1 (1985), 11.

43 John McDowell, "The Poetic Rites of Conversation," Journal of Folklore Research, 22:2/3 (1985).

44 A critical view of this is discussed in Chapter Eight of my doctoral dissertation, op. cit.

45 Informant, K. Nsiah, Seventh Day Adventist Church, Ashanti New Town, Kumasi.

46 Daniel Biebuyck and C. Mateene, The Mwindo Epic (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1969), p. 7. Peter Seitel, "Proverbs and the Structure of Metaphor among the Haya of Tanzania," op. cit., p. 227.

47 Recorded in Asuom, Eastern Region of Ghana.

48 Recorded in Asuom.

49 This song was performed and recorded by the Youngsters Band of Ghana.

50 Recorded in Agogo.

51 Ferdinand de Saussure, Course in General Linguistics (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1966), pp. 9-10.

52 See Herzog and Blooah, Jabo Proverbs, op. cit., p. 8, where they report that Jabo proverbs are uttered in a much more rhythmic way than ordinary speech.

Kwesi Yankah
Linguistics Department
University of Ghana
West Africa

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