Dialogue of Cultures: Stereotyped Models of Conceptual Thinking (On the Example of Arabic and Georgian Proverbs)

A proverb is known to be an inseparable part of the verbal folklore of a language collective, formed in the mould of the common "mental language" [Haskell, 1987: 264]. Accordingly, qualitatively (formally as well as semantically) it is a micro-model of the life and thinking of the area in which it was created and is functioning. Its basic loading is gaining insight into the general regularities of the world. It is the deep understanding of reality, which is embedded in the given "harmonious" consciousness - in the system of common national thinking. Naturally, each ethnos conveys it by an individual form. Thus, an in-depth study of proverbs (together with that of the language) implies the study of ethnic (everyday and mental) peculiarities of the people creating them, laws of thinking established in the given mental area, practically, ethnopsychology.

              The indices registered by the use of statistical methods confirm that in the modern world there is a constant tendency towards speaking in metaphors, including proverbs. This is indicated by their intensive use in oral and written communications. Hence, at present, in accordance with the challenges of the new period (powerful cultural expansion), paremiology poses on the global level the question of the function of the proverb language in traditional and modern culture. Scholars attach great importance to the comparative study of the evidence of different cultures (along with the further study of national paremic collections), in order to obtain a united stock of international proverbs with their varied functions in different cultures. "Modern theoretical and empirical paremiology will undoubtedly lead human behavior and communication to new thinking...By the comparison of the results of study on the international level paremiologists can make their contribution to the global human commission which is based on well-tried, approved wisdom" [Mieder, 1996:2].

              The above-mentioned demonstrates the urgency of the given topic and defines the object of the present study: interpretation of the proverb - a formula modeled as a certain concept in a given mentality - in the context of different cultures (Arabic/Georgian).[1] The corpus of the proverbs regarded by us gives a clear idea of the national vision of historically and mentally radically different peoples. On the basis of similar approaches it becomes possible to identify different ethnocultures with this aspect (to define the ethnic individuality of each) and at the same time to establish the characteristics of globalization of cultures (the boundaries of similarities of cultures).

              The abundance of proverbs and figurative expressions in classical Arabic and its dialects and their intensive use in the speech acts attracted the attention of foreign scholars long ago. In this respect, in the specialist literature, dealing with the study of ethnic peculiarities and customs of different Arab peoples on the basis of the study of proverbs, the special importance of proverbs in the Arabic everyday life and culture are stressed repeatedly [Buckhardt,1972; Hanki,1998]. In the researches devoted to this aspect scholars unequivocally point out s constant striving of the Arabs for figurative speech[2] and their specially "favourable" attitude to similar figural expressions. Sh.Webster shares the evaluation of H.Dickson, who as a result of the observation made as early as the beginning of the 20th century notes that an Arab constantly uses proverbs or expressions of one or another poet, and he obviously takes the same delight in this as he does at the time of narrating a story [Webster, 1986: 179].

              Before moving to the basic part of the discussion of the problem under study on the basis of analysis of specific examples, it is necessary to interpret the semantic structure of this genre on theoretical level.

              Proverb, as noted above, is a figurative saying, formed on the level of conceptual thinking in the consciousness of a given language collective and expressed in a stereotyped formula. It records figuratively the generalized wisdom formed as a result of historical experience. The knowledge embedded in proverbs is the resource of the rational of a given ethnos, its ethnopsychic basis, existing in the irrational form. That is why it is difficult to gain a deep insight into proverbs of a foreign language[3], to identify the relevant boundaries of the generalized meaning (sphere of use).[4] This apparently is due to the specificity of the proverb structure, its structurally difficult semantic mechanism.

              This circumstance is perhaps determined by the wide range of factors, which are undoubtedly involved in the creation of the formal and semantic plot of a proverb: the historical process of the formation of a given ethnos, social reality, consciousness, language, thinking, folklore proper, etc. These are social and spiritual aspects of human activity. And this sphere of research is quite objectively regarded as the most difficult one. All these factors participating in the proverb formation process at the time of actualization operate in a combined way and pass through the "collective subconscious" (K.G.Jung). It is beyond doubt that subconscious processes are much more complex phenomenon and distinguished by far more complex structure than conscious ones. Apparently, the interpretation of the multidimensional phenomenon of proverbs from the theoretical viewpoint, taking into account the above aspects listed, calls for a comprehensive approach of study.

