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 communication.

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” [1]. 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 [3]. 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[1] 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 text. The 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 meaning.

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:

Қазақ-қалмақ соғысқан

Шапқыншылық заманда

Жоңғар* келіп, оқыстан

Тағы да лаң салғанда, -

Бүкіл қазақ даласы

Дүр сілкінді, оянды.

Әрбір қарты, баласы

Бейне жігіт ноян-ды*.

(Y. Otetileuyly «Абылай және қазақ батырлары»)

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 banner).

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

Шуылдап желмен бірге бас ұрады... (Y. Altynsarin “Өзен”)

The footnote: *Қынарда – жағасында. Translation from Kazakh: ashore.

Кентті* жерді жайлаған

Үзілмейді базары,

Қайда қалмас жігіттің

Өлгеннен соң мазары,

Бурылды көзі көрген соң,

Қобыландыдай батырдың

Құртқадан қайтты азары**,

Бурылға 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 Orenburg.

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 include:

-                        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 example:

– 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 reader.

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. Вып. VIII.

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., 2000.

[1]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., 2000. pp.63-64.

Table of contents: The Kazakh-American Free University Academic Journal №3 - 2011

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