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Translation of Phraseological Units in Abai

M. T. Kozhakanova, L.Zh.Mussaly, I.K.Azimbayeva, K.T.Abdikova

Abstract—Abai Kunanbayev (1845-1904) was a great Kazakhpoet, composer and philosopher. Abai’s main contribution to Kazakhculture and folklore lies in his poetry, which expresses greatnationalism and grew out of Kazakh folk culture. Before him, mostKazakh poetry was oral, echoing the nomadic habits of the people ofthe Kazakh steppes. We want to introduce to abroad our country, itshistory, tradition and culture. We can introduce it only throughtranslations. Only by reading the Kazakh works can foreign peopleknow who are kazakhs, the style of their life, their thoughts and soon. All information comes only through translation. The mainrequirement to a good translation is that it should be natural or that itshould read as smoothly as the original. Literary translation shouldbe adequate, should follow the original to the fullest. Translatorshave to be loyal to original text, they shouldn’t give the way to liberty.

Keywords—concept, literature, unit, semantics, tracing, phenomenon.



A phraseological unit is a complex linguistic phenomenon.Understanding the phraseological units’ artistic role inpoetry, their identification and transfer to another language isnot an easy task. The transfer of meaning and the artistic

function of the phraseological units of great poets such asByron, Pushkin and Abai to other languages require from a

skilled translator deep knowledge and poetic talent. There areseveral objectives for the translator: knowledge of the basicissues of the phraseology theory; the same deep knowledge of

the phraseological units’ values of two languages; and anadequate transfer of their meanings, semantics, expressive andstylistic features in the translation. The practicalimplementation of these objectives depends on the level of

pre-translation analysis and interpretation of a phraseological

unit by a translator. Even at early stages of the phraseologicalunits’ pre-translation analysis, the translator starts facing manydifficulties. The main ones are the following: definition of the

phraseological units’ structure; understanding their textual,contextual and hidden meaning, content, idea; determiningtheir artistic and aesthetic functions; finding the phraseological

units’ full and appropriate alternatives in the target language;finding the closest alternative of the phraseological units in thelanguage of translation; descriptive transfer of thephraseological units’ values in translation, etc. Each of thesetasks corresponds to a certain stage of phraseology translation[1].

Addressing issues revealed during the initial stages of greatimportance. The translator who does not know fully both

languages can easily make mistakes. There are frequent errorsfound in current translations of Abai’s phraseology in Russianand English. These fall into several types.

First, the translatoris not taking the entire phraseological unit as a stableindivisible phrase, but rather is dividing and translating itword by word. This distorts the meaning of the phrase.

Second, the translator cannot find in the Russian languageexisting equivalents of the original’s given phraseologicalunits.

Third, he perceives the figurative units used in theoriginal language as phraseological units and translates them

as they are. Therefore, in such cases we can’t say that thecontent, meaning and artistic features of the original are

conveyed adequately.

The main requirement is that the translator should strive totranslate a phraseological unit using similar phraseology of theother language. However, in most cases translators don’tmanage to find appropriate phraseological units in the target

language. In such cases a translator has to use otherrecognized translation methods such as: tracing, descriptive,

lexical, selective translation and contextual replacement.

We believe that the lexical, grammatical and semantictransformations can be used during translation of phraseology

if they are used in convenient and suitable places.

This old Kazakh phraseological unit “kara kyldy kakzharu” translates as cutting a horse’s tail in half. However, itsfigurative meaning refers to a sense and method of distributingjustice fair and even-handed. This phraseological unit hasexisted with Kazakhs for a long time. The phraseological unitis used to refer to the high level of figurative justice exhibitedmainly in the proceedings, in the settlement of varioushousehold, social and other conflicts between individuals,groups, tribes and ‘uluses’ (nations), which has been handledin the past mainly by the Biis and Aksakals (elders) [2]. In his

poem “So Here is Old Age, Sad Thoughts, Sensitive Sleep”,Abai used this old, well-known Kazakh phrase. In the poemtext it serves for deeper understanding of the justice and

fairness concept.

D.Brodsky translates this line into Russian asfollows:

“A wise person keenly penetrates deep into things,

Breaks the hair into forty pieces”[3].

