Trans Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 16. Nr. März 2006

13.1. Migration als Faktor sozio-kultureller Innovationen
Herausgeberin | Editor | Éditeur: Tamara Fesenko (Tambov, Rußland)

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Results of Migration in Literature as Reflected in Works of Bilingual Writers

Ruslan V. Salikov (Tambov, Russia)



Migration causes changes not only in social, cultural or economical status of an individual, but and perhaps in the first place in his consciousness. The blending of several cognitive domains, language world views - examples of this we find in written texts - leads us to an understanding of the processes which occur due to migration. We choose literary works as a field of our scientific inquiry, because language, in our opinion, is the fastest and most effective or perhaps even the only possible way to gain access to the human mind. It is common knowledge that a bilingual writer does not simply play the role of an interpreter translating the text from his native language into another one, but really starts to operate with concepts of the culture he chooses to live in. Consequently, his mind builds up a system of two constituents: mental representations of the second language plus background mental representations formed by his native language that influence the existing concepts and the forming of the new ones. The results of the integration of two language world views represented in written texts is what we are after or in other words the paper deals with conceptual integration and its verbalization.


It would be wrong or an oversimplification to neglect the importance of social interaction in cognitive development. Both social and cultural factors can accelerate or, vice versa, retard mental development to the extent proportional to the amount of attention paid to the importance of culture and society in human cognition. Being pressed for space, we are not trying to give well-defined answers in this article, our aim is to draw attention to the possible results of integration of two cultural conceptual systems that can be traced through written texts.

Before getting to the point of discussing conceptual integration, let us first reconsider the relation of language and thought. Very often we treat the process of our thinking as if talking to ourselves, and that is why it is very tempting to characterize thought as some sort of inner speech. The aim of translation between languages can be seen in keeping original thought behind the verbal expression. If one and the same thought can be expressed in different languages, then thoughts must be neutral with respect to what language they are expressed in.

Consider also bilinguals who can, so to speak, "think in two languages." Their thoughts are essentially the same, no matter which language they are currently "thinking in." Thus the nonlinguistic level of conceptual structure is one of the forms in which thought is encoded.

Thinking can be carried out without linguistic expressions. Although language expresses thought, thought itself is a separate brain phenomenon. One should take into account such examples as the world-famous composers or painters, who undoubtedly displayed a lot of intelligence and deep thought. But it is absolutely impossible to verbalize their thoughts by means of any lan­guage, their intellectual competence was in the musical and visual domains. It is probably fair to say that music as well as visual art are truly ways of communication, but not languages.

Excerpts from Nabokov's "Lolita" and his own translation of this novel into Russian serve us as the basis for the considerations made in this article. We find it both convenient and productive to have for analysis two texts with the same content written by the same author. In this case we are dealing not just with the translation of verbal expressions from one language into another, but rather with the expression of one and the same meaning in two different languages.

In the Afterword to the American 1958 edition of his scandalous novel Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov made a sort of confession. " My private tragedy, " he wrote, " which cannot, and indeed should not, be anybody's concern, is that I had to abandon my natural idiom, my untrammeled, rich, and infinitely docile Russian tongue for a second-rate brand of English, devoid of any of those apparatuses - the baffling mirror, the black velvet backdrop, the implied associations and traditions - which the native illusionist, tuxedo-tails flying, can magically use to transcend the heritage in his own way. "

Later on in the year 1962 in his interview to BBC Nabokov expressed a thought which seemed to be, if not exactly the opposite of his earlier remark, then still, in a way, a controversial statement: "I don't think in any language. I think in images. I don't believe that people think in languages."

While we agree that at first these two points of view appear to be a bit contradictory, we think that in fact it is not quite so. One can operate with concepts of any degree of complexity and independence from language, but at the same time one language or another can be to a greater or lesser extent suitable for the expression of these concepts. As we know, the Nabokov household was trilingual, and as a child little Vladimir was already reading Wells, Poe, Browning, Keats, Flaubert, Verlaine, Rimbaud, along with Tolstoy and Chekhov. He lived in Russia, Germany, France, and then in the USA. We can suppose that Nabokov's mind has formed a complex system of correlation between concepts and their verbal expressions, in which one meaning is linked with several expressions in different languages. The situation could probably be termed a "reversed polysemy": instead of one word with several meanings we have one meaning with several words.

Before turning to the analysis of the concrete language material, let us review some of the main tenets of conceptual integration. The "many-space" or "conceptual integration networks" theory of Fauconnier and Turner (1998) is an elaboration of the two-space model of metaphor that has been the cornerstone of the metaphor field since Aristotle. Conceptual blending is a theoretical framework for exploring human information integration. A theory of cognitive semantics, mental space theory locates meaning in speakers' mental representations and construes linguistic structures as cues that help speakers to set up elements in the referential structure. Elements in mental spaces refer to objects in the world only indirectly, as objects in speakers' mental representations (Fauconnier 1998).

