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Why Do We Quote?

Ruth Finnegan

II. Beyond the here and now

6. Quotation in Sight and Sound

Texte intégral

  • 1 MO/H3652.

I think when I quote (I never thought of this before) I would use a tone
of voice that puts quotation marks around the quote. So, pause and
emphasise the saying, then pause again at the end before returning to your
own speech
(Teaching Assistant in her 30s, from Northamptonshire)1

  • 2 Quoted in Raybould 2009.

The emblem [is] a sweet and morall symbol which consists of pictures and
words, by which some weighty sentence is declared
(Henri Étienne 16th-century printer)2

  • 3 MO/N1592.

Is singing quoting?
(75 year-old former social worker from West Yorkshire)3

1Over many centuries, then, quoting and quotations have flourished in written form, defined and authorised in planned compilations or through their demarcation by visually shown symbols. Writing has indubitably provided a rich framework in which humans have invoked and staged the words of others.

2But the examples in the opening chapters indicate the need to look further. Spoken not just written quotation figured among the contemporary British users, expressed not through the fixed visible signs of writing but in the dynamic engagement of auditory and bodily signals. And there are also the sounds and sights of multimodal performance, and the pictorial and material forms in which quoting or something akin to it can also be said to take place. These arenas too demand some consideration.

6.1. Quoting and writing – inseparable twins?

3We can start with oral quotation. In one way there is no doubt about its significance. It pervades spoken language and long antedates as well as parallels quoting in written form. It was clear from the British observers’ reports in Chapters 2 and 3 that they were fully acquainted with oral as well as written quotations: family sayings, proverbs, reported dialogues, remembered snatches of poetry, catchphrases, contemporary quips, and the presentation of well-known words in formal speeches. Such forms are surely familiar to us all.

4But there is a difficulty. For at the same time as providing prolific examples of spoken quotation, there was a certain unease among some of these observers at the thought of quotation divorced from writing. Quotation ’proper’ came in the domain of writing and the traditional literary canon. And unwritten quotes, plentiful as they were, seemed of lower status than those more thoroughly tied into the world on paper. Even the former social worker who provided a stream of vocalised as well as written examples still wondered ’Is singing quoting?’

5Given the ubiquity of spoken quotation this hint of uncertainty may seem puzzling. But it has a background: a widely held, if not always fully conscious, paradigm of writing as the context for quoting. It is worth pausing to unpick this a little further.

6Our established education system is one element in the mix. We are taught the formalities of quoting at school as a learned and somewhat laborious activity. We work at the intricacies of inverted commas and layout, the (perceived) distinction between direct and indirect speech, and the prescribed conventions for indicating others’ voices. Later there is the requirement to introduce prominently signalled quotations in exact and carefully referenced form into essays and reports: often enough an arduous, even self-defensive, practice where failure to observe the rigorously policed rules can risk heavy penalties. Quotation here is a formalised and deliberate matter, with writing as its taken-for-granted setting.

7The conventions for spoken quoting, by contrast, are informally learned and operate largely below conscious awareness. As came out well in the British observers’ experience, the oral conventions, though well-recognised in practice, are normally little thought about, very different from the explicitly formulated rules for written quoting. It is scarcely surprising that writing comes more readily into view as the vehicle for quotation.

8An emphasis on written forms is also strongly embedded in the practices of the world of learning, both today and in the past. The celebration of quotation has after all been a notable feature in the schooled tradition, itself closely associated with the written word, and the ability to deploy the conventional signals for quotation has been one mark of an educated person. Throughout many centuries and for many people, the visibly written word has retained a powerful position, with quoting and quotation collections intertwined with the values and hierarchies of learning.

9This is further reinforced by the epistemologies associated with writing and print, long privileged as the superior channel for human communication. Linked to this has often gone the far-reaching if implicit presupposition that the reality behind verbal forms is ultimately written or writable text. Even if a quotation is in practice spoken or sung, its abiding existence has for many seemed to reside in its written transcription, with the oral medium – transient and fleeting – a less than solid vehicle for the storage or transmission of human words. Writing has indeed seemed the dependable technology for enshrining quotation from the past.

10Alongside this go certain deep-rooted theories about the nature and history of language. These have taken a variety of forms. But they often evince a strong interest first in the capacity to quote – sometimes seen as a key stage in human development – and second in the connections between quoting and literacy. The aspect of quoting particularly emphasised is the ability to separate out words from their immediate context and hold them up for scrutiny – a form of metarepresentation. Quoting thus draws on the power to take a detached view of one’s verbal expression – to regard certain phrases as objects, words from the outside rather than one’s own – and can be understood as in varying ways interlocked with writing, itself linked in many Western ideologies to rationality and modernity.

11One model pictures human language as in its essence fact- and information-based, with poetic or metalinguistic dimensions secondary both in function and in time. Language here evolves only gradually into the more elaborate forms that include the use and awareness of quotation. In this framework the ability to use quotation counts as one of the great human achievements. ’Let not familiarity blind us to the greatness of that man… who first hit on the device of gaining force, or adding ornament, by stealing from someone else who had gone before him’ writes E. E. Kellett on literary quotation and allusion, ’ [he] must indeed have been a genius’ (1933: 3), while more recently Saka speaks more generally of ’the transition from a primitive language to one having quotations’ (2006: 470). From this viewpoint the capacity to manipulate the words of others is a crucial step in the progress towards full and complex language.

12A related approach brings in quoting in a different way. By now arguably dated in its extreme form but still influential, this envisages early and primitive humans as ’participatory’: intimately entwined with the world around them and lacking the detachment that makes quoting possible. The development of civilisation thus involved a movement from the stage of communal orality, steeped in emotion and tradition, to that of modernity – of literacy, individuality, rationality and the objectivity and decontextualisation that underpins modern science. Thus starting from the premise of ’Writing as a form of quotation’ Olson and Kamawar hold that ’Learning to manage quotation and thus the relation between use and mention… were historical achievements as well as developmental ones’ (Olson and Kamawar 2002: 196, italics in original). The self-awareness made possible through writing allowed the separation of concepts from emotive participation, laying them out for scrutiny on a page.

13On partly parallel lines is the view that human language only gradually developed the capacity to cope with quotation in the sense of the precise reporting of direct speech and that verbatim memorising and exact repetition are uncharacteristic, even impossible, in oral settings. As Jack Goody has it, ’Even the most standardised segments of oral sequences never become so standardised, so formulaic, as the products of written man. Reproduction is rarely if ever verbatim’ (Goody 1977: 118). A further implication sometimes enters in: that the objectivity and precision of ’literate civilisation’ is impossible in oral settings. This recalls the once fashionable paradigm of a radical divide between oral and literate cultures, where the former had little or no capacity to achieve the kind of detachment made possible by textual quotation. ’An oral culture has no texts’, writes Ong, and their way of knowing is ’empathetic and participatory rather than objectively distanced’ (1982: 33, 45).

14The form of writing to the fore in such accounts is alphabetic Western literacy, long seen as both tool and token of the high destiny of the modernising West. This writing system, especially that in print, led to the possibility of abstract thinking. An early twentieth-century book on punctuation (Husband and Husband 1905) pictured ’the man who first tried to express himself in a form more permanent and far-reaching than speech’ as far surpassing his predecessors by a degree of self consciousness – ’a power of constructing conditions other than those immediately present’. Until the development of punctuation however this was still an early stage for as yet

his powers of abstraction were but weakly alive: he was still unable adequately to put himself in the position of his reader. … We, on the other hand, are in possession of a highly complex instrument of expression, an instrument that has been developed and refined to meet the needs as well of the reader as of the writer (Husband and Husband 1905: 1-2).

