Captain Edward ZELLEM, United States Navy/United States



This paper will explore the methodology, techniques, challenges and opportunities of “crowdsourcing” paremiography in developing countries by using the Internet and mobile phones.

While deployed to Afghanistan in 2010-2011, U.S. Navy Captain Edward Zellem, a Dari Persian speaker, heard and used Afghan Dari Proverbs every day while working and socializing with Afghans. He began collecting them as a private project, a hobby unrelated to his military duties. The results of his work were published as two bilingual books: “Zarbul Masalha: 151 Afghan Dari Proverbs” and a children’s edition, “Afghan Proverbs Illustrated.”

After the books received significant media coverage and became popular worldwide among the Afghan diaspora, Zarbul Masalha’s Internet web page also became popular, and led to a constantly expanding global fan base for the books. These Afghan proverb fans regularly asked for a similar book of Afghan Proverbs in Pashto, the other major language of Afghanistan. Pashtun culture and proverbs have significant ethnolinguistic differences from the Dari Persian proverbs that are commonly used by Afghanistan’s other ethnic groups.        

While the book Zarbul Masalha (“Proverbs” in Dari) was compiled and written using traditional face-to-face paremiographical techniques, its Pashto counterpart book is being prepared using unexplored paremiographical “crowdsourcing” methodology via the Internet. Crowdsourcing is the practice of obtaining needed services, ideas, or content by soliciting contributions from a large group of people - generally an online community - rather than from traditional suppliers. The general concept of crowdsourcing is to combine the efforts of crowds of volunteers, where each one can contribute a small portion that adds into a relatively large or significant result. Web-based crowdsourcing has been used by scholars to create dictionaries for languages that are less academically developed, but this is the first effort to collect proverbs in this way.

Popular crowdsourcing tools such as Facebook, Twitter, webpages, blogging, e-mail, and others are being used for The Pashto Proverbs Project, and Pashto speakers from all over the world are contributing. The result will be a new book entitled Mataluna: 151 Afghan Pashto Proverbs (Mataluna means “Proverbs” in Pashto). This paper will explore the challenges and opportunities for the paremiological community in using these modern techniques to collect, analyze, distribute and popularize proverbs from anywhere in the world.  It will also explore the question of how such a crowdsourced population is related to the concept of a paremiological minimum.