Scholarly article on topic 'Dramatization in Proverbs'

Dramatization in Proverbs Academic research paper on "Languages and literature"

Share paper
OECD Field of science
{"dramaturgical communication" / proverb / "human vices" / "stage micro-performance" / evaluation / norms / values}

Abstract of research paper on Languages and literature, author of scientific article — Vladimir I. Karasik

Abstract The article deals with a class of proverbs which express their instructive idea by means of a staged presentation. Such presentation is described in three aspects – structural, semantic and pragmatic. Structurally, dramatization in proverbs is shown in their dialogue form usually including someone's direct speech. Semantically, it is manifested in contrast and paradoxical cause and consequence combination. Pragmatically, it looks like a micro-performance with actors who personify typical ways of behavior – usually negative ones – showing them in humorous or ironic keys.

Academic research paper on topic "Dramatization in Proverbs"


Available online at


Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 200 (2015) 26 - 32


CULTURE, 27-30 October 2015

Dramatization in Proverbs

Vladimir I. Karasika*

aVolgograd State Socio-Pedagogical University, 27, Lenin Ave., Volgograd, 400066, Russia


The article deals with a class of proverbs which express their instructive idea by means of a staged presentation. Such presentation is described in three aspects - structural, semantic and pragmatic. Structurally, dramatization in proverbs is shown in their dialogue form usually including someone's direct speech. Semantically, it is manifested in contrast and paradoxical cause and consequence combination. Pragmatically, it looks like a micro-performance with actors who personify typical ways of behavior - usually negative ones - showing them in humorous or ironic keys.

© 2015TheAuthors.Published by ElsevierLtd.This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (http://creativecommons.Org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/).

Peer-review under responsibility of National Research Tomsk State University.

Keywords: dramaturgical communication; proverb; human vices; stage micro-performance; evaluation; norms; values

1. Introduction

Proverbs - folklore instructions of behavior usually formulated in short allegoric way - have always been a never ending attraction for a wide range of scholars who study norms and values. Such sentences are very diverse and include pieces of cautionary advice (Once bitten, twice shy), direct instructions to behave in a certain way (Keep your friends close and your enemies closer), folklore sayings (Every Jack has his Jill), superstitious beliefs (See a pin and pick it up, all the day you'll have good luck), riddles (What goes up and never comes down? - Your age). Here belong specific utterances kept in the collective memory as examples of stage performances (I've caught a bear! - Bring him here! - He won't go! - Then come here yourself! - He won't let me go!).

Such dramatizations are not very numerous but they definitely make a special class of proverbs. They resemble a miniature theatre performance. Dictionary compilers include them into proverbs because such dialogues correspond

* Corresponding author. Tel.: +7-903-376-1789 ; fax: +7-844-260-2964 . E-mail address:

1877-0428 © 2015 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (

Peer-review under responsibility of National Research Tomsk State University. doi:10.1016/j.sbspro.2015.08.005

to the requirements of proverbs - they are instructive, vivid, short and memorable. They express the collective experience in a concrete situational form. And as such they make a class of axiogenic situations (situations with marked values embedded in them showing reasons and outcomes of various actions - noble or mean, wise or stupid, tragic or funny, etc.) and are correlated with different genres of evaluative texts including myths, legends, parables, aphorisms, jokes and stories about things and events worth being spoken about (Karasik, 2014).

2. Methodology

Proverbs are thoroughly studied in the Russian Philology from various points of view. They have been examined in structural aspect (Permyakov, 2001), as folklore constituents (Klubkov, 2003), as phraseological units (Vinogradov, 1972; Kunin, 1972; Zhukov, 1993), as culture indicators (Ivanova, 2002; Krasnykh, 2002), as generative frames (Savitsky, 1993), as communicative elements (Sidorkova, 1999), as cognitive entities (Abakumova, 2012). As far as I know dramatization in proverbs has not been specially analyzed yet, though presentation as a type of a social action is given its due attention by E. Goffman (2000) and J. Habermas (1984). A.V. Olyanitch (2007) has undertaken a thorough investigation of presentational discourse.

