Respectus Philologicus
Respectus Philologicus

Respectus Philologicus eISSN 2335-2388
2020, vol. 38(43), pp.176–189 DOI:

Paremias of the Latvians and the Russians in Latgale: From the Holy Scripture to Modern Existence

Jelena Korolova
Institute of Humanities and Social Sciences, Daugavpils University
Vienibas 13, Daugavpils LV-5401, Latvia
Research interests: Latvian Old Believers’ language and culture, ethnolinguistics and dialectology

Oksana Kovzele
Institute of Humanities and Social Sciences, Daugavpils University
Vienibas 13, Daugavpils LV-5401, Latvia
Research interests: comparative literature, linguistics, cultural studies

Ilze Kacane
Institute of Humanities and Social Sciences, Daugavpils University
Vienibas 13, Daugavpils LV-5401, Latvia
Research interests: comparative literature, cultural studies, identity

Abstract. The paper presents a comparative analysis of some selected Latvian and Russian paremias, the bulk of which has been collected in the time period since the 1970s till nowadays in the south-eastern part of Latvia – Latgale, and studied in the context of Latvian proverbs included in folklore collections and phraseological dictionaries, as well as the archival materials of the Latvian Academy of Sciences and works by Latvian folklorists. The aim of the study is to analyse prototypical paremias from the Holy Scripture and trace the history of their existence and further development among the Latvians and the Russians in the Latgale region based on the qualitative data analysis. The conducted research allows concluding that similar worldview patterns of the Latvians and the Russians are to be searched for in Christianity. The analysed proverbs testify to the fact that culture is a unifying factor for different ethnic groups living in the same region.

Keywords: proverbs; borrowings; genetic; typological parallels; variants.

Submitted 12 July 2020 / Accepted 02 September 2020
Įteikta 2020 07 12 / Priimta 2020 09 02
Copyright © 2020 Jelena Korolova, Oksana Kovzele, Ilze Kacane. Published by Vilnius University Press. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License CC BY-NC-ND 4.0, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium provided the original author and source are credited.


Paremias reflect the interaction of cultures and languages in the religious, the ethnic and the regional aspects.

The article is concerned with the analysis of three paremias from the Holy Scripture:

1. “A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep; so shall thy poverty come as a wobbler and thy want as an armed man” (Proverbs 24: 33–34);

2. “Honour thy father and thy mother” (Exodus 20: 12);

3. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” (Matthew 7: 3) (Bībele; Biblija).

The research is aimed at identifying those contact paremias of the Latvians and the Russians in Latgale, which go back to the Holy Scripture. It examines the history of the existence and further development of these paremias among the representatives of a multi-cultural and multi-denominational region.

For the ethnoreligious groups who in their linguistic and everyday communication range religion as the first among their principal values, the church component, which determines and directs their social and daily behaviour, their world outlook, is a significant landmark in a rapidly changing world around them. The regulatory principle, so-called “leading cultural motivation” (Vendina, 2011, p. 19), for both the Russians and the Latvians can be recognized in the Christian faith, which is the basis of all the underlying processes of the peoples’ life. The informants belong to the category of deeply religious people – the Latgalians who are Catholics, and Old Believers who follow the Orthodox religion in its old pre-Niconian form adopted in Russia before 1666, i.e. before Church Schism.

Oral folk culture “is able to assimilate and process, to translate into one’s own language and fill with one’s own content a considerable corpus” of biblical sayings, “to incorporate them into one’s own discourse and throughout thousands of years treat them as their own cultural resources” (Tolstaja, 2015, р. 120). The representatives of the older generation are the bearers of the traditional folk culture, which is based on four components – ethnicity (the Latvians (Latgalians) – Russians), language (Latvian (Latgalian) – Russian), folklore (proverbs), and religion (Catholicism – Orthodoxy). Ethnicity, language, folklore and religion allowed the Latgalian Christians preserve their culture and self-identity. The component of religion has ensured a peaceful coexistence during the hard times of wars, the Soviet time with its ideology of atheism which has inflicted serious harm to faith, the conflicting times (epoch of the destruction of social systems), as well as during the present epoch of world-wide globalization, exercising a disastrous influence on the preservation of many small nations and languages. The novelty of the research is related to the fact that the empirical material represents an unwritten and “disappearing” culture; thus, the collection of the material is arduous. The heritage the older generation leaves to the coming generations is represented by the paremias under this analysis, and their value also lies in this.

