Paremiology, or the study of popular sayings, has divided these expressions into different categories, based on whether they come from popular or highbrow origin, for the nature of their content or for how widely they are used, among other criteria. Sayings are an expressive form of the language — spoken and written — that contain a pithy assertion that becomes a rule for conduct and whose use and forms permeate all or most human activities, from raising children to artistic expressions such as music and painting.
Sayings pass from generation to generation and are adapted to different media and circumstances. They were known to exist in ancient cultures such as the Egyptian, Sumerian, Greek, Roman, Persian and African civilizations. In fact, they have been used as an important archaeological tool. Anthropologists, sociologists and social psychologists see them as a valuable means for determining the social values of a cultural group.
Through these sayings, certain social behaviors are justified, condoned and condemned and events and circumstances beyond the control of the individual are explained. They are part of all kinds of conversations and can be found in commercial advertising, in newspaper articles, and in popular songs. All social classes in Puerto Rico share the use of sayings.
Puerto Rico has a rich tradition of sayings that is similar to that of other Spanish-speaking countries. The origins of many of the Puerto Rican sayings can be traced to the Spanish conquistadors. It is not known for sure if the island's indigenous people contributed in some way to these sayings. However, the African component has left a clear mark on the island's sayings because these types of expressions formed and continue to form a vital part of many African cultures. Other sayings can be considered native to the island, but differentiating between these and the ones that came from Spain can be a difficult task.
What is clear is that sayings are part of Puerto Rican culture, as in the rest of Latin America. They were based on Spanish sayings that were adapted to create Puerto Rican variations using voices and circumstances specific to the island, such as the saying "the person who's burnt is the one who ate the pepper," which is a possible adaptation of the Spanish expression "if you feel the heat, you must have eaten the garlic."
The purposes of Puerto Rican sayings are many. They are used for educational purposes to grab the attention of children and impart rules of conduct as part of their socialization: "look but don't touch" and "don't take away that which you've given." They can also have the purpose of validating the culture or projecting the national character, such as "I am from here, like the coquí."
Sayings reflect a wide range of aspects of Puerto Rican society and culture. Many have survived the passage of time, while others are new inventions that reflect the circumstances of modern life.
Adapted by the PROE Editorial Group
Serra Deliz, Wenceslao. Visión histórica del refrán. Ponce, P. R.: Paoli House at the Puerto Rico Center for Folklore Research, 2000.
Serra Deliz, Wenceslao. El refranero puertorriqueño: historia e ideología. Ponce, P. R.: Centro de Investigaciones Folklóricas de Puerto Rico, Casa Paoli, 2002.
Autor: Grupo Editorial EPRL
Published: September 20, 2010.