Dr Issa O. Sanusi


Dr. R.K. Omoloso

Department of Linguistics and Nigerian Languages,

University of Ilorin, Ilorin



          Human languages have the characteristics of being flexible, mobile and constantly changing over periods of time. This is what Wardhaugh (2006: 192) refers to as ‘internal change’ as opposed to external change that is conditioned by ‘borrowing’. Sociolinguistically, some lexical items or expressions that are considered as being normal, elegant and acceptable at a particular point in time may become archaic or obsolete as soon as the concepts or the physical objects that are expressed by such lexical items or expressions are no longer in general use. On the other hand, proverbs and idioms are never considered as the speech forms of the conservative speakers of a language, but regarded as words of wisdom or truism in the culture of a given language. Thus, in Yoruba culture, like in any other culture, proverbs and idioms have the linguistic capability of retaining and preserving some lexical items or expressions that are no longer in common use. Therefore, the focus of this paper is to make a brief survey of such archaic words and expressions in Yoruba and exemplify with relevant Yoruba proverb and how such archaic words and expressions are kept in constant use. The paper also examines and brings into focus the linguistic problems facing the younger generation of Yoruba speakers who are potential users of such proverbs. In other words, such users have the problem of inability to comprehend and digest both the literal and idiomatic or proverbial meanings of the archaic lexical items with which such proverbs are composed in Yoruba. The paper concludes by recommending that the teaching of Yoruba proverbs be included in school curriculum as a deliberate policy and encourages Yoruba authors and language material developers to focus attention on the production of text books and other teaching aids that will enhance the teaching of proverbs in schools.





Noting that the world is being transformed at an incredible rate, Grenoble and Whaley (1998: VII) observe that one particularly striking feature of this global transformation is the number of languages that will no longer be spoken ‘within the next fifty to a hundred years’. In other words, such languages may have gone into extinction by that time. Speaking in a similar vein, Crystal (2000: I; II) remarks that to say that a language is dead is similar to saying that a person is dead as, according to him, ‘a language dies when nobody speaks it anymore’, though it may continue to exist in a recorded form either in writing or as part of a sound or video archive, but then it cannot be referred to as a ‘living language’.

          The significance of language death to mankind is underscored by this request to UNESCO from the International Linguistics Congress (ILC) at its 1992 sitting in Quebec (Crystal, 2000: VII):

as the disappearance of any one language constitutes an irretrievable loss to mankind, it is for UNESCO a task of great urgency to respond to this situation by promoting and if possible, sponsoring programmes of linguistic organizations for the description in the form of grammars, dictionaries and texts, including the recording of oral literatures of hitherto unstudied or inadequately documented endangered and dying languages.


The call by ILC seems to give the impression that it is only the unstudied or inadequately documented languages that are endangered and dying. Here in Nigeria, a typical multilingual country, the indigenous languages, including Hausa, Igbo, and Yoruba, the so-called three major indigenous languages that have been well studied and documented, are losing out to the English language, the foreign official language, at a rate perhaps unnoticed or noticed but ignored by those concerned.

While we subscribe to ILC’s suggestion that UNESCO should promote and sponsor programmes of linguistic organizations aimed at describing the grammars and compiling dictionaries and texts, as well as recording of oral literature of endangered and dying languages, it is our view that the exercise should include the documentation of proverbs in the affected languages. Our position is premised on Holmes’ (1992: 62-3) observation that one of the ways in which a language becomes extinct is through a gradual shift in functions. This refers to a situation in which the functions of a language, particularly a minority language, are being taken over by a dominant language. This consequently affects the native speakers’ proficiency and competence in a language. Lack of proficiency and competence in a language can reflect at different levels of language use. One of such levels is the vocabulary of the language. The individual speaker’s vocabulary in the affected language begins to shrink due to lack of constant use, as he or she substitutes vocabulary items in the dominant or winning language for those in the endangered or dying language.

This process begins gradually, starting with words and expressions that are regarded as archaic or obsolete in the language concerned. Words become archaic or obsolete and are eventually no longer used routinely by the native speakers of a language when the referents of such words no longer exist in the cosmology of the speakers of the language or when words from the dominant language have been used to replace the indigenous ones hitherto used to refer to them. We believe that apart from storing them in dictionaries and other written forms, such words can also be preserved through their use in proverbs which serve as the repository of a people’s folk wisdom. In support of our position, we shall make reference to proverbs in the Yoruba language and explain how such proverbs have preserved words and expressions that have become archaic or obsolete in the language and are no more in routine use.