1. Theoretical Framework

Paremias are proverbs. Used in their broader sense in folklore studies, they embrace all small genres of folklore. In linguistics, used in their broader sense, on the basis of their functional affinity (this is the principle we adhere to), as well as on their reproducibility and stability, paremias include not only proverbs but also phraseological units in the narrow sense of the word and stable comparisons as well. To this usage, the term paremia is applied by Valery Mokienko (2001, p. 7, 9).

Consequently, we apply the term paremia not only to each of these units taken separately but also in a generalized sense to all the above-listed units on the whole. The object of our research is the paremias, i.e. proverbs; stable comparisons are rare in this work and sooner fulfil the commentarial, confirmative, and argumentative function.

In recent studies, proverbs and sayings are mainly considered as elements of language, in which the peculiarities of thinking, the cultural experience and the system of values of a particular society are presented in a concentrated form (Orlova et al., 2018). Such an approach makes it possible to identify and analyze the underlying concepts based on the material under study: a) spatial concepts: the basics of the world order (Taukebaeva et al., 2014), natural and climatic conditions of life (Baran, 2016), concepts of “motherland” and “home” (Gasparjan, 2018); b) temporary concepts: calendar and linear time (Utkina & Kovalevich, 2018); c) anthropological concepts: sensual perception of the world around us – colour (Mosiashvili, 2015), taste (Ionescu, 2017) and other human preferences, social roles – parents and their children (Berhanu, 2006), spouses (Sevriuk, 2018), neighbours (Pintin Go, 2018), labour activity (Lysenko, 2018) and commodity-money relations (Zharkova, 2014), emotions and feelings (Shkurko, 2014), a system of values (Glukhova et al., 2015), and many others. A number of studies touch upon the issue of borrowings and influences (Iakovleva & Nikolaeva, 2016), as well as offer a comparative-contrastive analysis of proverbs and sayings in, as a rule, two unrelated languages (Ionescu, 2017; Mosiashvili, 2015).

The research is aimed at tracing the historic-genetic and contact parallels of the paremias of the two ethnoreligious groups. Such an approach is identified in works by Boris Putilov (1976) who developed the methodology of comparative folklore, as well as in research by Elza Kokare (1978, 1988) who offered a comparative historical study of Latvian paremias and analyzed the nature of international parallels and national paremias and their share in the whole repertoire of Latvian paremias, and also by the representatives of the paremiological school of V. Mokienko (2008) who is engaged in comparative research and lexicographical description of paremias of different nations. Both tendencies mentioned above obtain information about the national, ethnic and religious consciousness from a linguistic material represented in folklore and from a colloquial speech used in unofficial situations.

The reception of the Holy Scripture in folk culture has not been extensively studied to date in either Russian or Latvian languages and dialects. This can be attributed to the fact that the folk dialectal speech differs significantly from the church language, is maximally disassociated from the latter. There is a tradition not to take the name of God in vain. The Lord spoke in parables. It was from them that many proverbs crystallized. Proverbs are also aphoristical and short. The fact that they have been well preserved in the dialectal discourse of the Catholics and Old Believers in Latgale testifies to their deep religiosity as well as to the importance of Christian teaching in their folk culture. In their everyday life peasants do not use the most popular Christian paremias like dogmas, but quite deliberately like recommendations for the behaviour. It is interesting to study how these Christian paremias exist in a folk language, what impulses they receive from the dialectal speech for their further development, how their culture “sprouts up” and strengthens in the folk language, consciousness, and which national paremias derive from this common religious source already on this territory.

2. Methodology

The entire corpus of the Russian paremias was recorded 1) in the period 1977–2020 from the Old Believers who have been living in Latgale since the seventeenth century and 2) in the period 1970–2015 from the Orthodox living in Pytalovo (Russia) (from the 1920s to the 1940s it was a territory of the Republic of Latvia), formerly known as Abrene. The entire corpus of the analysed Russian paremias contains more than 7,000 units. To compare them with the Latvian proverbs, folklore collections, phraseology dictionaries, and works by the Latvian folklorists are used, e.g. archive materials of the Latvian Academy of Sciences employed by E. Kokare include more than 360 000 paremias.

