Research Article

Cross-parallels in isiZulu proverbial messages

Published in: South African Journal of African Languages
Volume 41, issue 1, 2021 , pages: 69–75
DOI: 10.1080/02572117.2021.1902140
Author(s): Mfundo Mandla Masuku, South Africa, Tholakele Henrietta Chiliza, South Africa


This article analyses Zulu proverbs and examines contradicting and contrasting expressions embedded in the selected proverbs. A contrast occurs when the first part of a proverb is followed by its antithesis in the second part. This is referred to as parallelism or cross-parallelism, where the meanings of two verbs in a proverb contradict each other and where nouns in the same proverb are antithetical. This is also called ‘paired contrast’, to describe contrasting ideas between and within proverbs. In this article, a qualitative approach is used to critically analyse proverbs with contrasting and contradictory elements, and is informed by pragma-sociolinguistic theory and sociocognitive theory. Pragma-sociolinguistic theory stresses that a speaker and a listener should be from the same cultural background for the listener to understand proverbs. The sociocognitive theory has to do with the mind, language and society with all its beliefs, which greatly influence the manner in which proverbs are understood. Proverbial utterances indicate a speaker’s serious intention to convey a certain message to the audience; thus, they intensify the message. This article is motivated by the need to explore contrasts and contradictions in proverbial messages which are found in many cultures. The findings indicate that proverbs do not portray universal truths but relatively limited pieces of folk wisdom which apply in specific situations. The article concludes that proverbs in a common discourse are not contradictory when you consider the context of usage.

Get new issue alerts for South African Journal of African Languages