A CRITICAL BIBLIOGRAPHY OF MEXICAN AMERICAN PROVERBS
SHIRLEY L. ARORA
[Author’s note: This bibliography, which was originally published along with the article Proverbs in Mexican American Tradition (Aztlán: International Journal of Chicano Studies Research 13 : 43-70 and 71-80), has been updated to include new editions or reprints as well as three new sources, one of them a major compilation (Glazer’s Dictionary of Mexican American Proverbs, listed under Texas).]
The following bibliography surveys the compilations of Mexican American proverbs published to date and describes each entry in terms of the type and quantity of material included; presence or absence of interpretative comments or translations; sources; organization; and accuracy of presentation. The relative importance of each of these aspects will naturally depend on why the compilation is being consulted and the background of the reader. To someone in quest of an individual text, for example, a lack of any systematic arrangement of material will be a more serious drawback than for one who merely wishes to derive a general notion of the proverb repertoire of a given community. Also, a reader thoroughly familiar with the Spanish language will not be hampered by defective translations or errors of orthography, e.g., enbilla for envía (Chávez, p.43) or acarella for acarrea (p. 48) that might mislead or confuse a reader who knows little or no Spanish and must depend on translations or the aid of a dictionary for his understanding of a text. By characterizing each entry in regard to all five components I hope to provide an idea of its potential usefulness for whatever purpose the individual reader may have in mind.
The category of interpretive comments merits some further explanation. A mere listing of proverb texts, without definition or explanation (as in Vásquez, Campa, and others) presupposes on the part of the reader not only a knowledge of the Spanish language but also a familiarity with the proverbs as well, so that explanation is superfluous, or a purpose of consultation to which meaning is irrelevant. While such compilations have their uses, their limitations are obvious. Much more useful are those compilations that include definitions or explanations, whether in Spanish or English, so that the reader is afforded at least a general notion of the kinds of situations where a given proverb could apply. To be sure, the provision of a single definition or concise statement of meaning is often a difficult task. Many, even most, proverbs–particularly metaphorical proverbs–have a wide range of meanings, varying from community to community, from individual to individual, from context to context. Still, an attempt should be made on the part of the compiler to offer the reader at least a general “base meaning,” a kind of consensus as to what the saying usually expresses. Variant and even contradictory meanings may well exist and may be equally valid if they result in successful communication between speaker and listener, but a “definition”–particularly a single definition–should be more broadly representative or should have its contextual limits clearly indicated. Where definitions differ frequently and markedly from those generally found in published collections or in the field, I have suggested caution in consultation, not because such interpretations are necessarily “wrong,” but because they are atypical.
The practice of citing “equivalent” English proverbs as substitutes for definitions or interpretations is a risky one. There are proverbs in the two languages whose ranges of meaning overlap; proverbs, after all, deal with recurring situations and circumstances common to human society and such resemblances are natural and inevitable. Nevertheless, total equivalence of meaning, tone, and appropriateness to a given context is rare indeed. It might, for example, be possible to envision a situation in which Al que no habla Dios no lo oye would be used in Spanish and Faint heart never won fair lady in English (Galván, p. 124), but the contextual range of the English is so much more limited and its faintly archaic, almost chivalric tone so different from the Spanish that one is hard put to conceive of such a circumstance. Despite a certain resemblance based on the fact that both proverbs recommend assertiveness as a means of achieving an end, they are by no means synonymous or “equivalent.” Similarly, Cuando uno anda de malas, hasta los perros lo mean and When it rains, it pours (Galván, p. 126) share a basic reference to compounded misfortune, but the imagery of the Spanish saying, with its use of a word (mear, to piss) that for many speakers is socially unacceptable, limits its contextual range in comparison with the more neutrally worded English proverb. Even in cases where a degree of genuine equivalency exists, as with certain international proverbs, the reader may not be familiar with the English saying or interpret it in the same way that the compiler does. A rolling stone gathers no moss with its two contradictory base meanings in current Anglo-American tradition, is a case in point; if it is cited as the “equivalent” of its linguistic counterpart Piedra movediza no cría moho, the reader may derive an impression of the Spanish saying that is contrary to the one the compiler envisioned. The citing of “equivalents” is best avoided, and if used at all, must be approached with caution and as an adjunct to, not a replacement for, other types of explanatory comments. (For discussion of proverb meaning in relation to context, and a specific commentary on A rolling stone gathers no moss, see the study by Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, “Toward a Theory of Proverb Meaning,” Proverbium [Helsinki], no. 22 : 821-827.)
