Kazakh Traditional Riddles as a Specific Form of Translation of Cultural-Historical Experience



This article develops the ideas of M.M. Mukanov about the importance of a psychological approach to the product of oral creativity in ethnico-historical terms. Ethnic mentality corresponds to social and historical realities of the life of the ethnos creating a unique culture. An important part of the manifestation of ethnic mentality belongs to the works of oral creativity – the product of the mental activity of many generations. John M. Dienhart (Dienhart) argued that riddles "can serve as a useful identifier of cultural norms and worldview" [34]. Thus, the article discusses riddles as a specific element of Kazakh culture, as a special cultural tradition; the role of riddles in the translation of cultural and historical experience; how exactly the peculiarities of mentality manifest themselves in riddles; what the specificity of the guessing process is. In conclusion, we discuss what the common and the different in guessing riddles compared to solving educational and creative tasks. It is shown that the difficulties of guessing are associated with the disguise of the sought under the shell of the ethnic context and a special way of "stamping" the riddle. In a creative task, the most important moment is a reflexive effort aimed at awaring and changing the way of action. And the Kazakh riddle combines the correlation of two contents according to gestalt, thinking by analogy, transduction and ethno-cultural context. In this sense, guessing the Kazakh riddle is "three in one": mastering cultural and historical experience (the enclosed content), mastering the method of metaphorical thinking (thinking in modeling representations), mastering the ethno-cultural context. Thus, it corresponds to Archer Taylorꞌs thesisthat the riddle is a universal art [38].

General Information

Keywords: psychological anthropology, historical ethnology, ethnic mentality, riddle, aitys, metaphoricity of thinking, intellectual maturity testing, cultural-historical experience, creative task

Journal rubric: Developmental Psychology

Article type: scientific article

DOI: https://doi.org/10.17759/chp.2022180406

Funding. The research was carried out with the financial support of the Science Committee of the Ministry of Education and Science of the Republic of Kazakhstan in the framework of scientific research under the project IRN AP09563101 “Spiritual shrines of the near-abroad Kazakhs (on the example of the regions of the Russian Federation bordering with Western Kazakhstan)”.

Received: 16.11.2022


For citation: Nurgaliyeva A.M., Nourgaliev K.A. Kazakh Traditional Riddles as a Specific Form of Translation of Cultural-Historical Experience. Kul'turno-istoricheskaya psikhologiya = Cultural-Historical Psychology, 2022. Vol. 18, no. 4, pp. 59–69. DOI: 10.17759/chp.2022180406. (In Russ., аbstr. in Engl.)

Full text


Currently, the influence of globalization leads to the blurring of ethno-cultural boundaries, the interpenetration and reassessment of cultural values, the loss of ethnically significant ancestral experience.

The Kazakhs are one of ethnic groups living in Russia. Therefore, an appeal to their ethnic mentality may be of interest when studying the anthropological problems of Russian peoples. The fact that the traditions of Kazakh culture are alive here and continue to develop is evidenced, for example, by the activities of many public organizations engaged in the preservation, support and development of Kazakh culture.

The appeal to riddles and other small genres of folklore allows, as V.F. Petrenko noted [26], to approach the study of the peculiarities of the human psyche not abstractly, exploring a certain non-historical subject, but in the context of a certain peculiar cultural structure characteristic of a particular people. The appeal to riddles and other small genres of folklore allows, as V.F. Petrenko [26] noted, to approach the study of the peculiarities of the human psyche not abstractly, exploring a certain non-historical subject, but in the context of a certain peculiar structure of culture characteristic of a particular people.

Address to the ethnic mentality of the Kazakh ethnic group allows you to clearly understand the essence and originality of its culture. The ethnic mentality corresponds to the social and historical realities of life and life support of the ethnic group. An ethnic group creates a unique culture. Their dominant cultural themes have a universal character, and its form differs from one nation to another in its originality, reflecting the specifics of this ethnic group. The ethnic mentality of the Kazakhs is based on a systematic combination of many endogenous and exogenous factors that have influenced the ethnos throughout its historical path. At the same time, cultural factors acting mainly in time dimensions were combined with environmental factors acting in the coordinates of space, sometimes called geocultural factors.

An important part of the manifestation of ethnic mentality is the works of oral folk art. Therefore, oral folk art, in which the relations between the phenomena of reality reflected by consciousness and their assessment are fixed, is an important source in the study of ethnic mentality. Riddles, proverbs, phraseological units, like any other type of oral creativity, are the product of the mental activity of many generations.

