Cross-cultural communication through a literary text
Table of contents: The Kazakh-American Free University Academic Journal №3 - 2011
Author: Kotova Larissa, East Kazakhstan State University in honor of S. Amanzholov, Kazakhstan
Cross-cultural communication takes place not only in a real dialogue
(in the so called on-line regime) of representatives of different linguistic
cultural traditions, but also in an “author-reader” dialogue through a literary
text. In other words, communication happens in the process of literary
During the process of renaissance of language, culture and traditions
of the Kazakh people there is a great amount of literature pieces books being
published. They include contemporary Kazakh prose, poetry, previously unknown
to a wide range of readers works of rehabilitated Kazakh writers, Kazakh
historical epos, children’s book, magazines like “We study Kazakh” and others.
Many of the new editions are published in two (Russian and Kazakh) languages or
three (also in English) languages. Under conditions of an ever-expanding
cross-cultural dialogue the problem of effectiveness of author-reader dialogue
is inevitable, so is the problem of this effectiveness increase.
The universal technique of increasing the effectiveness of an
“author-reader” communication is using a metatext. We understand “metatext” in
a conventional way – as the “text about text” . Let us consider situations
where metatext is used for communication between an author and a reader,
representing different linguistic cultural traditions – in our case Kazakh and
Russian traditions. We need to mention
that the following conflicts can happen here. For example, in the original text
we come across such a sentence: Ұл бала күтіп
жүрген эке-шешесі кезекті
қызына “Ұлбосын (ұл болсын)” деп ат қояды. (R.Nurtazina, L.Ackar “Дүниеге сәби
келді!”). In the same book,
translated into Russian, this sentence looks like: Parents,
who look forward to a son to be born, give their another born daughter the name “Ұл болсын”... –
and there is no explanation given to this phrase. We can explain
that the phrase is translated as let it be a boy. We can also conjecture
that a Russian reader (or a Russian who happen to be in such a situation) will
not understand the meaning of the name given to a child without some kind of
clarification or the meaning a Kazakh puts into the phrase.
We find it interesting to consider cases of using explanatory
metatext on a boundary of Russian and Kazakh linguistic cultures, investigate
emerging situations and analyze peculiarities of functioning of clarifications
in original Kazakh texts (for Kazakh speaking readers) and in translations
(mostly for Russian speaking readers). Emergence
of other situations is also possible (such as, for example, author’s
translation or a text written in Russian by a Kazakh writer and other cases).
First of all we need to mention that explanatory metatext can be
both inside-the-text and below-the-text. Metatext inside the main
text is represented by a certain explanatory syntactical structure .
Below-the-text metatext is presenting the same explanatory construction in the
form of comments, footnotes, endnotes and etc. – that means in the form of some
elements of the so called “literary escort”. Let us consider both cases.
The use of explanatory inside-the-text metatext in linguistic
cultural context mainly comes to two cases; Russian-Kazakh linguistic cultural
tradition is not an exception in this case. Thus, we speak about the following:
1) when the objects of the discourse are certain realias of another
culture the explanation is made following the model of real logical explanation (through
“class + specific difference”), which means the definition is included into sentences. For
example: Nostrils of the animal were still intact – not touched by the
drover, and the hump had no signs of khom – a special attachment for load
packs (I. Yesenberlin “Nomads”); … For this purpose they made a wooden atamai-yer – a special
saddle for children. (Z.Seitzhanov “Kazakh rituals”); On the way home he happened
to be at shildekhanu – a party in honor of a happy event – and got dead
drunk. (A. Tarazi “Two poplar trees in my aul”); Since I sang a zhoktau –
lamentation at father’s funerals, I can’t listen to music (T.
Alimkulov “Music soul”);
2) presence in the text of foreign names calls for the use of a
metalinguistic construction built according to a model of nominal logic
definition. In other words, there is a simple “recoding” (a foreign word is
given a Russian equivalent or vice versa): The next morning Akh-bura – “White camel” was at
the same place as if waiting for awakening of inconsolable Ablai. (I. Yesenberlin
“Nomads”). Dozens of thousands of horsemen, having pulled out their swords and sabres-aldaspans, darted towards each other. (I. Yesenberlin “Nomads”); Since the Kazakh custom
prohibited giving the mother’s name to the youngest child, from their first
meeting Zhamal called Aizhan Tulkigozem – Foxy Eyes. (Z. Akishev “Widows”).