This paper is subdivided into five sections. Section 1 is the introduction. In section 2, we shall discuss proverbs in Yoruba, while in section 3 we shall discuss archaism  as a sociolinguistic phenomenon with specific reference to Yoruba with a view to highlighting words and expressions in them that no longer feature in the day-to-day vocabulary choices of Yoruba native speakers.  In section 4, we shall present a list of words in Yoruba that are considered archaic and give the proverbs in which they are used. Section 5 will summarize our discussions, make some recommendations and conclude the study.

Our belief is that proverbs are as crucial to the preservation of archaic vocabulary items and expressions in Yoruba and other endangered languages, just as the dictionary is.




2.       Proverbs in Yoruba

 The new Encyclopedia Britannica, Volume 9(1992) cited in Omoloso (2006: 4), describes proverbs generally as embodying superstitions or medieval advice held to be part of every spoken language and related to other forms of folk literature which have originated in oral tradition.

         Proverbs exist in many forms across cultures and languages and they carry messages to guide the people. As Mele (2007: 246) points out, proverbs and some figurative expressions are intrinsically related to culture and reflect and safeguard a society’s way of life. As such, he continues, the proverb is valuable as ‘it incorporates materials, social and ideological features of a culture such as technology, forms of social organization, values, beliefs and morals which are coded (linguistically) and passed down as tradition’. In fact, as Lawal, Ajayi and Raji (1997: 636) have rightly stated, ‘proverbs across languages and cultures form part of the codes of behaviour and exemplify their use for the transmission of tribal wisdom and rules of conduct’.

          The above statement can be supported by the following proverbs from English, Yoruba and Idoma, which mean basically the same thing- that people should do whatever they want to do in time:


Make hay while the sun shines


Igbà ara là á búra, ẹn8kan kì í bú sàngó l12rùn.

(One should do whatever one wants to do at the appropriate time, as not           doing       so is like invoking the spirit of the god of thunder and lighting in the dry season.)


          Eko kpobonua anu we uwi ekoa.

           (Procrastination is the thief of time.)

Aesthetically, the new Encyclopedia Britannica points out (cf Omoloso, 2006:5), proverbs have certain stylistic similarities, even if they originate from different cultures. They make use of hyperbole, rhyme, alliteration and colourful pictorial expressions. According to Burton (1981:84), proverbs could be included in a class that comprises origin myths, folktales and songs and they feature primarily in conversations between mature adults. Proverbs across cultures and languages, says Ojo-Ade (1980:63), are a refection of the life of the people, what they do, what and how they think, how they live, what values they admire or hate and what constitute their joys and sorrows.

          In summary, proverbs ‘represent the quintessence of a people’s collective wisdom sustained and transmitted from generation to generation’ (Lawal, Ajayi and Raji, 1997:635) and they are ‘a representation of an important facet of a people’s cosmology’ (Burton, 1981:90).

          Structurally, ‘the proverb is a short, generally known sentence of the folk….’ (Mieder, 1985:119, in Mele, 2007:246) and, according to Omoloso (2006:187-193), the proverb-sentence can be simple, compound or complex just like ordinary sentences, especially in the Yoruba language. A proverb can also be a combination of any two or all of the three structural types to form what Omoloso (2006) refers to as serial or holistic proverbs.

          As a repository of a people’s collective wisdom and a representation of an important facet of a people’s cosmology, proverbs qualify as important reference points in language use and in preserving words and expressions that have their roots in the transient cultural values of different language communities, since  ‘as long as there are speakers of a language, their culture will continue to live in their speech’ (Mele, 2007:246.) This is why we are suggesting, in this paper, that proverbs should be considered as reliable and veritable tools, along with dictionaries and other texts, in preserving archaic words and expressions in Yoruba (and other languages that are considered endangered and are on the verge of extinction.)