In the pre-written period of the history of the Kazakh ethnos, oral creativity was widespread, which, according to M.M. Mukanov, was associated with their nomadic lifestyle and the specifics of cattle breeding [21]. According to E.D. Tursunov [29], such a variety of Kazakh art as aitys originally had a ritual character, and then turned into a specific genre of artistic folklore.

Ethno-mental paradigms are reflected in such a genre of folklore as the riddle. Archer Taylor [38, p. 3] even states "the riddle is a universal art." [38, p 3]. In riddles, people create a poetic image of everything that surrounds them: objects, events, phenomena, people, animals, etc. The riddle is suggestive, makes you think about the qualities and properties of objects and phenomena. Therefore, it introduces the worldview, attitude to the environment, feelings and thinking, language features and  development of public consciousness of people.

The object of analysis in this article is the riddle as a phenomenon of folk culture, a specific form of artistic consciousness of the Kazakh people and the translation of cultural and historical experience accumulated by generations in the pre-written period of its history.

Riddle as a phenomenon of folk culture

If thinking is the cognition of the world, then mentality is the manner of thinking, its originality.

By definition of O.A. Kukoba [16], by ethnic mentality is meant the deep level of mass consciousness, what representatives of historical-psychological and cultural-anthropological thought called a kind of "psychological equipment" of any social community, which allowed it to perceive both the environment and themselves in its own way. This "psychological equipment" manifests itself in the worldview and worldview characteristic of this community, which has an emotional, axiological and behavioral expression.

This definition is quite consistent with the views of prominent Russian psychologists and ethnologists on this problem. Thus, V.F. Petrenko [26, p.23] notes: "Human perception and awareness of the world, the processes of its memory, thinking and imagination are armed and at the same time limited by that concrete historical system of meanings bearing the aggregate social experience, which is inherent in a particular social community, a particular culture". Ethnologist S.V. Lurie writes about the formation of ethnic constants [18, p. 297]: "In the process of adaptation, adaptation of an ethnos to the surrounding unfavorable natural and social environment, often unconscious ethnic constants are formed, which help the ethnos to survive and develop. These ethnic constants represent a kind of unchanging form of ordering experience, the content of which is the real experience of the cultural and historical life of the people. It is the ethnic constants that serve as the prism through which the ethnos looks at the world”.

The first Kazakh doctor of psychological sciences Mazhit Mukanov [22, p. 88] wrote about metaphorical thinking as an important characteristic for guessing Kazakh riddles: "Firstly, the nomadic way of life is rich in all sorts of adventures, and secondly, it allows you to constantly change the place and thus makes it possible to encounter new objects of reality every time. This creates the prerequisites for the mental comparison of distant objects, the construction of various metaphors, and the frequent use of allegorical speech".

Guessing riddles, being a measure of the intellectual maturity of each of the parties in the competition, was widely practiced in life, especially among nomadic peoples. They were popular among young people. The works of M.M. Mukanov contain the idea of the reflexive function of folklore, which carries the age-old experience and system of values of the people. In his opinion [21] riddles, proverbs, sayings in traditional culture act as a kind of reflection for everyday consciousness, understood as a process of critical comprehension of current activity and the basis for the transition to a new activity.

The social role of riddles was studied by David Evans [35], Annike Kaivola-Bregenhoy [36]. The social basis of riddles is connected with the production process, with the way of life of the people, and this connection is felt in what object and how it is conveyed, by what image, by what metaphor it is expressed. In their content, riddles can include almost all areas of human life and vary depending on the interests and customs of the society in which they are used. And since Kazakhs are mostly pastoralists, a good third, if not half, of the Kazakh riddles concern cattle breeding, or borrow comparisons from there.

Many scientists felt the need to create unique definitions of the riddle corresponding to the studied culture. So far, there is not a single definition of the riddle and its distinctive features that have entered into general circulation.

Of interest is John M. Dienhart's [34] statement that riddles "can serve as a useful identifier of cultural norms and worldviews".  Roger D. Abrahams says about the specific use of riddles in different communities: "riddles are equally formulaic, competitive, confusing and witty, but they fit into the life of the group and reveal its values and expressive habits in a variety of ways" [32, р. 156].

