Zoomorphic Code Of Culture In Reflexion Of Kalmyk And Mongolian Proverbs


The article deals with the syntactic and lexical-semantic specificity of proverbial paroemias with the names of horses in Kalmyk and Mongolian languages against the background of Russian. Zoomorphic image is considered from the point of the gender approach. The prevalence of zoomorphic lexemes with metagender reference was marked. In Kalmyk language, as in Mongolian, a zoomorphic lexeme МӨРН ’a horse’ is paremiologically active. This is no accident. The role of this animal in the life of nomads in the past is difficult to overestimate. The basis of the Kalmyk and Mongolian paroemias with the hippological image is the comparison of a man and a horse. In the proverb, we can talk not just about an individual, but about a man, and not just about horses, but about a stallion, as indicated by the gender coloured morpheme ‘-er’. In Kalmyk and Mongolian proverbs, a horse symbolises a hard-working person. From the point of view of the syntactic organisation of Kalmyk and Russian, paremia are represented by different types of sentences.

Keywords: A horsesyntaxparemiazoomorphismMongolian languageKalmyk language


In the vocabulary of any language, a special place is occupied by zoomorphic lexemes. We are talking now about words denoting representatives of the animal world. Comparative study of thematic layers of vocabulary, including the names of animals (Voytik, 1974, 1982), in multi-structural languages, is one of the most important tasks for modern contrastive linguistics. The comparative, contrastive description of the zoomorphic vocabulary of Kalmyk and Mongolian languages against the background of Russian is theoretically directed, first of all, at the development of a scientifically based method of teaching non-native language (in our case, Russian).

As it is known, the comparison of languages is carried out taking into account their stratification. For a contrastive analysis, more or less the same degree of the system fragments study of each of the compared languages is extremely important since the uniform description of the categories separately greatly facilitates their comparison. It would seem that lexicologists should be in a better position due to the existence of a long tradition of compiling bilingual dictionaries. But oddly enough, it is in the field of contrastive lexicology that major achievements in the field of the theory are imperceptible. Meanwhile, zoomorphic vocabulary is the guardian of huge cultural and historical information. The role of animals in human life has always been exceptionally great.

The study of Kalmyk and Mongolian animalistic proverbs against the background of Russian language reveals the peculiarities of the national worldview. Although in proverbs of different nations may be used different images of animals, apparently, it is possible to identify semantic convergence. By their connotative properties, paremia can be positive and negative. A hardworking person is primarily related to a dog and activity: Йовсн ноха яс кемлдг (lit. ‘Running dog gnaws a bone’). In the English language found the equivalent of Kalmyk proverb with the same zoomorphic imagery: The dog that trots about finds a bone (as a Russian equivalent we can take an example with a zoolexeme wolf : Волка ноги кормят (lit. ‘Wolf is fed by the help of its legs’). In both of the languages, proverbs have the image of the dog which is associated with a hidden threat. The image of a fox is mostly used to characterise a cunning person in both languages.

Usually, there are more proverbs with negative connotation than with a positive assessment. It is more expected that in Kalmyk paremias the names of domestic animals (4 types of livestock) are used to a greater extent, while in Russian the names of domestic and wild animals quantitatively do not differ much.

Problem Statement

For a long time, proverbs remained in the periphery of the research attention of linguists, although from a folkloristic point of view they have repeatedly been the subject of research (Mieder, 2005, 2012). The study of proverbs in the linguistic aspect poses a slightly different problem. In General, the study of the language of folklore is quite complex, it is necessary to take into account the relationship of the text with the genre.  We consider Syntactic and lexical-semantic analysis of proverbial text to be the ones of the most important directions in the study of oral and poetic language.

Research Questions

The object of our study is proverbs with the variety of lexemes denoting ‘a horse’ in two languages – Kalmyk and Mongolian – against the background of Russian. The subject of analysis is their syntactic lexical specificity (the type of speech, syntactic function, zoomorphic metaphors).