  • 4 For example Twine 1991 on the ’modernisation’ of the Japanese script.

15From this viewpoint the gradual standardisation and rationalisation of visible punctuation symbols – quote marks notably among them – enabled the full development of discriminating discourse and thought. More recent analyses too have posited Western-style punctuation as a necessary part of modernisation, with its ability to separate out the words of others within a logical system that facilitates abstraction and precision.4

16Others would be sceptical about simplistic teleological or great-divide stories but still see quoting as playing a key role in the development of humankind, linked to writing and, in turn, to the attainment of objectivity, abstraction and Western science. For many years now a variety of scholars have been debating the possible cognitive effects of writing. As Bruce Homer posits, literacy ’enables language to become an object of thought that can be analysed, dissected, and manipulated’ (Homer 2009: 497) and (in a similar view) ’allows discourse to achieve the explicitness and formality distinctive of modern science and the distinctive mode of thought that it entails’ (Olson and Kamawar 2002: 196). The direct target here is not necessarily quoting as such but literacy’s effect in bringing awareness of linguistic elements: the consciousness of verbal form that enables people ’to think about language in a new, more abstract and decontextualised way, both about the world and about emotional states’ (Olson 1996: 150). But this metalinguistic consciousness spills into the more general recognition of specific phrases as in some way set apart, one typical feature of quoting. The use of others’ words and the capacity to stand back and see them as somehow detached from the present situation – and from oneself – is indeed a key instance of the power of language to reflect on itself. In such theories, the ability to quote thus emerges as closely entwined with literacy in the sequential stages of both human history and individual development.

17These varied but partly interrelated theories reinforce the feeling that the normal and most obvious setting for proper quotation must be writing. So it is worth emphasising that such views, at least in their more extreme forms, are now widely challenged as both over-generalised and limited, imbued with that ethnocentric myth of the West and its modernity which uses Enlightenment rhetoric as sanction for its mission at the expense of the denigrated non-Western (and supposedly non-quoting) others. Generalising evolutionary theories about language or thought that eventuate in the triumph of the modern West nowadays carry less credence, as also do both the limited focus on alphabetic writing and the once-fashionable wholesale contrasts between ’primitive’ and ’civilised’ or ’oral’ and ’literate’. And yet the effect of these approaches to an extent lingers on, outside as well as within academe, carrying resonant if not always fully conscious overtones.

  • 5 Further discussion or examples relevant to issues discussed in this section can be found in (among (...)

18There is a complex background then to the special status that for a mix of reasons has been accorded to writing as the medium for representing others’ words and voices. This is without doubt one thread in the complex ways that quoting is perceived and experienced in the here and now of today. But it should not blind us to the additional – and equally ’normal’ – contexts for deploying and recognising the words and voices of others. The visual marks of writing experienced through the medium of sight are indeed one notable way of signalling others’ words and sorting them as apart from oneself – but only one. Nor even here is it just a matter of script on paper or of modern print, for there are many formats for visibly fixed words and other writing-systems besides that of the Roman alphabet. And beyond this are the many expected and learned devices in different cultures, settings and genres which signal quotation without recourse to ’the written word’ at all, far less just to the written words as conceived in classic Enlightenment ideologies of language and its relation to alphabetic writing.5

19An interesting point emerges out of this syndrome of approaches to language and writing. This is the acceptance, sometimes explicit sometimes merely inferred, of the importance of quotation – or at any rate of the self-conscious capacity to demarcate others’ words and voices in the midst of one’s own, and to a degree disengage oneself from them. It is noteworthy that in these large if sometimes misconceived attempts to understand our world such a key role has been given to quoting – all the more important, therefore, to explore the additional settings for this intriguing human capacity.

6.2. The wealth of oral quotation

20A plenitude of on-going work is in fact now illustrating the complexity of oral communication, demonstrating among other things that it by no means precludes the detachment and objectifying which in written contexts is often signalled by quote marks. A ’meta-’ or reflexive attention to language and the abstracting of particular concepts or verbal passages for contemplation or exegesis have been well documented in languages which circulate in predominantly spoken forms. So too has the deployment of others’ words and voices in spoken form – for art, utility, exhortation and a galaxy of other purposes. This work is by now well established even if, given the continuing emphasis on written forms, it has often received less attention than it deserves.

21So, this time focusing not so much on cases over time as comparatively across differing cultures, let us start with some examples of quotation from largely oral settings, where writing, even if practised by some is not a pervasive presence.

22Here proverbs have attracted particular attention. They are ’the paradigmatic case’, in Karin Barber’s words, ’of texts cited as quotations’ (1999: 21). The term remains somewhat elusive, admittedly, but is a convenient one for short popular sayings which are recognised as to a degree crystallised and self-standing, useful for setting the immediate situation into wider, distanced, perspective. The words invoked have a kind of detachable autonomous standing in their own right, something with their own substance and – precisely for that reason – quotable.

  • 6 For an informative introduction to the extensive literature see Mieder 2004a, 2008 (where he descr (...)
  • 7 For further examples and references see Finnegan 1970: Chapter 14, and for more recent work Baumga (...)

23As copiously illustrated in the literature on verbal art, proverbs are quoted not only in the ’here and now’ of the contemporary scene, but throughout the world and in a plurality of situations.6 They are prolifically cited in Africa where many thousands have been collected and published. There is the Zulu comment on a flagrant liar, ’He milks the cows heavy with calf’ (claims to milk cows before they had calved!), the Ndebele tactful reminder not to interfere with people who know their own business – ’The maker of a song does not spoil it’ – or the Hausa ’Even the Niger has an island’: like the mighty West African river, even power must sometimes bow. The way to get hospitality among the Zambian Ila used to be the ironic quotation of ’The rump of the visitor is made to sit upon’.7

24Similarly Joyce Penfield (1983) describes the ’quoting behaviour’ of Nigerian Ibo speakers as they cite proverbs in a culture where, as she explains, quotes carry high prestige. Proverbs were used to foreground a textual formulation, depersonalise it, and make it weighty by attributing it to ’the experts’ and the ancestors (Penfield 1983). Citing a proverb like ’A person caught in a pepper garden is accused of stealing peppers’ enabled a mediator to deliver a guilty verdict with the authority and detachment of another’s words while, lower in the power stakes, workers protested against unfair treatment not in their own words but in the double-voiced proverb ’The cow says you can do anything to me but don’t roast me on the fire like you do other animals’, making their point but avoiding the risk of owning the words personally. Proverbs are equally notable among the Akan-speaking peoples of Ghana (fully described in Yankah 1989). Here, as often, the skill lies both in selecting a proverb relevant to the occasion and in how it is performed. Akan proverbs have in some sense an objective existence as something that can not only be cited in the flow of discourse but also manipulated as quotable units in contests and (unwritten) collections. They can be alluded to in abridged form or elicited in alternating voices where participants build on shared knowledge to complete the quotation in full, a strategy eloquently exploited in sermons to active audience response. Proverbs like ’The tongue never rots’ (the words of the ancestors can be applied it resolving a conflict), ’The tsetse fly stands in vain at the back of the tortoise’, ’If a car reverses it’s not a sign of defect’ are sayings from the past that can be inserted whole or in part into current speech.

25But if proverbs seem the quintessential case of oral quoting they are not the whole of it. There is a bewildering variety of forms. The words of others are quoted not only in everyday social interaction, as in dialogues reporting what others have said, but also in more formal verbal genres where speakers present someone else’s words. Quotation is often prominent in verbal artistry, and, in oral as in written narrative, the action in a story is frequently carried forward through the quoted words of characters within it, with the double-voiced narrator at times uttering in more than one persona, commenting while also personifying.