          In the Yoruba language (as in other languages), the deployment of proverbs implicates several aspects of the sociolinguistic profiles of the people, like the age, socio-cultural life, psychological as well as the cosmological beliefs of speakers and listeners. Appropriate use of proverbs is therefore a function of both linguistic and communicative competence. And since proverbs are rooted in the culture of the language community, their appropriate use and understanding are in the province of the elders who are the custodians of the people’s linguistic, historical and cultural values, the sort that are, among others, coded by proverbs. In the section that follows, we shall examine archaism as a sociolinguistic phenomenon and give instances of words and expressions that are archaic and are no more in routine use in the Yoruba language.



3.                 Archaism as a Sociolinguistic Phenomenon 

 The word ‘archaic’ is defined by the Revised and Updated Illustrated Oxford Dictionary (2003:50) as ‘antiquated (of a word, etc); no longer in ordinary use, though retained for special purpose’. The same dictionary defines ‘archaism’ as ‘the retention or imitation of the old or obsolete, especially in language or art’.

We have earlier explained in section one of this paper that a word or an expression may become archaic when it is no longer in active use by ordinary speakers of the language. There are various factors that may render a vocabulary item or a linguistic expression to become archaic in the day-to-day repertoire of language users. Among these factors is technological development. For example, advancement in science and technology can completely change the standard of living and ways of life of a people. For instance, in the traditional Yoruba setting, before health-care system became modernized, diseases were cured through the use of traditional medicine and because there was no modern method of preserving things, such medicines would be wrapped in leaves or kept in small gourds or bottles and hung by the fire place called ààr0 (hearth) where cooking was done by the household. Stoves and other modern cooking materials have displaced the traditional ààr0 (hearth) nowadays, especially in the urban centres, and the word is now less frequently used by Yoruba speakers, except in rural dwellings, thus becoming obsolete or archaic. Unless the word is preserved in a dictionary of the Yoruba language or in a Yoruba proverb, it will not be long before it dies completely out of the language.

Economic and social factors can also make a word or an expression redundant and eventually make it become archaic (Holmes, 1992:65.) For example, in the traditional Yoruba community, potable water was stored in clay pots called zfor the use of the household, and a small calabash, ìkéèm6, would be put on the clay pot for people to use in taking water from the pot. Modern technology and improvements in the socio-economic status of Yoruba people have introduced the use of refrigerators and plastic containers to the people and these have replaced both the clay pot (z) and the small calabash container (ìkéèm6) in most, if not all, Yoruba homes, and these lexical items can only be saved from imminent death by being listed in a Yoruba dictionary or by being preserved in Yoruba proverbs.

zt1 is a piece of loin cloth wide enough to just cover the male’s private part. It was commonly used on the farm and in farming settlements in the traditional Yoruba community. However, civilization and improvement in the social life of the Yoruba people have rendered the use of zt1 as an uncivilized act, as they have been replaced by trousers of all fashions. As a result of this development, the word zt1 has dropped out of the active vocabulary of the Yoruba language. It can continue to live only in Yoruba dictionaries or proverbs.

Fortunately, as we shall demonstrate in section four below, most of these archaic Yoruba words have been preserved through their use in Yoruba proverbs. We need to point out that the kind of limitations that general purpose dictionaries have with regard to preserving words and expressions in a language does not seem to affect proverbs. For instance, there is a limit to the number of entries that a book dictionary can accommodate. In fact, lexicographers are more likely to be interested in listing words that are in active use in their dictionaries than in listing those that are either extinct or are on the verge of being so. This kind of constraints does not apply to proverbs, whose creation and use in language are open-ended, like the ordinary sentences in the language, thus recommending proverbs as necessary complements to the book dictionary and other literary texts in the preservation of vocabulary items and other expressions in the Yoruba language.


4.0     Data Presentation

4.1     Introduction:

This section is in three parts. The first part is an introduction. The second part presents a list of some archaic Yoruba words, while the third part contains Yoruba proverbs in which these words have been used.


4.2            Categorization of Some Archaic Yoruba words whose use is confined to Proverbs

The words in this class have been sorted into the different themes that they address in the proverbs where they are used. Such themes include agrarian or rural theme, traditional artifacts, traditional religion or cult, socio-cultural beliefs, ecological matters, traditional healthcare or medicare, traditional architecture. We believe that sorting the words into such themes may assist us in understanding why the words may have become archaic in the repertoire of Yoruba native speakers, particularly the youth and urban dwellers who are observed to hardly comprehend the meanings of such words when they are used in proverbs or other Yoruba expressions and consequently, the meanings of the proverbs or expressions. The English meaning of each word is given in front of the word. In doing this, we rely on A Dictionary of Yoruba Language (1980) and our intuition as native speakers of the Yoruba language.


