The article is devoted to interlingual verbal lacunarity as a process that not only complicates the interaction between different cultures in the modern world but also provides the enrichment of them through the communication. Here are presented the examples of lacunae in different languages, such as Russian, English, German, Dutch, and Japanese. In this paper, we pay special attention to interlingual lacunae, that makes possible to find similar and different traits in the semantics of different languages. This problem was studied by many scientists: I. A. Sternin, E. M. Vereshchagin, V. G. Kostomarov. In this article, we presented the theoretical aspects of lacunology, the main problems of its study, as well as its manifestation on the examples of verbal vocabulary of different languages obtained in the experiment conducted in the framework of our dissertation research. The practical application of this data could be found in the field of teaching foreign languages and contrasting linguistics.
Keywords: interlingual lacunarity, lacuna, communication, language, culture.
Today, special attention is paid to intercultural communication. In modern conditions, the development of cultural relations takes place in various spheres of human life. Moreover, the social, political and economic changes that have taken place in the world in recent years have led to large-scale migration, resettlement, intermixture and confrontation among peoples. As a result of these processes, more and more people are overcoming cultural barriers that used to divide them. They are forced to get acquainted with foreign cultures, collaborate with them. Therefore, the real interaction of cultures is carried out through contacts between individuals. In fact, they represent the process of intercultural communication. But this process is complicated because of the fact that the language system has a lot of lacunar units, incomprehensible to the interlocutor. The analyzed question received a versatile development in the works of such scientists as G. V. Bykova, S. V. Vlasenko, P. N. Donets, etc.
National and cultural originality of vocabulary can be manifested not only in the presence of a series of specific words, but also in the absence of words for meanings (denotations) expressed in other languages. Such concepts and words expressing them are called ‘lacunae’ and are visible only in the comparison of languages. If we compare languages and cultures of different peoples, we can distinguish elements that coincide and differ. Language is certainly a component of culture. Linguists believe that the concept of non-equivalent vocabulary is a very close concept to the concept of ‘lacuna’, which is the basis of the so-called problem of ‘lacunarity’ in intercultural communication .
Lacuna is the absence in one of the languages of the name of a concept. The conditions of socio-political, socio-economic, cultural life of the people, their worldview, psychology, traditions, etc. determine the emergence of concepts that are principally not present in other languages. Accordingly, in other languages there will be no one-word lexical equivalents for their transferring. In linguistics and psycholinguistics, ‘lacunae’ refers to the basic elements of the national specificity of the linguo-cultural community, making it difficult for foreign recipients to understand some fragments of texts. The term ‘lacuna’ was introduced into the Soviet linguistics by Yu.S. Stepanov, who called them ‘gaps’, ‘white spots on the semantic map of the language’. Even though Lacunology studies are more and more recognized and widely implemented in the international literature of intercultural communication, lately many diverse terms are used to characterize the same notion.
National-specific (divergent, divisive) elements in the lexical systems of languages and cultures in the last decade, are described by native and foreign researchers in various aspects through a variety of terms: lacunae (Vinay, Darbelnet, V. L. Muravijev), gap, blank (K. Hale), antiwords, spaces, white spots on the semantic map of the language (Y. S. Stepanov), examples of the untranslatable nature (V. G. Chernov), non-equivalents, lexical null, null lexeme (I. A. Sternin), non-equivalent or background vocabulary (L. Barkhudarov, E. Vereshchagin, V. Kostomarov), dark places in the texts of one language, occasional lacunae (L. Barkhudarov), non-transferable vocabulary, non-adequate vocabulary, 'words for the national-specific realities' (A. Fyodorov).
The main method by which it is possible to identify lacunar lexeme is to compare semantically similar units of vocabulary from two different language systems and to understand whether there are equivalents for these units. Lacunae can be found through bilingual dictionaries, and in the process of communicating with a representative of a different culture. During the conversation, the speaker, as often happens, may encounter unfamiliar words or phrases that denote and describe the subject or phenomenon that are present in the language of the interlocutor. All of these methods are somehow related to the contrast. Thus, lacunar lexemes can be detected in a ‘contrasting’ study.
As already mentioned above, in the case when there is no definition for any phenomenon or concept in the analyzed language, we call such ‘gap’ lacuna. We adhere To L. K. Bayramova's point of view on the importance of distinguishing the concepts of lacuna and lacunar unit. In a number of works on research of lacunae there is no this differentiation, as a result it complicates the analysis. It is important to know on what material there is a study of lacunae. On the material of one language we study intralingual lacunae. When comparing two or more languages, the interlingual lacunae are analyzed. In the absence of a distinction between the terms ‘lacuna’ and ‘lacunar unit’, it is difficult to define an interlingual lacuna.