26Explicit quoting is marshalled in various ways. In speech as in writing, both the exactness of repeated chunks of text and the participants’ perception of quotedness are of course related to the differential expectations of genre, speaker or situation. Sometimes a quite variably repeated expression is accepted as ultimately the same saying, familiar examples being the truncated or paraphrased wording of proverbs or of phrases from memorised sacred texts. Sometimes however exact oral reproduction is both expected and practised, putting paid to the supposition that verbatim quoting has no place outside written traditions. In Somali classical poetry for example – for long an oral form, though now also written – lengthy poems were composed and memorised by individual poets, who, without recourse to writing, often laboured for hours or days to construct them. The resulting compositions, fixed and final, were definitive texts demanding exact verbal reproduction. Thus anyone repeating the poet Raage Ugaas’s lament on the death of his wife was expected to name the author and quote the words exactly

Like the camels which are being separated from their young
Or like people journeying while moving camp,
Or like a well which has broken its sides or a river which has overflowed its banks,
Or like an old woman whose only son was killed,
Or like the poor, dividing their scraps for their frugal meal,
Or like the bees entering their hive, or food crackling in the frying,
Yesterday my lamentations drove sleep from all the camps.
Have I been left bereft in my home and shelter? …
(Raage Ugaas, quoted Andrzejewski and Lewis 1964: 64).

  • 8 For examples and elaboration see Finnegan 1992: 73ff, and, on Somali, Orwin 2003 and further refer (...)

27In certain other literary traditions too oral poems and songs are attributed to earlier composers or owners and their performance in exact or near-exact form understood as reproducing the words of others – the elaborate South Pacific dance-songs, for example, the personal songs and self-praises composed in some African cultures, or the carefully crafted personal meditative poems of Eskimo tradition.8

28Another striking case comes in Western Nigeria, with the centrality of quotation in Yoruba verbal art. In their much-admired oral literary forms, verbal text is envisaged as having an existence beyond the immediate moment: it is quotable, capable of being deliberately displayed as an object for attention, existing as ’a detachable autonomous formulation’ (Barber 1999: 20). Here indeed are the familiar processes of framing and display, externalising a particular spoken formulation – sometimes with inner quotes within quotes – and marking it out for attention and potential exegesis. Similarly Karin Barber comments on how in African oral performances more generally a text can possess a kind of autonomous existence:

Something identifiable is understood to have pre-existed the moment of utterance. Or, alternatively, something is understood to be constituted in utterance which can be abstracted or detached from the immediate context and re-embodied in a future performance. Even if the only place this ’something’ can be held to exist is in people’s minds or memories, still it is surely distinguishable from immediate, and immediately-disappearing, actual utterance. It can be referred to.… [as] something that can be treated as the object of commentary – by the communities that produce them, and not just by the collector or ethnographer
(Barber 2003: 325).

29The aspect of ’quoting’ that involves textual detachment and display as a kind of object is clearly not confined to written-down formulations.

30The deliberate deployment of others’ words and voices in oral settings is not always a matter of simple detachable texts and can be complex indeed. A characteristic rhetorical device in lowland South America for example is the strategic use of reported quoted speech. The elaborate quoting art of the Kuna people of San Blas, Panama, provides one striking case. Joel Sherzer’s meticulous account (1990) demonstrates how quoting runs through their verbal delivery, manifested in series of tellings, retellings and tellings within tellings where the single and double quote marks of Western writing are insufficient to indicate the multilayered embedding of multiple sayings within sayings.

31Take the speech by a Kuna curing specialist named Olowitinappi delivered one evening in 1970 in his home village of Mulatuppu. He had been visiting an expert in another village to study medicinal and curing practices, among them the complicated procedures for snakebite medicine. The speech he gave on his return was made up of narrative episodes about his travels, his learning experience and his interactions with his teacher – but presented not as his own words but, as Sherzer describes it, in a series of ’quotes of other, previous times and places, of other speakers and voices, including his own, or of future times, places, and voices’ (Sherzer 1990: 124). So though there was just one animator (Olowitinappi) and one single story line, the story was embodied through many different voices – quotations from Olowitinappi’s teacher, conversations between himself and the teacher, and quotation within quotation.

Olowitinappi himself seems to be saying nothing. Such important matters as the prices he will charge patients and his own student/assistant are not presented in his own words, but in those of his teacher, and are to be followed as strictly as the curing practices he describes, also always in the words of his teacher.… By quoting his teacher, Olowitinappi is able to anticipate particular issues and problems he will face in Mulatuppu – diseases, financial concerns, and personal criticisms
(Sherzer 1990: 125).

32Through these multiply presented voices Olowitinappi was able among other things to demonstrate that he had indeed acquired the necessary knowledge. When he was talking about having heard his teacher perform the necessary chant, he quoted the teacher’s memorised words (quotes within quotes):

”’Now I prepared the farm’ ” see he says.
”’For six, six days we prepared it’ ” see he says.
”’Now I planted the medicine’ ” see he says to me.
”’All this I planted for them’ ” see he says.…
(Sherzer 1990: 151).

33The whole is shot through with the omnipresence of reported speech, with ’the extreme point of quotation within quotation reached… when Olowitinappi is quoting his teacher, who is quoting Ipelele, who is quoting a Choco Indian, who is quoting a chief of the spirit world, who is quoting God’ (Sherzer 1990: 125).

34Olowitinappi’s extensive use of quoted words was characteristic of Kuna formal oratory. As in other speeches it was punctuated with speech attributions like soke (’say’) and takken sake (’see he says’) and by the many devices for metacommunicative words, phrases, and affixes provided in Kuna grammar. The rhetoric of quoting constituted a rich and flexible resource for displaying irony, humour, allusion, metaphor, understatement and dramatic narration, all extensively deployed in Kuna verbal artistry.

35Mediational quoting is another established form, overlapping but rather different from the cases so far. This is when a speaker has the explicit task of acting as vehicle for another’s words, sometimes conducted in highly formalised settings. A well-known practice among Akan-speaking peoples in West Africa for example is ’speaking for the chief’. The chief does not utter in his own voice but communicates through a specially-appointed ’Speaker’ whose formal and highly-regarded role is to transmit the chief’s utterances, enhance his authority and make his words beautiful by being ’wrapped in a flourish of poetic language’ (Yankah 1989: 84, 86). At lower levels too other Akan personages sometimes have their own speakers to dignify their utterances by having their words transmitted through the mouth of another. Similar practices are found in many parts of West Africa. At ceremonies in northern Sierra Leone even small-scale chiefs would pause after every couple of sentences to allow their words to gather weight by being relayed onwards by someone else, and speakers in multilingual settings made similar pauses to allow an interpreter to translate their words into another language – arguably yet another variety of quoting, and certainly a recognition of the detachability of a chunk of someone’s words.

  • 9 For mediational communication see for example Bauman 2001, Hill and Irvine 1993,Kapchan 2007 and ( (...)