The translation conveys the meaning of the original to acertain extent. We cannot deny that. But it is impossible notto notice the presence of extra, extraneous words. You cannotnegate the fact that they do not prevent disclosure of the versemeaning. But the extra, extraneous words still have had theirinfluence on the nature of the original and on the creativeindividuality of the author. The single line “Akyldy kara kyldykyrykka bolmek” phraseological unit in the original (literally:a clever person would divide the horse hair into forty pieces),

in the translation of D.Brodsky takes two lines. The extrawords used in the translation “Zorko pronikayet v glube

veshey” (keenly penetrates deep into things) are words that thetranslator added himself. In the Kazakh-Russian dictionarythe word “kyl” is translated as “hair of a horse tail ormane”[8]. In D. Brodsky’s translation the unit associated withthe “horse” has been missed. Not horse hair but a piece of

human hair is presented to a reader. Therefore, in order tomake it more understandable to the reader, the translatorshould have used not just “hair” but “horse hair”. In addition,

the translator omitted the “kara” (black) epithet which waspresent in the original. Perhaps this is due to the fact that thetranslator has not considered the word “black” in the originalas important enough to translate. In the language system of theoriginal, “black” has a specific meaning. If it is removed thephraseological unit loses its meaning. The result is thediminished meaning of the poet’s thought, as well as theartistic originality and the aesthetic impact of descriptive and

expressive means of the poem. Additionally, in literarytranslation a connotative, i.e. a hidden meaning of a word,plays an important role. In Kazakhstan, we believe that itwould be more effective if the translator conveyed thephraseological unit used by the author into the Russianlanguage by finding a similar equivalent in Russian.After identifying and studying phraseological combinationsin a text of a poem, the translator must first search for asimilar phraseological unit in a target language that carries anequivalent sense.To return to our example, in the history of any people therewere fair and honest leaders. Take for example, KingSolomon, who remained in history thanks to his wise and justmanagement, his name is still known to many people today.

There is a well-established combination of words “theSolomonic decision” in the Russian language associated with

the name of this king, and this phraseological unit still exists.

In other words, if a translator uses such consolidated phrasesthat are understandable to the reader, it would be thetranslator’s more appropriate decision.

A. Kodar translates this verse as follows: “A reasonableperson would think all sides”[5]. The translator conveyed theidea of the original not word for word, but in such a way that

the reader could easily understand it. In this case, although thegeneral meaning of the original phraseological unit was

conveyed, the phraseological unit itself has completelydisappeared. Two translators translated one phraseological

unit in two ways: if A. Kodar conveyed the meaning of thephraseological unit in his translation, D. Brodsky translated

the phraseological unit word for word.

Yu. Kuznetsov could not be drawn away from the order thatD. Brodsky was sticking to, and at the level of a word forword translation he created the following: “Umnyi mozhet

rassech vdol na sorok chastey” (A Smart person can cut intoforty parts). The translator did not show the subject to be cut(horse hair), in this line. However, he added a second line in

which he wrote “tonky volos”, (thin hair), which then madethe translation of the original content understandable. Weknow that this is a common inversion that is met in translatedpoems. But the fracture of the author’s figurative structure isapparent. In addition, the conceptual meaning of the originaltext has not been properly conveyed in the translated version.

In the original version there is information about the colourof the horse hair but it is not known whether it is thin or thick.

But the translator uses a “thin hair” combination. We believethat the word “thin” is not necessary in the translated text. Theconcept of “thin” is already incorporated within the meaning

of the word “kyl” (horse hair). Although the translator is tryingto convey the exact meaning of the line, he hasn’t reached asubstantial result. The line meaning is close to the original to a

certain degree. The translator tries to convey exactly themeaning of the poet’s poem and seeks every possible way toreconcile with the meaning of the original. This is why it istranslated word for word.None of the translators who have translated thephraseological units into Russian has not been able to

accurately convey the meaning of “en adil” (most fair) whentranslating to Russian. Instead, they have focused on thethickness of the hair, the action of cutting hair, missed thesubtlety of the meaning conveyed the colour of the hair… andin the process, missed adequately conveying the concept of

justice that the poet was relaying.

Now let’s pay attention to the English version of the poemline as translated by D.Rottenberg using Brodsky’s Russiantranslation:

«Beneath the surface looks the keen-eyed sage.

He splits a hair in four times forty parts»[6].