The present bibliography includes only sources that deal at least in substantial part with the proverb proper, as distinct from phrases, idioms, vocabulary items, and the like. A few minor references have been omitted; these and other studies of more general aspects of Mexican American or Chicano folk speech may be found in Michael Heisley, An Annotated Bibliography of Chicano Folklore from the Southwestern United States (Los Angeles: University of California, Los Angeles, Center for the Study of Comparative Folklore and Mythology, 1977), pages 66-79. Finally, for anyone seriously concerned with the study of Mexican American proverbs, an acquaintance with the proverb lore of Mexico itself is indispensable. Space will not permit a detailed listing of Mexican references, but I shall mention briefly, at the end of the bibliography, some of the most useful sources.
“California Spanish Proverbs and Adages.” Western Folklore 3 (1944): 121-23.
According to an editor’s note, the 42 numbered items in this collection were taken from an old notebook belonging to an elderly descendant of “an illustrious Spanish family” in Southern California. They are therefore believed to be representative of the proverbs used in “cultivated Spanish circles during the nineteenth century in California” (p. 121). Items are listed in random order, with a literal and accurate translation for each. A few additional comments or definitions are provided in footnotes.
MacArthur, Mildred Yorba. California-Spanish Proverbs. San Francisco: Colt Press, 1944.
The compiler lists 332 items recalled from her childhood as having been used by grandparents, relatives, and friends who, like the author, were members of “early California” families. Each item has an English interpretation (not necessarily a literal translation) and, occasionally, an explanation as well. Translations and definitions are for the most part accurate, but the non-Spanish-speaking reader has no way of knowing which English versions are literal and which are not. Lack of any systematic arrangement makes consultation difficult.
Molera, Frances M. “California Spanish Proverbs.” Western Folklore 6 (1947): 65-67.
Each of the 34 numbered items listed here is provided with an English translation (usually literal) but no definition or interpretation. Arrangement is random. The proverbs are described as having been learned by the author from her grandmother and other members of “an early generation.”
Robe, Stanley, ed. Antología del saber popular: A Selection from Various Genres of Mexican Folklore Across Borders. Aztlán Publications, Monograph 2. Los Angeles: University of California, Los Angeles, Chicano Studies Center, 1971.
On pages 63-72 are listed 271 proverbs and phrases, without translation, grouped principally by theme or, in a few instances, by type or form. Arrangement is random under some categories, roughly alphabetical under others. A few items have brief explanations in Spanish. The five student collectors who contributed the proverbs are named in the introduction but not identified with individual items; one of the collectors is described as having done field work in Arizona. In contrast to the previous three items, this compilation is taken directly from current oral tradition and is therefore more representative of today’s Mexican American community in Southern California.
Aranda, Charles. Dichos: Proverbs and Sayings from the Spanish. Rev. ed. Santa Fe, New Mexico: Sunstone Press, 1977.
A total of 348 proverbs and phrases are arranged alphabetically by first word, with English translations and, in many cases, interpretations. Unfortunately both translations and interpretations are sometimes questionable or even erroneous, and accuracy of the transcription of the proverbs themselves leaves something to be desired. No information is given as to source; the classification as “New Mexican” is an assumption based on the author’s biography (on the back cover), the place of publication, and the Library of Congress subject heading assigned to the collection. The booklet is unpaged.
Campa, Arthur O. Sayings and Riddles in New Mexico. University of New Mexico Bulletin, Language Series, vol. 6, no.2. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico, 1937.