36Allied to this is the practice of mediumship, found in many areas of the world. Here words are overtly attributed to someone other than the present utterer, as the medium speaks or sings with another’s voice in a state of possession, dream or trance. It is a complex process indeed, with the ’I’ of the speaker whose voice and body carry the words being to an extent both one and many, and the source from which the words come not always simple to pin down. But in one way or another the speech or song is conceived as belonging not to the medium currently uttering it – or not only – but originating from elsewhere: a locally notable spirit perhaps, a devil, ’the ancestors’, the ’Holy Spirit’, or just ’Them’ as those inhabiting a sphere transcending the immediacy of the present9

Fig. 6.1 Nepalese shaman communing with the ancestors in trance.
Kodari Guru, a senior shaman from the Thangmi community, enters trance during a healing ritual for a young woman. While in this altered state of consciousness, and with his ritual implements laid out before him as a beam of sunlight enters the dark room, he communicates with the ancestors in an elevated or ritual register of Thangmi using unusual vocal patterns (Location: Thamigaun, Kodari, Sindhupalcok, Nepal January 1998. Photo by Dr Sara Shneiderman)

37There are also more indirect and allusive ways of invoking the words and voices of others in oral expression. In some contexts myth telling is a kind of reported speech originating from outside the current speaker, and certain socially recognised figures taken to be in some way uttering the words of another through their own mouths. Mapuche singers in southern Chile often sing the songs of others, especially of those now dead, where the ’I’ of the singer is at once quoting and singing in their own person (Course 2009). Spanish proverbs in New Mexico are introduced by quotation – framing verbs, usually in the past tense, subtly implying that they were taken from ’the talk of the elders of bygone days’ (Briggs 1985: 799-800). Sometimes the claim to be quoting can be a strategy for partly absolving the speaker of responsibility, exemplified in the Madagascar practice of framing a tale with phrases like ’Lies! lies! It isn’t I who am the liar, but the ancients who made up this tale’ (Haring 1992: 141). Or it may be a more remote implication of another’s voice, as with proverbs in Wolof which are understood to be received from ancestral generations: ’recognizable by genre conventions and metaphorical content [but] not marked by a quotative construction’ (Irvine 1996: 147). Or again, the voice of the poet-seer (griot) in several West African societies is intimately bound into the concept of quoting.

Quotative framing is virtually implicit in the social identity of the griot, so central is quotative ’transmission’ (jottali) to the very definition of the griot’s place in society. That is, quotative framing is implicated (at least as a possibility) simply by the social identity of a sentence’s utterer, if the utterer is a griot
(Irvine 1996: 148).

38Here as so often in the context of quotingness, perhaps especially if unwritten, it is in part the dialogic role of the audience that constructs and validates the words as in some sense those of others.

  • 10 Further examples and discussion in Tannen 1989: esp. Chapter 4.

39There can be further layers of complexity, for vocalised quoting is of course also common in settings where writing has a significant presence. As we know not just from the British mass commentators’ examples but from our own experience, widespread literacy does not prevent everyday conversation being replete with the voices of others: with reported words, texts, allusions. In sophisticated and multifaceted ways the speaking voice cites what others have written as well as spoken.10For centuries – and now too – the words of written texts have been quoted live in law cases, speeches, lectures, liturgies and rituals. Now as in the past spoken sermons are packed with quotations which also find their place in the written scriptures. Not just in our own ’here and now’ but to an extent throughout the world it is common to encounter the practices of vocally reproducing memorised texts that often also have a presence in print: from proverbs, classic literary works or the sacred books of the great faiths, to newspaper headlines or phrases from the latest best seller.

40Mutual interactions between oral and written quotations – in many cases overlap or interpenetration – have in fact been common for centuries. The written texts of Christianity or the verses of the Koran, much quoted today in both written and spoken form, arguably had their antecedents in orally transmitted sayings, just as the words reproduced and quoted in the account now in Matthew’s gospel – the recurrent example in Chapter 4 – were doubtless long quoted orally in one form or another before they were crystallised in writing. In classical and mediaeval times when books were scarce, quotation often came in the form of unlettered people repeating passages they had memorised from hearing them in sermons or readings by the literate, and by now we are familiar with the intersections of written and oral in, say, a contemporary poetry recital, a staged drama, or a collection of spoken proverbs captured into writing and then in turn quoted orally.

41It can be tempting to assume that here the written form somehow has priority, whether in historical sequence or as the essential mode in which such texts truly exist. But formulation in writing does not necessarily have precedence in people’s active engagement. Quoted snatches of songs and hymns, liturgical repetition, proverbs, familiar quotations from age-old writers, public recitations – all these forms of quoting may live in vocalised actualisation as much as in whatever place their ’original’ texts are also to be found. Such repeated chunks of language can be, and certainly often are, also captured in writing but their enactment as quotation may equally well be most actively manifested – and experienced – as speech or song.

42In its actual usage a quotation may thus be experienced as acoustic reality as well as, or perhaps even more than, through written apprehension, taking on a sonic life of its own. One striking example of this is the worldwide practice of Koranic quotation where the sound is perhaps even more salient than its reproduction as visual text. Certainly the Koran does exist as a written text, regarded with reverence as the divine book beyond all others and reproduced in wondrous material forms. But for many its reality lies in its oral existence – it was after all first heard not handed over in writing – and it is activated in its oral-aural delivery. As William Graham explains it

Although the Qur’ān has had a rich and central role in the history of Muslim piety and faith as ’sacred book’, it has always been preeminently an oral, not a written text... In the history of Islamic piety and practice, the role of the written scriptural text has always been secondary to the dominant tradition of oral transmission and aural presence of the recited text
(Graham 2005: 584).

  • 11 On the importance of sonic quotation in Islam see Graham 1987, 2005, Hirschkind 2006, Nelson 2001.

43Recitation is not plain ’reading’ but intoned in recognised melodic and sonic patterns. It is common for Muslims to learn large sections by heart, able to repeat them aloud from memory: echoing quotations that stay with them, sometimes coming in auditory form at crucial moments throughout their lives. Even two or three words uttered by a fellow-Muslim are enough to call up the sound of the full, memorised, quotation, in a shared knowledge of the melodic cadences. The speakers are not voicing their own words, nor ones ultimately sourced from written text, but those of Allah himself. From the quoted excerpts chanted aloud in remote villages of Sierra Leone by young boys who do not, and probably never will, learn to read, or the popular media form of cassette sermons circulating so prolifically in Middle Eastern cities, to high scholars intoning and reflecting on some deep Islamic insight, quotations from the Koran are experienced most profoundly as oral.11

44Here then is another world-wide arena for quoting. The details vary by genre and situation, but the practice of envoicing the words of others in oral form is found throughout human culture. Such quotations come extensively in both formally marked and more conversational speech genres, sometimes intertwining with writing and other media, sometimes enunciated predominantly through the rich sonic resources of the speaking or singing voice.

6.3. Quoting blossoms in performance

45One dimension of non-written quotation is thus the manipulation of vocal sound. But the arts of oral quoting go further than just audition. Participants in live oral quotation can tap into a plethora of multimodal resources that, depending on genre and setting, can eventuate in more dynamic and multidimensional signals than those offered by the visual and static marks of written modes.

  • 12 For ’like’ etc. see Barbieri 2005, 2007, Jones and Schieffelin 2009.