The root of the Russian word "riddle" (from the verb "to guess") seems to indicate exactly this and the guessing process itself is predominantly probabilistic in nature (divination may or may not come true). In the Kazakh language, the riddle is transmitted as "zhumbak" (from the verb "zhum" – which means "to close", "to hide"). This value, of course, indicates not the process of divination, but finding something hidden, not directly given in the text. Finding what lies beyond the immediate given presupposes the work of thinking. We will use the term "riddle" in this sense.

This understanding of the riddle brings it closer to the Russian word "task". Analyzing the etymology of the word task, S.L. Rubinstein [28] emphasized the presence of hidden content in the task ("given"), which must be revealed, extracted from the conditions ("data").

Riddles, as a special phenomenon of folk culture, attracted the attention of a wide variety of researchers not only in Kazakhstan itself.

The first collectors and publishers of Kazakh riddles were prominent Russian folklorists-orientalists: V. V. Radlov, P. M. Melioransky, A.V. Vasiljev, D.A. Divaev and others. A number of riddles were published in periodicals [2; 18], printed in the form of anthologies or individual books [5]. In 1903, in Kazan, Nurzhan Naushabayev – one of the participants of the competition of improvising singers – published his text under the title "Zhumbak. Nurzhan and Sapargali aitys".

In 1940, for the first time there was a collection of Kazakh folk riddles called "Zhumbaktar", which can be ranked among the complete collections ("Riddles", compiled by S. Amanzholov). The same collection was supplemented and reissued in 1959 by S. Amanzholov, T. Zhanuzakov ("Kazakh folk riddles"). In the last collection there are about a thousand folk and eight competitive riddles. In 2003, a new edition of "Kazakh riddles" was published, prepared by Sarsen Amanzholov. In our research, we used the materials of these publications.

The riddle as a form of translation of cultural and historical experience

Riddles appear in ancient times, and the art of guessing-solving riddles has been developing and polishing for many centuries. Such a long existence of riddles in the Kazakh culture, the interest of various scientists in them, which has persisted for more than two centuries, suggests that riddles play an important role in the life of people, in its development.

One of the explanations for the emergence of riddles as a cultural tradition can be found in K. Levi-Strauss [37, p. 23], who noted that the human mind could not have arisen and achieved such high perfection if people were limited only to satisfying immediate needs for food, clothing, etc. This could happen only due to the presence of mediated interests, i.e. the fascination with motives that are not directly related to work (the desire to know the unknown, to reflect alone with oneself, to have a discussion with others, etc.).

But from the thesis about the presence of spiritual needs, along with material ones, it is impossible to explain why it is the riddles and the special intellectual culture developing in connection with them that becomes so important in the life of this ethnic group.

It can be assumed that riddles acquire a particularly important role precisely in the preservation, maintenance, development and translation of the cultural and historical experience of an ethnic group in the absence of writing and the institution of education as such.

Riddles differ from other types of folklore in that they act on the guesser with entertainment, causing his thinking to work. This is because the riddle affects a person unexpectedly, like a play on words and a paradox. Unlike proverbs, riddles are considered as a type of activity, including those intended for special occasions, when organizing public competitions and mass events.

For example, in order to show their endurance, people participated in sports. In the same way, in the early stages of the historical process, in their moments of leisure, they asked each other riddles in order to test intellectual maturity. The literature has repeatedly emphasized the fact that riddles are a battle of wits, and they are aimed at developing the speed of the mind.

The obvious purpose of riddles seems to be entertainment. However, the riddle also has other functions. Riddles can be considered as a tool of education, if we understand "education" in the context of the process of transmitting culture, as a way of fixing and transmitting the social value experience of older generations, knowledge about the life and traditions of oneꞌs ethnic group. Questions enclosed in riddles, as it were, replaced school knowledge, teaching children quick thinking, intellectual skills and classification. This especially applies to those periods in the life of ethnic communities when there was (or still is not) specially organized education. It was in the life of such tribes and peoples that riddles, proverbs and other winged words replaced for people what is called education in our time.

Riddles, therefore, is a social event that values ​​entertainment, intelligence, getting the right answer. Solving riddles requires from a person his own (subjective) activity, intellectual tension, imagination, thus "learning activity" in the form of guessing and solving riddles in which cultural experience is encrypted, becomes a source of personal and intellectual development in the interaction of a child and an adult, which is exactly consistent with one of the basic provisions of L.S. Vygotskyꞌs cultural-historical psychology [7].