On pages 63-67 are listed 155 numbered items in random order; they are separated into “refranes” and “adagios,” but the distinction is unclear. No translations or interpretations are provided. The material is apparently from oral sources and is described as a portion of the material collected “from all parts of the state” by the author and by Espinosa (p. 13; see the collection by Espinosa described below). An introduction offers general comments on proverbs and lists a few sayings that have a “local” flavor (p. 13). The study is reprinted in Hispanic Folklore Studies of Arthur L. Campa, with an introduction by Carlos E. Cortés, New York: Arno Press, 1976.
Cerda, Gilberto, Berta Cabaza, and Julieta Farias. El vocabulario español de Texas. University of Texas Hispanic Studies, 5. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1953; reprint 1970.
“Sección II: Modismos, locuciones y refranes,” pages 247-335, contains approximately 1,000 proverbs and phrases arranged alphabetically by key word (usually the principal noun), with definitions in Spanish and comparative annotations for Spain and various regions of Spanish America. Material for the study as a whole, presumably including proverbs, was collected in eight counties in southern Texas. The attempt to link the Mexican American material with the larger Hispanic tradition by means of the annotations is both unique and commendable.
Galván, Roberto A., and Richard V. Teschner. El diccionario del español chicano / The Dictionary of Chicano Spanish. Rev. ed. Silver Springs, Maryland: Institute of Modern Languages, 1977. 2nd [rev.] ed., revised and augmented by Roberto A. Galván. Lincolnwood, Illinois: National Textbook Co., 1995.
When initially published (1975), this work was titled El diccionario español de Texas; material has been subsequently added using some sources from outside the state of Texas (such as Aranda’s collection for New Mexico; see entry above), and the title has been modified to reflect the authors’ conclusion that the compilation is now sufficiently representative of the Mexican American speech of all regions to justify the change. On pages 124-135 (pp. 214-232 of the second edition) are some 230 proverbs and phrases arranged alphabetically by first word with cross-references to other important words within the saying. Sources for the dictionary as a whole, and therefore presumably for the proverbs also, are a combination of published material and field notes. Rather than translations or definitions, the compilers have provided for each item an English proverb or phrase judged to be “equivalent,” usually with little or no textual relationship to the Spanish saying. The problems of such a procedure are discussed in the introductory comments to this bibliography.
Glazer, Mark, ed. Flour from Another Sack and Other Proverbs, Folk Beliefs, Tales, Riddles, and Recipes. Edinburg, Texas: Pan American University, 1982. Rev. ed., Edinburg, Texas: University of Texas-Pan American Press, 1994.
Fifty-seven proverbs arranged by keyword are on pp. 41-60 of the original edition (pp. 29-45 of the revised edition, in which various orthographic errors and a mistake in numbering have been corrected). Each entry includes data on the informant, a literal translation, and an interpretation or–of particular interest–a description of a context in which the informant recalls hearing the proverb used.
—, comp. A Dictionary of Mexican American Proverbs. New York: Greenwood Press, 1987.
This compilation of nearly 1000 individual sayings is drawn from the Rio Grande Folklore Archive of The University of Texas-Pan American in Edinburg, Texas. The material appears to be largely if not exclusively student-collected, using a standardized form. Individual entries are arranged by keyword, usually a noun or verb but with some significant departures (e.g., sayings beginning with El que ‘He who…’ are grouped together under El, while those beginning with the alternative Quien are listed under Quien). Each entry includes variants, a translation or interpretation, and information on contexts in which the saying may be or has been used. Abundant annotations have been provided, using published collections primarily from Spain, Mexico, and the American Southwest. There are, unfortunately, numerous errors of translation, explanation, orthography, and so on, attributable in large part to the nature of the collectanea, which seem to have been copied directly, without editing, from the field records submitted by the student-collectors. The reader familiar with the Spanish language can easily identify and correct many of these errors–some of which are significant, others not–but for one who does not know Spanish or whose knowledge of the language is limited, there are some serious pitfalls. (The Dictionary has been reviewed by Timothy Murad in Proverbium: Yearbook of International Proverb Scholarship, 7 (1990), 261-263; and by the present writer in Journal of American Folklore, 103 (1990), 115-117.)
Paredes, Américo. “Dichos,” in Mexican-American Authors, edited by Américo Paredes and Raymund Paredes. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1972. Pp. 27-34.