46Some signals, certainly, overlap with written conventions. There is the age-old reliance on verbs of saying (’she said/called out/pleaded/ prophesied’, ’he replied/announced/taunted/sang’, ’it is said’, and so on), and speech as well as writing makes use of linguistic markers such as change of tense, mood or language, quotative terms, hearsay particles, special registers or diction, or phrases like ’don’t forget that…’, ’ remember the words… ’. There can similarly be explicit attribution to some previous speaker, whether by name or by a reference to some imaginary or symbolic figure (as in the Akan proverbs introduced by ’The tortoise says… ’). Such signals are in general common to both spoken and written quoting, but their detailed incidence of course varies across genres and contexts. An example of a relatively recent innovation is the emergence of the terms ’like’, ’go’ or ’all’ to introduce a quotation in colloquial speech: as in ’And I was like ”What does she know about it!”’. Sometimes ambiguous as to whether it is exact spoken words or more general thoughts or impressions, such markers nevertheless clearly imply an enquoted voice and a way of standing back from a saying (including when uttered by oneself). These quotatives are now relatively well established in informal conversation, especially among younger speakers, and are also gradually seeping into written electronic interchanges.12

47But spoken quotation can also draw on additional ways for marking someone else’s words. It employs not just lexical forms or the visual signs of script, but, potentially, a huge range of multisensory resources: visual, kinetic, bodily, dynamic, rhythmic, prosodic, and material. The comments of the British observers in Chapter 3 have already illustrated how others’ words can be indicated to their hearers by dynamic auditory and gestural rather than scribal means. It could be by ’pausing and slightly changing my voice’, for example, or, in a reminiscence of how the speaker and his teenage friends distanced themselves from the adult world, by using ’everyday phrases in invisible quotation marks, invisible but made visible by heavily ironic intonation’. Such devices, widely practised in the highly literate settings of today, have doubtless been equally established through the ages as key mechanisms in the engagement with others’ words and voices.

48The fact that something is a quotation is thus often communicated not by overt words but by some small change in timing or intonation. Among the Maya the quotation of others’ words is marked not just by speech verbs or quotative particles but by a ’shift in voice quality, phrasing or bodily posture’ (Hanks 1990: 215), while in Ghana, the citation of a proverb is shown ’by a particular tone, pause, duration or emphasis to achieve a particular rhythm’ (Yankah 1989: 255). In Madagascar proverbs are marked out not so much by text as by performance. Lee Haring describes how speakers switch into special codes to signal this, one by spreading his arms and leaning forward; another by changing her tone as if for some sad announcement, a third by standing up.

What makes an utterance a proverb is the way it is heard, not with the sensual ear, but with that complex and variable attention of which every participant in the scene is capable. Rather than the repetition of fixed words, then, proverb performance would better be described as shifting into an alternative code. The scene remains the same, but the speaker makes use of a different channel, such as gesture or intonation, a different message-form, or both
(Haring 1984/5: 144).

49How the utterance is heard can be a key factor in making it into a proverb, a quotation. As in other live performances the audience can co-define what is said and experienced. Charles Briggs for example describes the nonverbal cues by which both speaker and listeners recognise the quotation of proverbs in New Mexico:

Members of the audience who are familiar with the genre emit a number of signals at the beginning of the performance that indicate that they are aware that a performance has begun. These include leaning forward, raising the eyebrows, smiling, and gazing intently at the speaker. The nonverbal behaviour of the speaker and the prosodic features of her or his speech are distinct during the utterance of the proverb text and the remainder of the discourse. The utterance of the text is generally set apart from the remaining features by a preceding pause as well as by changes in the speaker’s facial expression and in the pitch, speed, and volume of delivery. The anticipatory state of participants who are familiar with the genre reaches a peak during the utterance of the text. Upon its termination, such persons will smile, laugh, and settle back into their chairs
(Briggs 1985: 805).

50For an oral quotation to be fully recognised as such it needs to be validated by the multimodal behaviour of hearers as well as speakers. And because live performance mostly involves some kind of a present audience, a speaker can throw on it part of the responsibility for understanding and completing the act of quoting.

51The markers used in oral quoting are perhaps less definite than written symbols but for that very reason in some respects more flexible and many-sided. They have the potential to convey a subtlety not open to written signals which, in their more explicit usages at least, purport to impose a clear separation between differing voices. They can be brought into play to delineate – and comment on – others’ words almost wherever these come along the various continua from verbatim to paraphrased speech, or from memorised to improvised or re-created text, and with greater or lesser highlighting of their quotedness. They can structure informal spoken interaction, dramatised repetition, re-enacted dialogue or, indeed, broadcasts or readings from written text. Gradations of quotedness can be conveyed through tone of voice and by picking up cues from the audience as to whether certain signals need to be more overt. An explicit and clearly demarcated quote, expected to be recognised, can be indicated in one way, while forms which have sunk more into common usage may be hinted by more gentle changes of tone or timing, and fainter intertextual echoes and allusions conveyed differently yet again. Unlike written quote marks, there is no call for all-or-nothing decision. And all this can be done, furthermore, in mid-flow and in subtle and flexible ways, varying at different points during the delivery.

  • 13 Further comment on gesture in (for example) Klassen 2004, Kendon 2004; on Limba story-telling Finn (...)

52Speakers embody others’ voices in a variety of ways. The quoted personage is sometimes brought vividly on stage through a host of nonverbal as well as verbal cues, using the manifold devices of dramatic enactment. Another’s words can live through direct presentation in the frame of a character portrayed in a narrative sequence, in different voice from that adopted by the narrator or other enacted characters. The teller has a realm of possibilities for animating the quoted speaker’s personality through accent, mimicry, vocal quality, gesture, hesitation, facial expression and a multitude of other characterisations which are perhaps not fully conscious for either audience or narrator but carry amazing effect nevertheless. The same is often true of quotation in a story’s developing action, where the tone in which the character’s words are delivered can suggest, alternatively, innocence, guile, deception, over-confidence and an infinitude of other features which may in their turn be laying foundations for the coming events. In Sierra Leone, Limba story-tellers brought onto the stage the bombastic strutting spider with his boastful and foolish words (the narrator both enacting his character and ironically conveying its over-the-top exaggeration), the quiet tones of the shyly peeping deer, wily deceitful leopard, selfish chief, or outwardly modest but secretly scheming girl. All these voices were represented by the narrator – while at the same time also offering asides, as it were, through his or her own demeanour and tone.13

53Even in less dramatised or narrative-driven accounts people’s words are not just reported but animated through the personalities and motivations they are presented as possessing. The reported words of others are arguably always reconstructed rather than merely repeated – but in performance this is strikingly so. Even in the overlapping repeatings of each others’ words in informal conversation the repetitions are not neutral replicas but coloured by the quoter’s and listeners’ attitude to them. In the citation of evidence, poetic interchanges or rhetorical exposition, a range of muted signals can be deployed both to mark out the words being quoted as – more, or less – those of another and to tinge them with the double-voiced resonance of the utterer who controls this recontextualised occasion. Imaginary speakers can be introduced too, their words perhaps ridiculed by being presented in pretendedly naïve or blustering tones so their arguments can then be demolished – a favourite device in classic rhetoric.

  • 14 For further comment and illustration see Baynham and Slembrouck 1999, Cavicchio et al. 2005, Matoe (...)

54A speaker can choose to set the words quoted at arms’ length, presented as a kind of autonomous text or, alternatively, as closely associated with or endorsed by themselves. They can be moulded in delivery to convey whether they are agreed or otherwise, acclaimed, mocked, emphasised, parodied, or belittled – and all without an overt word being added. They can be treated with satire, with irony, with affection. A subtext to what is being quoted can be quietly conveyed, and unspoken but devastating undertones tacitly hinted while ostensibly merely presenting an objective report. Nor is this just a trivial matter, for such devices can be hugely potent weapons in argument and decision-making. In adversarial judicial cases, irony or ridicule in quoting witnesses’ words can be conveyed by tacit vocal and facial cues, or the quoted voice enacted as, for example, that of an unresponsive bully or, alternatively, of a warm and credible human being with emotions attuned to those of the hearers – sometimes with significant consequences for a jury’s interpretation and decision.14

55On the same lines shifts in a speaker’s attitude in relation to some quoted voice can be fleetingly indicated by changing rhythms, intonation, stance, mimicry, voice quality or facial expression. At times people cast even their own words into a kind of distanced semi-quoting mode by a transient self-mocking tone or by somehow ’othering’ it through face or posture. Much can be conveyed by a wink, grimace, sneer, or eyebrow rise. Someone transmitting an order with which they disagree can convey just by the way they speak that the words they are uttering are really someone else’s. As Barry Truax reminds us, there are neat ways of doing this

Guarded language, carefully controlled pitch range, and absolute rigidity of tempo and dynamics in a speaker may make us skeptical of what the person says. We ’read between the lines’ that the person is self-protective and anxious to avoid personal involvement, particularly that of an emotional nature. Bureaucrats in particular perfect this style of voice when repeating the ’official’ policy of others to avoid taking responsibility
(Truax 1984: 36).