Purpose of the Study

We see our task in the description of the syntactic and semantic peculiarities of functioning of the considered zoomorphic lexemes in proverbs as a means of axiological characteristics of a person using similes and metaphors. The achievement of this goal is associated with the need to consider some of the controversial problems associated with the definition of the syntax uniqueness of animalistic proverbs and semantics of animalism.

Research Methods

The study uses the method of continuous sampling, dictionary definitions, component analysis, comparative, quantitative (statistical).


A systematic holistic study of a language lexical system is impossible without a detailed description of its individual subsystems. The vocabulary of the Mongolian languages includes a wide variety of word groups that reflect the nomadic way of life of the steppe nomads in all its manifestations. Animalistic vocabulary occupies a special place in the vocabulary of these languages. We are talking primarily about words denoting the animal world (zoomorphic lexemes). The zoological nomenclature has a long-standing origin.

Our appeal to the system of horse names by sex and age is more relevant because we applied a cluster approach to the study of animalistic vocabulary in order to reconstruct the corresponding fragment of the language picture of the world of Mongolian speakers and the subsequent lexicographic description of all the lexemes/lexical-semantic variants (hereinafter referred to as LSV) included in this cluster.

Some words belonging to this cluster, being lexical markers of traditional life, have already passed into the passive vocabulary, and the names of the animal by sex and nominations of different age categories of a horse are not always used adequately and differentially, losing strict correlation with a particular group.

In the proverbial fund of the considered languages, the important place is occupied by animalistic paroemias where through images of animals in an allegorical form a person (their appearance, behaviour, character) is characterised (Palmatier, 1995; Talebinejad & Dastjerdi, 2005).

The word мөрн /mor’/ — a horse in the considered languages, as well as in the Russian language, is polysemantic: in addition to the original (direct) purely zoological meaning, there are derivatives. At first glance, they seem to match other meanings of the zoomorphic lexeme (the name of a chess piece). But it's not that simple. The volume of the meanings of the words have an animalistic meaning as the original LSV, in different languages may not be the same.

This is well seen in the example of the zoomorphic lexeme we are considering, which has a third meaning in the Mongolian languages–- time (periods of time): the name of the year in the twelve-year animal calendar cycle; the name of a month; the name of a day; the name of an hour of the day. But there are nuances.

Year of the Horse in the Kalmyk calendar is the fifth, and in Mongolian – the seventh. The month of the Horse in the Kalmyk calendar is the fifth month of the year and the last spring month, and in the Mongolian calendar month it is also the fifth month of the year, but in seasonal terms, it is considered to be the average summer month. The day of the Horse in the Kalmyk calendar can be either the fifth month or the eleventh. As for the daily time, the hour of the Horse for the Kalmyks, and the Mongols marks the period of noon time –- the so-called big noon.

As for comparative studies on animalistic vocabulary use for figurative characteristics of a person, they were carried out mainly on the material of Russian and English languages. There were discovered a lot of similarities: E.g. Eng.: Who keeps company with the wolf will learn to howl, Ru.: With wolves to live means learning howl like a wolf; Eng.: Don't look a gift horse in the mouth, Ru.: One doesn’t look in the gift horse’s mouth; Eng.: A horse stumbles that has four legs, Ru.: The horse is about four legs, and even then stumbles; Eng.: If you run after two hares, you will catch neither, Russ.: You chase two hares, you catch none.

A serious difficulty in the way of typological research of languages is a variety of terminology, reflecting the period of search for an adequate model of description, productive methods and methods of linguistic analysis. In this regard, I would like to draw attention to the need for a unified and consistent interpretation of the concepts and terms relevant to the description of zoomorphic vocabulary.

