Contemporary Kazakh Proverb Research: Digital, Cognitive, Literary, and Ecological Approaches

Research output: Book/ReportBook



This book is intended for anyone interested in paremiology, especially the study of proverbs of Kazakh-speaking linguists, philologists, anthropologists, folklorists, and students of linguistic specialties. Kazakh proverbs are not only a literary expression of Kazakh people's spiritual wealth and centuries-old culture, but they are also a vivid chronicle of the level of consciousness, intelligence, and wisdom of the Kazakh people. A proverb—maqal in Kazakh (from Arabic)—is a short, simple, and traditional saying or phrase that gives advice and embodies a common truth based on practical experience or common sense. A proverb may have an allegorical message behind its appearance. For instance, Azĝa qanaĝat qylmasaɳ, kȍpten qȕr qalasyɳ could be translated into English as (Grasp all, lose all). It addresses the human issue of greed, encouraging the interlocutor to be satisfied with small things instead.
Many Kazakh collectors have contributed to the enrichment and accumulation, making them a wonderful heritage of the Kazakh people. Since the second half of the nineteenth century, Kazakh proverbs have been collected and published. Among the first collectors of Kazakh proverbs were Sh. Walikhanov, Y. Altynsarin, A. Divaev, and M.Zh. Kopeev and Russian scientists A.A. Vasiliev, F. Plotnikov, P.A. Melioransky, V.V. Katarinsky, and V. Radlov, who presented to the public treasures of folklore. Proverbs in the Kazakh language were published for the first time in 1914 in Kazan, with subsequent publication of A Thousand and One Proverbs in 1923 in Moscow, Kazakh Proverbs (compiled by A. Divaev) in 1927 in Tashkent, and Kazakh Proverbs and Sayings (O. Turmanzhanov) in 1935 in Almaty (Makhat 2019).
In the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, the proverbs of the Kazakh language became an object of study in the field of colloquial speech, fiction, and journalistic and other discourses. During this period, Kazakh linguistics began to consider proverbs in an anthropocentric direction, paying attention to the communicative and pragmatic possibilities of paremic units. However, in the era of globalization, proverbs should be studied as an integral part of the paremiological discourse on the Internet, media and artistic discourse, communication, conflict management, and environmental discourse. The formation of the corpus of the national Kazakh language in paremiological studies is relevant today.
The present collection contains articles by Kazakh authors. These works focus on the structure and semantics of proverbs and their cognitive, lingua-cultural characteristics, pragmatics, and variability/changeability. It was determined that one of the most important issues is the sсholarly analysis of the cognitive structure and conceptual models of the human image in proverbs within the framework of an anthropocentric approach, such as "recognition of a person through his/her language" in modern linguistics. Therefore, the pragmatic and communicative function of proverbs is the main focus of the works included in the collection. Attention is drawn to the essence, pragmatic and cognitive aspects, and structural features of proverbs, along with the ethnolinguistic and cognitive foundations of the logical-semantic grouping of proverbs in the Kazakh language.
The first chapter of the first part, "Contemporary Issues of Proverb Use" has four papers. Proverbs and sayings are an ancient genre of folk art. As time and social conditions change, proverbs and sayings will also be adapted and supplemented or fall out of use among the people. Kazakh proverbs and sayings are valued and, in turn, are subject to modifications based on modern realities. G. Omarbekova in her paper "Perspectives on Proverb Use Among Kazakhs: Ecological Issues" presents the results of recent fieldwork on contemporary use of Kazakh proverbs. We found proverb competency uneven among students and determined that senior scholars use the same set of proverbs. The author will try to answer what this means for the ongoing vitality of proverb use among Kazakhs. The american scholar E. Aasland in his paper "Contrasting Two Kazakh Proverbial Calls to Action: Using Discourse Ecologies to Understand Proverb Meaning-making" utilizes an approach called discourse ecologies to explore how two comparable proverbs operate in terms of representative and frame-aligning discourse for contemporary Kazakhs. In the era of modern globalization, one of the ways to learn proverbs and sayings for young people is to use the achievements of information technology, to make them available to young people and the general public. Currently, accessibility is aided by the creation of a database of proverbs and sayings on mobile phones, in social networks, and the creation of a corpus of proverbs for the convenience of the user. In the paper "Content and Software Structure of the Kazakh Proverb Corpus" A. Zhanabekova considers theoretical and practical issues in creating a corpus of Kazakh proverbs and sayings. The corpus is a tool for automatically receiving information or texts of a large volume on national character, not only for linguists and educators, but also for the public. The authors of the paper: "A Modernized Tradition in Kazakhstan: Kyndyk Sheshe'' F. Guven and A. Amalbekova investigated the term Kindik sheshe that in some Turkic languages refers to the woman who acts as a midwife during the delivery of the baby and plays a special role in the life of the newborn baby later. The author argues that the modernization of the tradition affects the use of proverbs concerning this institution in Kazakh and Turkish languages, considering that Kazakh society highly values this institution today.