It is important to note that in the development of the individual, not only the improvement of the ability to guess, but also the mastery of the art of deeply "encrypting" the hidden object plays a significant role.

Specifics of Kazakh traditional riddles

The antiquity of the origin of Kazakh riddles is proved not only by the archaic nature of many of their verbal components and the very structure of riddles, but also by examples from extant historical monuments (Codex Cumanicus, dictionary of Mahmud of Kashgar, etc.).

There were various kinds of riddles in Kazakh society. In this article, we will limit ourselves to considering two of their types: ordinary and competitive.

Ordinary (subject) riddles are more ancient in form. Competitive riddles developed on the basis of simple folk riddles, and are an expanded form of simple (ordinary) riddles.

An example of an ordinary riddle is a riddle on the topic of cattle breeding: "There are 12 mares, 8 of them foaled (give offspring), and 4 are not foaled." It is not easy to solve it without knowing the ethno-cultural context. We are talking about the main bones of animals used for food. In 8 bones they have bone marrow ("offspring"), and in 4 there is no bone marrow (for example, a scapula, etc.).

Another riddle requires knowledge of national musical traditions. "The stomach is like a pumpkin, the leg is like a stick. If you touch her, she cries, and people like crying." The answer is the dombra, a national musical instrument. Even in an ordinary riddle, not only the appearance of the instrument is transmitted, but also the aesthetic cultural experience: the sound of the dombra is compared to crying, but at the same time brings pleasure to the listener.

The riddle about a person is widely known, although most do not know that this is also an "ordinary" Kazakh riddle: "In the morning on four legs, in the afternoon on two, and in the evening on three." There are three main age periods of a person: infancy (a child moves on all fours), adulthood (on two legs), old age ("on three legs", i.e. a person walks leaning on a stick).

Of particular interest are the competitive (controversial) riddles. Oral competitions associated with guessing paradoxical riddles were widely developed in India, Afghanistan, among the Bedouin tribes of modern Saudi Arabia. It can be assumed that almost all peoples have gone through this method of developing the mind by organizing polemics.

The distribution of riddles among the Kazakhs to test the mind and resourcefulness in the early periods, we can judge from the surviving legends. So, in the past, a shepherd, poor Ayaz became an adviser to the khan thanks to his intelligence and wisdom. He withstood several trials of Khan Madan. Ayaz proved to the khan that the worst herb is cattail, the worst bird is magpie. (Ayaz proved to Khan that cattail is the worst of herbs, magpie is the worst of birds ("Cattail does not burn when thrown into the fire and cattle do not eat it; magpie, although beautiful with feathers, there is no agreement between magpies: two magpies don't fly together, two magpies don't sit together. There is no benefit to a person from it, it is not good for food"). Having solved these complex riddles, Ayaz thereby saved 40 envious, stupid viziers from death. Later, at the request of the people, he was elected khan [14, pp. 198–211].

Similar traditions have been preserved about the wise orator Zhirenshe. During the period when Khan Zhanibek was on the Kazakh throne (XV century), competitions were often held to solve riddles. Tradition tells us that one day Zhanibek announced to the audience that the person who took the first place in guessing riddles would be appointed vizier. This person was Zhirence (he is known in history under the name Zhirenshe eloquent). He saved the viziers, who were unable to answer the Khan's question "What is the distance between a lie and the truth? " Zhirenshe found the answer: "What you hear with your ears may be a lie, but what you see with your eyes is absolutely true, so the distance between the lie and  truth is equal to the distance between the ear and  eye”. The Khan was satisfied, and the viziers were freed [8, p. 299].

If the riddles that we call ordinary have passed through a certain selection from generation to generation and their content, to a certain extent, has been established and is normative for this community, then competitive riddles are made impromptu, when one challenges the other to a competition.

It can be assumed that competitive riddles arose under the influence of the most common art form of the Kazakhs called aitys. "Aitys as a common type of creativity among Kazakhs, –  writes M.M. Mukanov, –  has been known for a long time. Its essence lies in the fact that two or more persons (often specially invited for this purpose), in the presence of a significant number of people, strive to show justice, the truth of their own point of view and refute the opinion of the opposite side. The topic of aitys was not announced in advance; one of the parties impromptu (often accompanying his performance by playing the dombra) begins to talk about some topic in the form of a verse (often about himself or about a person who enters into a competition with him). The other side at this time listens attentively to the speaker and at the same time prepares an answer to himself. After many hours of polemic, one of the parties often admits to being defeated (although not always) ... Aitys are usually divided into household and aitys akyns. However, there are no sharp differences between them. Both types of aitys, with rare exceptions, are conducted in verse form" [22, p. 92].