L. K. Bayramova defines interlingual lacunar unit ‘as such, which in other language is a space, skip, void, i.e. the lacuna is a null correlate of the lacunar unit. Thus, lacunar unit is part of one language (language A), and lacuna belongs to another language (language B). Lacunary units and lacunae are the components of the category of lacunarity’ . So, for example, a common Russian verb, as ‘uspevat’’ has no equivalent in the form of one word in the English language and is often translated by such phrases as ‘to be on time’ or ‘not to be late’ depending on situation of its use. In this case the Russian verb ‘uspevat’’ is lacunar unit and the English absence (gap) of such notion is called lacuna.
Comparing the facts of different languages, it is easy to make sure that often the lexical unit of one language does not find the dictionary equivalent in another. The theory and practice of translation, as well as the methodology of teaching foreign languages, knows many examples when the concept expressed in one language does not have a name in another language. For example, English verb ‘to case’, that can’t be transformed into the Russian language as one-worded equivalent and is translated as phrase ‘klast’ v yashik’; on the other hand, Russian verb ‘dochitat’’ can be transferred into the English language as phrase ‘to read to the end’. Another Russian verb ‘kvasit’’ also can’t be translated as one word equivalent and is transmitted as phrase ‘to prepare products for the future’ in the English language; in its turn English verb ‘to shuck’ is transferred as phrase ‘to remove oysters from the shell’ in the Russian language . Thus, lacuna is a virtual lexical entity, sememe, which does not have a material embodiment in the form of a lexeme, but can manifest itself at the level of syntactic objectification in case of a communicative relevance for the concept.
The living conditions of the people give rise to concepts that are fundamentally absent from native speakers of other languages. Accordingly, in other languages there will be no one-word lexical equivalents for their transferring. There is a good example of lacuna in English and Russian contrasted to the lacunar unit appeared on national specifics of culture in German language. The verb ‘mitdenken’ that, as the Germans themselves say, reflects their state of mind. That is why we can’t find any single-word equivalent neither in the English language nor in Russian one. The meaning of this verb can be transformed into English with the help of such phrases as ‘to participate in the decision-making process’ or ‘to think along’ or sometimes, in order to convey the depth of the meaning, it can be even transferred with the help of long explanation such as ‘To anticipate the actions and needs of the people around you, assist accordingly, and also avoid obstructing them. To act in a way that maximizes the efficiency of everyone’s work all around you.’ As for transmission into the Russian language, it can be done with the help of the next phrases — ‘dumat’ vmeste s kem-libo’, ‘sledovat’ za chodom myslei (sobesednika)’. Here we can say that such concept, which naturally exists in the mindset of German nation, is absent from the mentality of other peoples, i. e. English and Russian.
As the result of this incomplete equivalence of denotative sememes of different languages there is such a phenomenon as lacuna: the absence in one of the comparable languages of the name of a concept present in another language.
There are a lot of examples of lacunae between many other languages, not only between Russian and English. For instance, between the German language, the Russian language and the English language. So, for example, German verb ‘verdursten’ has no equivalent in the form of one word in the Russian language, and its meaning is transmitted with the help of such phrase as ‘umirat’ ot zhazhdy’. The same situation with transmission of the meaning of this verb is in the English language. Here it is translated by such phrase as ‘to die of thirst’. This doesn’t mean that English and Russian culture don’t possess the realia that reflects this notion but it just means that these languages don’t have naming for it, that could be justified by irrelevance.  Almost the same situation is with the German verb ‘kaputtverbessern’, the meaning of which can be explained into the English language with the help of such phrase as ‘to try to improve something that was broken without any background knowledge’. Meanwhile literally the adjective ‘kaputt’ means ‘broken’ and the verb ‘verbessern’ means ‘to improve’, so this verb can be translated as ‘to improve smth. broken’, that doesn’t coincide with its true meaning of ‘making the breakage worse while trying to fix it’ and doesn’t reveal the full meaning of the verb. Transmission of the meaning of this German verb into the Russian language is even in the worse state. There is no such word neither in dictionaries nor in Internet translators. The meaning can be transmitted only by double translation from German into English and only then into the Russian language. So that the situation of lacuna will be repeated and the most appropriate equivalent of the meaning of the verb ‘kaputtverbessern’ will be the ‘sdelat’ polomku huzhe, starayas’ ee pochinit’’. Another example of lacuna between the German and the Russian languages, the Russian verb ‘priletat’’. The meaning of it in the German language has no single-word equivalent and is transferred in the form of phrase ‘angeflogen kommen’.