Linguistically, a presentation is opposed to a narration, or in terms of Plato, mimesis is opposed to diegesis. V.I. Tyupa (2010) speaks about dramaturgical and theoretical types of discourse. The same idea may be expressed in the form of a sentence, or a parable, or a narrative, or a dialogue. In this respect a dialogue has some advantages: it influences the audience, mobilizes their intellectual and emotional reactions and directs them in the way chosen by its initiator (Kukharenko, 2002, p.92).

3. Findings and analysis

The material analyzed in this paper includes various proverbial dialogues translated from Russian into English. Structurally, dramatization in proverbs may be subdivided into several types.

• Certain dialogues consist of a few moves:

Doggie, why are you barking? -1 try to scare wolves. - And why is your tail between your legs? -1 am afraid of them.

• Certain narratives show the speech of a definite personage, and the culmination of the event is in his or her direct speech:

A mouse has crawled into a jug and cries: Let me out!

• Similar phrases are common in different languages:

A fly got drowned in a pool and said: Let the flood perish the world! (Assyr.).

• There exist jocular phrases used as commentaries to attitudes and actions:

Have I stolen a calf from the God to be avoided by everybody? Such phrases are usually understood as incrustation in speech and require a special intonation or mimic expression or a parenthetical phrase "as people say' to show the listeners that a performance is being given. In Russian rural dialects people often use sound imitations to indicate someone's manner of speech (cf. the way the English pronounce "bla-bla-bla" or "la-di-da").

• This is true about imitating animal vocalizations:

Pigs oink and piglets oink.

• The proverbial sense of such sentences is often expressed in a standard way:

Where there's a horse with its hoof, there's also a crawfish with its claw. We can see a parallel behavior of little personages who try to imitate big ones and it seems funny.

• Semantically such staged sentences are often paradoxical:

Yes, it's a bad thing... Well, let's take it. An intentional breech of logic makes people smile. The former Russian Prime-Minister Victor Chernomyrdin is well remembered by such phrases:

It has never happened before and now we have it again.

• The sentences in question semantically imitate a dialogue with the first participant taking a high style register and the second participant downgrading it:

Unbreakable peace - till the first fighting.

• The dramatization is often based upon the inner contrast:

Why are you so happy? - I'm getting married. - And why is your head down? -1 got married.

• The contrast shows different ways of taking the world as it is:

A frog croaked: Will the evening come? A nightingale was sighing: Will the dawn come?

• Sometimes a key phrase is deliberately absurd:

Give me some milk! - You just wait, the bull calf has not been milked yet.

• Such dialogues are often based on defeated expectancy effect:

Fedul (a masculine proper name), why are you pouting? - I've burnt my jupe. - It can be mended. - I have no needle. - Is the hole big? -1 have only a neckpiece left. In Russian a rhyming phrase "Fedul, chego guby nadul?" (Fedul, why are you pouting with your lips?) is often used to tease children who are quick to take offence.

• Folklore is characterized by a contrastive style downgrading:

No handkerchief for your mug, use the mitten. In Russian the phrase contains diminutive forms (platochek - little hankerchief, rukavichka - little mitten), thus the sentence sounds ironically when addressed to a girl who pretends to display good manners but has no class distinction for it.

• Dramatized proverbs are aimed at common human vices, especially when someone behaves not in a proper way:

Our Dun'ka (a feminine name) is not squeamish, she will gorge honey as well. "Dun 'ka" is a pejorative form of a name showing disdain for a person who is too finicky or easily shocked. It is necessary to mention that Russian colloquial verb "brezgat' / brezgovat'" is rather hard to translate into English, it means "to show that one disdains to eat or take something because it seems disgusting or not up to one's status". Honey is the food everyone likes and it's rather expensive. Thus the inconsistency of someone's behavior is ridiculed.

• A typical way of making a humorous effect in a staged proverbial form is the demonstration of idiotic evidence:

We have such people now - you take something from their yard, and they call you a thief. In such utterances we face a peculiar personality bifurcation: a person says a truism and at the same time mocks oneself.

• Pragmatically, dramatized proverbs characterize the behavior of universal human comedy personages. Typical heroes of such a plot are a dodger and a simpleton:

Let's have a drink? - OK. - But where shall we take the money? - You have a hat, haven't you? The initiator plays a manipulative plot, but his trick is seen through.

