Interlanguage phraseological equivalents (on the material of English and Russian languages)

It is universally recognized that phraseology is the most pictorial, expressive and emotional component of any language vocabulary and phraseological units, called also idioms, vividly reflects the nation’s vision of the world, its historical peculiarities, social norms, customs, spiritual values and cultural traditions. It means that phraseology has deep national roots. Being «the mirror in which the linguo-cultural entity identifies its national awareness» [1, 9], they are culturally determined and vary from culture to culture. G.V.Yelizarova quotes a well-known B.L.Whorf’s statement from his book Language, Thought, and Reality: Selected Writings of Benjamin Lee Whorf, underlying and supporting the existing correlation between language and culture: every language represents a vast pattern-system different from others, in which are culturally ordained the forms and categories by which the personality not only communicates but also analyzes nature, notices or neglects types of relationship and phenomena, channels his reasoning and builds the house of his consciousness [2, 46].

In view of the above, of great importance is the investigation of the problems connected with comparative studies of different fragments of the conceptual picture of the world formed with the help of phraseological units (other terms: idioms, phrases, phraseologisms, set-expressions, collocations) belonging to such unrelated and structurally different languages as English and Russian, for example, in accordance with the tendencies to place culture and cognition in the focus of them and to comparatively describe the corresponding culturally relevant linguistic units within the frame of each of these languages.

There are different views connected with the problem of defining phraseological inventory of languages. According to N.M. Shansky, phraseology includes stable word combinations semantically equivalent to the word and unities which in the structural and semantic plan represent sentences, i.e. it covers practically all units which are reproduced as ready-made [3, 113]. M.M. Kopylenko and Z.D. Popova consider phraseology as a branch of science which investigates combinability of lexemes and sememes and refer to it all kinds of polylexemic expressions (from idioms to collocations and free word combinations) although they are characterized by different degrees of semantic change [4]. Foreign scholars commonly follow the so called narrow understanding of phraseology and define idioms as set expressions in which two or more words are syntactically related but with a meaning like that of a single lexical unit [5, 183].

Despite the diversity of opinions of scholars on the object of phraseology this complex phenomenon attracts the attention of modern linguists and there are a great number of scientific works dedicated to phraseological research. Of special interest are comparative and contrastive studies of this debatable linguistic phenomenon due to the necessity of identifying common and specific features of phraseological units in different languages which contributes to in-deep understanding of their general characteristic and peculiarities of functioning.

Contrastive-comparative study of phraseological units primarily aims at identifying and analyzing full and partial equivalents and analogues in the selected languages, as well as at specifying nonequivalent phraseological units which do not have appropriate equivalents in the system of the corresponding language.

When scholars compare phraseological units belonging to different languages (irrespective of whether they are related or nonrelated languages), they generally aim at identifying interlingual correlations between idioms of corresponding target languages. A.V. Kunin, taking into consideration different ways of translation of phraseological units from one language into another language, singles out phraseological equivalents which coincide in their meaning, lexical composition, stylistic characteristics and grammatical structure (for example: cold as ice – холодный как лед). Phraselogical equivalents are divided into full or complete equivalents and partial equivalents. Besides he points out that there are also phraseological analogues (for example: don’t count your chicken before they are hatched – цыплят по осени считают) which have similar meanings but differ completely or partially in their imagery [6].

Elena Arsentyeva analyzes interlanguage phraseological relations and gives different examples of full and partial equivalents such as the idioms play with fire and играть с огнемplay the role and играть рольsecond nature and вторая натура; set another / different / new tune and петь другим голосом [7].

The problem of determining the basic criteria for referring phrasological units to a class of full or partial equivalents and identification of non-equivalent idioms is one of the most important problems in modern phraseology [3]. It is noted in phraseological studies that if the compared languages use one and the same productive «imagery idea», which generates a significant number of set expressions with the same or similar semantic content, there is a high probability that these phraseological units will have structural–semantic equivalents in the target language (either complete/full or incomplete/partial) [8, 127]. Conversely, the mismatch of the typical imagery pattern will minimize the possibility of structural and semantic equivalence.

Difficulties in translating phraseological units from one language to another are caused due to many reasons. Firstly, they are connected with national-cultural peculiarities of different languages, historical facts and linguistic characteristics of the source and target languages.