(1)     Rural or Agrarian Theme or Cosmology

(i) ad7gb-nnák[              death feigning insect’     

(ii) zf0pinq                      moth’

(iii) ag9d9xgb9               ‘foetus of an antelope’

(iv) zjznzk5                      an elephant’

(v) akátá                         a jackal’

(vi) zm5k6r6                   flea’

(vii) 4k6l6                        ‘deer’

(viii) ek6k6                      silk-worm’

(ix) enini                         dew’

(x) 2b8t8                        trap’

(xi) 22kan                       rhizomes’

(xii) 2l7r7                       a type of mouse which is very small in size’

(xiii) ctz                           a smelling leopard’

(xiv) g0zg0                     dunghill worm’

(xv) gb==r-        pumpkin leaf’

(xvi) 8d9                         stakes’

(xvii) 8j7m4r4                 monkey’

(xviii) 8kam0d6               a type of smelling insect’

(xix) 8k3r4gb4                young goat’

(xx) 8r2                          cricket’

(xxi) 8t6f6                       ‘a flammable substance’

(xxii) k6k6t3                    a tree stump’

(xxiii) 0d[                        ‘a type of vegetable’

(xxiv) -g­m=                   palm frond’

(xxv) -p2k1t2                  young palm tree’

(xxvi) pzpz                      tape worm’

(xxvii) s4s3                     beans’

(xxviii) tanp1p1              ‘fire ant’

(xxix)   tete                      ‘leg’


(2)     Traditional Artifacts Theme or Cosmology

(i) zzr0                            ‘hearth’

(ii) zm6                                     water pot’

(iii) bzzt1                         ‘apron worn to cover the male private part’

(iv) ck6t6                        a type of flute’

(v) f8t7lz                         traditional lamp’

(vi) g[d[g[d[                   type of traditional drum’

(vii) gb2du                      type of traditional drum beaten in honor of a king or an         important person’

(viii) 8k43m6                            calabash cup’

(ix) 8sz                            earthen pot’

(x) kele                           a type of bead’

(xi) k4r4gb4                             a gourd’

(xii) -k1                           a bag containing 20,000 cowries’

(xiii) t0b7                        traditional skirt’


(3)     Traditional Religion / Cult Theme or Cosmology

(i) alqgbaz                      ‘chief of the masquerade cult’

(ii) ol9g8nn7                            cat’

(iii) or0                           bull roarer’

(iv) [pa                           a type of traditional god’

(v) pzj1                           a type of masquerade’

(vi) pzzkq                        ‘a dancing masquerade’


(4)     Socio-Cultural Theme or Cosmology

(i) zbzjz                           a type of facial mark’

(ii) ad8c-8rznz                ‘sacrificial fowl’

(iii) zg8d7mzlzjz              type of diviner’

(iv) el343s[                     ‘thrift collector’

(v) cl3mõs­                     ‘another name for youth-leader’

(vi) 8wõfz                       traditional pawn’

(vii) k1k1                        ‘type of facial mark’

(viii) -b-r­                        unmarked, clean, without facial marks’

(ix) os6n                         ‘cam wood’


(5)     Ecological Theme or Cosmology

(i)zbztz                            marsh land’

(ii) 8r0mi                        ‘water bug’

(iii) lzbclzbc                     a river side plant with sharp blades’


(6)     Traditional Health-care or Medicare

(i) if-n                             ‘rashes’

(ii) 0g0d0                       ‘yaw’

(iii) 0k7gb1                     ‘anti-cutlass amulet’


(7)      Traditional Architecture

(i) alzpz                          ‘mud wall’

(ii) pqrq                          ‘ceiling’

(iii) pcpc                         ‘shelf’


4.2.1  Yoruba Proverbs with Agrarian Theme or Cosmology

The proverbs are presented with their literal meanings given in brackets after each proverb. The archaic words in the proverbs and their translations are also underlined.

(i) Z8n7 ­rq g0zg0, a k0 n7  fi w3 ti ad7gb-nnák[.