However, the necessity to use metatext sometimes arises not only in
the context of cross-cultural communication, but during communication within
our own culture “if changes in the life of society reach the level when
following generations do not remember, do not know and do not understand
culture and mentality of their ancestors” [4, 89], i.e. for some kind of
“cross-generation” communication. In this case, metatext, according to
figure-of-speech used by Ter-Minassova, “performs the function of the bridge
over the gap which separates “this time” and “that time”, or the function of
spectacles, which can help the reader to make out details of the past epochs”
[4, 89]. The same situation can be observed when a Kazakh speaking author
writes for his Kazakh speaking compatriots. For example: Айттан
бір күн бұрын “Арафа (арапа)” күні
болады. Сол күні мерекеге
арналған бауырсақ, шелпек
пісіріледі. (R. Nurtazina, А. Seissenova “Ораза айт”). It is interesting to mention that the authors didn’t think it fit
to include into the Russian translation any explanations for the
Russian-speaking readers: The day before the holiday is called the arafa day
during which people usually bake flat cakes and bauyrsaks, and cook a lot of national
food. («Ораза айт». Authors’
translation). Here are more examples: Соның
ең алғашқысы, әрі
ең қатерлісі – көне
эллада елінен атқа қонған Александр
Македонский (Ескендір) еді.... Қос тігіп
қонған алғашқы түні-ақ тұс-тұстан
атты ғаскер (әскер) шауып кірді. (D. Doszhan “Отырар”). There is no need to include any
explanations into the Russian translation of this text, but the author thought
it fit to explain different names used in the previous years in the original
similar examples are: Тымақтың төбесі
төрт немесе алты сай (бөлек) үшкіл (үш
бұрышты) киізден құралып, шошақ болып келеді. (K. Matyzhan “Ұлттық
киімдер”). Here is the
translation of the words: алты сай (бөлек) – separately; үшкіл (үш
бұрышты) – triangular.
Киімдердің, белдіктер мен ат әбзелдерінің (саймандарының) әшекейлері
және басқа да зергерлік алтын бұйымдардың
жалпы саны алты жүзген асады. (К. Matyzhan “Тарихи ғажайыптар”– “Wonders of Kazakhstan”).
In the Russian translation: әбзелдері (саймандар) – adornments. Words алты
сай, үшкіл, әбзелдері have become obsolete and the present day readers are not
familiar with them. Considering that and probably trying to revive these old
long-forgotten words, the author uses them in the text and explains their
Let us now consider the example with a diferent situation: Шежіре
бойынша Қорқыт ерекше болып туылған
екен. Шешесі құланның
жаясына жерік болып, әр
жылда бір рет толғатып, үш
жыл тоғыз күн көтереді. (N.Bazylkhan “Шежірелі жерлер”). Here is the translation of the text
as it appears in Russian: The legend speaks about an unusual birth of
Korkyt. Being pregnant with Korkyt, his mother developed a liking for onager (wild horse) meat. She had annual labor pains and carried Korkyt in her womb
for three years and nine days. («Коркыт ата». Translation by S. Uyukbayev). The
translator is not sure whether a Russian speaking reader understands the word
onager and provides an explanation – wild horse, while the author provides no
explanation since there is no need in doing so: he writes for people speaking
the same language.
A similar example is: Киіз үйдің
негізгі қаңқасын – киіз
үйдің сүйегі деп атайді. Олар: кереге, уық, шанырақ, есік немесе сықырлауық. (K. Baigabylova “Киіз үй”). The translation into Russian is
something like: The major part of the yurt structure is called suyektery
(frame). It consists of
kerege (lattice walls), uyk (special curved sticks which hold the upper circle
of the uyrt), shanyrak (the yurt upper part) and sykyrlauk (doors). (“Yurt”. Translation
by Zh. Mamenov). In the Kazakh
text the author just enumerated the component parts of the yurt. In the Russian
it would be impossible for the reader to understand what these component parts
look like without an explanation.
Now let us examine the use of metatext outside the main text.