Different sources used in this work reflect different historical periods. The most ancient period is represented in the material quoted according to E. Kokare (material in Latvian and Latgalian) and according to Vladimir Dal’ (material in Russian). The second – inter-war and Soviet – period (Koroljova): here, the informants of the older generation, basically Orthodox Believers, are indicated. The third period – from 1977 up to the present day: this is a field material provided in this paper with geographical notes, and here the informants – Old Believers are indicated. The fourth period – 2000 and 2003 (Opincāne, 2000; Kursīte, Stafecka, 2003): here, the informants – Latgalians are indicated. The fifth period – 2018–2020: a field material supplied in the paper with geographical notes, the informants indicated here are the Latgalians.

The methods of comparative paremiology were applied on the example of two Indo-European ethnolinguistic groups (the Balts – the Latvians (Latgalians) – who speak the Baltic language and its dialect, and the Slavs (the Russians) who speak the Slavic language). The comparative paremiology allows studying genetic parallels of paremias from the structural-semantic aspect. Structurally, the paremias have a sentence-like structure, and they express statements of a didactic character, but the stable comparisons respectively have the form typical of comparative structures. All the paremias are united by their semantic dominant, which is their historical prototype (the Holy Scripture), by their areal aspect (Latgale), and their functional aspect (Christian values). The pragmatic aspect is not taken into consideration, since the aim for using paremias might be quite various. However, this aspect can be represented only in case the material collected under field condition is being used, when it is possible to trace and describe for which purposes and under which conditions one or the other proverb is used. In our case, due to their biblical origin, all paremias have the character of a prohibition or order.

We rely on the methods applied in comparative studies on phraseological units, but they can also be used at correlating paremias. Structurally, (if paremias are equivalent) this involves the withdrawal of some component, replacement of some component, broadening the composition of paremias; at an in-depth comprehension and processing of paremias in people’s consciousness, this means the emergence of new occasional paremias based on different associations with a prototypical paremia.

3. Results

3.1 “A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep; so shall thy poverty come as a wobbler and thy want as an armed man”

Many paremias within the theme of labour are based on “metaphors related to the state opposite to work, i.e. sleep” (Кokare, 1978, p. 173). Some of the parallels have originated in the Bible. “Nemīlē miegu, ka nepaliksi par nabagu” [FS 1674, 3141] [Do not love sleep or you will grow poor] obviously is the first part of the Parables of Solomon (Коkare, 1978, p. 173–174). However, in Latvian, this maxim gives an impetus for the development of a whole series of proverbs with common pragmatics. They express the idea that excessive sleep is a hindrance not only for momentary but also for all further life well-being:

Latvian (Latgalian) proverbs:

Gulādams nikō napanōksi [You will not achieve anything by sleeping] (Opincāne, 2000, p. 21);

Mīgs maizi napeļnej [Sleep doesn’t earn bread] (Ibid., p. 51).

Old Believer proverb:

Много спать – добра не видать [The one who sleeps a lot won’t see any good] (Jēkabpils district, Liepsala).

This Old Believer proverb is echoed by another playful proverb of modern Old Believers: “Коли хочешь есть баранки, так проснися спозаранку” [If you want to eat bagels, wake up early in the morning] (Ludza district).

In some proverbs, people put trust in God as He helps those who get up early and work a lot. This is featured in the Latgalian proverb “Celīs agri, strōdoj gryuši, tod tev Dīvs paleidzēs” [Get up early, work hard, then God will help you] (Opincāne, 2000, p. 13), the common Russian proverb “Кто рано встаёт, тому Бог даёт” [God gives to the one who gets up early] (Ludza district, Rjabije), the calque of which exists in the Latgalian folklore “Kas agri ceļās, tam Dīvs dūd” [God gives to the one who gets up early] (Kursīte, Stafecka, 2003, p. 103).