(Even if the dunghill-worm is lean, it still cannot be compared with the death- feigning-insect.)

(ii) Zf0pinq t7 9 n7 0un y99 pa f8t7lz ara r1 ni y90 pa.                    

    (The moth that insists on putting out a lit lamp would end up killing 


(iii) Ag9d9xgb9 in5 ctu x bq ctu l[.

      (The foetus of a pregnant antelope goes everywhere with its mother.)                                 

(iv) B7 4se k0 bq se zjznzk5, cn8kan k87 r7 or7 erin rz l0r7 ztc.

     (If a calamity does not befall an elephant, you cannot get its head to buy   

     in the market.)

(v) Oj5 akátá t7 9 y[w9 ad7c k0 gb[d= fi se y2y1.

     (A fowl cannot ridicule the jackal on account of the cataracts in its eyes.)

(vi) P2l1p2l1 ni z q pa zm5k6r6 cp9n.

      (Care should be taken in killing a flea that alights on one’s scrotum.)

(vii) N7 z8k5 4k6l6, a k87 fi aw[ r2 ]e  gb2du.

       (We do not use the skin of the deer to make gb2du drum while the deer is still


(viii) A k87 tor7 zb7n5k5 ek6k6 g3  8g7 ar4re.

(We do not because of the sudden death of the silk-worm cut down the silk- tree.)

(ix) N 9 gb3 [ gb-n enini 2y8n r2 ni y90 fi la 8gb1.

      (One who insists on soaking another with dew will first clear the bush with his        


(x) B7  2b8t8 k0 pa eku, a fi cy8n f5n cl1y8n.

     (If the trap would not kill a mouse, it should leave the palm-nut fruit (used as

     bait) for its owner.)

(xi) Er3 in5 22kan k87 ]e asqn; b7 a k0 bq mq a l3 nzkan, nzkan a s8 mq a le’ni.

       (One does not run through rhizomes for nothing; if something is not pursuing

      one, one must be pursuing something.)

(xii) @l7r7 k87 se [m[ eku, b7 8ran r2 se 3 m[ ni.

       (The 2l7r7 is not a litter, it is just that genetically it is not a big animal.)

(xiii) B7 a bq n7 cran on7tete ni y99 pani, b77 ti 8r2 k­.

        (If we say we would be killed by an animal that has legs, it is not the likes of

       the cricket.)

 (xiv) As7n k5 ctz r6 5, 8kam0d6 x k3 [fc.

(The smelling mouse dies, the smelling leopard carries it, and the smelling        insect prods on the smelling leopard.)

(xv) _r- k0 dun gb==r-, a f1 c n7 0w[rõ, 9 r[ n7 al1.

(The pumpkin leave is insensitive to insults, it was plucked in the morning and    it sprouted again in the evening.)

(xvi) *hzl2 zgb2 t7 9 gbin k9k0 t7 x s[ 8d9.

       (The farmer that puts stakes in a cocoyam farm has merely presented himself as

       a braggart.)

(xvii) B7 a k0 pa 8j7m4r4 han 8j7m4r4, 2r6  k0 n78 ba [m[ 8j7m4r4.

      (Unless we kill a monkey in the presence of another monkey, the offsprings of      

       monkeys will not know how to be careful.)

 (xviii) Adi2 x jc yangan, 9 x mu omi, 9 t[n x gb3 0k[ta m7, 9 t[n wq x sunk[n     z8l3y7n  8k3r4gb4 t7 9 n7 3y7n s3 9 x jc irin ni?.

        (The fowl eats corn, drinks water and swallows pebbles, yet it continues to

         lament that it has no teeth, does the young goat that has teeth eat stones?)

(xix) Cni t7 9 bq se nzkan 8t6f6 n77 k7y4 s7 ch8nk6l3.

        (It is somebody who has a flammable substance behind his house that keeps

        watch over his backyard.)

(xx) B7 9 ti w6 k7 [m[d3 t4t4 j7 t9 oko ni y90 bz q k6k6t3.

       (No matter how early a child rises, he will meet the tree stump on the farm.)

(xxi) )d[ k87 se z8m- ol9ko.

       (The 0d[ vegetable is not a stranger to the farmer.)

(xxii) Zs4s2 y[ õg­m0, 9 n7 0un y90 kan 9run.