The presence of different approaches to the interpretation of the term «zoonym» (zoomorphic name) requires a clearer definition of its status in the lexical-semantic space of the language. Judging by the literature, the term «zoonym» is used to refer to both common lexemes and proper names of animals (nicknames). In addition, it is often used to denote zoomorphic metaphors (Gutman & Cheremisina, 1976), i.e., the derived lexical-semantic variant (LSV).

Zoomorphic lexemes are usually polysemantic, i.e., have multiple meanings (source direct meaning and derivative meaning). What term is the best to use for the nomination of primary LSV zoomorphic lexeme?

It seems that the term "zoonym" is better to leave for its own name by analogy with other categories of names (cf. toponym, irony, anthroponym, etc.).

The initial LSV of a polysemous lexeme, acting as the name of a certain animal (mammal, bird, insect, etc.), is proposed to be called zoosemism. In the case of monosemantic zoomorphic lexemes at the same time will be considered totemism. In this paper, for naming the animals we use terms such as fauvism, animalism, totemism, and for the metaphorical category of human zoomorphism.

The proverbial image of an animal, which is based on a zoomorphic metaphor, when a person (man or woman) is compared to an animal, is associated with the zoomorphic code of culture. We are talking about a set of ideas about the fauna, representatives of which act as a symbol, the standard of certain qualities. The transfer of animal traits to humans occurred as a result of observation of their external qualities, behaviours, habits. Let us give as an example of Kalmyk proverbs with images of a horse and a cow: Иҗләсн салсн мөрн цуурмтха, иньгәсн салсн күн шуукрмтха‘The horse, strayed from the herd, loves to neigh, and the man who parted with his beloved, loves to sigh’; Үсн уга үкр мөөрмтхә, үүл уга бер дуулмтха ‘Cow without milk loves to moo, a woman who is not capable of a needlework, loves to sing’.

Going deeper into the essence of a zoomorphic metaphor, a comparative-typological analysis facilitates the identification of the universal and the specific in each of compared languages. Even in such closely related languages as Mongolian and Kalmyk, inconsistencies can be found.

In comparative linguistics is the analysis of the semantics of zoomorphisms in Russian, English and Kazakh languages (Voytik, 1974), in Russian and Buryat languages, the Kalmyk and English (Omakaeva, 2018; Chedzhieva & Nikitina, 2008). We are interested in Kalmyk-Russian convergence and difference. There are not much works on this topic in Kalmyk linguistics. The nomads were well aware of the habits, behaviours, characteristics and qualities of domestic animals, including horses, and the observation of them could reflect in proverbs, where a horse is compared to the flora and fauna. For example:

Могойг нарийн гэж бүү энд, хатгаж болох.

Морийг номхон гэж бүү энд, харайж болох.

‘Do not think that the snake is thin, it can bite.

Do not think that the horse is humble, it can pounce’.

Мод хэдий өндөр боловч, үндэсгүй бол ургахгүй.

Морь хэдий хурдан боловч, жолоогүй бол давхихгүй.

‘No matter how tall the tree is, it will not grow without roots.

No matter how fast the horse is, it can't jump without reins.’.

In the nomads' language consciousness, the stereotypical idea of a horse correlated with hard work, loyalty and devotion. The horse was a standard for everything. This is evidenced by proverbial paremia. People's instruction: Адуу мэт орой унтаж / Эрт сэр ‘Stay up late like a horse / Wake up early’, which says about the benefits of early rise for a man, because getting up early has much more features: more to do, more to see, etc.

But the horse was not only a means of transportation or a beast of burden. It was a source of nutritious high-calorie food: the Mongols ate horse meat, drank Mare's milk, making it a special drink — kumys. Horse skin and hair were also used, for example, in the manufacture of household utensils, clothing and shoes.

Horse breeding was the basis of the material well-being of the family. In a traditional nomadic society, cattle, in particular, a herd of horses, was the main indicator of wealth and well-being of its owner. A horse was the subject of barter.

