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Статья. The problem of translation of proverbs and phraseological units from English into Kazakh.

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The problem of translation of proverbs and phraseological units from English into Kazakh.


Абилев Толган преподаватель английского языка


This article examines methods of translation of proverbs and sayings, phraesological units and its difficulties in the process of translation. And briefly views the Kazakh and English proverbs and sayings, their similarities and distinctions. There are a lot of methods of translation, but the author chose only the most used methods: descriptive,calque and explicatory methods of translation.

Key words: proverb, saying, phraesological unit, perverb, equivalent;

Nothing defines a culture as distinctly as its language, and the element of language that best encapsulates a society's values and beliefs is its proverbs and sayings. A proverb (from the Latin proverbium) is a simple and concrete saying popularly known and repeated, which expresses a truth, based on common sense or the practical experience of humanity. They are often metaphorical. A proverb that describes a basic rule of conduct may also be known as a maxim. If a proverb is distinguished by particularly good phrasing, it may be known as an aphorism. Proverbs are often borrowed from similar languages and cultures, and sometimes come down to the present through more than one language. Both the Bible (Book of Proverbs) and medieval Latin have played a considerable role in distributing proverbs across Europe, although almost every culture has examples of its own. Also proverbs are short and pithy sayings that express some traditionally held truth. They are usually metaphorical and often, for the sake of memorability, alliterative.

From the perspective of language form, English proverbs and sayings are characterized by religious structure, concise form, deep moral, bold image, unique geography and ethnic characteristics, and from the perspective of cultural backgrounds, they are associated with religious beliefs, habits and customs, fables and myth, and culture and art. So it is not an easy job to translate them precisely, because these characteristics make difficulties for us to translate English proverbs and if we want to keep the original proverb's language form and taste.

Moreover, because of the differences of religious beliefs, habits and customs, fables and myth, and culture and art, English proverbs, sayings and Kazakh proverbs and sayings carry on the different national cultural characteristics and information. If we do not know these cultural backgrounds, we cannot understand the English proverbs and saying’s connotation and cannot translate them precisely. To our Kazakh people with a little cultural knowledge about English, it is very difficult for us to understand and translate English proverbs. So when studying English, we should try to study its culture firstly. A list of most of the commonly-used proverbs in the English language, with links to the meaning and origin of many of them. Many proverbs have been absorbed into English having been known earlier in other languages. The list here is specifically of English proverbs and the dates given are those when the proverb first appeared in English.

Proverbs are found in many parts of the world, but some areas seem to have richer stores of proverbs than others (such as West Africa), while others have hardly any (North and South America).

Proverbs are often borrowed across lines of language, religion, and even time. For example, a proverb of the approximate form “No flies enter a mouth that is shut” is currently found in Spain, Ethiopia, and many countries. It is embraced as a true local proverb in many places and should not be excluded in any collection of proverbs because it is shared by the neighbours. However, though it has gone through multiple languages and millennia, the proverb can be traced back to an ancient Babylonian proverb.[1]

Typical stylistic features of proverbs are:

-alliteration (Forgive and forget)

-parallelism (Nothing ventured, nothing gained)

-rhyme (When the cat is away, the mice will play)

-ellipsis (Once bitten, twice shy)

Another subcategory is wellerisms, named after Sam Weller from Charles Dickens's The Pickwick Papers. They are constructed in a triadic manner which consists of a statement (often a proverb), an identification of a speaker (person or animal) and a phrase that places the statement into an unexpected situation. Ex.: “Every evil is followed by some good,” as the man said when his wife died the day after he became bankrupt.

Yet another category of proverb is the anti-proverb, also called Perverb. In such cases, people twist familiar proverbs to change the meaning. Sometimes the result is merely humorous, but the most spectacular examples result in the opposite meaning of the standard proverb. Examples include, "Nerds of a feather flock together", "Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and likely to talk about it," and "Absence makes the heart grow wander". Anti-proverbs are common on T-shirts, such as "If at first you don't succeed, skydiving is not for you."A similar form is proverbial expressions (“to bite the dust”). The difference is that proverbs are unchangeable sentences, while proverbial expressions permit alterations to fit the grammar of the context. [4] The place of proverbs and sayings with respect to set expressions is a controversial issue. Proverbs have much in common with set expressions, because their lexical components are also constant, their meaning is traditional and mostly figurative, and they are introduced into speech ready-made. That is why some scholars following V.V. Vinogradov think proverbs must be studied together with phraseological units. Others like J. Casares and N.N. Amosova think that unless they regularly form parts of other sentences it is erroneous to include them into the system of language, because they are independent units of communication. N.N. Amosova even thinks that there is no more reason to consider them as part of phraseology than, for instance, riddles and children’s counts. This standpoint is hardly acceptable especially if we do not agree with the narrow limits of phraseology offered by this author. Riddles and counts are not as a rule included into utterances in the process of communication, whereas proverbs are. Whether they are included into an utterance as independent sentences or as part of sentences is immaterial. If we follow that line of reasoning, we shall have to exclude all interjections such as Hang it (all)! because they are also syntactically independent. As to the argument that in many proverbs the meaning of component parts does not show any specific changes when compared to the meaning of the same words in free combinations, it must be pointed out that in this respect they do not differ from very many set expressions, especially those which are emotionally neutral.