              According to the correct opinion existing in paremiological scholarly literature, such errors and simplification in the theory of literature, as "complete separation" of the content of a poetic work [Jacobson, 1981: 147] from its form, and respectively, disregard of the difficulties which result from the study of the content in isolation, have also found their negative reflection in the study of proverbs as paremies expressing the universal world outlook, common to all mankind.   

G.Permiakov regards them to be the object of study of simultaneously three disciplines - language, logical philosophy and folklore. In the author's view, the unsuccessfulness of many paremiological studies was explained exactly by the fact that scholars did not resort to such a comprehensive method [Permiakov, 1970:8].

Paremiology practically unequivocally recognizes that the semantic structure of a proverb is made of basically thematic-logical combinations (however, approaches vary [Permiakov, 1970; Krikmann, 1998; Barley, 1984]). As a result of existing studies, the fundamental basis of constructing proverbs is manifested: one sphere of experience gained about a certain phenomenon in the process of cognition of the world serves as the foundation of another one, by means of which the idea represented by a particular semantic form becomes generalized wisdom. In other words, its generalized logical-structural model is formed by the integrated operation of the surface and deep levels. It is not accidental that V.Allakhverdov, who studied the emotional aspects accompanying the process of perception of a literary work, refers to the proverb as "text with a double bottom" («текст с двойным дном») [Allakhverdov, 2001:126]. Upon each realization in a respective "situational niche", a metaphorical engine begins to work. The process of deciphering- grasping the generalized wisdom, occurring at this time, is based on the knowledge gained as a result of the observation of the world by a given ethnos. This process is realized on the basis of the logical relations between the given objects and phenomena, which is an established and accepted norm in the consciousness of a particular language community, in its thinking area.

But on the basis of the general foundation, it is necessary to identify in particular how, by what semantic rules the generalized plot of the proverb is constructed, deciphered and used; what semantic operations are involved at the time of the actualization in the subconscious of  speech act participants.

In our view, to interpret the posed questions correctly, the semantic structure of a proverb should be considered in the synthesis of three basic dimensions. It simultaneously covers elements of logical, verbal and conceptual thinking. Logical, because it reflects logical relations between objects and phenomena existing in the universe; verbal, because it is a communicative unit and is essentially linked with speech; and conceptual, because the reasoning and conclusion given in it are based on conceptual operation.

              Deciphering of a proverb (the more so if it is deeply metaphorical) in a speech act is a psychologically complex process of thinking. It is not accidental that when studying the psychological aspects observable in the process of the realization of communication acts, G.Milner tries to identify the imaginary interrelations existing between events and categories exactly on the basis of proverbs. In his view, proverbs may be compared to a mechanism, by means of which the consciousness builds large-scale units, as transition occurs from construction brick by brick to block construction - by means of semi-processed units [Milner, 1968: 34].

As is seen, while studying the semantic plot of a proverb, an approach should be determined with into account of semantics and pragmatics as well as the specificity of thinking and speech psychology.

S.Levinson, defining goals and objectives of the theory of pragmatics, regards study of the nature of metaphor as the prerogative and object of research of a pragmatist. In his view, a pragmatist should find out how a metaphorical expression is constructed and recognized, whereas the task of psycholinguistics and psychology is the creation of an analogy-based theory of thinking. Such an approach, in his opinion, will facilitate the approximation of the linguistic and extralinguistic spheres [Levinson, 1994].

              Similar to other researchers, M.Rusieshvili correctly considers that this complexity of proverbs is caused by the complexity of metaphorical expressions proper, which is observable in the process of their decoding and is also reflected in contextual actualization [Rusieshvili, 1999: 35]. This opinion is acceptable for us. However, it should be stresses here that the proverb, even among other metaphorical expressions (e.g. riddle/proverbial saying), due to its specific semantic structure (by its pragmatic function, of course), belongs to much more complex, higher level units.[5]

              In the interpretation of the posed question the known term "association of notions (ideas)" (J.Locke) was useful. This concept implies the process on the basis of which psychological perceptions and notions associate with one another and form complex ideas of a wide meaning.

