Outi Lauhakangas, The Matti Kuusi International Type System of Proverbs.
FF Communications No. 275. Helsinki: Suomalainen Tiedeakatemia (Academia Scientiarum Fennica), 2001. 158 pp.
Hard (ISBN 951-41-0880-9), FIM 100,-
Soft (ISBN 951-41-0881-7), FIM 80,-

Available at the Tiedekirja Bookstore,
Kirkkokatu 14, 00170 Helsinki, Finland
(tel.: +358 9 635177; fax: +358 9 635017;
e-mail: tiedekirja@tsv.fi).

The renowned Finnish scholar Matti Kuusi (1914–1998) is one of the legendary figures of twentieth-century paremiology. Together with his friends Archer Taylor (1890–1973), Grigorii L’vovich Permiakov (1919–1983), Bartlett Jere Whiting (1904–1995), Démétrios Loukatos (born 1908), and Lutz Röhrich (born 1922) he was a major force in international proverb studies. His editorship of twenty-five issues (1965–1975) of Proverbium (rpt. in a two-volume set in 1987) and his numerous books, monographs, and articles were celebrated in a Festschrift on his seventieth birthday in 1984, which was also the first volume of the new Proverbium: Yearbook of International Scholarship.

On his eightieth birthday Henni Ilomäki edited Matti Kuusi’s Mind and Form in Folklore: Selected Articles (Helsinki: Finnish Literature Society, 1994), which contained numerous important articles in English translation that had appeared in Finnish over a span of about fifty years. And then, in 1998, the world of proverb scholarship learned of the death of this great colleague and friend. Very appropriately the fifteenth volume of Proverbium (1998) was dedicated to the memory of Matti Kuusi, containing Wolfgang Mieder’s essay “Matti Kuusi (1914 –1998): In Memory of the Last Giant of International Paremiology” (pp. 1–11).

A workable type-system of proverbs as a database

This is not the place to review Kuusi’s accomplishments once again, but let me cite the following paragraph from my essay just mentioned. It relates directly to the book under review here:

Matti Kuusi’s own most significant publication in Proverbium was his monograph Towards an International Type-System of Proverbs, which appeared in issue no. 19 (1972), 699–736, and as a separate publication (FFC 211. Helsinki: Suomalainen Tiedeakatemia [Academia Scientiarum Fennica], 1972. 40 pp.; see also my review in Fabula, 14 [1973], 164–166). This is indeed a seminal theoretical study on the possible organization of an international type-system of proverbs. Especially Matti Kuusi and Grigorii L’vovich Permiakov expended much energy into creating a system of proverb classification which would enable scholars to perform more meaningful comparative studies. Unfortunately this work has not been continued very vigorously by recent scholars, but there is hope that modern computers will help to revive the interest in type systems. It is, of course, a very time consuming undertaking, but a workable international classification system of proverbs would without doubt lead to new insights about the logical and semiotic aspects of human wisdom expressed in proverbs. (pp. 4–5)

Now, with Outi Lauhakangas’s book in hand, one is inclined to declare proverbially that “miracles do happen!” What scholar would not wish to have a daughter or son like Outi Lauhakangas! We now learn, and some of us have known it for some time, that she had already worked for several years (since about 1988) together with her father Matti Kuusi on getting the much needed international type system of proverbs into a more or less finished shape. It is she who added weeks, months, and years of her energies to this giant project with her aging and ailing father supporting her with his wisdom and ideas. Outi Lauhakangas brought not only her com-puter expertise to this large database, but she also added socio-psychological aspects to the classification system as developed by her father. For the past three years after the master’s death, the daughter continued on her own with the support of friends and colleagues. And now the magnum opus of father and daughter is in our hands. Be it known that Outi Lauhakangas has brought her father’s life-long work on an international type system of proverbs to fruition. The fruits of their labors are for paremiologists and paremiographers from around the world to pick and to enjoy. While much credit is, of course, due Matti Kuusi, his daughter Outi Lauhakangas deserves half the recognition. She has done her father proud with her new book, and the altered proverb “Like father, like daughter” definitely holds true. Outi Lauhakangas has completed and published a useful and pragmatic type system of proverbs that was her father’s brain-child but which very much became her “baby” especially during the past three years. Many thanks and admiration then for Matti Kuusi and Outi Lauhakangas!

