[Lingtyp] Metaphorical subject-object order in proverbs with parallel sentences

David Gil gil at shh.mpg.de
Fri Jun 18 16:50:51 UTC 2021

Dear all,

Two well-known poetic forms which place the source before the target 
(like Korean) are:

1. The Malay pantun — a ubiquitous quatrain form in which the first 
couplet presents the source while the second couplet follows with the 

2. Homer's Iliad and Odyssey.

In contrast, both orders are attested in

3. Virgil's Aeneid

For the Malay Pantun, this feature is pervasive and almost definitional 
of the genre.  For brief discussion see Gil (@).  For Homer and Virgil, 
the source is a personal communication from Yeshayahu Shen, alluding to 
a PhD dissertation from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, whose 
precise reference he was unfortunately unable to provide.

Gil, David (1993) "'Il pleut doucement sur la ville':The Rhythm of a 
Metaphor", /Poetics Today/ 14:49-82.

On 18/06/2021 15:41, Siva Kalyan wrote:
> At least some Sanskrit proverbs have the "metaphorical subjects" 
> preceding the "metaphorical objects". The example that comes to mind 
> is the following:
> varam eko guṇī putro na ca mūrkhaśatair api
> ekaścandrastamo hanti na ca tārāgaṇair api
> “A single intelligent son is preferable to a hundred fools;
> [just as] the sun is not blotted out by the multitude of stars.”
> Also the following:
> na daivam iti saṃcintya tyajed udyogam ātmanaḥ
> anudyogena kas tailaṃ tilebhyaḥ prāptum arhati?
> “Do not abandon your work, thinking it is foreordained by fate;
> [for] who is capable of obtaining oil from sesame plants without effort?”
> (Both of these examples are from the 12th-century text /Hitopadeśa/.)
> In addition, all the examples of metaphorical proverbs in Tamil that I 
> can think of also have the subject-before-object order. (I don’t 
> remember the original, but one of them goes along the lines of, “Don’t 
> think that only your relatives can help you; the poison that you are 
> born with may threaten your life, but the herb that saves you may come 
> from a distant mountain”.)
> At the very least, there are probably strong areal tendencies here. I 
> wouldn't be surprised if Sinospheric languages pattern one way, and 
> Indospheric languages pattern the other way.
> By the way, I wouldn’t recommend using “subject” and “object” to talk 
> about metaphor, given how overloaded these terms are already. I think 
> the standard way of talking about metaphors is in terms of “source 
> domain” (= your “object”) and “target domain” (= your “subject”).
> Siva
>> On 18 Jun 2021, at 2:08 pm, JOO, Ian [Student] 
>> <ian.joo at connect.polyu.hk <mailto:ian.joo at connect.polyu.hk>> wrote:
>> Dear all,
>> in Korean proverbs consisting of two parallel sentences, the 
>> metaphorical object precedes the metaphorical subject:
>>   * 호랑이는 죽어서 가죽을 남기고, 사람은 죽어서 이름을 남긴다. A tiger
>>     leaves its hide when it dies, and a person leaves their name when
>>     they die.
>>   * 열 길 물 속은 알아도 한 길 사람 속은 모른다. You can see through ten
>>     feet deep water, but you cannot see through a one foot deep heart.
>> In these proverbs, the metaphorical objects (tiger, water) precede 
>> the metaphorical subjects (person, heart).
>> I have been assuming that this is the “natural” way of making a 
>> parallel comparison, until I came across Mongolian proverbs today 
>> that have the opposite structure:
>>   * Хүн ёс дагана, нохой яс дагана. A person follows traditions, and
>>     a dog follows bones.
>>   * Уур биеийг зовоодог, уул морийг зовоодог. The anger torments the
>>     body, and the mountain torments the horse.
>> I assume here that the person and the body are being compared to the 
>> dog and the horse (and not the other way around).
>> Is this metaphorical subject - metaphorical object order common in 
>> proverbs of other languages as well?
>> From Hong Kong,
>> Ian
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David Gil
Senior Scientist (Associate)
Department of Linguistic and Cultural Evolution
Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History
Kahlaische Strasse 10, 07745 Jena, Germany
Email: gil at shh.mpg.de
Mobile Phone (Israel): +972-526117713
Mobile Phone (Indonesia): +62-81344082091

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