Extensive explanations to the text here can be given in the form of comments
and footnotes. This could be a socio-cultural metatext given with the purpose
of filling the deficiency of background knowledge, without which there would be
no effective author-reader communication. For example: … If you don’t want
to resolve an argument in the way relatives do, declare me “an enemy” and
define a meeting place ¹. I’ll bring myself to anything. (S. Mukanov “Botagoz”). Footnote: ¹The phrase means ‘challenge to fight’.
About two hundred years ago when the Kazakhs became subjects of Russia, seventy five aksakals¹ headed for Orenburg to see a Russian general… (same resource). Footnote: ¹Aksakal – in literal translation: a white beard,
a respectable man, the head of a clan. This, as we have already mentioned,
can be a time-related comment: the present generation is not closely familiar
with their ancestors’ culture, thus, there arises the necessity in explanatory
metatext in communication within one, our own, culture. For example:
Жоңғар* келіп, оқыстан
Тағы да лаң салғанда, -
(Y. Otetileuyly «Абылай және қазақ
Footnote: *Жоңғар – қалмақ; *ноян – зор, үлкен.
Translated into Russian:
Седые преданья хранят времена –
Джунгарских набегов несметны лавины.
В казахской степи полыхает война
И стонет земля, и пустеют долины.
Но час наступил, и рассеялся мрак,
И новое солнце взошло над степями-
Восстал для возмездия гордый казах
И поднял своё окрылённое знамя!
(«Аблай хан и батыры». Translation by N. Chernova) (Old legends
recall the time – when
Dzhungars’ attacks were innumerable. The war came to the Kazak steppe, the land
moaned and the valleys got abandoned. But the time came, and shadows lifted,
and a new sun rose above the steppe, and a proud Kazakh stood up and raised the
As it can be seen from the example there is a necessity to include
an explanation into the Kazakh text, while there are other ways of a dialogue
harmonization in the Russian text.
Now let us consider the examples of the editorial comments below the
text. For example:
Қынарда* тілсіз тұрған тоғайлары
желмен бірге бас ұрады... (Y.
The footnote: *Қынарда – жағасында. Translation from Kazakh: ashore.
Кентті* жерді жайлаған
көзі көрген соң,
түсті назары. (Батырлар жыры).
Footnote: *Кент – қала. **Азар (парсы) – ыза, ашу. Translation from Kazakh: кент – city; азар – anger.
Қынары, шолпы, мелдегі, кент, азар – are obsolete words which are rarely used nowadays; that is why it
is necessary to explain their meaning for them to be understood by the
contemporary reader. It is
interesting to mention that a lot of long-forgotten words have been recently
getting current again. For example the Russian word “settlement” was
used to denote a settlement in the Kazakh language during the Soviet times.
These days the former Kazakh word “кент”, which denotes ‘a town’, ‘a settlement’, gets
back into the language, and seems unfamiliar for many people. For example: a
phrase поселок Первомайский
(Pervomaiskiy settlement) in Russian would sound as Первомай кенті in Kazakh.
Sometimes an explanation is needed when the author tries to show
that the story characters speak in a language which is not their native, i.e.
they speak with an accent as in the following example:
– They say this Ketrampor* is located at the ends of the earth, -
said one on the bais.
– Our murza is not going to Ketrampor, he is going to Orymbor* –
interrupted an elderly aul foreman. (S. Mukanov “Botagoz”)
Footnotes: *Ketrampor – mispronounced Peterburg; *Orymbor – mispronounced
Such “adjustment” to difficult foreign words often takes place in
everyday life; in literature it adds some national coloring, focuses reader’s
attention on familiar but unusually sounding words.
As it has been already mentioned, comments might be made not only by
the author, but also by the translator (or publisher, editor): being in most
cases a representative of another linguistic cultural traditions, the
translator knows better which words, notions, names, that have specific
national coloring will not be understood without a comment. For example: She
saw them cover her son with a white shroud and take him silently to the right
wall* (А. Nurpeissov “Blood and Sweat”). At the bottom of the page there is a comment made by translator Y.
