Prof. William S. New (Beloit College, USA) & Prof. Hristo Kyuchukov, Ph.D. (University of Silesia, Poland)

Abstract: Proverb knowledge, comprehension, and production have a strong correlation with core linguistic and cognitive capacities that impact school success. Lakoff and Turner initially proposed the 'Great Chain Metaphor Theory' to explain proverb use and meaning: in this account, the speaker maps the contents of a specific domain (the actual content of the proverb) onto a more general domain in which larger human interests are represented. For example, in the Asian proverb 'Blind blames the ditch', we map the specific domain(s) that involve blindness and ditches and movement onto general domains that include ethical and practical principles on how to think and behave. Don't blame that which is outside your perception or attention for all your problems. An alternate model -- the 'Extended Conceptual Base Theory' -- of proverb comprehension, developed by Honeck & Temple, takes a problem-solving approach with an emphasis on the dynamics of communicative context. Kovačec's ‘extended conceptual metaphor theory’, along with Langacker's explorations of cognitive grammar, offer useful explanatory frameworks for analyzing these phenomena, insofar as the construal of metaphor is at the heart of the proverb task, and at the heart of these theories.

Our study compares the performance two groups of bilingual children in Bulgaria -- whose mother-tongues are respectively Turkish and Romani -- in the interpretation of proverbs in their first and second languages.  Both minority groups experience social exclusion, with a history of ethnic/linguistic discrimination, but the social and economic marginalization of the Romani is much more severe. The language of school is Bulgarian, with little to no bilingual or mother-tongue education. Our results show a clear advantage to the Turkish-speaking group, whose language/cognitive performance in Bulgarian exceeds that of even the monolingual Bulgarian children. The interpretation of proverbs in first and second languages is a complex linguistic and conceptual task, problematized further when examined in a developmental context. Children's approach to these tasks can tell us a lot about how their interlocking language systems are structured, how their corresponding conceptual systems are structured, and processes by which meaning is construed.  Our case-study offers the opportunity to further extend these cognitive linguistics frameworks to address varying levels and types of bilingualism, and the highly specific sociopolitical, economic, and educational contexts in which they arise. A more coherent explanatory model can assist the efforts of improving conditions — socially, culturally, and educationally — for children from marginalized linguistic minority groups.


Keywords: bilingual, proverbs, Bulgaria, Turkish, Romani




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