Praise be to this unique father-daughter team, whose untiring and dedicated work has resulted in this book and a workable (!) type system of proverbs. Outi Lauhakangas has divided her book into six historical, explanatory, and instructional chapters (pp. 13–95) that make up the first half of this study. As expected, the second part consists of three appendices that lists the proverb collections and sources, presents the classification index itself, and also includes a list of universal proverb types and their criteria (pp. 97–158). All of this is preceded by a short preface (pp. 9–11) in which Lauhakangas explains that she wishes to show how the international type system of proverbs moved from dream or idea to practical reality. With understandable pride the author states:

The thematic classification of proverbs consists of 13 main themes or “home districts” and their 52 main classes which are divided into 325 subgroups or “home addresses”. The whole system, as well as the Matti Kuusi special library are situated in the Finnish Literature Society. The material is also available on the World Wide Web pages of the Finnish Literature Society (http://www.finlit.fi). (p. 10)

Indeed, the entire database is computerized! Imagine how thrilled our deceased colleague and friend Bengt Holbek would be if he could have known this phenomenal accomplishment by Outi Lauhakangas. Holbek, it will be recalled, had published a short paper more than thirty years ago on “Computer Classification of Proverbs” in Proverbium, 14 (1969), 372–376.

A quest for basic images and formulas

Chapter 1 presents “The basic elements of the international proverb corpus: the Matti Kuusi Library of proverb collections, the original card index and the computer database” (pp. 13–16). Here Outi Lauhakangas describes Matti Kuusi’s vast library of proverb collections from around the world, which has now become part of the Library of the Finnish Literature Society. She also refers to Kuusi’s critical reaction to Grigorii L’vovich Permiakov’s attempt of using a logico-semiotic notation system of proverbs, which Kuusi found too restrictive and deductive (for the reception of Permiakov’s work see above all Peter Grzybek and Wolfgang Eismann [eds.], Semiotische Studien zum Sprichwort. Simple Forms Reconsidered I [Tübingen: Gunter Narr, 1984]; and Peter Grzybek [ed.], Die Grammatik der sprichwörtlichen Weisheit von G. L. Permjakov [Baltmannsweiler: Schneider Verlag Hohengehren, 2000]). Kuusi had started his database towards an international type system on thousands by now famous “pink cards”, of which some indicate up to fifty references to different proverb collections. What is important to note at this point is that Kuusi was not so much a theoretician but rather a pragmatist, as he began his classification work. His work was not necessarily systematic but rather pragmatic and based above all on comparative work. As long as he could, basically until the late 1980s, Kuusi worked manually with his thousands of cards (as all of us did, and to a certain degree still do). What was needed, of course, was a classification system that could be programmed as a database and thus be retrievable at ease with the help of the computer.

In Chapter 2 we learn in more detail about the “Background of the construction of the Matti Kuusi international type system of proverbs” (pp. 17–25). It is revealing to note that Kuusi had basically given up hope of being able to create a type system due to the complexity and vastness of proverbs: “Only when he became convinced (persuaded) that, by means of a computer database, at least some of the basic search difficulties of thematic classification could be solved, was he willing to continue his work” (p. 18). Thank God that the insistent daughter was able to coerce her father into accepting the tool of the modern computer!

While both Kuusi and Permiakov think of every proverb as an answer to a question, Kuusi rejected Permiakov’s limiting logico-semiotic approach in favor of a broader and open thematic classification system that could, however, also include structural, semiotic, and (the influence of his daughter; see p. 22) social-psychological concepts. There is no doubt that Kuusi’s classification system is a combination of at least thematic and structural aspects, since, for example, binary oppositions show themselves both thematically and structurally in proverbs (see pp. 21–23). In fact, “binary oppositions are the first and most natural way to approach proverb types” (p. 22). Lauhakangas reviews a number of important papers that her father published during the 1960s and 1970s in which he dealt with such matters as surface and deep structure. I might add one paper that she seemingly forgot to include in her list of “References” (pp. 93–95), namely “How Can a Type-Index of International Proverbs Be Outlined?” Proverbium, 15 (1970), 473–476.