         (The palm frond is just sprouting and it says it would reach up to heaven.)

 (xxiii) _p2k1t4 x dzgbz, in[ [m[ Qdqm- x bzj1.

           (The young palm tree continues to grow and human beings continue to be              sad on account of its growth.)

(xxiv) Pzpz x pa ara r2 9 n7 0un x pa ajq. B7 ajq bq k6 tqn, pzpz nqz yoo l[ -run.

         (The tapeworm is killing itself and says it is killing the dog, once the dog dies,

          the tapeworm will follow suit.)

(xxv) Kzkz k7 eku mq jc s4s3, a fi ]e zwzdzn6.

         (The mouse would rather waste beans if it would not be able to eat them.)

(xxvi) *w-n ni tanp1p1 gb8jz cyin r2  m[.

(There should be a limit to the ferocity with which the fire ant defends its eggs.)


4.3.2 Yoruba Proverbs with Traditional Artifacts as Theme or Cosmology.

(i) )0guz t7 a k0 bq fi ow9 se, 2y8n zzr0 n7 7 gb3.

    (The medicine that we acquire free normally ends up behind the hearth.)

(ii) Cl1nu r7r6n ni 9 ni zm6 8yq r2.

     (No matter how smelly a person’s mouth is, he still has authority over his

     mother’s water pot.)

(iii) Z8finipeni z8f4n8yzn-p4n8yzn n7 7 m[ arq oko sqn bzzt1 w[ 8l[.

(It is disrespect that makes a rural dweller come into town with an apron round    his waist.)

(iv) K7 n7 x yq zp­n n7 or7 t7 9 fi i]u l3 inq t7 x f[n ck6t6 p3 ‘b7 mo t7 x se ni x b7                                                            

     w[n n7n[.

      (What is the source of a bachelor’s pride that makes him put yam on the fire and

      begin to blow a flute singing: ‘it is my way of life that people envy’.)

(v) _r- k0 s3 3  s[ n7 f8t7lz zfi b7 inq bq k[.

     (Discourse cannot be free when there is light, but when the light is out.)

(vi) Z8g6n k­ ni z8dzgbz, g[d[g[d[ k8 7 ]e oj[gbz d6nd[n.

      (Shortness is not synonymous with age, g[d[g[d[ drum is not in the same class

       with d6nd[n drum.)

(vii) N7 z8k[ ek6l6 a k87 fi aw[ r2 ]e gb2du.

      (We do not use the skin of a deer to make gb2du drum while the deer is still    


(viii) Cnu k87 s8n lqra af­k43m6 (cni t7 9 f­ 8k43m6.)

        (People never cease talking about somebody who broke the calabash cup.)

(ix) *sz k8 7 b6 [ jinnq tqn k7 9 t[n g9.

      (The earthen pot does not go bad once it is almost baked in the fire.)

 (x) Il2k2 p- l­jz k7 szng9 t9 wo m­ kele.

     (Many beads abound in the market, yet szng9 prefers the kele bead.)  

(xi) {w­ [m[d3 k0 t9 pcpc, t7 zgbzlagbz k0 w[ k4r4gb4.

       (A child’s hand cannot reach up to the shelf, that of an elder cannot enter a


(xii) F8r7 n7 8d7 -k1 al[ k7 on7hun k7gbe.

(Somebody passes by a bag containing 20,000 cowries and the owner begins to   lament over its (the bag’s) disappearance.)

(xiii) B7 [m[ k0 bq j[ s0k0t0 y90 j[ t0b7.

         (If a child does not resemble a pair of trousers, he will resemble a skirt.)


4.3.3  Yoruba Proverbs with Traditional Religion / Cult Theme or Cosmology.

(i) Ohun t7 7 tqn ni [d[n e3g[n, alqgbaz y90  padz ra zkzrz jc 2k[.

    (The masquerade festival does not last forever, so the masquerade leader will

     eventually have to buy beans-cake to eat his cold-pap.)

(ii) Awo r7 awo, ol9g8nn7  r7 [m[ ck6n.

     (A cult-man meets another cult-man, the cat meets a tiger’s cub.)

(iii) $n8yzn n7 x bc n7 8d7 or0 n7 or0 fi x k3.

      (The bull roarer is able to roar because human beings are behind it.)