Mental spaces contain partial representations of entities and relations of any given scenario, as perceived, imagined, remembered, or otherwise understood by a speaker. Elements represent each of the discourse entities, and simple frames represent the relationships that exist between them. Because of the fact that the same scenario can be construed in multiple ways, mental spaces are frequently used to partition incoming information about elements in the referential representation.

As elements in one mental space often have counterparts in other spaces, an important component of mental space theory involves establishing mappings between elements and relations in different spaces. These mappings can be based on a number of relations, including identity, similarity, analogy, and pragmatic functions based on metonymy, synecdoche, and representation.

Central to the conceptual blending theory is the notion of the conceptual integration network, an array of mental spaces in which the processes of conceptual blending unfold. These networks consist of two or more input spaces structured by information from discrete cognitive domains, a generic space that contains the structure common to all spaces in the network, and a blended space that contains selected aspects of the structure from each input space, and frequently an emergent structure of its own. Blending involves the establishment of partial mappings between cognitive models in different spaces in the network, and the projection of the conceptual structure from space to space (Fauconnier and Turner 1998).

The emergent structure arises out of the operation of three blending processes: composition, completion, and elaboration. Composition, the simplest of the three processes, involves the combination of conceptual material from more than one input spaces, i.e. attributing a relation from one space to an element or elements from the other input space. Completion is the process that takes place when partial representations imported to the blend evoke other material, such as additional conceptual frames. Completion is closely related to elaboration, the process that occurs as we imagine, given this conceptual starting point, what else might ensue, adding an indefinite amount of detail to the narrative.

Now, armed with the terminological apparatus necessary for our analysis, we can concentrate our attention on the language material. At first, let us consider the cases, where the processes of conceptual integration in American and Russian coincide. Here is such an excerpt:

(1) The days of my youth, as I look back on them, seem to fly away from me in a flurry of pale repetitive scraps like those morning snow storms of used tissue paper that a train passenger sees whirling in the wake of the observation car.
Дни моей юности, как оглянусь на них, кажутся улетающим от меня бледным вихрем повторных лоскутков, как утренняя метель употреблённых бумажек, видных пассажиру американского экспресса в заднее наблюдательное окно последнего вагона, за которым они вьются.

In (1) several input spaces ( The days of my youth / Дни моей юности, a flurry of pale repetitive scraps / бледным вихрем повторных лоскутков , morning snow storms of…/ утренняя метель ) blend into one integrated network, establishing connections between their elements based on the relation of similarity. The point particularly important here is that both English and Russian variants first express exactly the same meaning; second, contain the same input spaces; third, show the same type of relationship; fourth, build up the same blended space. In our opinion, this happens due to the universal qualities of the input spaces, their elements and relations; they have no special cultural or social peculiarities that will make it impossible to keep the identity on the level of verbal representation.

(2) A row of parked cars, like pigs at a trough, seemed at first sight to forbid access…
Сначала показалось, что запаркованные автомобили, устроившиеся рядом как у корыта свиньи, закрывают подступ…

In the excerpt (2) the correlation is exactly the same - American and Russian verbal expressions match up precisely. Two input spaces ( A row of parked cars / запаркованные автомобили, pigs at a trough / у корыта свиньи) blend into one and build up a situation when neither parked cars leave any space to a newcomer, nor pigs leave any chance for a stranger to share the meal with them. In this case once again the simplicity of the input spaces, i.e. the absence of any socio-cultural special features, permits the identical language expressions. But this is not a universal rule for all cases, as we shall see in excerpts (3) and (4).

(3) When I was a child and she was a child, my little Annabel was no nymphet to me…
"Когда я был ребёнком, и она ребёнком была" (всё Эдгаровый перегар), моя Аннабелла не была для меня нимфеткой…

(4) I shall probably have another breakdown if I stay any longer in this house, under the strain of this intolerable temptation, by the side of my darling - my darling - my life and my bride.
Боюсь, опять заболею нервным расстройством, если останусь жить в этом доме, под постоянным напором невыносимого соблазна, около моей душеньки - моей и Эдгаровой душеньки - "моей жизни, невесты моей".