In ancient Latvian proverbs belonging to this theme, very simple food (bread and porridge) is predominantly mentioned. The diet of Russian peasants did not differ from that of the Latvians (Latgalians). The Russians everywhere use the proverb “Хлеб да каша – пища наша” [Bread and porridge – our food] (Koroljova, 2013, p. 333); “Хлеб да вода – молодецкая еда” [Bread and water – the food of the brave ones] (Preiļi district, Sanauža). Nevertheless, Latvian (Latgalian) proverbs may also feature a higher degree of wealth. For example, one cannot bake bread, or cheesecakes, or flat cakes from sleep, neither is it possible to whip butter, cook porridge or make cheese [FS 220, 666, 1306, 3142, P 35] (Кokare, 1978, p. 174): “Mīga mōte raušus nacap” [Mother sleep does not bake pies] (Opincāne, 2000, p. 51). Only in a few Latvian (Latgalian) variants, obviously under the influence of the poetic tradition of folk songs, there appear images from the sphere of garment making: “Nu mīga vylnas necērpsi” [FS 366, 116] [You cannot cut wool from sleep]; “Nu mīga kažoku nešuj” [FS 400, 3625] [A fur coat is not made from sleep] (Коkare, 1978, p. 174).

Диалектный словарь одной семьи – 2 [The Dialectal Thesaurus of One Family – 2] contains two proverbs borrowed from the Latvian folklore; however, they are slightly changed as the evaluative component “дурак” [fool] is introduced into the first part of the proverbs: “Сон – дурак, со сна мешка не сошьёшь” [Sleep is a fool, you can’t make a sack from sleep] and “Сон – дурак, со сна шубу не сошьёшь” [Sleep is a fool, you cannot make a fur coat from it] (Koroljova, 2013, p. 299). The extension of the proverb due to this component allows for the animation of sleep, makes its mythological interpretation possible, since the lexeme “fool” is used only in relation to the world of living objects.

The appearance of identical proverbs among the Russians living among the Baltic peoples is the evidence of the ancient contacts between the Balts and the Russians, which have led to the development of the corresponding contact parallels of the paremias, and the proverb “Со сна шубу не сошьёшь” [You can’t make a fur coat from sleep], in our opinion, is borrowed by the Russians from the folklore of the Baltic peoples. This type generates large, branched typological subtypes intersecting with other thematic groups.

In the folklore of the Balts and the Slavs, there is a great number of paremias that are related to the theme of upbringing the younger generation. The most ancient stratum of these proverbs is also associated with Latvian folksongs (dainas) – quatrains that once functioned as proverbs not only at the level of content but also at the level of images. Dainas can be considered “the Bible” of the Latvian people; they have been preserved in the cultural memory of the nation. The folksongs were collected by Krišjānis Barons in the middle of the nineteenth century and stored in a specially built cabinet (Dainu Skapis) containing almost 270 000 hand-written paper slips with folksongs (also puzzles, proverbs, etc.) in 70 drawers. Since 2001, the Cabinet of Folksongs or “treasure chest”, which is now housed in Latvian National Library, has been included in UNESCO Memory of the World Register as a symbol of cultural heritage revealing the collective consciousness of the Latvian people. This is an ancient stratum of proverbs that are united with the paremias of other nations by both historical-genetic and typological parallels.

Long sleep leads to laziness, which is dangerous at a young age because it brings about poverty at an old age. One of such examples is represented in the Latvian (Latgalian) proverb “Jauns slynkōsi – vacs bodōsīs” [If you are lazy while being young – you will starve being old] (Opincāne, 2000, p. 25). An almost verbatim analogue can be detected among the Old Believers of Latgale: “Будешь гулять смолоду – старый умрёшь с голоду” [If you feast in your youth, you’ll die of hunger when you’re old] (Rēzekne district, Malta). In Latgalian, one can trace modern versions of the proverb about laziness in youth and its consequences at the old age:

Jauns byudams strōdoj, lai vīglas vacumdīnas [Work while you are young to have an easy old age] (Opincāne, 2000, p. 25);

Kū jauns naīsamōceisi, tū vacumā naprassi [You won’t be able to do in old age what you don’t learn in your youth] (Ibid., p. 41).