It is possible that oral contests took place with the help of ordinary arguments and arguments, and then, in order to test each party's level of intellectual maturity, the oral contest was clothed in the form of riddles. Kazakh writer S. Mukanov noticed the peculiar features of competitive riddles: "Competitive riddles are one of the most difficult types in the competition of akyns. Here it is not enough to be only an akyn (poet), resourcefulness and ingenuity are also necessary" [24, p.201]. To this, psychologist Mazhit Mukanov [22, p.92] adds that aitys among Kazakhs, being a bright, exciting spectacle, served to test people's ability to logically construct thoughts in their specific form.

Aitys-riddles are the most difficult form of aitys. It was a live poetic duel in which the participants honed their skills, created new images, and addressed current topics. In this verbal competition, not only wit and eloquence should be shown, but also broad knowledge and ingenuity. Here akyns express their thoughts allegorically. The audience is never passive. For the author of the riddle and the audience, the game would be boring if all the riddles were easily solved.

Aitys-riddle is held at celebrations on the day of the naming of a child, at youth parties, parties, rinks, feasts and weddings. Kazakh scholar-educator Chokan Valikhanov [4, с. 283] in his manuscript discovered in 1857, among the forms of Kazakh songs, singled out the form he called "kaim" (from the Kazakh word "kaimdasu" – to enter into a verbal or song contest; the same as aitys in our time): "Kaim are songs used at weddings, consisting of questions and answers between young men and girls; they consist of quatrains in which the first two verses rhyme with the fourth. These songs sometimes contain riddles, epigrams and, finally, comic abuse, reaching the most desperate cynicism of expressions". That is, he recorded the existence of such a form of competition. The audience is never passive. For the riddler and audience the game would be boring if all riddles were easy to guess.

Now the debate in the riddles is very rare. It used to happen that several people gave their answer to the riddle of one akyn at once. So, the girl Yrysty is famous for autism mystery with sixteen poets. She made a wish: "Do you have a caravan camel to pack a Yurt? Having loaded a Yurt, how to free a draught camel? Do you have the means to make the old young"? Sixteen akyns from the lower reaches of the Syr Darya tried to answer this riddle, but only Bazar-Zhyrau gave the correct answer: "If a person is always happy and cheerful, does not know grief and sorrow, he does not grow old" [Aitys 1966].

The competition between Sapargali Alimbetov (1880-1957) and Nurzhan Naushabayev (1859-1919) has been preserved in the memory of the people. Here is an example of a riddle from this aitys, made by Sapargali [1, рр.462–474]:

"Kus cordim,ozi zhansyz, bir ayagy. Tenizde salgan zholy sairap zhatyr”.

(I saw a non-living one-legged bird.The road it built at sea is sparkling).

Response of Sapargali:

“Zhansyz kus  bir ayakty munyn-kalam, Teniz, mysal, kagazgoi, zholyn-zhazu / Жансыз құс бір аяқты, мұның – қалам. Теңіз, мысал, қағазғой, жолың – жазу". 

(A dead bird with one leg, this is a pen. The sea, for example, a sheet of paper, the road – writing).

Akyn Sapargali in his riddle compared a pencil or pen with a one-legged bird, and paper with a boundless water surface. Akyn Nurzhan immediately guessed the hidden image. This contest vividly illustrates the peculiar game of images, both of the author and guesser.

The riddles that were taken out at the above-mentioned gatherings have been preserved to this day. The texts of competitive riddles are published in many publications, and are also stored in a number of manuscript library collections of the Republic.

Competitive riddles were usually clothed in verse form. Kazakh writer M.O. Auezov said that "the riddle is poetic in nature. And akyns-improvisers highly appreciate the riddle, often choose it for poetic competitions, so many Kazakh riddles exist in poetic form" [12, р. 11].

In this regard, the poetic text of one riddle in the published form is sometimes several pages. This feature is explained by the fact that the Creator of the riddle, if it happens impromptu, is forced to think not only about how to hide deeply what should be guessed, but also about the elegance and folding of the poetic text. The elegance and folding of the verse sometimes lead to excessive verbosity. The poetic text, significantly increasing the redundancy of the message, creates difficulties for guessing. Therefore, in the voluminous text of a poetic riddle, it is difficult to determine which lines are relevant to the riddle and which are not. If we also take into account the case when there are many contextual riddles inside one poetic riddle, then the difficulty of guessing increases many times.