Kazakov: *Muslims put their deed at the right wall of the house, since
he supposes that a Russian-speaking reader will not understand the information
in corpora without an explanation. Other examples
- Erkebulan, despite his excess weight, walked
quickly, lightly, waving a kuruk*. (Akim Tarazi “Two poplar trees of my aul”). Translator’s comment runs: *Kuruk is a long wooden pole with a
rope loop at its end, meant for catching horses;
– You seem to have been walking under the scorching sun for three
hours, he went on talking, having cast a glance at a big watch with a chain,
hanging on one of the racks of a decorated with silver bakan*. (S. Mukanov “Botagoz”). Translator’s comment: *Bakan is a type of a rack shaped as a
column with spurs placed at the head of the bed;
Угоняйте на новое место табун,
Не поспав, не умрешь, надо быть посмелей!
Все же лучше, чем волк Кондыбай и Конай¹.
Деду мы не дадим пировать средь степей. (Drive your herd to another place/ If you had no sleep – that’s
fine; you should be brave/ It’s better than to be Kondybai and Konai/ We won’t have
the old-timers to have a feast in the steppes) (Abai “Winter”). Translator’s comment: ¹Kondybai, Konai – neighboring auls,
with which Abai’s family clan – tobykty - rivaled. (Translation
by Vs. Rozhdenstvenskiy). It is quite possible that without a comment the
reader would understand the text not in a way the author intended.
To provide a complete understanding of the text, a simple footnote
at the bottom of the page is used. The footnotes give definitions, or, which is
quite often, translation of the elements, “barbarisms” in other words. For
– He broke the law of Great Genghis Khan. He argued with glorious
Karabatyr because of a zhesreika*… (I. Yessenberlin “Nomads”). Footnote: *Zhesreika – female prisoner.
– Send best regards to my zhenge*! (Т.
Alimkulov “Musical soul”). Footnote: *Zhenge – a
wife of an elder relative.
The office of volost steward was located in Itbai’s otau*. (S. Mukanov
“Botagoz”). Footnote: *Otau – the concubine’s yurt.
It is interesting to note that sometimes not only the author but
also the editor (or translator) provide no comments counting on erudite reader,
for example: Inspired with his thoughts he filled two glasses with Champaign
and said:…- Here’s to Assem, who is more beautiful than Bayan! Here’s
to Assem, who is more beautiful than Abai’s Togzhan! (K. Naimanbayev “Family matters”
Translated by A.Konchitsa). Neither the author nor
the translator give any comments on who is Bayan and how is Togzhan related to
Abai thinking that the reader is familiar with folk epic about Bayan and the
biography of great Abai. Sometimes we come across the opposite situation, for
eample: Well, who of you? Zhibek or Tulegen?* – asked he in a drunk thick
voice. (K. Naimanbayev “I don’t want to say good bye”) Footnote: *Zhibek
and Tulegen – characters of Kazakh epos. In this case the fact of presence
(or absence) of explanatory metatext is a sort of peculiar qualifier of the
Thus, linguistic material shows that the process of cross-cultural
communication can be successfully realized through the literary text. The
traditional universal means of increasing “author-reader” dialogue
effectiveness is an explanatory metatext, realized either within the sentence
or in the form of out-of-the-text comments of different types.
1. Вежбицка А. Метатекст в тексте // Новое в зарубежной лингвистике.
2. Лингвистика текста. – М., 1978. – С. 401-421
3. Котова Л.Н. Нарратив в зеркале диалога «автор-адресат». – М.,
2007. – 334 с.
4. Котова Л.Н. Пояснение как лингвистический феномен. – М., 2008.
5. Тер-Минасова С.Г. Язык и межкультурная коммуникация. - М.,
1 We speak about equivalents with certain acceptability, since we agree with the
point of view of S.G. Ter-Minassova: “Much-talked-about
equivalence, especially full equivalence, can exist only at the level of real
life. The conception of the same, i.e. equivalent, objects and phenomena of the
real life are different in different languages, because they are built upon
different ideas of different national awareness…” But even in
those rare cases when all these linguistic notions (semantics, use in speech,
stylistic connotation, lexical combinability – L.K.) coincide in different
languages, we shouldn’t forget about non-linguistic differences, i.e. about the
fact that not only objects and phenomena are different but also the way they
are perceived, … since our way of life, world outlooks, habits, traditions,
multiple various conditionalities, which determine national culture in a broad
sense”– Ter-MinassovaS.G. Language and cross-cultural communication. M.,
Table of contents: The Kazakh-American Free University Academic Journal №3 - 2011