The theme of sound, deep sleep is particularly developed in Latvian (Latgalian) paremias, for example:

(1) guļ kai nūsysts [sleeps as if dead] (Opincāne, 2000, p. 21);
(2) guļ kai zyrgs vogas golā [sleeps like a horse at the end of a furrow] (Ibid.);
(3) guļ kai kūka blučs [sleeps like a wooden log] (Ibid.);
(4) guļ kai lōcs, ryuc kai lauva [sleeps like a bear, growls (snores) like a lion] (Ibid.);
(5) guli, guli, saimineica, vysi dorbi padareiti [sleep, sleep, housewife, all the work is done] (Ibid.);
(6) guli vīn uz ausim [go on sleeping on your ears] (Ibid.);
(7) guļ kai septeni gulātōji [sleeps like the seven sleeping] (Ibid.);
(8) kod mīgs nōk, tod i akmiņs par spylvynu der [when sleep comes, even a stone can be used as a pillow] (Ibid., p. 38);
(9) krōc kai lauva džungļūs [snores like a lion in the jungle] (Ibid., p. 40).

The following paremias have been recorded from the Latgalian Russians:

спать без задних ног [sleep without hind legs];
как бревно [as a log];
как вырубило [as if passed out];
как затряхнуло [as if cracked];
как мёртвый [like a dead man];
как младенец [like a new-born];
как сурок [like a marmot];
как медведь в берлоге
[like a bear in its lair];
как провалиться [as if to fall down];
как убитый [like a killed man];
отрубиться как слон [to switch off like and elephant] (lexis segments recorded on whole territory of Latgale region).

A part of the examples coincides with the Latvian (Latgalian) folklore material. According to the mythological conceptions, sleep is a channel of communication with the other world: one “sleeps like a dead man (as if killed, like a dead man, as if passed out, as if fallen down)”. The semantics of a sleeper’s immobility is also reflected in the paremias “спит как полено (бревно)” [sleeps like a log], long sleep of an animal in hibernation – “как медведь (как медведь в берлоге, как сурок)” [like a bear (like a bear in its lair, like a marmot)], sound sleep of big animals “спит как конь в конце борозды”, “(как конь), лев (слон)” [sleeps like a horse at the end of a furrow (like a horse), a lion (an elephant)]. Although the metaphorics is the same, the motivation may be different. In the Latvian (Latgalian) material, there is a motif of hard work, after which sleep is vitally necessary; otherwise, a person will not be able to work anymore, thus, in this case, sleep is well deserved (Examples 2, 5, 8).

The proverbs “спать как мёртвый, как медведь в берлоге, как сурок” [to sleep like a dead man, like a bear in its lair, like a marmot] are stable comparisons in the Russian language (Mokienko, 2003, p. 444), which have become Russian stereotypes of sound sleep.

3.2 “Honour thy father and thy mother”

Another motif represented in Latvian (Latgalian) proverbs is that of children’s obedience to parents, borrowed from the Ten Commandments of God to Moses “Honour thy father and thy mother”. This covenant is reflected in the Latvian folksongs:

Kas vecā vārda klausa,
Pilnu cepli maizes cepa;
Kas vecā neklaus
Pa pelniem ru
šināja. (Barons, 3070)

[Who obeys the word of the old
Bakes a full oven of bread;
Who does not obey the old,
the ash].

Кто слова родителя слушается,
Полную квашню теста месит,
Кто родителя не слушается,
Носит заячьи пастолы.
[FS 1620, 1420] (Kokare, 1978, p. 249)

[Who obeys the parent’s word,
Kneads a full bowl of dough,
Who does not obey the parent,
Wears rabbit’s
pastalas [ancient leather shoes]/ (ambles around)].

This song is consistent with proverbs, which emphasize that those who obey their parents knead a full bowl of dough, but naughty children do not manage to bake bread; they bake bread from ashes, and they can only stir ash in an empty oven.

The motif is further developed in the following Latgalian proverbs:

Kas tāvu un mōti klausa, tam maizeite gausa [Who obeys his father and mother, he has hearty bread] (Opincāne, 2000, p. 30);

Kas vacōkus naklausa, tys tukšu krōsni rušynoj [Who does not obey the parents, he cleans the empty oven] (Ibid., p. 31);

Kas naklausa tāvam, tys klausa patāvam [Who does not obey the father, he obeys the stepfather] (Ibid., p. 30);

Kas naklausa tāva bolsu, klausa vēja bolsu [Who does not obey the voice of the father, he obeys the voice of the wind] (Ibid., p. 31);

Ja naklauseisi tāva bolsa, klauseisi suņa bolss [FS 508, 1466] [If you don’t obey your father’s voice, you’ll obey a dog’s voice] (Коkare, 1978, p. 249).