In a final section of the second chapter, Lauhakangas discusses “The approach of basic images and formulae in the Matti Kuusi type system of proverbs” (pp. 23–25), stating that “if we try to study proverbs as fixed forms, we cannot avoid an analysis of proverb patterns. Kuusi calls them formulas, a term that was introduced by Archer Taylor in his classical text The Proverb (1931)” (p. 23). Here she might also have referred to Kuusi’s early essay “Basic images and formulae” (1954; see the volume edited by H. Ilomäki, pp. 142–144). It certainly is interesting to note that Taylor influenced Kuusi’s thinking. Both he and Kuusi obviously noticed that people tend to use the same formulas (patterns) to construct new proverbs. But, as Kuusi stressed, the imagery of earlier proverbs is also of great importance in the formulation of such proverbs.

The units of classification

With Chapter 3 Outi Lauhakangas leaves the historical analysis of the process of putting together a classification system for proverbs. Here she deals very objectively with the “Thematic classification and its problems” (pp. 26–61). The discussion of “the multi-level character” (p. 29) of proverbs, which includes the fact that “proverbs unite, associate, merge, link and overturn their [other proverbs] meanings” (p. 27), is of much importance in understanding the complexity in the establishment of a meaningful classification system. It is thus understandable and even proper that Kuusi “had no (conscious) theoretical models to interpret his [vast proverb] material” (p. 28). He preferred practical principles based on common sense and cultural similarities and differences. In other words:

The Matti Kuusi database is intended as a tool, not as a Bible for paremiologists and other professionals dealing with language. The classification work in practice was quite intuitive and consciously inductive. Kuusi constructed structure-based groups, but if the substance seemed to be more important, the proverb was not forced into some pattern of opposition or logical relations. There are thus some pure thematic groups, with or without oppositions. (p. 30)

There is then to some degree a certain Kuusi/Lauhakangas subjectivity in this classification system. But this is the case with all folklore classification schemes, even the most famous Aarne/Thompson classification system of folktales. The issue thing is that we now finally have a useful international classification system of proverbs!

As stated before, the classification system starts with 13 main themes (see p. 33), which for the most part represent basic aspects of human life:

A Practical knowledge of nature
B Faith and basic attitudes
C Basic observations and socio-logic
D The world and human life
E Sense of proportion
F Concepts of morality
G Social life
H Social interaction
J Communication
K Social position
L Agreements and norms
M Coping and learning
T Time and sense of time

Under the 13 main themes there are 52 main classes (from A1 to Ta). The main theme of “G. Social life”, having 8 main classes, may serve as an example here (see p. 35):

G. Social life
G1 kinship
G2 development – a person’s background
G3 child : parents / upbringing
G4 man : woman / ranking and position of both sexes
G5 marriage
G6 youth : old age
G7 health : illness
G8 death / the dead

The 52 main classes are once again subdivided into 325 subgroups with different numbers of subgroups for each main class. Some subgroups register 7 or fewer proverb types, but there are also those subgroups that list 50 or more types. Thus subgroup “G8g life from death” contains merely 6 proverb types, while subgroup “G5e woman and man – the right moment of offer of marriage, norms, criteria of choosing (mostly by men)” offers 73 proverb types! In the actual entire “Classification index” (see Appendix 2, pp. 113–123), Lauhakangas has used a series of symbols after each subgroup to indicate whether they are descriptive titles, relational titles, positively- or negatively-charged expressions of values and warning titles, comparative titles (i.e., many “better … than” proverbs), contrasting titles, indicative titles, and cause and effect relational titles (for this see pp. 42–61).