The aim of the second chapter, "Common Problems of Paremiology" is to systematize and monitor the use of Kazakh proverbs in various communicative situations by focusing on ontological, social, and axiological types of cognitive accumulation. The authors of the paper "Kazakh Proverbs from the Perspective of Cultural Cognition and Communication" F. Orazbayeva and E. Orazaliyeva
describe Kazakh proverbs from the perspective of cultural cognition and communication. The authors of the paper "History of the Use and Study of Kazakh Proverbs in the Soviet Period," G. Pirali and A. Kurmanbayeva studied the works of a prominent representative of Kazakh literature, writer M. Auezov, and conduct a comprehensive analysis of the use of proverbs and sayings in his prose texts based on the stylistic features of the writer. The authors investigate the transformation of proverbs and sayings and their semantic function. The article also examines the expressions and words of the author, which have become widespread among the people and entered the form of proverbs and sayings. The author of the paper "National Cognitive Activity of Proverbs in the Language of Fiction," Zh. Abdigapbarova examines the use of proverbs and sayings in the works of the famous Kazakh writer Mukhtar Magauin. Proverbs not only decorate the language of works but also serve to deepen reflection on the knowledge of the nation. They are often found in the writers' narrative tools and in the language of their characters. Writers use proverbs and sayings to reveal the literary image of the hero, express ideological purposes, and provide the author's positions.
The third chapter “Proverbs as a Part of the Culture'' consists of three papers. D. Nurgaliyeva and B. Arinova, in the paper "Analysis of Kazakh proverbs in writing (notes) of Mashkhur-Zhusip Kopeiuly'' provide the semantic analysis of Mashkhur-Zhusip Kopeiuly’s several proverbs that have fallen out of use in our time and are now exposed to the ecology of language. G. Shokym et al., in the paper “Gender linguistic picture of the world in Kazakh proverbs” provide insight into how women and men are represented in Kazakh proverbs. The article is devoted to the study of the problem of the relationship of language as a means of building and maintaining a certain picture of the world and gender as a system of interpersonal interaction. In G. Abdimaulen’s paper "Linguistic characteristics of the images of ‘Kyz-Kelin-Ana’ in the concept of ‘Woman” the concept of “girl'' is described by phraseological phrases and proverbs in the context of “Language-Culture-Society'' in the traditional Kazakh worldview. The article reflects the special meanings of proverbs, sayings and phraseological phrases about Kazakh girls. The latter chapter discusses changes in proverbs relating to girlhood, womanhood, and marriage from the early twentieth century to current usage.
The fourth chapter is devoted to "The Role of Proverbs in Pedagogy." G. Bekkozhanova et al., in the paper "Cognitive and Lingua-cultural Aspects of Transference of English Proverbs and Sayings into Kazakh Language'' compare Y. S. Kengesbaev's, L. P. Smith's, and S. G. Akhmetova's dictionaries, and reveal lingua-cultural and cognitive peculiarities of proverbs while transferring them from Kazakh into English. The research distinguishes the adequate transference of different types of proverbs and determines suitable forms of cognitive and lingua-cultural transference. In the paper "Case Study of Teaching Paremiological Units in Digital Education to Multilingual Students" the authors R. Zhussupova and A. Tolegen collected examples of proverbs and sayings in electronic format and classified them into certain semantic groups. It analyzes the peculiarities of using applications in teaching and learning proverbs. A system of exercises was modeled for working with proverbs and sayings to examine the use of select English, Kazakh, and Russian paremiological units in digital learning. The results show that using proverbs in teaching English through digital tools improved Multilingual Pre-service teachers' vocabulary skills, spoken language, and written essays, as well as their cultural awareness.
In the second part of the volume, transformed proverbs are recognized as "anti-proverbs" in the Kazakh language and considered a separate genre. At present, there are frequent transformations reflecting new realities from the sociopolitical sphere: medicine El bolamyn deseŋ, maskaŋdy tuze (If you want to be a country, wear the mask); Sau bolamyn deseŋ, shekaraŋdy zhap (If you want to be healthy, close the border), education Kitap—ğalym, tilsiz mȕğalim (The book is a scientist, a teacher without a language); Bilim bazarda satylmas (Knowledge is not sold in the market), policy and government Ukimetke khalyktan salyk kymbat (For the state the taxes are more precious than people); Үsh ret deputat bolsaŋ da, khalyktyŋ qaryzynan qutyla almaysyŋ (Even if you became a deputy three times, you still cannot get rid of people's debts), time Qaltasyna qaray—toqaly, zamanyna say—maqaly (Depending on the pocket—the younger wife, according to the time—the proverb); Qazirgi bala men brynğy zamannyŋ balasynyŋ arasy zher men köktei (The difference between today's child and the child of the past is like a distance between heaven and earth), crime and law enforcement Dostastyq qazhet, Tauelsizdik qymbat (Concord is needed, independence is dear), the economic sphere Önimіŋdi ötkizu de—bir öner (Selling product is an art); Bank basynan shiridi (The bank is destroyed from the top); sport Sport—beybіtshіlіk elshіsі (Sport is an ambassador of peace), alcohol Araq іshіp, temeki shekken, densaulyqtyŋ tүbine zhetedі (Who drinks vodka and smokes reaches the bottom of health); spheres of leisure Zhaŋa zheŋedi, eski өledi (The new wins, the old dies); Eki kÿnnen keyin zhaŋa qұmyranyŋ suy da suyp ketedi (After two days, even the water in the new jar has cooled down). These lexemes are the cultural realities of modern times; these units are nationally determined linguistic signs that reflect the phenomena of today's social spheres.