(iv) K0 d6n m7, k0 d6n m7, zgbzlagbz x b[ [pa n7 22mcfz  n7tor7 iyzn znq.

      (An elder maintains that he is not annoyed, yet he swears on [pa (a traditional

       god) because of stale pounded yam.)

(v) @ni pzj1 nz n7 k6m­ m2fz t7 9 n7 =k9=kan k0 ba 0un, s4b7 ara r2 n7 9 wz!

    (Somebody who was hit six times with a rod by the pzj1 masquerade claimed that

    none touched him. Is it not he who would feel the pain?)

(vi) Z8lq][l­r6n pzzkq, zj[m9 w[n n7n[ awo ni.

    (The nakedness of the pzzkq masquerade is the conspiracy of cult members.)

4.3.4  Yoruba Proverbs with Socio-Cultural Theme or Cosmology.

(i) B7 a sq k1k1 og[n, aqj0 cwz n7 a fi ]e, b7 a bu zbzjz [gb­n, aqj0 cwz n7 a fi ]e, b7    

   a s7 f7 2r2k1 s7l2 n7 -b-r­, aqj0 cwz n7 a fi ]e.

    (If we make twenty k1k1 marks on the cheeks, it is for beauty, if we make thirty

   zbzjz  marks on the cheeks, it is for beauty. And if we leave the cheeks

    unmarked,   it is also for beauty.)

(ii) Zg8d7mzlzjz, awo Il3-If2; awo n77 gb3 awo n7 8gb­nw­, b7 awo k0 bq gb3 awo n7         

    8gb-nw­, awo a t1.

(The diviner of Il3-If2; a cult-man ought to assist another cult-man, otherwise     cult-men would be shamed.)

(iii) B7 -r1 el343s[ bq k9 tqn, -tq r2 nqz y90 k09.

    (After the thrift collector’s friend has collected his own money, it would

     eventually come to the turn of the thrift collector’s enemy.)

(iv) K7 q dzgbz k7 q  mq n87 ad8c-8rznz, b7 a bq k[ n7 cl3m-s­ 9 yc n7.

     (It is more glorifying to die in youth than to die in old age and not have the

     sacrificial fowl.)

(v) E3g[n 8w-fz k0 r7 0w[r- j9.

     (A pawn’s masquerade cannot afford to dance in the morning.)

(vi) K0 n77 tqn n7n[ igbq os6n k7 q mq r87  fi pa [m[ n7 ara.

     (No matter how empty the cam wood container is, we will still get enough to rub

     on a baby.)


4.3.5  Yoruba Proverbs with Ecological Theme or Cosmology

(i) Zbztz ta k3t3 b7 cni p3 k0 bq od0 tan.

   (The marsh land stands aloof as if it has no relationship with the river.)

(ii) *r0mi t7 x j9 l9j[ omi, on7l6 r2 wz n7 8szl2 od0.

     (The water bug dancing on the surface of the water has its drummer beneath the


(iii) A k8 7 ]e 0r8]z n7 od0 k7 lzbclzbc mq m-.

      (We cannot celebrate a god by the riverside without the knowledge of the grass

      that grows by the riverside.)


4.3.6  Yoruba Proverbs with Traditional Health-care or Medicare Theme or   Cosmology

(i) B7 a bq ro d7d6n if-n a 9 h[ ara d3 eegun.

    (If we get carried away by the pleasantness of scratching a skin infected with   

    rashes, we will scratch the body to the bones.)

(ii) Zrz t7 9 bq wu 0g0d0 n7 7 fi im[ ol9w9 r2 dq.

     (Yaw can choose to do anything with its victim’s nose.)

(iii) *wz [m[ n7 7 m[ [m[ ]e 0k7gb1.

      (It is a child’s character that makes him wear anti-cutlass amulets.)

4.3.7  Yoruba Proverbs with Traditional Architecture Theme or Cosmology

(i) )j0 t7 9  pa alzpz ni 9 s[ ­ di zm[g6n ew[r1.

    (It is rain that beats a mud wall that reduces it to the height a goat can climb.)

(ii) Z8gb­fq ni z x w0k4 ifq kan k0 s7 n7 pqrq.

     (It is ignorance about ifq divination that makes one gaze up. No divination exists

     in the ceiling.)