Here the ideas of the New Testament about the prodigal son are traced. E. Kokare provides a much later proverb on military service, which must be done by all men, even by the most stubborn and obstinate ones: “Ko tēvs, māte neizmāca, to izmāca teļāda” [FS 961, 3738] [What the father and the mother don’t teach will be taught by the calfskin [the drum]] (Коkare, 1978, p. 249). Dal’ has fixed an analogous proverb: “Не послушал отца-матери, послушаешься телячьей шкуры” [If you don’t obey your father and your mother, you’ll obey the calfskin (the drum)] (Dal’, 1982, p. 335), i.e. you will be called up for military service. The parallels of this proverb, though without the appeal to the issues of military service, are fixed on the territory of Latgale as being also used at present: “Ka cylvāku mōte ar tāvu naimōcies, tot sveši cylvāki ivujcies” [If the mother and the father do not teach a man, strangers will] (Krāslava district, Skaista). These proverbs are also found in earlier sources on Latvian (Latgalian) proverbs:

Naklauseisi tāva, mōtes – klauseisi svešus ļaudis [If you don’t obey your father and mother, you will obey strangers] (Opincāne, 2000, p. 55);

Naizmōceis tāvs, izmōceis pasauļs [If the father doesn’t teach you, the world will] (Ibid.);

Kō vacōki naīmōca, tū īmōca pasauļs [What the parents don’t teach, the world will] (Ibid., p. 37).

The proverb has a parallel in Диалектный словарь одной семьи – 3 [The Dialectal Thesaurus of One Family – 3]: “Дома не научишься – чужие люди научат” [If you don’t learn at home, strangers will teach you]. Dal’ has recorded: “Не учила сына, когда кормила, а тебя кормить станет, так не научишь” [You didn’t teach your son while you were feeding him, so when he is feeding you, you won’t teach him anyway] (Dal’, 1984, p. 300).

There comes a time when senile parents depend on adult children, and it turns out that their children often do not need their parents. This international type of proverbs is represented by more than 70 variants in Latvian, the most popular version being “Viena māte spēj desmit bērniem maizi dot, bet desmit bērni nespēj vienai mātei” [FS 553, 413] [One mother can give bread to ten children, but ten children cannot give it to one mother] (Kokare, 1978, p. 252). The number of children may vary, but the essence of the expression does not change. The proverb borrowed from the New Testament is used by the Latvians (Latgalians): “Kas vacōkus nagūdoj, tys ilgi nadzeivoj” [They who don’t show respect for their parents, won’t live for long] (Opincāne, 2000, p. 30).

Dal’ emphasizes:

Не поживут дней своих, иже прогневят отца и мать [They won’t live their days, if they make their father and mother angry] (Dal’, 1984, p. 300);

Не оставляй отца и матери на старости лет, и бог тебя не оставит [Do not leave your father and mother in old age, and God will not leave you] (Ibid.).

To testify this, we offer the statement of one Old Believer: “Как говорится в нашем писании: ‘Чти отца и мать своего, и Бог удлинит годы твои’!” [As our scripture says: ‘Respect your father and mother, and God will lengthen your years’!] (Preiļi).

Naughty children will have to experience all the hardships of people who are left without parental care (the motif of the prodigal son) and have not learned any crafts because of laziness and disobedience. According to E. Kokare, parallels are found in the collections of proverbs of Lithuanian, Romance-Germanic, and Slavic peoples: they reflect the tradition, which at a certain stage of development – during the period of patriarchy – was shared by many European nations (Kоkare, 1978, p. 249). The coincidence with the dainas testifies to the fact that this is the oldest stratum of proverbs, which are combined with the proverbs of other nations not only by genetic ties but also by typological parallels. These proverbs have been popular at all times, and nowadays, as they originate from the Holy Scripture, they affirm universal Christian values.

3.3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?”