• We can see a common person and a butter-fingers who is laughed at:

Okul'a (a feminine name), why are you sewing from the wrong place ? - Mother, I know I will unpick it. It is a dialogue between mother and daughter, and the daughter knows that she is wasting her efforts.

• An awkward deceiver is often ridiculed in dramatized proverbs:

Who has eaten the pie? - Not me. - And who would like to have another piece? - Me.

• Silly people are typical objects of proverbial derision:

Are you tamping water? - Yes, I am. - Is there any dust? - No. - Go on tamping. In this case we have an allusion to a common expression "toloch vodu v stupe" (to tamp water in a mortar) - to be engaged in senseless work (it was a common punishment in monasteries).

• People who try to take advantage of using someone else's work are also criticized in staged proverbs:

Ivan, say whoa to my horse! - Why not you? - My lips got frozen.

• Sometimes new plots emerge in such dialogues:

Ivan, bridle my horse! - Why not you? -1 have a cantle in my hands. - Put it into your hat. - It's too big, it won't go.

The object of criticism merges from the desire to use someone else's work to the exposition of greed.

• Pretenders are common targets in proverbs:

He says he is blind, but he has not missed the stove. The stove in the Russian izba (hut) was used not only for cooking but also as a warm bed. The proverb ridicules those who try to attract sympathy by pretending to be weak.

• Misers are severely criticized:

A poor lad got ruined - he has bought a copper ring for his girl-friend. A copper ring is a cheap thing, and it is regarded as a mean behavior if a man gives to his dear one such a trifle as a present.

• Hypocrisy is an object of condemnation in staged proverbs:

Let's go to the church. - It's too dirty out of doors. - Then, to the tavern. - Well, if only to get through under the fence.

If it is dirty out, one can't remain clean when moving under the fence.

• Staged proverbs deal with wiseacres:

Why are you so silly? - We have such water. The absurd answer shows that the question was wrong.

• The contrast of work and rest is also noteworthy in proverbs:

A plough is naught for me, I need only my balalaika (a musical instrument). The phrase is open to various interpretations, one of them is a reprimand to idlers.

• A reduction to absurdity is a common logical technique in argumentation:

Sloth, open the door, or you will burn! -1 would better burn than move. One can see a picture of a lazy-bones resting on the stove and going to be aflame soon, but not willing to open the door. A similar saying:

Let the belly burst but the food is not to be lost. The phrase is applied to gluttons and in a joking way to those who are already fed up but would have some more meals.

• It is interesting to note that sometimes a partner in a dramatized proverb agrees with his accuser and thus admits his mistakes:

What have you been doing? - Waiting. - And what have you gained by waiting? - Waiting. In Russian an occasional word "zhdanki" coined from the verb "zhdat" (to wait) appears in the proverb. We see that waiting was useless.

• Folklore proverbs deal with traditional ethnic prejudice:

A stolen mare will be much cheaper than a bought one, said Gipsy. Horse stealing was thought a traditional occupation of this ethic group. Structurally, the phrase resembles well known wellerisms by Charles Dickens.

• Dramatization is very close to teasing:

I won't eat the unbaked, I wouldn't like the fried, I hate the boiled. The phrase is used to describe the way of behavior of those who are very hard to please.

• Incongruity of wishes is a typical reason for making a dramatization proverb:

You sing well, but I don't feel like dancing.

• Sometimes such sentences dialectically counterbalance contradictory positions of people:

You mother threaten, and you girl enjoy yourself.

• Staged proverbs may contain self-criticism:

A fool looked at a fool and spat on the ground - what a wonder. Spitting in traditional Russian behavior is a sign of disdain.

• Proverbial dramatization tends to be very precise:

Either old and ugly, or young and haughty, or equally stubborn. A choosy girl who rejects all the match variants is ridiculed.

• Sometimes ludic effect is dominant in dramatization proverbs:

Hey, soldier, have you seen a calf here? - What does it look like? - Reddish, with a ribbon on his neck. - One side is scuffed? - Yes, it's him! - No, I haven't seen him. This is a typical comic presentation of mock misunderstanding.

• There is a wide variety of didactic message expressed in the proverb. Certain dialogues are very didactic:

Tit (a masculine name), come and do threshing! - I have a belly ache. - Tit, come to eat jelly. - And where is my big spoon?

• Spongers are severely criticized in peasant life. Compare:

Aren 't you tired sitting on my neck?