A horse was a source of pride, a symbol of freedom, the standard of certain qualities. The horse was perceived as a heavenly gift that should be cherished and cherished. No wonder the people called it a «jewel» — эрднь. It was forbidden to scold and beat horses, especially on the head, or to step on the bit.

In Kalmyk language, paremia can be represented by imperative sentences: Ил һазрт мөрә н уй, итксн күүнд үнән кел ‘Tie your horse in the open, trust only a faithful person’.

The most characteristic type for Kalmyk language is paremias with the structure of a polypredicative construction (PPC), for the Russian language — a complex sentence. The structure of the PPC in Kalmyk language is significantly different from the structure of the complex sentence in Russian. Thus, in Kalmyk language, predicates of the dependent construction (DC) are expressed not by the personal form of the verb, but by the participle (in combination with the postposition, or without it) and the participle.

In Kalmyk proverbs there is also an asyndetic structure: Сән залуһас үүл хөөһдг уга, сән мөрнәс эмәл хөөһдг уга ‘A real man is always busy, a good horse is always saddled’.

The considered examples allow us to make certain conclusions. Firstly, the semantics of individual animalistic proverbs in Kalmyk and Russian are to a certain extent similar. In the material under study, paremiological units with negative evaluation were noted. Paremia, which negatively characterises a person, derides such human vices as cunning, stupidity, cowardice, greed, etc.


The comparative study of the animalistic proverbs of Kalmyk, Mongolian and Russian languages shows that in these languages a fairly large number of images of the animal world can be found. First of all, these are domestic animals, among which a dog and a horse (stallion) are most often mentioned in both languages. At the same time, in the Kalmyk paremias, the nominations of domestic animals are used to a greater extent, which is explained by the fact that cattle breeding was the main economic activity of Kalmyks. In Russian proverbs, images of domestic and wild animals are used to the same extent. Mentioning fish and birds is quite common in Russian proverbs. Considering that zoomorphic lexemes (zoomorphic semes) are included in the same lexical-semantic group and that they have common semantic components and have the same or similar semantic structures, it can be assumed that they should be presented in dictionaries more or less the same type, that is, the dictionary article ноха/ собака (a dog) zoosemism should look like a dictionary entry from another member of this group. All this urgently requires changes in the lexicographic strategy of describing the language.

Most zoomorphisms have a metagender reference, i.e. can be referred to as male and female referent.

The syntactic analysis of the Kalmyk / Mongolian and Russian proverbial texts showed that the polypredicative structure is most characteristic for both languages. Kalmyk / Mongolian proverbial texts are presented, as a rule, by polypredicative structures with dependent constructions with conditional, temporary, concessive semantics. Paremias can also be decorated with non-union complex sentences. Compound sentences are rarely used. Russian paremias often have a structure of complex sentences, followed by complex and asyndetic complex sentences.

In the Kalmyk / Mongolian and Russian paroimies, which correspond in structure to complex sentences, the highest frequency is characteristic of sentences with conditional, concessive, temporal and determinative subordinates. In Kalmyk paremias, dependent constructions of condition, time, and place are introduced not only with the help of conjunctions but also with various forms of participles and participles.


The reported study was funded by RFBR according to the research project № 17-21-03005-OGN.


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21 January 2020

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Omakaeva*, E., Ochirova, V., Chedzhieva, Z., Bovaeva, G., & Buraeva, T. (2020). Zoomorphic Code Of Culture In Reflexion Of Kalmyk And Mongolian Proverbs. In D. Karim-Sultanovich Bataev, S. Aidievich Gapurov, A. Dogievich Osmaev, V. Khumaidovich Akaev, L. Musaevna Idigova, M. Rukmanovich Ovhadov, A. Ruslanovich Salgiriev, & M. Muslamovna Betilmerzaeva (Eds.), Social and Cultural Transformations in the Context of Modern Globalism, vol 76. European Proceedings of Social and Behavioural Sciences (pp. 2529-2535). Future Academy. https://doi.org/10.15405/epsbs.2019.12.04.339