Another reason why proverbs must be taken into consideration together with set expressions is that they often form the basis of set expressions. E. g. the last straw breaks the camels back : : the last straw; a drowning man will clutch at a straw : clutch at a straw; it is useless to lock the stable door when the steed is stolen : lock the stable door ‘to take precautions when the accident they are meant to prevent has already happened’.[5]

Now a phraseological units semantics are complex entity and there are five aspects of its meaning that will influence the translator’s choice of an equivalent in the target language . They are the ph. unit’s figurative meaning its literal sense, its emotive character, stylistic register and national colouring. The figurative meaning is the basic element of the ph. unit’s semantics. Thus “red tape” means bureaucracy, “to kick the bucket”, and “to wash dirty linen in public” also refer, respectively, to a coloured tape, an upset pail and a kind laundering, though in most cases this aspect is subordinate and serves as a basis for the metaphorical use. Phraselogical units can be positive, negative or neutral. It is clear that “to kill two birds with one stone” is good,which has Kazakh equivalent “бір оқпен екі қоянды ату”, “to find a mare’s nest” is a ludicrous mistake, while “Rome was not built in a day” is a neutral statement of fact. They can also differ in their stylistic usage: they may be bookish (to show one’s true colour ) or colloquial (to be a pain in a neck). Besides phraselogical units can be nationally coloured, that is include some words which mark it as the product of a certain nation. For instance , “to set the Thames on fire” and “to carry coals to Newcastle” are unmistakably British. The complex character of the phraselogical unit’s semantics makes its translation no easy matter. But there are some additional factors which complicate the task of adequate identification, understanding and translation of ph. units. First, ph. units can be mistaken for a free word combination, especially if its literal sense is not “exotic”(to have butterflies in one’s stomach), but rather trivial (to measure one’s length, to lex one’s hair down). Second , ph. unit may be identical in form to a target language ph. unit, but have a different figurative meaning. Thus, the English to lead somebody by the nose implies a total domination of one person by other (cf. алдау”) and “to stretch one’s legs” means to take a stroll (cf. “қыдыру” ). Third, phraselogical units can be wrongly interpreted due to its association with a similar, if not identical target language unit. For instance, “to pull the devil by the tail”, that is to be in trouble may be misunderstood by the translator under the influence of the Kazakh ph. unit “еріккен шал сақалымен ойнайды”. Forth, a wrong interpretation of a source language ph. unit may be caused by another source language ph. unit similar in form and different in meaning . Cf. “to make good time” and “to have a good time”. Fifth, phraselogical unit may have a broader range of application than its target language counterpart apparently identical in form and meaning. For instance the English “to get out of hand ” is equivalent to the Kazakh “тыңдамау” and the latter is often used to translate it.For instance, The children got out of hand while their parents were away.[2]

As it is known the translation has a lot of method of translation as word-for-word translation, literal translation, faithful, semantic, descriptive, idiomatic, communicative, analogues way of translation, explicatory and the last one calque. We can use each of them in the process of translation of proverbs, sayings and phraseological units. For instance when we translated this proverb “Speak of the devil and he is sure sure to appear” we used analogues method of translation, because we have such analogue in Kazakh language as “Кімді айтсан, сол келеді” and also by translating this proverb “Mother thinks of children , children – about games” we used analogues method, too. It has analogue in Kazakh language as “Аннаның көңілі балада, баланың көңілі далада.[3] In other cases we have used descriptive method and calque. For instance “If you have an ugly mug do not be offended at mirror” – “Бетің қисық болса, айнаға өкпелеме” there were used the method of translation calque, cause translating this proverb we transferred the structure of the word from source language to the target language. And we come to conclusion that the most difficult method of translation is analogues because it is not easy to find the same analogue of the proverb, and the easiest is calque cause there we just transfer the structure of the proverb into target language.



  1. Grzybek, Peter. "Proverb." Simple Forms: An Encyclopaedia of Simple Text-Types in Lore and Literature, ed. Walter Koch. Bochum: Brockmeyer, 1994. 227-41.

  2. Altenberg, Bengt. On the Phraseology of Spoken English: The Evidence of Recurrent Word-Combinations // Phraselogy. Ed. A.P.Cowie. – Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1998

3. Gläser, Rosemarie. The Stylistic Potential of Phraselological Units in the Light of Genre Analysis // Phraselogy. Ed. A.P.Cowie. – Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1998

4. Raymond, Joseph. 1956. Tension in proverbs: more light on international understanding. Western Folklore 15.3:153-158.

5. Mitchell, David. 2001. Go Proverbs (reprint of 1980). ISBN 0-9706193-1-6. Slate and Shell.









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