Examples (3) and (4) illustrate a more complicated phenomenon. Nabokov in these extracts makes an allusion to Edgar Poe's "Annabel Lee", in fact, he quotes whole phrases from this poem: …I was a child and she was a child , by the side of my darling - my darling - my life and my bride. The result of such parallelism is the appearance of one more input space - the plot of the poem, which is interwoven with the plot of the novel. In (3) there are two input spaces:

1. contains

2. includes

It is easy to notice that the input spaces are as similar as possible. In this case, mappings established between the elements in different spaces are based on the relation of identity. The two input spaces form a blended space: loss of love.

In (4) the situation is becoming a little bit more complicated. This space (loss of love) serves not only as a representation of current events, but as a sort of prophecy that the kind of relations between the narrator (Humbert) and the girl (Lolita) will never have a happy ending. The allusion to Poe's poem is important because it underlines and strengthens the image of happy, but short-termed love affair.

Everything that has been said so far about (3) and (4) concerns the level of mental representation, which is still identical in American and in Russian. Changes take place in the verbal expressions, i.e. the author gives a direct link to the poem mentioning the name of Edgar Poe, and enclosing the cited phrases with quotation marks. That is exactly the place, in our view, where cultural specificity becomes vitally important. We assume Nabokov (after some interplay of his American and Russian language world views) made a suggestion that Russian readers were not well enough acquainted with American literature, and as a result were unable to recognize extracts from Poe. Extracts that were important to him from the point of view of creating the exact image of the main character (Humbert) in the minds of the readers, and that would lead to the right understanding of his motivation.

The next example (5) demonstrates the application of some sort of endemic language unit "Bronx cheer", used in American English.

(5) When angry Lo with a Bronx cheer had gone…
После того, как сердитая Ло, испустив так называемое "Бронксовое ура" (толстый звук тошного отвращения), удалилась…

By saying that the "Bronx cheer" is characteristic of American culture, we do not reduce it exclusively to the latter. It needs to be mentioned that in Russian culture there is such a phenomenon (it is almost certain that in every country children perform this trick), there is its representation on the conceptual level (people understand the meaning of it), but there are no ready-to-use verbal means of expressing it. That is why the author gives the explanation of this linguistic expression.

Let us consider three more examples:

(6) "Vitamin X. Makes one strong as an ox or an ax."
"Витамин Икс. Делает тебя сильным, как бык-с или штык-с".

(7) I said the doctors did not quite know yet what the trouble was. Anyway, something abdominal. Abominable?
… и я сказал, что доктора не совсем ещё установили, в чём дело. Во всяком случае что-то с желудком. "Что-то жуткое?"

(8) But to me, through the prism of my senses, "they were as different as mist and mast."
… для меня же, смотревшего сквозь особую призму чувств, "они были столь же различны как между собой, как мечта и мачта".

In the previous excerpts we saw how conceptual content influenced the verbal form. Examples (6), (7), and (8) illustrate the opposite effect. In (6) we have the following input spaces: 1) vitamin X, 2) someone, 3) ox and ax; generic space, i.e. the event space 'making A as strong as B'. The input spaces 1) and 2) are connected with the relation of similarity, but it is important to mention here that the elements inside the input spaces 1) and 3) are also connected with the relation of phonetic resemblance, and this latter, in our opinion, is of prior importance in this case. This importance can be revealed only if we compare the two languages. First, in the Russian variant Nabokov replaced the word топор (ax) with the word штык (bayonet), because the latter ends with the sound /k/, which was needed; second, he added the ending /s/ to both the words бык (ox) and штык (bayonet). Thus in Russian he achieved the identical phonetic accord (the sound /ks/) with the American. In (7) and (8) Nabokov managed to reach the same effect of similar sounding (again causing some loss in meaning) without any artificial changes introduced into the language, using partial homonymy as a productive tool.

In conclusion, we believe that changes in the socio-cultural surroundings do change the conceptual system of a person. In this article we have tried to argue that migration causes changes in people's consciousness, conceptual domains. The blending of cognitive domains can be traced in written texts. A bilingual writer does not simply translate a text from his native language into another one, but really starts to operate with concepts of the culture he chooses to live in. As a result of such integration, his mind creates a system where mental representations of the second language interweave with the background mental representations formed by his native language, and the latter may influence the existing concepts and the formation of the new ones.

© Ruslan V. Salikov (Tambov, Russia)


1. Boldyrev N.N. Cognitive Semantics. Tambov, 2002.

2. Fauconnier G. Mental Spaces: Aspects of Meaning Construction in Natural Language.- USA: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

3. Fauconnier G., Turner M. Conceptual Integration Networks // Cognitive Science. Vol. 22(2), 1998. pp. 133-187.

4. Jackendoff R. Semantic Structures. The MIT Press Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1991.

13.1. Migration als Faktor sozio-kultureller Innovationen

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