Lauhakangas is, however, well aware of the debatability (p. 46), ambivalence (p. 47), ambiguity (p. 48), relativity (p. 52), and complexity (p. 60) of such comparisons “according to the character and structure of included proverb types” (p. 41). She quite correctly admits that “it is not always easy to assess evaluation within a proverb, especially within those from strange cultures” (p. 57). Above all, Lauhakangas wants future users of the Kuusi classification system to be aware of the following basic truth about proverbs:

Proverbs are not merely oppositional or non-oppositional. These concepts are too general to be useful. Besides, proverbs do not always compare and contrast. When proverbs transmit social ideals, define standards and deviations from the norm, they are not bound to one function or even to one modality, because they admit several interpretations and the same proverb message must fit different situations. (pp. 60–61)

In this regard Arvo Krikmann has spoken of the polyfunctionality, polysemanticity, and polysituativity of proverbs (see his important studies On Denotative Indefiniteness of Proverbs and Some Additional Aspects of Semantic Indefiniteness of Proverbs [Tallinn: Academy of Sciences of the Estonian SSR, 1974]). No classification system, no matter how elaborate, could possibly include all of these variables. It must be kept in mind that Matti Kuusi wanted to create a useful and workable classification system for the proverbs of the world, and together with his daughter he has succeeded splendidly in accomplishing this task after almost four decades of tedious comparative work!

The possibility of universal types

Chapter 4 on “Proverb types” (pp. 62–77) begins with the expected statement that “The AT type system of fairy tales was the most important model for Kuusi’s idea of proverb types. In both systems exists the same kind of search for archetypes of human thinking” (p. 62). Basing his studies on a large comparative database of proverbs from basically every corner of the world, Kuusi’s idea of a universal “proverb type” in the broadest sense of that word “encompasses similar proverb types from different nations, presenting them as a global type having a common idea. That is why we can speak of universal proverb types if we wish to compare them to our local proverb titles or proverb types in the narrowest sense of the word. […] There are no standard models or patterns for a proverb type. In the Matti Kuusi type system the concept of type is not very strict and it moves between a relatively abstract proverb title […] to a cluster of proverbs using different images but having the same idea” (pp. 62–63).

In the fascinating and extremely important Appendix 3, Lauhakangas presents a list of over 700 “Universal [proverb] types and their criteria” (pp. 125–158), which are in most cases more like clusters of proverb types, having “variants from four main cultural areas: European, African, Islamic, and Asiatic cultures. The criterion for a global type or type cluster [indicated by the letter G in square brackets] is that it contains variants from all these cultural spheres” (p. 64). Lauhakangas gives numerous examples of such global proverb types, referring also to Matti Kuusi’s by now classical study of 420 pages on Regen bei Sonnenschein. Zur Welteschichte einer Redensart (FFC 171. Helsinki: Suomalainen Tiedeakatemia, 1957). This monograph clearly shows the complexity of the study of just one global proverb type! With the new classification system now finished, and with its inclusion of universal proverb types, such studies will certainly be very much enhanced. But even the giant Finnish database would represent only part of the work, especially if the international study of an individual proverb type is carried out synchronically and diachronically as well as contextually, semantically, functionally, etc.

In any case, it is of utmost importance that proverb scholars acquaint themselves with the about 700 universal types, presented in Appendix 3 with “the geographical or cultural distribution of that [i.e., each] title along with the number of the exemplary proverb and its closest variants” (p. 125). Without entering into a detailed explanation of the notation system, let me give at least one example of the universal proverb types that can be found under the main theme “C” (Basic observations and socio-logic) and its main class “C6” (appearance : internal values). The subgroup “C6c” (everything ist not as it appears; the deceptiveness of identifying marks [- -]) includes the following universal types (see p. 131):

All that glitters is not gold. C6c10 [G]; ref: M3b
All are not hunters that blow the horn. C6c17 (+16) [-a] F, E, I, O; ref: M5a, K1j
There are more maids than Maukin and more men than Michael. C6c22 (+21) [G]; ref. M1c
A wolf in sheep’s clothing. C6c28 (+28b, 28d) [-a] F, E, I, O, P; ref: J1j
All are good maids, but whence come the bad wives? C6c31 [-i] F, E, A, O; ref: G5e, H2d

This is quite an elaborate system of notations with abundant inormation and, above all, also cross references to other proverb types. This takes care of the problem that the assignment of proverbs to a certain position in the classification system can be somewhat subjective at times. And, to be sure, the computerized database does (thank God!) permit a precise search by key-words (usually nouns) that will help to locate each and every proverb in the system if one is not certain under what main theme, main class, and subgroup it might have been registered by Matti Kuusi and Outi Lauhakangas.

