THE SHADOW OF A NOBLE MAN: HONOR AND SHAME IN ARABIC PROVERBS

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Date
1984-08
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[Bloomington, Ind.] : Indiana University
Abstract
The purpose of this dissertation is to evaluate the link between the contents of a major art form, the proverb, and ethnographic reality vis a vis honor and shame in Arab culture. The emphasis is on the context of cultural meaning as opposed to the context of interaction. A second consideration is whether well-known collections of Arabic proverbs available in English translation are reliable sources of data for folkloristic analyses of cultural expression. Items for analysis were culled from ten published collections of colloquial proverbs ranging geographically from Morocco to Iraq and spanning more than a century of work by native and non-native collectors. The substance--the literal evaluation of behavior or states contributing to honor or shame--was the criterion for selection of individual proverbs. Of a total corpus of 10,332 proverbs, a surprisingly small number were found explicitly relevant to honor/shame or closely related concepts such as generosity/stinginess, good/bad reputation, family, and so on. These 105 items were then analyzed in relation to ethnographic data on the honor/shame complex and peripheral concepts. A high, although not perfect, correlation was found between meaning in the proverbs, behaviors recorded in ethnographic literature, and such organizational aspects of culture as religion, family, hospitality and revenge. Inconsistent messages were expressed in proverbs concerning daughters, family ties, and secrecy, which are emotionally-charged and ambiguous areas of the culture. The proverbs are expressive of cultural ambiguities and provide a traditional means of supporting either side of an argument. Finally, the English translations used for this study appear to render accurately the traditional Arab view of honor and shame as integral measures of human worth.
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Arabic, proverbs, gender, honor, shame
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Attribution-NonCommercial (CC BY-NC)
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Doctoral Dissertation