In the given article the peculiarities of interlanguage phraseological relations are illustrated by the English and Russian material selected by continuous sampling of the units that verbalize the concept of privacy. The total number of phraseological unis amounts up to eighty. Practical material is based on the works of Kunin A.V. as well as on the English and Russian explanatory, bilingual dictionaries, specialized dictionaries of idioms.

The analysis of the empirical material shows that among English and Russian word combinations connected with the concept of privacy it is possible to identify such types of interlanguage phraseological relations as full equivalents, partial equivalents, analogues of phraseological units, non-equivalent phraseological units.

The examples of full and partial English and Russian equivalents are not numerous, for instance, keep a secret – хранить секрет (verb + noun) (to know a secret and not tell anyone) [9]. It is characterized by full coincidence in meaning and structural organization. The concept is verbalized by the key word secret. The idiom conceptualizes the meaning of «secrecy».

The English idiom break the ice (fig. to attempt to become friends with someone), (verb + noun), is in full coincidence in sense and stylistic coloring with the Russian idiom разбить (сломать) лед (устранить натянутость в отношениях между кем либо), (verb +noun). The concept in the phraseologisms is verbalized by the keyword of ice / лед. It makes the meaning of the verb break – разбивать (сломать) more expressive. It is possible to deduce the following sense of the phraseological units in both languages as ‘elimination of frosty relations’. The phraseological units refer to the notion of «adjustment of the relation». It is interesting to mention that in the Russian language there is also a phraseological word combination растопить лед (устранить отчужденность, недоверие) which is also translated into English as break the ice. However, the last two phraseological units do not represent full phraseological equivalents, since the so called imagery which is used in the Russian idiom is different from the imagery of the English idiom.

Some other examples of phraseologial equivalents are be a master in one’s own house and быть хозяином в своем собственном доме (the keyword is ‘master’, the idioms explicate the idea of being independent or free to do as one wishes); open one’s heart to somebody and открыть свое сссееррдд-це кому-л. (the keyword is ‘heart’, the figurative meaning is ‘to tell one’s private thoughts to someone); follow somebody like a dog and следовать за кем-л. как собака (the keyword is ‘dog’, the idioms explicate the idea of following someone closely and persistently).

Besides it is necessary to mention such word combinations in the English language as private life (family life or personal relationships of an individual), private opinion (personal opinion), private property (land or belongings owned by a person), and many others which have similar Russian equivalents (частная жизнь, частное (личное) мнениечастная собственность) и т.п.

The examples of phraseological analogues are much more numerous. According to scholars, they have identical or close content, i.e. coincide in their signification-denotational component of meaning and evaluative component of connotation, and are characterized by some distinctions in the lexemic composition and grammatical structure [7, 7]. It is also proved by idioms connected with the concept of privacy. The English idiom worm a secret out of somebody and the Russian idiom выведать у ккккооооо--го-либо тайну (to extract information, a secret, etc. by persistent questioning) can be given as examples. The concept in the phraseologisms is verbalized by the keyword secret / тайна. They have similarities in their content, structure and stylistic colouring. The distinctive components are the lexemes worm (to move with difficulty by crawling or wriggling, to crawl) and выведать (to find out, to nose out). The negative assessment of the concept is formed by the verbs worm and выведать. The idioms in both languages explicit a man’s pursuit to obtain a secret (personal) information about other people.

The English phraseologism take somebody in one’s confidence (to trust someone with confidential information; to tell a secret to someone and trust the person to keep the secret) and the Russian word combination доверить кому-л. свои тайны (to place confidence in a person) also have some distinctive elements in their structural and lexical composition although from the point of stylistic colouring they are very close to each other.

The phraseological units poke one’s nose into somebody’s affairs, stick one’s nose into smb.’s affairs and совать нос в чужие дела (to try to discover things that do not involve you, to pry into other people’s business) in English and Russian also can be regarded as examples of phraseological analogues. The components рoke, stick, on the one hand, and совать, on the other hand, differ in their primary meanings and stylistic colouring. The keyword in all idioms is ‘nose’. They verbalize the concept of ‘interference in the affairs of others’.