As Walter and Mokienko point out, W. Mieder characterizes anti-proverbs figuratively as twisted or distorted wisdom (German, verdrehte Weisheiten) (2005, 8). Modifications to existing proverbs that challenge or contradict the former proverbs are classified as anti-proverbs. Thus, the proverb Adam qanaty—at (a person's wings—a horse) as part of a governmental posting should be considered as a variant of the traditional Yer qanaty—at (a man's wings—horse) since there is no intent in formulating the variation to critique the traditional proverb (Aasland 2018). According to the definition of O.N. Antonova, an anti-proverb is "speech formation of a wide range, these are modified paremias that undergo changes at the lexical, morphological and syntactic levels" (Antonova 2012, 98). The anti-proverb has not yet become an object of close attention of linguists of the Kazakh language; even now the term itself has not been accepted. Linguists call transformed, reworked proverbs "invariants" (Qaidar 2004), "occasional" (Rssalieva 2014), or "proverbial transformations" (Dyussembina 2016). Thus, the widespread dissemination of anti-proverbs on the one hand, and the low level of knowledge about them on the other, leads to the fact that one of the urgent tasks of modern paremiology of the Kazakh language is not only the registration of traditional and new proverbs, but also the fixation and functional-stylistic interpretation of their transformations.
As we worked on this volume, we committed to not violating the original contributions of the authors. We see this book as a meeting of Kazakh and Western scholarship. It has been a stretching experience for us to be faithful to this vision. Western scholars may be surprised by two aspects of the chapters: (1) the long introductory paragraphs extolling the virtues of proverbs, and (2) the literature review sections having a long list of the names of key scholars.
If you traveled to Kazakhstan and enjoyed some traditional Kazakh food served by your hosts you might hear the following description: "For Kazakhs, we are the leaves, and our ancestors are the tree." In a similar way, Kazakh scholars may see themselves as the leaves and the great poets who have gone before them as the tree. As a result, their writing is a celebration of the connection with and continuation of a rich tradition. Part of this abiding is expressed by sharing one Kazakh proverb after another.
Such a sense of attachment stands in stark contrast to the Western tradition. Consider the German for an argument: Auseinandersetzung (literally to place separately). Even in our current era that acknowledges that objectivity is impracticable, the process of self-reflection involves recognition of the distance between self and others.
Then there are the literature reviews. Our Kazakh colleagues list name after name of key scholars. Here we would draw a parallel to a foundational Kazakh practice. When Kazakhs are young, they are taught to recite their last seven generations of fathers. This is called the jeti atta (seven fathers). When youth are in the process of finding a spouse, they will share their jeti atta. This process serves two purposes: (1) It ensures that close relatives don't marry/maintains the tradition of distant marriage, and (2) it serves as an indication of those who were raised properly. In a comparable way, the Kazakh scholar offering a chain of scholars' names is proof of their having been trained uprightly in their discipline. Here the basis for the scholars' activities is likely comparable to the second reason.
Well, that is our attempt at explaining two of the stretching experiences involved in bringing this volume together. I hope you enjoy this journey into contemporary research on Kazakh proverbs.
I would like to express our gratitude to all authors who contributed to this volume. Special thanks to my Co-PI of this project to Dr. Erik Aasland for his commitment to developing the paremiological study of the Kazakh language.
This book marks the culmination of the three-year grant provided by Nazarbayev University. In the chapter about discourse ecologies and Kazakh proverbs, the authors report on the field research they carried out under the grant. I would like to express our appreciation for Nazarbayev University as this publication was financially supported by Nazarbayev University Faculty Development Competitive Research Grant No 110119FD4509. Permission is gratefully acknowledged to reprint the following essay in this volume: Aasland, Erik. "Contrasting Two Kazakh Proverbial Calls to Action: Using Discourse Ecologies to Understand Prover Meaning-Making." Proverbium: Yearbook of International Proverb Scholarship, 35 (2018), 1-14.

All translations are the authors' unless otherwise noted.

Gulnara Omarbekova

Nazarbayev University
Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan
Original languageEnglish
PublisherPETER LANG GROUP International Academic Publishers Berlin · Bruxelles · Lausanne · New York · Oxford
Number of pages200
Publication statusAccepted/In press - May 20 2022


  • Kazakh proverbs, modernisation, cultural heritage


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