Another source of international proverbs is the New Testament. We have recorded the following Latgale Old Believers’ variants of the Evangelic aphorism: “В чужом глазу соринку видим, в своем бревна не замечаем” [We see a speck in another’s eye but we don’t notice a log in our own] (Daugavpils); “В чужом глазу соломинку видим, в своём бревна не видим” [We see a straw in another’s eye, but we don’t see a log in our own] (Rēzekne district, Malta). The Latvians (Latgalians) have the following variant of this aphorism: “Cyta acīs skoborgu redz, pats sovā – bolkas naredz” [In another’s eye he sees a splinter, but he doesn’t see the log in his own] (Opincāne, 2000, p. 12).

When studying the files kept in the folklore sector of A. Upits Institute of Language and Literature at the Academy of Sciences, E. Kokare discovered that they contained sayings from the Gospel of 1753: among many, there was a saying about a speck of dust which one sees in another’s eye but does not see a plank in one’s own, as well as a proverb in the form of a question “Can a blind man lead another blind person?”. Thus, E. Kokare marked that initially such records had not been made in Latgale and Latgalian paremia material started appearing only on the boundary between the nineteenth and twentieth century when an active collection of folklore was started (Коkare, 1978, p. 12).

In the dictionary by Dal’, we find one more variant: “В чужом глазу порошинку видишь, а в своём – пенька не видишь” [You see a speck of dust in stranger’s eye, but you don’t see tree stump in your own] (Dal’, 1982, p. 29).

Thus, it is obvious that in the three options provided, the first part of the aphorism is varied; people see something extremely small in a stranger’s eye: a speck, a straw, a splinter, a chip, a speck of dust. In this case, it is also possible to talk about both the historical and genetic, as well as typological parallelism of proverbs. In Latgale, the following variants of interpretative-type proverbs, which have arisen based on associations with this evangelic aphorism, have been recorded: “Pošam grāku pylns maiss – cytam mozu kuleiti redz” [One has a full sack of sins, but he sees other man’s little bag] (Opincāne, 2000, p. 64); “Čaklōkī ūtra vaines maklātōji ir tī, kurim pošim ir daudz vaiņu” [The most zealous seekers of someone else’s guilt are those who have a lot of guilt themselves] (Ibid., p. 13).


The biblical proverb “You can’t make a fur coat from sleep” primarily developed in the Latvian language and was borrowed in Russian dialects by the Old Believers of Latgale who lived among the people speaking Latgalian dialects. The Russians have also borrowed the proverb “If you don’t learn at home, strangers will teach you”. The fact that it was first fixed in Latvian writing on the territory of predominantly German influence (Kurzeme and Vidzeme regions) indicate that the proverb was most probably borrowed into the Latvian folklore from the German folklore, but later from the Latvian folklore via the Latgalian dialects – into the Russian folklore. The impact of German culture must be more thoroughly investigated in future research. The evangelical aphorism “We see a speck in another’s eye but we don’t notice a log in our own” is a calque from the church language for both the Latvians (Latgalians) and the Russians, therefore there are minimal differences. In parallels, the prototype has undergone only a synonymic variation of the first part, which shows features of typological likeness in different linguistic systems – this is something extremely small: a mote, small straw, splinter, chip.

The first two blocks and partially also the third block of the examples given in the paper demonstrate the appearance of occasional paremias. In our material, this is the basic way of assimilating biblical paremias. The third block includes the occasional type (testifying to the deep penetration of Christian ideas into ordinary people’s everyday life) and replacement of components. They are no longer perceived as originating from the Holy Scripture but are assessed as normative behavioural stereotypes; therefore, a lot of paremias bear an imperative and prohibitive character. All of them have an explicitly marked general evaluative character.

Part of the examples of the third block with the replacement of components appears just as church borrowings. Such paremias can be found in the language of all nations professing the Christian religion and not being in contact with each other. These paremias should be studied by future researchers in the field of comparative paremiology.


This work was supported by Daugavpils University (Latvia) under Grant No 14-95/1 “Regional Identity and Adaptation to Diversity: Cultural Historical, Linguistic and Sociological Aspects”.


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Abbreviations used by E. Kokare, 1978:

P – Rybakova, M., Russkie poslovicy i pogovorki [Russian Proverbs and Sayings]. Moskva, 1961. [In Russian]

FS – Materialy fol’klornogo arhiva Instituta jazyka i literatury im. A. Upita AN Latvijskoj SSR [Materials of the Folklore Archive of the Institute of Language and Literature named after A. Upits of the Academy of Sciences of the Latvian SSR]. [In Russian]