The rhythmic form, apparently, reflects the ethno-psychological and ethno-cultural features of the Kazakh people, which has been noted by Russian researchers more than once in the past. Thus, the outstanding orientalist-turkologist V. Radlov [ 28, p. 332] was able to catch the music of the Kazakh speech: "The Kyrgyz stand out among all their neighbors with the gift of speech. The speech of each Kyrgyz flows smoothly and freely. The Kyrgyz has such a command of the word that he can not only pronounce long improvisations in verse, but also his usual speech differs in a certain rhythm in the construction of phrases and periods, so that it is often similar to poems. It is figurative, the expressions are clear and precise, there is nothing surprising in the fact that such a people had a particularly rich folk literature". Similarly, the Russian researcher V.I. Massalsky spoke about the Kazakhs: "The distinctive feature of the Kyrgyz is the love of poetry and the ability to express their thoughts not only clearly and elegantly, but also eloquently. Hence the high development of oral folk literature, characterized by richness and diversity" [19, p. 370].

Peculiarities of Kazakh traditional guessing of riddles

From generation to generation, not only the riddles themselves were passed on, but also the ways of guessing them.

Usually in riddles, not the main signs of objects and phenomena, but their hidden signs are put away. The allusive form is given to riddles not only to make puzzles more difficult, it is also designed to reveal the inner hidden properties of things that are related to proverbs, as another genre of folklore, as noted by M.M. Mukanov¹.

The generation of riddles and search riddles can be represented as a competition between two players, in which the strategy of the first player (the author) is good, if no one can guess the riddle. On the contrary, the strategy of the solver (the second player) is good if he can solve the riddles of the creator of the plot. Thus, the competition turns into a struggle between the strategies of enigmatic ("encryption") and unraveling ("decryption") in the cultural context (subjects of life, natural phenomena, features of the way of life and mentality, life values, lessons, wisdom, etc.).

In the riddle, the similarity between what is given and what needs to be guessed is veiled by all sorts of subtleties. Complex associative connections are shown in each order. The mysterious object is deeply hidden under the cover of various means (transmission in poetic form, multiple meanings of connections, etc.). However, this method of creating a structure of riddles for those who guess them is just as entertaining as it allows you to test the degree of your intellectual maturity. As already noted above, the texts of riddles were often poetic (or in other words, there was an aesthetic way of transmitting information). This was done in order to increase the impact on the opponent and the public, to cause additional interest in the process. It is difficult for the solver to establish what is used in the text exclusively for the purpose of rhyming, and what refers directly to the meaning (mental side of information).

Take, for example, the riddle: “Torde torteui otyr toremin dep, esikte ekeui otyr olemin ____________________________________

¹ There is a significant difference between riddles and proverbs. Obyasnyaya prikyi inoskazatelnogo karakta poslovits, M.M. Mukanov [22, p.91] writes: "It is logical to assume that the reason for the allusion of Kazakh proverbs is related to the general problem of finding, and the function of allusion had its roots in various kinds of ideas related to the fantastic reflection of reality. Otherwise, it is difficult to imagine why a person who wants to communicate to another does not always communicate directly, but his own judgments are supported by a statement (metaphor).

dep" (four people sit in the place of honor – proud, and two are offended at the door). In this case, the translation is done correctly, but for the Russian reader and even for the younger generation of Kazakhs, it is not clear what is being discussed here. This is explained by the fact that the one who created the riddle, to the Kazakh word "tor" (living room), selected the word case, the translation is done correctly, but for the Russian reader and even for the younger generation of Kazakhs, it is not clear what is being discussed here. This is explained by the fact that the one who created the riddle, to the Kazakh word "tor" (living room), selected the word "torteu", which means "four", according to the rhyme. Meanwhile, the word "four" has nothing to do with the content of the riddle, but was chosen by the author in order to provide rhyming. Not only native speakers of another language, but even some Kazakh folklorists do not always realize that the word "torteui" is selected by the similarity of sound with the word "tor". Meanwhile, the things that are inside the yurt (tor) do not have to be four, but may be more or less. (Answer: a place of honor –  a place for guests inside the house and door jambs at the entrance, where guests have never been seated).