D.Rottenberg composed the lines of the poem in the samesequence as Brodsky’s translation. Splitting the hair by fortypieces is similar to the “rascheplyaet volos na sorok chastey”

(splits the hair into forty pieces) of the Russian translator.

Rottenberg’s understanding of the Russian translator’s phrase

“pronikayet v glube veshey” (penetrates deep into things)actually is more like another Russian phrase “uvidit to, chto

nakhoditsa pod vami” (sees what’s beneath you). By doingconsecutive translation of the original text but using theRussian version as a basis, D. Rottenberg makes the samemistakes that have been made by the translator into Russian.

As a result, the made in the Russian language mistakes arerepeated in English. Also the made by D. Rottenbergomissions are added to this. All this has had an opposite effect

on the translation quality.

In Abai’s poem “Oh, Kazakhs, my poor people” one of thelines entirely consists of a phraseological unit “Auzymen orakorgan onkey kyrtyn” (literally: you windbags mow everybodywith your mouth)[4]. “Auzyben orak oru” (literally: to mow

harvest with one’s mouth) is a figurative phraseological unit.

This phraseological unit is translated by S. Lipkin in thefollowing way: “Rezhet vsekh bez razbora tvoi serp yazyk”

(your sickle language mows everybody withoutconsideration). There is “auyzben orak oru” (to mow harvest

with one’s mouth) phraseological unit in the literary Kazakhlanguage, and there are also people referred to as “orak auyz”(literally: “sickle-like mouth”), which has a totally different

meaning. “Orak auyz” means an eloquent, wisecracker man.But the “auyzben orak oru” words combination generates themeaning of “a windbag person who does nothing”. Thetranslator has destroyed the “auyzben orak oru” (to sickleharvest with a mouth) concept of the original and used theconcept similar to the “orak auyz” (sickle-like mouth) instead.

The used in the translation “serp yazyk” (sickle language)corresponds to the Kazakh “orak auyz” (sickle-like mouth).

Instead, the two phraseological units “molot yazykom” (togrind with a tongue) and “palets o palets ne udarit” (not to doa hand’s turn) in the Russian language form the full content ofthe “auyzben orak oru” phraseological unit of the original.Coordination of these units and their use in maximum

accordance with the original depends on the translator’s skilllevel.

The word “kyrt” (talker, windbag) to which the poet iscritical, in the translated version is given as “perfect, eloquentman”. Lack of sufficient knowledge of the original meaning,

the poet’s native language, the peculiarities of verbal speech inthe poem creation system led the translator to such significanterrors.

Let’s pay attention to the translation made by Yu.Kuznetsov: “A tvoiy pustozvony gremyat yazykom” (And

your windbags rattle with their tongues). If we compare thetranslation of Yu.Kuznetsov with the work of other translators,his version is most similar to the meaning of the original. But

even here there is no precision and clarity, nor the work effortto attempt to uncover the national peculiarities of the poem. A.Kodar translates this line this way: “Pogryazshiy v pustom

suyesloviy sbrod” (the mired in an empty idle talk rabble).There are contours of semantic content in A. Kodar’stranslation. But he also could not find a full analogue in the

target language, or at least a similar phraseological unit asused in the original. M.Adibayev translated the same line asfollows: “Nesete vzdor, kosite vsekh podryad” (you talknonsense, mow everybody). It seems that the general meaningof translation is somewhat similar to the original. But if youlook closely, it becomes obvious that the translator was unableto convey the figurative colors of the poet’s thoughts.R. McCain translated the line into English like this: “Andyou rattle your tongue with idle talk”. The meaning of theoriginal text is preserved. But there is a similar phraseological

unit that exists in English. For example, the «Great cry andlittle wool» “All talk, and no action”phraseological units

which could be used instead of descriptive translation of R.McCain. In other words, the descriptive method used byMcCain is acceptable translation of the meaning. However we

suggest that if there is a corresponding phraseological unit inthe target language, that the translator use this so that thefullest meaning is conveyed in the context of the reader’s own


In this Abai’s poem you can see the “B³r urty mai b³r urtykan” (Fat on one cheek, blood on the other) phraseologicalunit. This unit is used to describe a man in whom live thediametrically opposite, contradictory, contrasting qualities, is about the type of people who are capable to do goodthings with one hand while doing the evil things with theother.