• A biased evaluation is also subject to criticism:

A pig came to a horse and says: his legs seem crooked and his hair is bad. Here we can see that assessment is both conventional and prejudged.

• A sarcastic attitude to capricious people is demonstrated in the following proverb:

Hungry Malanya (a feminine name) has been given fritters, but she says: Not well baked. The sentence in Russian contains rhymes which add to persuasive effect of the proverb.

• People should control their wishes:

I want! - Well, want until you fall out of want. Parents often reply to their children with a phrase "khotet' ne vredno" (It's not harmful to want).

• There exist non-didactic dramatization proverbs which serve only to ludic aim. They are rather close to so called "empty sayings" (pustogovorki):

Am I not a fine fellow? Are not my children thieves? Such phrases are used to indicate that it's a friendly communication.

• It is interesting to compare dramatization in proverbs in different languages.

Compare: Where is the bread we ate yesterday?

Mais ou sont les neiges d'antan? (F. Villon) - Where is the snow of yester year? The same idea may contain a casual style ironic connotation in a proverb and an elegy connotation in verse. It is true about doing nothing: What are you doing? - Nothing. - And you? -1 help him.

In English this idea is expressed directly: If you have nothing to do don't do it here.

• It is noteworthy that proverbial dramatization practically never occurs in English. There is one phrase which expresses this genre, but it's exceptional:

Why keep a dog and bark yourself? Perhaps dramatization in English is spread in other textual types.

• In German there are a lot of staged proverbs, one of the most cited phrases is the following:

Morgen, morgen, nur nicht heute, sagen alle faulen Leute. - Tomorrow. tomorrow, not today, say all the lazy people.

• Certain proverbs coincide in different cultures, and sometimes the image to be used as the example of a situation worth thinking about is endemic:

A bride was not able to dance and said: The floor is crooked (Pers.) This phrase correlates with a parable about a fox and grapes: the fox failed to jump to grapes and said they were green.

Ukrainian proverbs are often expressed as staged phrases:

Were he not my fool, I would also laugh. This self-deprecating sentence is used to prevent critical remarks.

• The same situation may be commented upon in various aspects:

A cat was sitting on the lard and yelling: "It's too little". Compare to a Russian proverb:

The cat knows whose lard he has eaten. The former proverb indicates improper demands, whereas the latter one deals with necessity to answer for wrong actions.

The idea of unjust judgment is illustrated in the following dialogue:

Whose case is this? - Vyit's. - And who is the judge? - Vyit. A vyit was a civil servant in medieval Poland, Ukraine and Belorussia, and the proverb ironically reflects the situation when the judge investigates his own case.

• Sometimes the situation taken as the basis for moral conclusion is absurd:

The husband is driven to gallows and his wife says: On your way back buy me a rose skirt (Pers.). The object of criticism is egotism bridging on extreme stupidity.

Armenian proverbs include a number of staged situations. The following sentence shows that people tend to be blind to their neighbor when they pursue their profit:

One man has his beard aflame and the other one is crying: Let me warm my hands! The image used in the proverb turns out to be symbolic. The proverbs characterize personality types:

A donkey was invited to the wedding. He said: Perhaps, someone is needed to carry water (Armen). It is a sad reaction of those who feel they are always to do hard work whatever happens. Another human type is shown in the following phrase:

An eagle said: A good man will not shoot at me and a fool will miss the mark (Oset.). The proverb shows the reasons for optimism in life: good people will not do us any harm and fools will inevitably fail to do it.

But there should be limits for optimism:

A hen declared: Whatever the God said nevertheless I shall fly (Oset.). We can find within dramatized proverbs simple and witty sayings, but sometimes there occur very deep philosophical observations dealing with the sense of life:

I did not say: You will not become the king, I said: You will not become man (Armen.). The sentence sums up the ideas connected with the cost of power.

