A learner’s dictionary of Kazakh idioms

A learner’s dictionary of Kazakh idioms. By Akmaral Mukan. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2012. Pp. 352. ISBN 9781589018815. $69.95.

Reviewed by Mikael Thompson, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

Kazakh is a Turkic language of Central Asia spoken in Kazakhstan, western Mongolia, and the Xinjiang province of China. As with many other Central Asian languages, there are few books in English for students of the language, who historically have had to rely on Russian, Chinese, or Mongolian dictionaries and textbooks beyond the introductory level. Recently, Georgetown University Press has begun to remedy this lack through a series of textbooks for Central Asian languages. The first of their books for students of Kazakh, A learner’s dictionary of Kazakh idioms, is intended for intermediate and advanced students. It includes over 2,000 idioms organized by categories: body parts, clothing, colors, food, people, life and death, the mind, nature, numbers, words, the soul, the yurt, and miscellaneous. The idioms are alphabetized within subcategories of each category (e.g. ‘Leg and foot’ under body parts).

 The head of each entry has the idiom in dictionary form and a literal translation in brackets, followed by the meaning of the idiom and references to related idioms and variant forms included in the book. Grammatical information like case and postpositional government follows, as well as an explanation of the differences in usage or sense between the given idiom and related ones. Most entries contain two or more example sentences. Five indexes are included: all Kazakh idioms regardless of category, all English idioms used that have Kazakh equivalents, Kazakh key words, English keywords, and Kazakh expressions (e.g. sentence-length expressions of greeting, condolences).

 Akmaral Mukan began the work resulting in this book in 2003, in connection with Kazakh instructional DVDs published by the University of Arizona, and the idioms were collected from Kazakh newspapers and Internet sites with an emphasis on vocabulary introduced in beginning and intermediate Kazakh classes. The idioms chosen are useful and often entertaining. In addition, the quality of the editing and production is very good.

 This book is highly recommended for students of Kazakh, and should be of serious interest to linguists and other scholars of Central Asian languages and cultures. Good, up-to-date Kazakh learning materials are scarce. M contributes an excellent addition to them.