S.Lipkin translates this phraseological unit this way:

“Zlo na levoi sheke, na pravoi dobro” (The evil on the leftcheek, the good on the right one). The poet’s “fat on one

cheek, blood on the other” idea has been given by thetranslator as “the evil on the left cheek, the good on the right

one”. The notions of right and left do not harm the meaning ofthe original, but you cannot see meaningfulness of thetranslator’s thoughts, his ability to think artistically.

Yu.Kuznetsov carries this line as follows: “Gde dobro ili zlo, um

li tvoi razberyot” (Where is the good and the evil, would yourmind be able to distinguish?). In the original the idea is notgiven as a question sentence. The fact that the translator hastranslated the phraseological unit not with a phraseologicalunit but with the questioning sentence has led to distortion ofthe original’s meaning. Therefore this translation cannot be

attributed to translations which accurately convey the meaning

of the original.

 A. Kodar translated this line as follows: “Vkrovi i obzhorstve ni den i ne god” (not a single day without

blood and gluttony). The thoughts that are present in theoriginal have also undergone great changes here. The used

combination of words “not a single day without blood andgluttony” is out of place. The poet did not refer to any

meaning associated with a season: there is nothing about theday or the year in the original. Using meanings, concepts andideas in translation that are not available in the original bringsa shadow on the author’s poetic art and creative individuality.In the translation of M. Silchenko this line is translated: “Naodnoi sheke u tebya krov, na drugoi maslo” (blood on your

one cheek, oil on the other)[7]. Although the translator carriedthe line’s meaning, he could not disclose the value in the sameexciting, visual, deep sense way as does the author of theoriginal.

R. McCain has translated the line into English as: «Nowyou have blood on one cheek and grease on the other». Theconsecutive translation of Richard McCain was based on M.Silchenko’s translation: the line corresponds to M. Silchenko’stranslation word for word.

In the deepest sense, Abai is referring to the opposing sidesofcharacter that can exist in an individual and the contrastingperiods of good times (“fat”) and bad or hard times (“blood”)that have existed in the history of the Kazakh people. WhenKazaks read Abai’s poetry, they understand this deep and dualmeaning of the phrase. It is the difficulty of the translator intoRussian and again into English to capture this fullest sense ofthe poem and in an artistic manner as well.


We tried to cover the translation of phraseological units ofAbai’s poems in this article. None of the translators could findin English and Russian languages appropriate phraseological

units that would be similar to the author’s phraseology. Thisis due to the fact that it is extremely hard to translate Abai’spoems into foreign languages. Not every translator, only thetrue masters of their craft can convey to a target language theunique originality of the poetic genius of Abai. Magnetic fieldof Abai’s poetry does not open up all of a sudden. It is notclearly showed in the text. It is embedded in the subtext orsupertext. It is the translator’s task to find out which variant is

closer to the original.



[1] S.Bassnett, “Translation studies”, Revised Edition. London and New

York, 1992, pp. 18-19.

[2]A.Kaidar,“Kazakh-Russian phraseological dictionary”, Astana: Bilge, 2003, pp. 123-124.

[3] A.Kunanbayev. Selected poems. Almaty, 1996, pp. 166-167.

[4] A.Kunanbayev.Book of words. Almaty, 2009, pp. 256-258.

[5] A. Kunanbayev. Thirty seven poems. Almaty, 2006, pp. 58-60.

[6] A.Kunanbayev. Poems. / Designed by V.Chistyakov. Moscow, 1971,


[7] Ì.Silchenko.Abai’s creative biography.Àlmaty, 1957, pp.56 -57.

[8] R.Syzdykova. Kàzakh-Russian dictionary. Àlmaty, 2008, pp.43-44.

World Academy of Science, Engineering and Technology, Issue 65 2012. Published in USA. pp 504-506.

pISSN 2010-376x

eISSN 2010-3778

M. T. Kozhakanova, L.Zh.Mussaly, I.K.Azimbayeva, K.T.Abdikova

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The institute of Abai was opened in Kazakh National University named after Al-Farabi on the 24th of March, 2009. The Academician of International High School Science Academy, Doctor of Philology Science and professor Zhangara Dadebaev was chosen as a director of the Institute of Abai.