“To lead a snake to school is nothing; to make it sit down is what’s hard.” This Haitian Creole proverb—Mennen koulèv al lekòl pa anyen; se fè’l chita ki rèd—has a well-known English counterpart: “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink,” though it is a safe bet that the perverb derived from the latter—“You can lead a horticulture but you can’t make her think,” like “One man’s mate is another man’s person” or “A Bool and his algebra are soon parted”—belongs uniquely to the Anglophone community.

 Terms: A perverb is a proverb that has been subjected to a kind of verbal détournement by adding, subtracting, or otherwise altering its component parts. A proverb has been variously defined as “a simple and concrete saying popularly known and repeated, which expresses a truth, based on common sense or the practical experience of humanity. They are often metaphorical. A proverb that describes a basic rule of conduct may also be known as a maxim. If a proverb is distinguished by particularly good phrasing, it may be known as an aphorism
[http://encyclopedia.thefreedictionary.com/paremiology] and “a short, generally known sentence of the folk which contains wisdom, truth, morals, and traditional views in a metaphorical, fixed and memorizable form and which is handed down from generation to generation” [Wofgang Mieder, Proverbs are Never out of Season] to which may be compared the Mercedes Benz of a gloss offered by Le Petit Robert—known to its friends as Le ‘Ti Bob—for proverbe:  “Formule présentant des caractères formels stables, souvent métaphorique ou figurée et exprimant une vérité d’experience ou un conseil de sagesse pratique et populaire, commun à tout un groupe social. >adage, aphorisme, dicton, maxime, pensée, sentence; parémiologie.  That is, ‘a formula exhibiting stable formal characteristics, often metaphorical or figurative and expressing an experiential truth or a piece of advice drawn from practical and popular wisdom, shared by all members of a social group. > adage, aphorism, saying [dicton], maxim, thought, dictum [sentence, ‘a thought—especially on a moral point—expressed in a dogmatic, literary manner’]; par(o)emiology [i.e., the study of proverbs, from Greek. παροιμία ‘common saying, old saw’ (of the saga, rather than scythe family), ultimately from πάροιμος ‘by the roadside’].

That said, what is to be made of the commonality of the Creole and English proverb(s) next to the language-specificity of its (English-only)  perverb? Universal grammarians, from the Modistae of the Middle Ages to the transformationalists of the present day, might conclude from all of this that the semantic content of the Creole and English proverbs—their deep structure so to speak—is basically the same while its actual expression—the surface structure—differs according to the specific language,  while perverbs involve a play on a specific language’s surface structure (with some fancy mapping from the result to the appropriate semantic underlay). So, the view of language that posits a universally shared semantics realized differently in different languages is arguably bolstered by the evidence and is certainly not contradicted by it. Others might argue, however, that since proverbs reflect the human condition generally, the fact that some common aspect of human behavior should elicit common reactions encoded in differently worded proverbs in different cultures should neither come as a surprise nor be taken as evidence in support of a universal grammar: Aspects of  human experience may be universal, but that doesn’t mean we’re all dealt the same set of semantic cards, let alone subject to the same set of rules governing how to play them.

The origin of Haitian Creole itself (like that of other creole languages) is subject to similar debate, in which there are three major contenders: Universalists hold that the language evolved on its own, taking as its semantic base the one shared by all other natural languages and cobbling together its surface structure from the spare parts provided by the colonial and native languages at hand. By contrast,  proponents of the “substrate” school suggest that Creole has one or another or some combination of African languages as its grammatical (and presumably semantic) base on which lexical and other linguistic features of the colonial language (in this case French) have been superimposed. Finally, the “superstrate” school proposes that a creole language’s grammatical base is some nonstandard flavor of the colonial language that has been influenced by various of the native languages originally spoken by the people on whom the colonial language was imposed.

Claiming to not have a dog in the race, we invoke Wittgenstein’s seventh proposition (“Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muß man schweigen,” roughly, ‘You can’t talk about what you can’t talk about,’ i.e., some realms can’t really be explored with the kind of language humans have at their disposal) and return from the realm of the ultimately unknowable to a brief sampling of Creole and English proverbs from which you are free to draw whatever conclusions you like about universality, culture binding, borrowing, independent innovation, and the human condition.

Examples: There are many ways in both Creole and English to express the notion that cooperation is a good thing. Many hands make light work, It takes two wings to flyIt takes two to tango, an observation first attested in a song composed in 1952, often expresses a negative view of the act of cooperation, while the notion that There’s no “I” in “team” is typically an exhortation to suppress one’s individuality in the interests of the group, a milder and more nuanced variant being There’s no “I” in “polyphony.” Creole’s offerings by the same token include Men anpil, chay pa lou (‘[With] many hands, the load isn’t heavy’), Akoz diri, ti wòch goute grès (‘Thanks to the rice, pebbles have their share of fat,’ i.e., taste good); Se de bon ki fè bonbon (‘[It takes] two good people to make a cookie’ or, as we might say, to bake a cake), and Yon sèl dwèt pa manje kalalou (‘You can’t eat okra with just one finger’). And, as is often the case with proverbs, the opposite sentiment also has its common expression: Too many cooks spoil the broth and the (St. Lucien) Creole Twòp kwizinye, sòs gate (‘Too many cooks, the sauce is spoiled’).

For better or ill, we inherit something from our parents. Like father, like son; The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree; Joumou pa donnen kalbas (‘A pumpkin doesn’t produce a calabash’). But Beauty is no inheritance, Handsome is as handsome does, and in any caseYou shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, to the last of which we may compare Creole Je wouj pa boule kay (literally, ‘Red eyes don’t burn the house down’). A new broom sweeps clean (Balè nef ka bale byen), and it’s a toss whether an old broom knows the corners or is worthless (English favoring the former, French the latter), but in any event, All things must come to an end: Tout priyè gen Amen (‘Every prayer has an Amen’).

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