56The non-verbal cues of live performance can readily parallel the free indirect discourse of written texts where an author presents someone else’s voice while at the same time his or her own voice speaks too. Adopting multiple stances to the words being uttered is a well-honed feature of speech and dialogue. Non-verbal as well as verbal signals can be exploited to construct more than one perspective on words being uttered and allow resonances of others’ thoughts and voices to sound through an enacted performance. And there is potential too for mingling many or all of these facets in complex interaction, as in the striking Gikuyu gicaandi riddle-like dialogue songs in Kenya where not only is each performer’s voice stratified into plural voices (some narrative, some meta-commentary) but the voices of two singers compete and cooperate in poetic exchange (Njogu 1997).

  • 15 For examples and analysis see especially Kotthoff 1998, 2009, Tannen 1989, also Robinson 2006: 220 (...)

57Live delivery, it is clear, is well suited for conveying the multivoicedness of human expression as well as seeping across what once seemed the opposing categories of ’direct’ and ’indirect’ speech. The quoted words gain depth and inflection in a more directly dramatised way than in written forms and with a wider range of nuance.15

58The range that can be expressed in actual utterance is thus astonishing. But it should scarcely surprise us, for the multiple dimensions of live quotation are in fact nothing strange. We all surely know from our own experience, even if we do not always consciously notice it, that we do not depend just on writing nor even on explicit quotative verbs to signal and colour others’ words. Indeed it can be argued that the complexity of multiply overlapping and interchanging voices, of degrees of distancing, or of the subtle muddying of the separations between voices can perhaps be conveyed more richly and effectively in the multidimensional somatic resources of speaking than in the more limited frame of writing. Not that these shades of meaning are absent in written quoting – but they blossom, multi-coloured, in live performance.

6.4. Music, script and image

59The most obvious focus for a treatment of quotation would seem to be its verbal realisation. This indeed is the main thrust of this volume: the examples so far have thus primarily been from the written, spoken and sung forms where quotation has flourished so strongly over the centuries and across the world. But we should also look briefly at other modes, in particular musical, pictorial and material forms. Here too analysts have drawn on the concept of quoting and quotation, and tackled similar issues to those surrounding the verbal repetitions of others’ words and voices.

60It is in fact only a small step to extend the scope to music. The live performances just mentioned have already brought us into musical expression, for, in addition to the acoustic qualities of speech generally, quotations in chant and song in particular draw directly on the artistries of sound to make their point. But, elusive as the topic proves to be, it is also worth taking some account of quotation in music more widely.

61Musical composition and performance have long been characterised by borrowing and repetition. Like poetry, but even more so, music is marked by repeated patterning, in this case across multiple dimensions such as melody, rhythm, harmony, intervals, instrumentation, and dynamics. Within the same work an element of self-quoting is often expected – repetition, near-repetition, variation, echo – adding depth through the regularities and reappearances, often very deliberately so; and in many genres of music, repetitions or parallelisms in the form of refrains, fugues, ’variations’ and thematic elaborations are admired aspects of the art. Self-quotation across a composer’s own works is not uncommon either, and can carry increasingly potent meanings with each purposeful repetition, as with Wagner’s leitmotifs or the constant reuse of themes in Elgar’s compositions.

62But as well as this kind of self-quotation and the repetitiveness of particular stylistic conventions, there is also plentiful musical quotation – or should it be called borrowing? or copying? – between works and between musicians. Just where to locate ’quoting’ here, and how to characterise it amidst these repetitive complexities, is perhaps even harder to pin down or agree on in music than in verbal text. Varying styles and listeners have different approaches and assessments. The processes are largely shaped by cultural expectations about genre, production and participants, linked in turn to assumptions about what counts as copying, what as creation. In jazz and blues, iteration and repetition are prominent to an extent that in other musical traditions might be regarded as copyright violation. And across music generally, what some hear as merely the expected conventions of the genre or admire as creatively deployed reminiscences, repeated motifs, or deliberate resonances with other works, others condemn as derivative borrowing, pastiche or plagiarism. In music, as in verbal art, quotation merges into unconscious intertextuality, collages, unplanned but nonetheless potent echoes, and evocative allusion. The extra elusiveness of musical quotation comes out well in the current controversies over its legal definition, with intense arguments over just what is to count as musical quotation or how in any given case the ’original’ is to be defined: as score? phrase? melody? rhythm? performance? recording? sonic fabric?

63Nonetheless, even in face of the multidimensionality of music and the always-puzzling continuum of the more and the less overt, there are clearly repetitions in some sense of others’ musical texts in a form that would seem, at the least, akin to quotation in verbal discourse. There are arrangements and variations by one composer of someone else’s theme, sometimes – but not always – explicitly acknowledged. A known melody can be incorporated into a new composition (a folksong, say, carrying with it evocative overtones from the original), a musical idea from another’s work used in a new creation, or a snatch from elsewhere briefly inserted into a longer work. Even repetitions that are not explicitly acknowledged may still carry auditory associations for listeners or players, perhaps, as with all quoting, more consciously for some than for others. The same can be true of rhythmic repetitions, as in the often replicated opening rhythms of Beethoven’s fifth symphony. The theme for Jesus’s last moments on the cross in Bach’s St John’s Passion (’Es ist vollbracht’) was repeatedly used and built on by later composers – C. P. E. Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn, Schumann and Mendelssohn among them – becoming a symbolically fraught allusive tradition in many nineteenth-century works (Reynolds 2003: esp. 147ff). For a more recent period David Metzer has characterised quotation as a key cultural agent in twentieth-century music, starting from Charles Ives’ musical quotations to create nostalgic childhood scenes and extending across multiple styles from classical to experimental, jazz and popular idioms (Metzer 2003).

64Musically-set verbal texts have a peculiarly potent role in quotation. St Paul’s words in the New Testament ’The trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised, incorruptible’ have been much quoted over the ages, but for many are now most vividly experienced in their echoic musical realisation in Handel’s oratorio Messiah. Here as in many similar cases it becomes ambiguous how far the quotation is a musical one, how far verbal – perhaps it is both. Or if I try to quote the negro spiritual ’Steal away… ’ I find it near-impossible to divide the words from the music: the quotation seems to need both. In such cases, and perhaps above all with well-known songs, the dual verbal-cummusical quality can also be split into its separate elements, to be quoted either alone or together, providing an additional layer of potential cross-referencing. An old tune to new words can flood the new work with musical echoes and associations, well demonstrated in the widespread practice of singing novel words to favourite hymn tunes: the melody is in a sense quoted, but in a new setting. In another twist in the relationship, Brahms and Mahler among others quoted music from their own songs in instrumental works, thus carrying to at least some of their listeners allusive overtones from the original sung words. Or again, in the cadences of Koranic recitation, reciters, whether or not consciously, can, as Kristina Nelson puts it, ’use melodic patterns to refer to other parts of the text, other recitations, other reciters’ (2001: 6).