(iii) {w­ [m[d3 k0 t9 pcpc, ti zgbzlagbz k0 w[ k4r4gb4.

      (A child’s hand cannot reach up to the shelf, that of an elder cannot enter a


5. Summary, Findings and Recommendations

5.1     Summary

          In this work, we expressed the fact that many languages in Nigeria are being threatened and stand the risk of imminent extinction. We observed that the threat is such that if something is not done to stem it, most of the indigenous languages stand the risk of dieing over the years. We pointed out that the process of language death starts with the loss of vocabulary items in the affected language and that vocabulary loss sets in when a particular vocabulary item is either no longer routinely used or is not used at all.

          We acknowledged the fact that the dictionary is one way of preserving the lexical items in a language from total loss. However, the dictionary has some limitations. One of these is that it has limited capacity for storing the limitless words in a language. Secondly, the lexicographer may not be interested in including words that are not in current use in his dictionary. We then recommended that proverbs will complement the dictionary in preserving the words in a language, particularly the obsolete ones, whose use nowadays is found to be confined to proverbs.

          In section 2, we discussed the nature of proverbs in human language in general and in Yoruba in particular. We expressed the fact that language and culture are very closely related and that proverbs constitute one of the avenues for expressing a people’s cultural beliefs and could therefore be one of the ways in which these beliefs could be preserved. In the third section, we examined archaism in general as a sociolinguistic phenomenon and gave some of the reasons which may account for the words in a language becoming archaic or obsolete.

          In section 4, we gave a list of some words that are considered archaic according to the themes that they addressed, viz: whether rural or agrarian, traditional artifact, socio-cultural, etc themes or cosmologies. In the same section, we featured Yoruba proverbs in which such archaic words are used.


5.2     Findings

We discover that the words in our data are mostly used in proverbs, though they may also be found in folksongs, poetry, folklores, etc. They hardly feature in every day routine discussions. Though our list is not exhaustive, we notice that most of the words listed refer to agrarian themes (29), followed by traditional artifacts (13), socio-cultural (9), traditional religion (6), ecological (3), traditional health (3), and traditional architecture (3). We observe that most of the words have become obsolete or no longer in routine use because of the change generally in the social, economic and cultural lives of the Yoruba people as a result of their exposure to western values and concepts.


5.3     Recommendations

          We subscribe to Mele’s (2007: 245) view that proverbs be integrated into the educational curriculum, though not just to ‘bring about a comprehensive understanding of other culture’s history, values and world views’ as he has suggested, but also to preserve archaic words and expressions that stand the danger of dieing out of the affected languages over time. The fact that ‘… the proverb is a (short) generally known sentence of the folk which contains wisdom, truth, morals and traditional views in a metaphorical, fixed and memoriazable form which is handed down from generation to generation’ (Mieder 1985: 119, in Mele, 2007: 246), further recommends Yoruba proverbs for being included in the school curriculum. By implication, teaching Yoruba proverbs in school means teaching the grammatical components of individual proverbs. This will consequently afford the learners the opportunity of comprehending the meanings and the appropriate usage of the archaic words. We believe, as Mele (2007: 247) that when proverbs are included in the teaching scheme, learners would not feel alienated from the subject, ‘as the focus of proverbs are realistic down-to- earth aspects of existence, such as domestic life (marriage, birth), health matters (diseases, remedies, death), emotions (happiness, sadness, anger, worry) and interpersonal relationships (love, hate, cooperation, hospitality), among others’.

          To aid the process of incorporating proverbs into the school curriculum, language material developers and writers on Yoruba culture should publish books that address Yoruba proverbs both from the linguistic, cultural and literary view points. After all, as Duranti (1997: 23-46, in Bhuvaneswar (2003: 1.) says, culture is a system of signs, ‘a representation of the world, a way of making sense of reality by objectifying it in stories, myths, descriptions, theories, proverbs…..’; thus culture is communication.

           Authors of Yoruba books on proverbs should endeavour to illustrate such archaic words that refer to objects like animals and artifacts with appropriate pictures and diagrams to enhance their understanding by students.

          It is our believe that this will not be an unachievable task, since books already exist on Yoruba proverbs and all that remains to be done is to redouble efforts in this direction and consciously address the issue as one aimed at salvaging our dieing languages as a matter of deliberate government’s language policy on education.    




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