Folk sayings in Southern Hemisphere Englishes

Agata Rozumko (University of Białystok)

This paper examines folk sayings used in Australian, New Zealand and South African English. It investigates the way in which metaphors and similes used in folk language make reference to the historical and political events, as well as geography and climate of these three countries. It also tries to examine the extent to which non-English elements, such as expressions from Aboriginal languages in Australia, Maori in New Zealand, Bantu languages and Afrikaans in South Africa, as well as the different varieties of English (Irish, Scottish) brought by settlers contributed to the variety of folk language used in Southern Hemisphere Englishes.

The paper examines the way in which folk sayings make use of names of indigenous fauna and flora, features of landscape, weather conditions, names of local institutions and products. Indigenous languages (and Afrikaans in South Africa) were sources of numerous names of animals and plants found in English, as well as topographical names and words connected with the weather, and such expressions are frequently employed in folk sayings. Both the use of individual borrowings from indigenous languages in sayings used in Southern Hemisphere Englishes, and English translations of the original sayings are investigated here. The article also looks at how stereotypes connected with the inhabitants of each of the three and other countries are reflected in their folk sayings.

The primary aim of this paper is to establish the degree to which sayings used in Australian, New Zealand and South African English are universal, country specific or Southern Hemisphere specific. The three colonial varieties show significant similarities in their development and their present form, so it seems legitimate to suppose that some resemblances on the level of folk sayings can be found too, though the external factors that shaped the three Englishes are of course different in numerous instances. Because folk sayings are closely connected with humour, as they commonly include humorous associations and comparisons (e.g. comparisons of human behaviour or appearance to that of animals), they also reflect the universality and/or specificity of the sense of humour characteristic of these three countries.

Needless to say, the analysis offered here is very brief, and it does not attempt to be a comprehensive study of sayings used in the Southern Hemisphere Englishes. Moreover, Southern Hemisphere Englishes comprise also Falkland Islands English (Trudgill 2004), which is omitted in this study because of the scarcity of the material on sayings used in this variety. However, the scope of the present study seems sufficient to point out some tendencies and allow some generalizations about folk sayings used in Australian, New Zealand and South African English.

The paper draws material from a number of internet collections of Australian, New Zealand, and South African sayings, from dictionaries, as well as sections devoted to lexis found in scholarly publications on these three varieties of English (e.g. Burchfield (ed.) 1994, Görlach 1998, Trudgill and Hannah 2002 (4th edition), Gordon et al. 2004).