              Bringing of the essence "hidden" in the proverb (idea of a wide meaning) to the surface, (which passes through the subconscious of the participants of a speech act at the time of the actualization), practically represents a psychologically "creative act". Its decoding is the process of giving sense occurring on the level of conceptual thinking. This process is based on the principle of synthetic thinking (combined operation of component elements). Complex subconscious operations, such as reflection of the logical relations between objects and phenomena existing in the universe, grasping the essence, generalization and abstraction, are involved comprehensively here. Unlike the surface (object) perception (practically, on its basis, though), it goes beyond the boundaries of visible, sensory reflection and is directed towards deeper cognition of reality. That is, it is a higher, abstracted form of knowing reality. Exactly by this feature a proverb differs from a spontaneously coined metaphor or a witty remark (as well as a riddle or a proverbial saying).

              By means of every new representation of imagination obtained by the logical relations upon the actualization of a particular proverb in a new context, which is attained by new "semantic markers" acquired in a given case, in the subconscious of the participants of a speech act (having a common "mental language") the particular "sensory material" is activated, which is recorded by the given ethnos in the experience linked with this particular part of the model of the universe. At the time of the semantic operation based on analogy, "mental processing" of the perception data takes place, the separation (differentiation) of the essential - "a large-scale unit" (G.Milner) - from the non-essential occurs.[6]

              In order to illustrate the above reasoning, on the basis of given theoretical analysis, let us consider one semantic model. By the comparative-typological analysis of the Arabic and Georgian semantic parallels falling within it, let us identify what experience the given ethnoses rest on, i.e. by what semantic means, characteristic of each, the given approved wisdom of life -"everyone finds his/her match" - is created[7]:


[koll əţ-ţujûr ‘ala škâla(h) tá'a‘]   كلّ الطيور على اشكلها تقع

 - Every bird couples with the same species.


გული გულს იცნობსო; (lit.:  "A heart recognizes another heart")

 ფერი ფერსა, მადლი ღმერთსაო. (lit.: "Colour to colour, thanks to God")


    [koll ţánžara əlhā ġaţâ(h)]    كلّ طنجرة لها عطاها

  _§ ყველა ქოთანს თავის თავსახური აქვსო. (lit.: "Every pot has its lid")


  [hásan 'aħō lahsên]   حسن أخو لحسين

  _ ჰასანი ჰუსეინის ძმაა. (lit.:"Hasan is Husein's brother")

  § რაც ალხანა, ის ჩალხანაო./ალხანას ჩალხანა არ დაელევაო (lit.: "Alkhana and Chalkhana are the same")

    თითო მარიკელას თითო მოსიკელა არ დაელევაო (lit.: "Every Marikela has her Mosikela") Every Jack has his Jill.

    ჭიან კაკალს ჭიანი მუშტარი არ დაელევაო (lit.: "Worm-eaten walnut has a "worm-eaten" buyer").


As is clear, in order to create a similar semantic model ("everyone finds his/her match"), both ethnoses offer identical as well as different metaphorical images.[8] The information given on the surface level in each unit is the basis of the generalized meaning embedded on their deep level. It sometimes rests on the experience gained as a result of the observation (on the laws of nature, everyday objects, etc.) in the process of the cognition of the world, and in some cases - on the recording of proper names (sometimes historical persons). Each proverb united in the given semantic model, upon the actualization in a relevant context, expresses the identical concept coded in them, the wide meaning, by a different semantic colouring. In other words, the similar underlying meaning recorded in each on the implicit level has a different connotation (sometimes positive as well as negative, in other cases unequivocally positive or negative). Accordingly, the connotative range of the contexts, the situation niche, in which each of them are realized, are different.

Let us consider the first proverb of the above-given Arabic proverbs: "Every bird couples with the same species", where the recording of the meaning is concentrated on the similar birds species, the genetic code. At the time of the actualization in a context, by means of the information obtained on the explicit level, in the speakers' consciousness the knowledge on the regularities existing in nature is activated, namely, coupling of birds of one species. Against this background the sense-giving occurs: there are birds of different species in nature, distinguished by different features, conventionally, "good" and "bad", a "good" bird couples with a "good" one and a "bad" bird- with a "bad" one. On the basis of the indicated semantic operations, with the help of imaginary logical relations, through an association, the mentioned regular knowledge is put into practice and applied to a respective situation, which defines the decoding of the implicit meaning - grasping the essence, generalization and abstraction of the idea represented by a specific content: everyone ("bad" and "good") finds his/her match, couples with his/her match. This proverb has a double connotation. Depending on the context, it may be used with the positive (a "good" pair) as well as negative nuances (a "bad" pair).