Of interest are the idioms avoid like a leper and избегать как чумы (to avoid something or someone completely). The distinctive components in the English and Russian phraseological components are ‘leper’ (translation: прокаженный) and ‘чума’ (translation: plague). The keyword is ‘to avoid’; the notion of ignoring someone or something is expressed in both idioms. It is interesting to note that in the English language the dictionaries also give the idiom ‘to avoid something like the plaque’ which can be regarded as a full phraselogical equivalent with the Russian stable word combination ‘избегать как чумы’.

The English and Russian idioms be on somebody’s tail and сесть на хвост (to follow someone closely) also only partially coincide in their content, lexical and grammatical composition and have different stylistic connotations. The distinctive components are the lexemes be and сесть. They are formed on the basis of the keyword ‘tail’ and verbalize the idea of persecution.

There are also examples of non-equivalent phraseological units. Idioms are considered to be nonequivalent phraseological units when they do not have correspondences in the phraseological system of the target language and in translation they are usually explained.

The English idioms have an oar in ev ery man’s boat and put in one’s ore (to be involved in every man’s business or affairs) are examples of non-equivalent phraseological units which are translated into Russian as вмешиваться в чужие дела.

The phraseologism darken someone’s door (to come to someone’s residence or location as an unwelcome visitor) is translated into Russian as приходить или навещать кого-либо в качестве нежелательного гостя. The bilingual EnglishRussian dictionary presents the following translation of the idiom illustrating it by the example

‘Don’t darken my door again!’ – ‘Чтобы ноги тттвввоооо---ей больше не было в моем доме!’

In the English language a very popular and frequently used phraseological word combination is the American dream; (it denotes the dream of democracy, equality and freedom, the American way of life. After the discovery of America, many immigrants came there for a better life, in search of work and new life and new opportunities. It is verbalized by a key word dream – something you want to achieve. The word combination conceptualizes the value of the American dream. It is translated and frequently used in the Russian language as американская мечта (an expression often used to describe the vital ideals of the US population in both the material and spiritual sense).

The English idiom skeleton in the closet is translated into Russian as скелет в шкафу. The concept there is verbalized by the keywords skeleton and closet: the word skeleton is the symbol of something dark, and the word сloset has associations with the notion of house. Each house keeps its secrets. It conceptualizes the meaning «keeping family secrets». It is well-known that phraseological calques translated by means of word-by-word translation often become facts of the target language and are registered in lexicographical sources.

These are only some examples illustrating interlanguage phraseological relationship, its peculiarities have to be considered on the material of different related and unrelated languages.



  1. Teliya V.N. Russkaya frazeologiya. Semanticheskiy, pragmaticheskiy i lingvokulturologicheskiy aspektyi. – M.: Shkola «Yazyiki russkoy kulturyi», 1996.
  2. Whorf B.L. Language, Thought, and Reality: selected writings of Benjamin Lee Whorf – Cambridge.MA, MIT Press, 1956 // retrieved from: Elizarova G.V. Kultura i obuchenie inostrannyim yazyikam – Sankt-Peterburg: KARO, 2005.
  3. Shanskiy N. M. Frazeologiya sovremennogo russkogo yazyika. – CPb.: Spetsialnaya Literatura, 1996.
  4. Kopyilenko M.M., Popova Z.D. Ocherki po obschey frazeologii. – Voronezh: Izdatelstvo Voronezhskoo universiteta, 1989.
  5. The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Linguistics. – Oxford University Press, 2007.
  6. Kunin A.V. Bolshoy anglo–russkiy frazeologicheskiy slovar.– M.: Russkiy yazyik, 1984.
  7. Arsenteva E.F. The Main Problems of Multilingual Phraseological Dictionary // New Trends in Lexicography: Ways of Registering and Describing Lexis. – Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2010 // Retrieved from:
  8. Rayhshteyn A.D. Sopostavitelnyiy analiz nemetskoy i russkoy frazeologii – M.1980.
  9. Definitions of phraseological units are available in: 248 ҚазҰУ хабаршысы. Филология сериясы. №1 (165). 2017
Magazine: KazNU BULLETIN
Year: 2017
City: Almaty
Category: Philology