65Song parody is another long-established art, playing on the link between words and music and invoking associated echoes in a way that could, as with other forms of parody, be seen as one form of quotation. It was wittily exploited a few years ago for example in a song that repeated the ubiquitously known (in Britain) tune of ’God save the Queen’ and instead of its familiar words (on the left below) set it as (on the right):

God save our gracious Queen,
Long live our noble Queen
God save the Queen.
Send her victorious
Happy and glorious
Long to reign over us
God save the Queen

God help our aging Queen,
Through troubles that
he’s seen
God help the Queen:
Millions take the piss
Out of her family’s
Anus horribilis
God help the Queen16

66The fun lay not just in Phil Alexander’s play on the usual words of ’God save the Queen’ and the clever topical allusions, but also in the ringing repetition – the sonic quotation – of the stately and pompous tune of the British National Anthem.

  • 17 Musical quotation and borrowing is now a growing field of study, only treated cursorily here: furt (...)

67The issues over music are certainly complex and multi-layered – but then so they are for words where indeed many of the same questions of interpretation and cultural debate arise. There is not space to pursue them further here, except merely to note that here is yet another arena for humanly deployed intertextuality, borrowing, allusion – in short, for quoting.17 It is also interesting to return to writing, but from a different perspective from before. For written forms lead into the further fields of graphic, pictorial and material forms in which quoting also has some kind of presence. One dimension of writing, it can be said, is its capacity to capture and frame words in a visual medium that takes them away from the transient moment of speech. It sets them out as in a way detached from the immediate occasion, carved out from the flow of speech. Indeed some scholars see writing as always a kind of quoting, a way of putting language on the stage. David Olson goes so far as to suggest that ’Writing down has the effect of turning utterances into quotations, thereby distancing the text from the author’ (Olson 2006).

68But if writing does indeed sometimes have a part in constructing what it displays as quotation, its role is not constant. It is the more salient when written forms are in some way set out with particular prominence, or where writing is a restricted and perhaps honorific medium. In such cases the very fact that something is written can indeed imply that here are singled out words, set apart from ordinary speech. In situations of limited literacy, enshrining the words of sacred texts in written books or temple decorations has indeed given them a special status, words rooted not in ordinary human speech but originating from the divine.

69In many people’s experience today that special standing is no longer an automatic property of writing – in most situations, that is, for it can still be displayed in such a way as to enstage particular chunks of text for special attention. Thus a written inscription set out on a building, a tomb, a tapestry, a mural can acquire a quote-like authority from its setting. Political or religious slogans are still prominently displayed on walls and banners, on entrances to buildings, in posters and advertisements. Literary or religious snippets are shown not just in high-art settings but on coins, textiles or fridge stickers, their displayed locations bringing out their quoted quality. Now as in the past writers use special layout to highlight quoted epigraphs at the head of chapters, authors display testimonials from others on the covers of their books, and people select mottos to weave in written form into tapestries, imprint on clothing or decorate in framed wall hangings. And even now, amidst widespread print, words framed in elegantly presented fine print or luxuriant web pages are made to stand out as objects which, like quotations more generally, are signalled for display and contemplation. Illuminated calligraphy still strikingly frames written words. This was so of the image which started out this book (Fig. 1.1) but applies above all when words are set in beautifully decorated manuscripts or volumes perceived as transmitting the words of God.

70It is also worth recalling that ’writing’ covers a variety of forms. As exemplified in Chapter 4, visual features like colour, size, script or layout can bring an element of quotedness to particular words or phrases. In the decorated calligraphy of some manuscript and earlier printed forms these visual indications were even more expansive, with words clothed in wonderful displays to bring out their standing. The enstaging was not just a matter of the words but also the visual arts of space, colour and image. Fig. 6.2 for example shows the repeatedly quoted declaration of faith in beautifully calligraphed representation, a striking instance of the way elaborate Islamic script styles can represent and further beautify familiar quoted words.

Fig. 6.2 A calligraphic declaration of faith.
The constantly quoted ’There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is his messenger’ is inscribed in the form of turrets running from right to centre, with the left half its near mirror-reflection (reproduced courtesy Kenneth Cragg)

71In Chinese calligraphy picture and writing are sometimes so closely intertwined that it is near-impossible to draw a separation between image and writing, and the essence of a quoted poem may lie as much in the beauty of its pictorial representation as in its written words.

72And this of course shades into the ingenious way illustrations often go along with written words. The mutual cooperation of verbal and pictorial quotation dates back many centuries. Sometimes the words are part of the picture, with text and image working together. There are numerous representations for example of Christ’s entry into Jerusalem, the event that followed hard on the preparations described in the passage quoted from St Matthew’s gospel in Chapter 4. Here in a sense the image with its familiar associations is as much a kind of quotation as the words (Fig. 6.3 is just one example among many pictorial accounts of this event).

Fig. 6.3 The entry into Jerusalem.
This shows Christ entering Jerusalem in triumph, riding on a donkey (Isabella Breviary, 15th century © The British Library Board, British Library Images 021635)

73In other cases phrases are selected out from within longer works and attached as captions to illustrations interspersed through the text, giving these phrases a degree of quotedness through their pictorially-linked display. In religious texts, certain phrases sometimes become, for some readers at least, for ever associated with the picture. So too with the illustrations that adorn many works, from contemporary children’s stories or university textbooks to cartoons and newspaper reports: they act as the vehicles for highlighting particular textual excerpts. The images help to structure the words as quotation, reinforced and repeated in a complementing medium.

74Proverbs and maxims have been a favourite context for the explicit linking of verbal and pictorial quotation, and hundreds of books in diverse formats have presented visual images of proverbs. These go back at least to the fifteenth century when books of illustrated proverbs became extremely popular. Proverbs en rimes, for example, was a mediaeval French collection of proverbs with illustrations, designed (as its modern editors put it) ’for the lesser folk of the middle ages… with its informal illustrations, homely phrases and popular conceptions’ (Frank and Miner 1937: vii). It contained a series of nearly 200 pen and ink drawings with, below each, an 8-line rhyming stanza in (fifteenth-century) French ending with a proverb or proverbial saying (Fig. 6.4).

Fig. 6.4 ’To hunt hares with a drum’.
The rhymed French stanza below the picture ends with the proverb De prendre lievres au tabour (’to hunt hares with a tabor [drum]’), i.e. ludicrously to attempt the near-impossible (Proverbes en rimes, by kind permission of the Walters Art Museum Baltimore Maryland)

75These included such long-known sayings as (in English translation) ’God helps those who help themselves’, ’What the eye sees not the heart rues not’, ’All is not gold that glitters’, ’There’s many a slip between cup and lip’ (here as ’mischance between mouth and spoon’), ’In the country of the blind the oneeyed is king’, all exemplified and brought home by their vivid illustrations.

76In Renaissance literature a popular illustrated genre combined adages with epigrams, paralleling the burgeoning numbers of text collections like Erasmus Adages and its successors but using the art of woodcut illustration to enable readers with little Latin to grasp the meaning more clearly. Emblem books in huge numbers set out words intensified in visual images which not merely accompanied the quotation, but manifested it. As the sixteenth-century printer Henri Étienne put it, the ’emblem’ was ’a sweet and morall symbol which consists of pictures and words, by which some weighty sentence is declared’.18

77Quotation pictures have also been created in their own right, unaccompanied by verbal text. The sixteenth-century Dutch artist Pieter Bruegel the Elder was one of many to produce elaborate proverb pictures. His most famous, ’The Netherlandish Proverbs’, was painted in oil on oak panel in 1599.