As regards the semantic parallels of this proverb:

a) in გული გულს იცნობსო ("A heart recognizes another heart") the emphasis is on the heart i.e. inner life of people, the spiritual sphere. It is used with a negative or a positive connotation. b) ფერი ფერსა, მადლი ღმერთსაო. ("Colour to colour, thanks to God"), on the contrary, is oriented toward the physical (colour), outward appearance (perhaps, including spiritual similarity as well). It in most cases has a distinct positive connotation. A similar concept with the negative connotation is mostly expressed by the alternative variant - რაც ალხანა, ის ჩალხანაო./ალხანას ჩალხანა არ დაელევაო ("Alkhana and Chalkhana are the same"). However, the variant (b) may also be realized with a negative colouring in some contexts: "ფერი ფერსაო, მადლი ღმერთსაო" _ ნათქვამია, ფერი ფერს შეხვდა და ერთმანეთი შეიფერეს. ეს შეფერება ცოტასა აქვს ჩვენში მიღებული სიყვარულად? კარგი რამ არის ქართველი კაცი: ბედსაც და უბედობასაც თანასწორად ემორჩილება ხოლმე" (lit.: "Colour to colour, thanks to God", as the saying goes, colour met colour and they got accustomed to each other. Do not a lot of people regard this getting accustomed as love ? A good thing is a Georgian man: he equally obeys good and bad luck")  [Chavchavadze, 1985:174].      

In the illustrated examples the complete Arabic-Georgian (textual and semantic) parallels are recorded:  "ყველა ქოთანს თავის თავსახური აქვსო" ("Every pot has its lid"), in which attention is again focused on physical similarity and in both ethnoses is more often notable for a negative connotation (however, theoretically there is a potential of interpreting it, as a fact expressing a general regulairty, with a double colouring). Obviously, in the Arabic consciousness its semantically negative connotation is caused by the realia given in the metaphorical image - the "building material". Namely, an Arab/Lebanese uses a pot (ţánžara), (hence its lid (ġaţâ(h)) on an open hearth, as a result of which it is sooty, i.e. unsightly (it has a negative connotation). As regards the realization of the proverb in the Georgian consciousness in most cases with a negative function, it must be, on the one hand, due to the existence of its alternative parallel, mostly having a positive colouring ფერი ფერსა, მადლი ღმერთსაო ("Colour to colour, thanks to God"). On the other hand, the Russian exact counterpart У каждого горшка своя крышка, intensively found in Georgian speech, may also have a subconscious influence. The constituent segment горшок" ("pot") in the Georgian consciousness has a negative seme (it is often associated with a chamber-pot).

The Arabic proverb ჰასანი ჰუსეინის ძმაა ("Hasan is Husein's brother") seems especially interesting, which, by the observation of the present author, is used by the given ethnos with a negative loading. This must have a deep historical roots. Hasan and Husein, named in it, must be the sons of  Ali ibn Abu Talib, the spiritual leader of the Shiites. Syria, as is known, is a country of Sunite Islam. Hence, on the basis of the religious conflict between Shiism and Sunism, the present proverb may have acquired a negative connotation for the Syrians.

It has numerous semantic analogies in Georgian: რაც ალხანა, ის ჩალხანაო./ალხანას ჩალხანა არ დაელევაო ("Alkhana and Chalkhana are the same"), თითო მარიკელას თითო მოსიკელა არ დაელევაო ("Every Marikela has her Mosikela") (in which love-affairs predominate),  where connotative parallelism is recorded as well: at the time of its use a sharply ironic tone is observable, which is created by the language stylistics of the metaphor given on the surface level, in particular, by the use of familiar variants of names. As regards the last Georgian parallel ჭიან კაკალს ჭიანი მუშტარი არ დაელევაო ("Worm-eaten walnut has a "worm-eaten" buyer"), its negative connotation is again manifested in the metaphorical trope: the selection of syntagmas - ჭიანi კაკალi ("worm-eaten walnut") ჭიანი მუშტარი ("worm-eaten" buyer") naturally gives it a negative colouring at the time of decoding.