A small but admirably presented collection of forty-one “true proverbs” and five comparisons, arranged alphabetically by first word, with a literal translation and in most instances an interpretative explanation for each. The material is described as “collected by the author,” presumably in Texas where the author’s family has lived since the mid-eighteenth century (p. 27). A brief introduction comments on stylistic features of dichos and on distinctions between “true proverbs” and “comparison.”
Pérez, Soledad. “Mexican Folklore from Austin, Texas,” in The Healer of Los Olmos, edited by Wilson Mathis Hudson. Texas Folklore Society Publications, 24. Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press, 1951. Pp. 71-127.
“Proverbs and Sayings,” pages 118-125, presents 94 items arranged alphabetically by first word with a literal translation and in many instances an interpretation or English “equivalent” as well. Seventy-two of the items are republished as “Dichos from Austin,” in Texas Folklore, edited by Mody C. Boatright, Wilson M. Hudson, and Allen Maxwell, (Texas Folklore Society Publications, 26. Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press, 1954), pp. 223-229, where they are described as having been “noted among the Mexican population of Austin during the course of a year’s time” (p. 223).
Vásquez, Librado Keno, and María Enriqueta Vásquez. Regional Dictionary of Chicano Slang. Austin: Jenkins, 1975.
“Proverbs and Sayings (Dichos),” pages 88-90, lists 69 items in random order without definition or translation. Sources are not indicated. The introductory paragraph in English is garbled and the collection as a whole is marred by numerous errors of transcription and orthography, as well as by the use of a type font lacking in diacritical marks of any sort.
Wesley, Howard D. “Ranchero sayings of the border,” in Puro mexicano, edited by J. Frank Dobie, pp. 211-220. Texas Folklore Society Publications, 12. Austin: Texas Folklore Society, 1935.
Some 50 proverbs and phrases (including 30 true proverbs) are interwoven into an informal text with a roughly thematic organization. An English translation, usually literal, is given for each item along with an interpretation or explanation and sometimes a description of context. Although sources are not specified, the material appears to be drawn from oral sources and in part from the author’s personal in-context observation. Despite some stereotyping and the use of such labels as “crude” and “rustic,” the study offers interesting material in the form of tales or anecdotes associated with particular sayings as well as some instances of actual contexts in which the proverbs were used. MEXICO
Conde, Manuel. Dichos ciertos . . . y ciertos dichos. Mexico City: Costa-Amic, 1971.
This is the largest Mexican collection available to date. It contains approximately 12,500 items arranged alphabetically by first word, including a wide variety of materials not generally found in other sources, such as piropos or traditional compliments, rhymed nonsense phrases, etc. The chief defect is the lack of any definitions or explanatory material. The author implies (p. 17) that he has drawn in part on oral sources but states that published sources have supplied much material (p. 7).
Rubio, Darío. Refranes, proverbios, y dichos y dicharachos mejicanos. 2 vols. 2nd ed. Mexico City: A.P. Márquez, 1940.
This standard reference work for Mexican proverbs offers some 2,400 proverbs and phrases, each with an interpretation and often an explanation of its “origin.” The author has attempted to limit his compilation to “genuinely Mexican” proverbs and variants, eliminating all those known to be derived from Peninsular Spain (a number of pan-Hispanic items are, however, included, a consequence of limited comparative sources). Some comparative references are supplied for items that are found in Spanish collections in a form differing from that used in Mexico. The sources of the proverbs that make up the compilation are not specified. Arrangement is alphabetical by fist word.
Santamaría, Francisco J. Diccionario de mejicanismos. 2nd ed. Mexico City: Porrúa, 1974.
This large dictionary of Mexican regional speech includes many proverbs and phrases, usually listed under the principal noun they contain. Many of the items listed are pan-Hispanic in distribution. The work is highly useful also as a source of definitions of words of Mexican origin or that are used in Mexico with variant meanings. Comparative references are included for many items, as well as quotations from various Mexican literary works.
Shirley L. Arora
Department of Spanish and Portuguese
University of California
Los Angeles, CA 90095-1532