An open system permanently under construction

At the end of Chapter 4, Lauhakangas makes a number of honest and critical comments regarding her father’s and her classification system, basically admitting to its somewhat subjective nature:

It is obvious that the viewpoint or the aim of the interpreter has an effect on defining proverb texts as a proverb type. […] The Matti Kuusi international type system of proverbs represents only one solution to the classification of proverbs – and not necessarily the best. It has primarily been an attempt to find a practical way to arrange a large collection of literature [i.e., proverbs found in collections] references. […] We can and we should say that the Matti Kuusi index is permanently “under construction”. Consequently also the file of universal proverb types is unfinished. (p. 77)

To this statement I would add that this is the way it should be! Yes, the classification system might not be the very best solution, but we have no better index at this time. And will we ever have another research team as that of Matti Kuusi and Outi Lauhakangas who are willing to undertake even the attempt to work out a practical and international type system? So let us gladly, enthusiastically, and thankfully accept this one and work with it.

It is indeed an open system that will permanently be under construction, as can be seen from the discussions of two more chapters and the truly impressive Appendix 1 of “The proverb collections and sources (the Books file)” (pp. 97–112). Chapter 5 on “Instructions for the use of the Matti Kuusi database” (pp. 78–90) with its analysis of some of the major proverb collections used to establish the index indicates clearly that “choosing the ‘right’ place for a proverb [in the classification system] becomes even more complicated if we remember that every type consists of a cluster of variable proverb forms” (p. 89). The short and final Chapter 6 of a “Discussion on the further use of the Matti Kuusi database” (pp. 91–92) also states that “Kuusi’s profound expertise in the vast body of proverb materials made it possible for him to combine the cultural [i.e., thematic] and formal [i.e., structural] view in his classification” (p. 92). With the death of Matti Kuusi we have lost the most knowledgeable person of the world’s proverbs. But we do have his daughter Outi Lauhakangas, who has already proven herself to be walking solidly in her father’s large footsteps. It is she who must now continue the work so that the international classification system of proverbs becomes ever more complete.

Future tasks

In closing, let me just give two sets of examples for the work that lies ahead for Outi Lauhakangas: Her father did indeed cast his net very widely regarding the hundreds of proverb collections used in establishing the classification system. And yet, there are many older and above all newer major proverb collections waiting to be included in the database. A few comparative collections that must be integrated are: Jens Aage Stabell Bilgrav, 20.000 Proverbs, Sprichwörter, Proverbes, Ordspråk, Ordsprog (Copenhagen: Hans Heide, 1985); H. L. Cox, Spreekwoordenboek: Nederlands, Fries, Afrikaans, Engels, Duits, Frans, Spaans, Latijn (Utrecht: Van Dale Lexicografie, 2000); Harold V. Cordry, The Multicultural Dictionary of Proverbs (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 1997); Luis Iscla, English Proverbs and Their Near Equivalents in Spanish, French, Italian and Latin (New York: Peter Lang, 1995); Julia Sevilla Muñoz and Jesús Cantera Ortiz de Urbina, 1001 refranes españoles con su correspondencia en ocho lenguas (alemán, árabe, francés, inglés, italiano, polaco, provenzal y ruso) (Madrid: Ediciones Internacionales Universitarias, 2001); and Emanuel Strauss, Dictionary of European Proverbs, 3 vols. (London: Routledge, 1994). Of utmost importance, especially for diachronic purposes, are the by now invaluable eleven volumes (probably 13 volumes when completed) of Samuel Singer and Ricarda Liver, Thesaurus proverbiorum medii aevi. Lexikon der Sprichwörter des romanisch-germanischen Mittelalters (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1995ff.). Kuusi and Lauhakangas have, of course, excerpted Samuel Singer’s classical collection Sprichwörter des Mittelalters (Bern: Herbert Lang, 1944–1947).