As is obvious from the above examples, in this case images existing on the surface level of proverbs, upon the realization, become a factor considerably defining their semantic colouring. Accordingly, certain alternation of connotative parameters and intonation field of the text performance will take place at the time of citing in each specific situational context.

Proceeding from the above-mentioned, it may be concluded that the generalized - conceptual formula of a proverb is formed by the simultaneous operation of all the components involved in its creation, indicated above. Each of them are equaly important. The objective reality reflected in it on the surface level (visibly) and deeply (non-visibly) cannot be considered as independent objects and phenomena. By means of logical relations they are a whole system of regularities being in a certain conceptual dependence. Therefore, it is possible to understand a proverb only by gaining an insight into these dependences, understanding the regularities existing in the historical reality of a given ethnos and study of the conceptual mentality recorded within the existing  mentality.

The comparative study of Arabic and Georgian examples has demonstrated that the wisdom reflected in proverbs of these languages, based on the historical experience of each ethnos, is recorded from the viewpoint characteristic for them. At the same time, phenomena reflecting reality are categorized more or less differently within the boundaries of the mental vision of these nationalities. In order to record the same idea different ethnoses use, on the one hand, their own "building material" and, on the other - a similar one. This demonstrates once again that peoples of totally different languages, ethnoconsciousness and culture, against the background of sometimes similar, sometimes different logical relations between objects and phenomena existing in the given surroundings, record similar human ideas and in most cases use a common system of conceptual thinking. That is, they create stereotyped models of conceptual thinking on the basis of experience accumulated in the process of cognition of the universe. Scholars (among them Georgian researchers) quite correctly explain this phenomenon (along with other circumstances - borrowing, stock phrases) by stereotyped thinking, common to all mankind [M.Chikovani, 1986; M.Rusieshvili, 1999], common practical experience and wisdom [Qin, 1996].

At present, in the period of powerful cultural expansion, when it is so topical to speak about the dialogue of cultures and civilizations, exactly similar universal themes may be considered as one of its corner-stones. Such comparative study takes on special significance for bringing to light the everyday and mental specificity of radically different peoples as to their history and consciousness, their ethnopsychic picture, their different as well as similar world view.

[1] In this case the urgency of the topic is also due to the fact that this is the first attempt to introduce a new topic into the Georgian Arabistics.

[2] On the basis of the contextual study of Lybian proverbs, M.Abdelkafi draws the following conclusion: perhaps it will be right to state that the Arabs resort to proverbs more frequently, as compared with the majority of other nations [Abdelkafi, 1986: 7].

[3] One thing is the literal translation of this, at a glance, simple proverbial sentence and the other one is understanding the main idea, implied on its deep level by the mental comprehension developed against the background of the historical experience of a given language community.

[4] Noteworthy, this specificity in Arabic is even more observable due to the existence of bilingualism (problem of diglossia in Arabic). Sometimes in Classical Arabic and other dialects (in this case, Syrian) the pronunciation and sounding of even identical variants are so different that often it is not felt that they have anything in common. Therefore, greater difficulties are encountered here from the viewpoint of the study of proverb language.

[5] Unlike proverbs, riddles/proverbial sayings are devoid of the ability of general reasoning. The "clue" to its semantic code is subordinated to the disclosure of a specific object (hence, object thinking). The proverb is a far more complex phenomenon. Its deep semantic code is oriented towards the recording of a generalized idea - wisdom (approved by a given language collective on the basis of historical experience) (it is subordinated to conceptual thinking). This finds reflection primarily in its pragmatic function: it judges, mocks, teaches...

[6] The process of gaining insight into the essential (giving sense) occurring at the time of proverb deciphering is intended for adults, who are capable of thinking in concepts (e.g. in children, this process is represented only on the level of sensory perception, "object "thinking).

[7] Arabic material is obtained and translated from the Arabic primary source, directly Syrian/Lebanese informants. Given proverbs were recorded with possible contexts, informants' comments and explanations, which was a necessary condition for understanding their deep semantics, connotation range and sphere of use of each of them - for identification of a relevant "situational niche".

[8] Noteworthy, the explicit meaning of a proverb by its nature is fixed, i.e. static, whereas its implicit meaning is not fixed, i.e. dynamic. Of course, it does not go beyond the thematic boundaries, but its formation, on the one hand, is a matter of taste of participants of a speech act, and, on the other one, its formation is to a certain extent determined by a situational context, in which it is used.


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