Fig. 6.5 ’Two dogs over one bone seldom agree’.
Detail from Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s proverb picture

  • 19 On this celebrated proverb picture see, among other sources, Meadow 2002, Mieder 2004b, 2008.

78Sometimes dubbed ’The topsy turvy world’ – and with reason – it depicted the follies and absurdities of human behaviour through its illustration of around a hundred Flemish proverbial expressions. It gave pictorial expression to such sayings as (in English translation) ’Big fish eat little fish’, ’Two dogs over one bone seldom agree’ (detail in Fig. 6.5), ’When the blind lead the blind both fall in the ditch’, ’It’s easy to sail before the wind’, ’Stooping to get on in the world’ (for success you have to be devious), and, for attempting a futile or impossible task, the vivid ’Pissing at the moon’ 19

Fig. 6.6 Ashanti goldweight proverb.
Many Ashanti proverbs were depicted in the form of tiny brass weights used for weighing gold. This one demonstrates the futility of individuals trying to snatch for themselves what should be for the good of all by two crocodiles whose separate heads are stupidly competing even though they share the same stomach (Copyright © The British Museum)

79Proverbs have also long been pictorially quoted on cloth, ceramics and sculptures. They have appeared on tapestries, in broadsheets, stained glass, on coins, stamps, and in wood cuts on mediaeval misericords. In Ghana proverbs were reproduced as designs on textiles, staffs and umbrella tops where the material representation rather than the verbal text gave the meaning. And nowadays innumerable examples of illustrated proverbs and familiar sayings are quoted in light-hearted as well as more serious forms, with or without verbal text: in magazines, posters, T-shirts, cartoons, tea towels, children’s mugs, car windows, bookmarks, playing cards and advertisements.

  • 20 On Ashanti proverbs see especially Yankah 1989.

80In some cases the images alone carry the quotes, without any visible words. We see this in some stained glass windows and religious paintings, for example, or in today’s prolific representations of the three monkeys which often stand on their own (without the words) as a statement of the well-known ’See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil’. Another famous case comes from West Africa, in the Ashanti practice of representing proverbs in the form of miniature brass figures used as goldweights. One depicts a man smoking a pipe and holding a pot, conveying the proverb ’We may smoke the pipe even while we carry gunpowder’: even in a crisis pleasure cannot be totally sacrificed (Yankah 1989: 99). Another illustrates a proverb about the futility of individuals trying to snatch for themselves what should be for the good of all by two nonsensically competing crocodiles (Fig. 6.6). The quotation is activated through the material object.20

81Examples of this kind would seem to bring us to the edge of ’quoting’ – certainly to the edges of the main focus in this work. But they remind us that quoting in some sense at least extends seamlessly into many fields and, furthermore, that the boundaries of the ’verbal’ are scarcely fixed or uncontested. The capacity to highlight for attention and allusion, or to set out words as somehow removed from their present surroundings and originating from elsewhere does not lie just in written lines or vocal presence but is also activated through many media, even sometimes without the direct display of words at all. These give a further window onto the versatility of human communication and expression – multilayered, shot through with many voices and echoes in sound, sight and object. Prominent as are the forms and development of Western-style quote marks or written collections with their powerful status in the hierarchies of Western education, the long human engagement with quoting spreads into multiple fields beyond these rich but limited domains.


1 MO/H3652.

2 Quoted in Raybould 2009.

3 MO/N1592.

4 For example Twine 1991 on the ’modernisation’ of the Japanese script.

5 Further discussion or examples relevant to issues discussed in this section can be found in (among other sources) Brockmeier 2000, Bublitz and Hübler 2007, Duranti 1997, Feldman 1991, Finnegan 1988, 2007 (esp. 10ff and Chapter 2), Homer 2009, Hunter and Oumarou 1998, Lucy 1993, 2001, Mishler 1981, Olson 1996, Olson and Kamawar 2002,Tannen 1985, Urban 1984, also examples in following section.

6 For an informative introduction to the extensive literature see Mieder 2004a, 2008 (where he describes proverbs as monumenta humana), also earlier works such as Burke 1941, Obelkevich 1987.

7 For further examples and references see Finnegan 1970: Chapter 14, and for more recent work Baumgardt and Bounfour 2004.

8 For examples and elaboration see Finnegan 1992: 73ff, and, on Somali, Orwin 2003 and further references there.

9 For mediational communication see for example Bauman 2001, Hill and Irvine 1993,Kapchan 2007 and (on the Akan speaker) Yankah 1995.

10 Further examples and discussion in Tannen 1989: esp. Chapter 4.

11 On the importance of sonic quotation in Islam see Graham 1987, 2005, Hirschkind 2006, Nelson 2001.

12 For ’like’ etc. see Barbieri 2005, 2007, Jones and Schieffelin 2009.

13 Further comment on gesture in (for example) Klassen 2004, Kendon 2004; on Limba story-telling Finnegan 1967.

14 For further comment and illustration see Baynham and Slembrouck 1999, Cavicchio et al. 2005, Matoesian 1999.

15 For examples and analysis see especially Kotthoff 1998, 2009, Tannen 1989, also Robinson 2006: 220ff (and further references there), and, on varieties of spoken ’metarepresentation’, Wilson 2000.

16 (7 May 2008).

17 Musical quotation and borrowing is now a growing field of study, only treated cursorily here: further discussion and references in Burkholder 2001, Gabbard 1991, Meconi 2004, Metzer 2003, Reynolds 2003 and (on musical copyright) Metzer 2003: Chapter 5, Toynbee 2001, 2006.

18 Quoted in Raybould 2009: (12 Feb. 2010).

19 On this celebrated proverb picture see, among other sources, Meadow 2002, Mieder 2004b, 2008.

20 On Ashanti proverbs see especially Yankah 1989.

Table des illustrations

Légende Fig. 6.1 Nepalese shaman communing with the ancestors in trance.Kodari Guru, a senior shaman from the Thangmi community, enters trance during a healing ritual for a young woman. While in this altered state of consciousness, and with his ritual implements laid out before him as a beam of sunlight enters the dark room, he communicates with the ancestors in an elevated or ritual register of Thangmi using unusual vocal patterns (Location: Thamigaun, Kodari, Sindhupalcok, Nepal January 1998. Photo by Dr Sara Shneiderman)
Fichier image/jpeg, 17k
Légende Fig. 6.2 A calligraphic declaration of faith.The constantly quoted ’There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is his messenger’ is inscribed in the form of turrets running from right to centre, with the left half its near mirror-reflection (reproduced courtesy Kenneth Cragg)
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Légende Fig. 6.3 The entry into Jerusalem.This shows Christ entering Jerusalem in triumph, riding on a donkey (Isabella Breviary, 15th century © The British Library Board, British Library Images 021635)
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Légende Fig. 6.4 ’To hunt hares with a drum’.The rhymed French stanza below the picture ends with the proverb De prendre lievres au tabour (’to hunt hares with a tabor [drum]’), i.e. ludicrously to attempt the near-impossible (Proverbes en rimes, by kind permission of the Walters Art Museum Baltimore Maryland)
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Légende Fig. 6.5 ’Two dogs over one bone seldom agree’.Detail from Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s proverb picture
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Légende Fig. 6.6 Ashanti goldweight proverb.Many Ashanti proverbs were depicted in the form of tiny brass weights used for weighing gold. This one demonstrates the futility of individuals trying to snatch for themselves what should be for the good of all by two crocodiles whose separate heads are stupidly competing even though they share the same stomach (Copyright © The British Museum)
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