Matti Kuusi as well as Outi Lauhakangas have always had a special interest in the proverbs of the Balto-Finnic regions, as can be seen from Kuusi’s impressive volume Proverbia septentrionalia: 900 Balto-Finnic Proverb Types with Russian, Baltic, German and Scandinavian Parallels (FFC 236. Helsinki: Suomalainen Tiedeakatemia [Academia Scientiarum Fennica], 1985; see my review in Proverbium, 3 [1986], 325–334), which became the basis of the list of universal types. Now Outi Lauhakangas will want to incorporate the five volumes (one volume has appeared thus far) of the massive Lithuanian proverb collection edited by Kazys Grigas et al., Lietuviu patarles ir priezodziai (Vilnius: Lietuviu literaturos ir tautosakos institutas, 2000ff.).

Other major collections awaiting integration into the classification system are among others those by John Lazurus, A Dictionary of Tamil Proverbs (Madras: Albinon Press, 1984; rpt. New Delhi: Asian Educational Services, 1991 [plus many other major Indian collections]); Luis Martínez Kleiser, Refranero general ideológico español (Madrid: Real Academia Española, 1953; rpt. Madrid: Hernando, 1989); Peter Mertvago, The Comparative Russian-English Dictionary of Russian Proverbs and Sayings (New York: Hippocrene Books, 1995); Wolfgang Mieder, Stewart K. Kingsbury, and Kelsie B. Harder, A Dictionary of American Proverbs (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992); Florence Montreynaud, Agnès Pierron, and François Suzzoni, Dictionnaire de proverbes et dictons (Paris: Le Robert, 1989); Ryszard Pachocinski, Proverbs of Africa (St. Paul, Minnesota: Professors World Peace Academy, 1996); Albert Scheven, Swahili Proverbs (Washington, D.C.: University Press of America, 1981); Bartlett Jere Whiting, Modern Proverbs and Proverbial Sayings (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1989); and Metin Yurtbasi, A Dictionary of Turkish Proverbs (Ankara: Turkish Daily News, 1993). Regarding African proverbs, let me also draw attention to Matti Kuusi’s superb collection of Ovambo Proverbs with African Parallels (FFC 208. Helsinki: Suomalainen Tiedeakatemia, 1970; see also my review in Fabula, 14 [1973], 166–168), which formed the basis for the proverbs from Africa in the international classification system.

There is much work to be done, as both Matti Kuusi knew and Outi Lauhakangas is only too aware of at this time. In the best of all worlds, Lauhakangas should now continue with the “work in progress” of this truly unique international type system of proverbs. She knows its structure and intricacies the best, and she can go on to expand the system in the most consistent way possible, both according to the ideas of her father as well as her own. This relates not only to older proverbs but also to such new texts as for example “It takes two to tango,” “Different strokes for different folks,” and “Garbage in, garbage out.” After all, the creation of new proverbs is not over, and it behooves us to integrate them into the international classification system to see how such innovative texts fit into the universal type system.

Even if the work on this international type system of proverbs were to stop completely at this time, we would have a fantastic and beneficial research tool at our disposal for serious comparative proverb scholarship. But it is my hope that Outi Lauhakangas is interested and willing in continuing her superb work with the support of the Finnish Literature Society. This would ensure an ever better type system for paremiologists around the world. The work must go on, but in the meantime, we all owe much thanks, respect, and admiration to Matti Kuusi and Outi Lauhakangas. They will always be remembered in paremiological circles as the epitome of the varied proverb “Like father, like daughter”, and their International Type System of Proverbs with its computer database will reign as the standard work in comparative paremiology. Generations of scholars will benefit from this classification system as they continue to look for universal bits of human wisdom in the form of proverbs.

Wolfgang Mieder
University of Vermont
Burlington, Vermont

FF Network No. 22
(November): 16-21

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