4. Discussion of Results

The proverbs analyzed reflect the preferences of dictionaries compilers, but we can see that dramatization in proverbs is common in Russian, Ukrainian and German. Similar expressions also occur in Caucasian and Middle East territories. Such dramaturgical way of expression is predominantly oral and archaic. Why is a dramaturgical way of instruction attractive? First, it involves the audience and makes them active participants of an action. Second, it makes the speaker less prominent in the story and thus creates the atmosphere of objective development of events. Third, it allows people to enjoy playing different parts in a performance thus making life more interesting. The question remains why such a form of folklore wisdom is not equally presented in different cultures. On the one hand, it is a question of material sufficiency - it is limited by the proverbs dictionaries available. On the other hand, it is a more intricate thing because genres of speech in each culture make a balanced system, and certain ideas and emotions expressed via certain genres in one culture may find some other form of manifestation in another culture. This is one of possible further directions of the investigation described.

5. Conclusion

There is a special class of expressions in proverbial system - staged proverbs. These units are dialogues designed for succinct presentation of axiogenic situations. Structurally they exist in the form of short dialogues or part of dialogues including someone's direct speech. Semantically they are based on contrast and often express paradoxical combinations of cause and consequence. Pragmatically they correspond to micro-performances in which there are actors who implement human vices shown usually in humorous or ironic way.


Abakumova, O. B. (2012). Poslovicy v jazyke, soznanii i diskurse: monografija. Sankt-Peterburg: Izd. Dom «Alef-Press». [Proverbs in Language, Mind, and Discourse]. (Rus.)

Goffman, E. (2000). Predstavlenie sebja drugim v povsednevnoj zhizni. Moskva: KANON-press-C, "Kuchkovo pole". [The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life].

Habermas, J. (1984). The Theory of Communicative Action. Vol.1. Reason and the Rationalization of Society. L.: Heinemann.

Ivanova, E. V. (2002). Poslovichnye kartiny mira (na materiale anglijskih i russkih poslovic). SPb.: Filol. f-t SPbGU. [Sayings worldviews (based

on the materials of the Russian and English sayings)]. (Rus.) Karasik, V. I. (2003). Jazykovoeprojavlenie lichnosti. Volgograd: Paradigma. [LingualManifestation of Personality] (Rus.) Klubkov, P. A. (2003). "Jazykovye igry" i malye zhanry gorodskogo fol'klora, In Sovremennyj gorodskoj fol'klor (pp. 645-664). Moskva:

Rossijsk. gos. gumanit. un-t [Language Games and Small Genres of Folklore. In Modern City Folklore]. Krasnykh, V. V. (2002). Etnopsiholingvistika i lingvokul'turologija. Moskva: Gnozis. [Ethno-psycholinguistics and Linguocultural Studies].


Kukharenko, V. A. (2002). Interpretacija teksta (3rd ed.). Odessa: Latstar [Interpretation of Text]. (Rus.)

Kunin, A. V. (1972). Frazeologija sovremennogo anglijskogo jazyka. Opyt sistematizirovannogo opisanija. Moskva: Izd-vo «Mezhdunarodnye otnoshenija» [Phraseology of Modern Russian Language]. (Rus.)

Olyanitch, A. V. (2007). Prezentacionnaja teorija diskursa. Moskva: Gnozis. [Discourse Representation Theory]. (Rus.)

Permyakov, G. L. (2001). Poslovicy i pogovorki narodov Vostoka. Sistematizirovannoe sobranie izrechenij dvuhsot narodov. Moskva: Izd-vo «Labirint». [Proverbs and Sayings oof Oriental Peoples']. (Rus.)

Savitsky, V. M. (1993). Anglijskaja frazeologija: problemy modelirovanija. Samara: Samarskij universitet. [English Phraseology]. (Rus.)

Sidorkova, G. D. (1999). Pragmatikaparemij: poslovicy ipogovorki kak rechevye dejstvija. Krasnodar. [Pragmatics of Paremies]. (Rus.)

Tyupa, V. I. Diskursnye formacii: Ocherki po komparativnoj ritoirike. Moskva: Jazyki slavjanskoj kul'tury. [Discursive Formations: Essays on Comparative Rhetoric]. (Rus.)

Vinogradov, V. V. (1972). Russkij jazyk (grammaticheskoe uchenie o slove). Moskva: Vysshaya Shkola. [Russian language: grammatical study of the word]. (Rus.)

Zhukov, V. P. (1993). Predislovie by Zhukov V.P. Slovar' russkih poslovic i pogovorok (5th ed.). Moskva: Rus. jaz. [Dictionary oof Russian proverbs and sayings]. (Rus.)