There is a very interesting example of lacuna in English and Russian in the contrast to the Dutch language. It is the verb ‘uitwaaien’ that is lacunar unit in relation to the English and the Russian languages, where the one-word equivalent for this notion doesn’t exist. The meaning of this verb can be fully transmitted into English by such phrase as ‘to go out for a walk or to the countryside in order to clear one’s mind’. Meanwhile, for example the Grandiloquent dictionary offers for this verb such translation as ‘to walk in a windstorm for no reason or for fun’, while such source as Van Dale Handwoordenboek Nederlands-Engels translates it by phrase ‘to get a breath of (fresh) air’ but both of them as we consider doesn’t fully convey the meaning . As for the transmission of this lacunar unit into the Russian language, it is difficult because the Dutch-Russian Dictionary suggests only such translations as ‘zadut’, razvevat’sya, unosit’ (vetrom), pogasnut’ (ot vetra)’, which obviously don’t reveal the meaning explained above, that is why here again can be applied double translation from Dutch into English and then into the Russian language. Here the literal translation will be ‘poiti gulyat’ ili poechat’ na prirody s cel’yu proyasnit’ razum’. Although this phrase most completely convey the meaning, it can be reduced so that the best variant for transferring the meaning of Dutch verb ‘uitwaaien’ for the Russian language will be the phrase ‘poiti na prirodu, chtoby razveyat’sya’. We are making such suggestion by relying on the fact that according to Ozhegov’s Explanatory Dictionary, the Russian verb ‘razveyat’sya’ has the meaning ‘otvlechsya ot zabot, dum’ and by this verb Russian native speakers may already understand the meaning of clearing one’s mind .
There is also a good example of lacuna in the English language in the contrast to the Japanese language. The lacunar unit ‘tsundoku’. This word has its origins in the very beginning of modern Japan, the Meiji era (1868–1912). That is syntactically a Japanese noun but it was formed from two verbs. It literally means ‘reading pile’. In the Japanese language it is written as 積ん読. ‘Tsunde oku’ is written 積んでおく and originally it means ‘to pile something up’. But with time, as it sometimes happens in languages, someone replaced ‘oku’ (おく) in ‘tsunde oku’ with ‘doku’ (読) — that means ‘to read’. Then because the phrase ‘tsunde doku’ is hard to say, the word got the omission of sounds in speech, that is known in phonetics as process of elision, and was formed into the word ‘tsundoku’. It is obvious that there is no one-word equivalent for this notion in the English language. That is why this Japanese lacunar unit presents a lacuna in the English language, the meaning of which can be transferred through the phrase ‘to buy books and let them pile up unread’.
The emergence of these lacunae could be due to the fact that in public practice of the carriers of other languages’ native speakers there are no relevant realities or due to the lack of lexical units in a particular language, denoting the relevant concepts. In all cases (and they are countless) speakers, usually without noticing, deal with the universal phenomenon of lacunarity — the lack of units in the system of language. Differences (mismatches in languages and cultures) are recorded at different levels and described by different authors in different terms. Such terminological discordance indicates, generally, that the issues related to the lacunarity, cause scientific controversy and are still awaiting their resolution.
Lacunae create inconveniences in speech. Not accidentally, the native speakers tend to get rid of the dissected denotation of realities trying to express any ideal content devoid of ‘lexical cover’ with one word. This is a universal phenomenon for all languages.
However, the phenomenon of lacunarity keeps our language ‘alive as life’. As pointed out by E. V. Kuznetsova ‘the gradual archaization of certain parts of the vocabulary organically combines with its constant (nowadays — intense) updating with new words — neologisms. Neologisms usually do not stay on the periphery, but start being widely used since their emergence in most cases, dictated by urgent public needs’ .
- Vinay J. and Darbelnet J. (1995). — Comparative stylistics of French and English. Amsterdam [Netherlands]: J. Benjamins Pub. Co., 1995. — P. 60–63.
- Байрамова Л. К. Лингвистические лакунарные единицы и лакуны. — Вестник Челябинского государственного университета. — 2011. — № 25. — С.20–25.
- Быкова Г. В. Внутриязыковая лакунарность в лексической системе русского языка — Типография Благовещенского гос.пед. университета. — 1998.
- Махонина А. А. К вопросу о классификации межъязыковых лакун // Язык и национальное сознание. Вып. 4. Воронеж: ВГПУ, 2003. — С. 40–45.
- Hannay M. Van Dale woordenboek Nederlands-Engels. Utrecht/Antwerpen: Van Dale Lexicografie, 1997.
- Ожегов С. И. Толковый словарь русского языка: Около 100 000 слов, терминов и фразеологических выражений / С. И. Ожегов; Под ред. Л. И. Скворцов. — М.: ОНИКС-ЛИТ, Мир и Образование, 2012. — 1376 c.
- Кузнецова Н. В. К вопросу о лингвистическом прогнозировании и лингвистических перспективах новой лексики в современном английском языке // Вестник Нижегородского университета им. Н. И. Лобачевского, 2014. — Вып. 2(2), C. 380–383.