In riddles, it is difficult to find the usual logic for a modern person. Therefore, we found it possible to interpret the method of "stamping" the riddle, as well as its context in a broad sense, as factors influencing the solution (decryption) of the riddle from the standpoint of the hypothesis of linguistic relativity.

Each riddle reveals complex associative connections that a person observes in the process of his life in nature.

Difficulties caused by metaphoricality are especially evident in solving competing riddles. Special efforts are required from the author to achieve the masking of the desired object. The complexity of creating a riddle is aggravated by the fact that the author must think not only about the masking of the answer, but also about the need to dress the content in a poetic form. Simultaneous compliance with these requirements is an even greater burden for the mind. For the solver, these difficulties are reversed. From the wide variety of riddle lines (the length of the text of these riddles can sometimes reach several pages), he must choose the one that relates to the object in question, and keep it in the field of attention.

In addition, we note that the model of the considered variety of the Kazakh riddle is often not interrogative. The "question" in it, as a rule, is not at all interrogative in form, but, at least outwardly, is a statement. This is seen, for example, in the Sapargali riddle above. Let's give them in a short translation: "I saw a strange creature with a hat on its head; it hisses privately, the water in it tastes better than honey...(samovar) "; "There is a house without windows and doors: when it breaks down, a living thing comes out of there...(egg) "; "There is a bag that gets into it, does not pass out of itself, it does not have a permanent place, occasionally a live one gives birth ... (mesh net) " [1].

It should be noted that if the guessing of ordinary riddles is based on the similarity of shape or color, etc., then the guessing of competitive riddles requires reliance mainly on a functional feature. Barely noticeable functional signs are difficult to detect. Compilers of competitive riddles made riddles difficult not for fun, but when they were solved, the intellectual maturity of a person in public competitions was tested. Therefore, the authors tried to encrypt the answer so that the participants of the opposite side could not guess it.

This feature of the "device" of the riddle and the process of its guessing significantly distinguishes the traditional Kazakh riddle from the usual educational task and brings it closer to what in psychology has been called "creative tasks" or "tasks for consideration" [27]. When solving a learning task, the main load falls on memory and logical reasoning. Solving a learning task, a person understands what exactly from his experience can be used to find a solution and correctly applies this knowledge. When solving a creative task, a person is faced with a situation where his understanding is erroneous, the method is inadequate, and the success of the search depends on whether he can overcome his way of acting. Therefore, when solving a creative task, a large load falls on imagination and reflection [11].

But in Kazakh riddles, both processes (guessing and solving) are further complicated by the requirement to take care not only to hide the hidden object well and dress it in the clothes of a metaphor, but also about the elegance of the descriptive part, compliance with its forms of versification, aesthetic appeal, which the competition itself turns into a theatrical spectacle. Therefore, creating and guessing riddles is not an easy task for people.

The complexity of the riddle from the point of view of versification, although pleasant to the ear, only complicates perception, creating a barrier to differentiating the main plot of the riddle from the redundant moments of the poetic text.

Riddles, which we have called ordinary, are in some cases as difficult to guess as competitive riddles. The difficulties of guessing them are associated with the disguise of the desired under the shell of the ethnic context. The ability to solve riddles is based on models learned together with cultural practices. Dan Ben Amos suggested that "every explanation can be valid as long as it is offered by a native speaker who shares the cultural experience of the community and has an adequate familiarity with traditional knowledge" [33, pp.  249-250].

The connection between the text of the riddle and the hidden object is based not on essential, but on random (I would like to say pragmatic) signs. These random signs, which are hinted at by the riddle, are different in each ethnic group. If this were not the case, i.e. the connection would be unambiguous, then there would be no problem in guessing riddles, and the riddle would turn into a typical educational task, which explicitly contains a method of action to be learned.

The ambiguity and random nature of the connections in the riddle is expressed in the fact that the guesser goes from a private object to recognizing its hidden quality in another private object. Such a course of thought can be called a conclusion by analogy. The conclusion by analogy in psychological terms is often based on association by similarity. It is possible that association by similarity plays an exceptional role in solving riddles. The fact is that the object in the text of the riddle to some extent seems similar to another object (which is encrypted in it). Therefore, when the subject is offered to guess a riddle, he sorts out objects in his memory that resemble the hidden object. Of course, the condition of the riddle may not always coincide with the answer of the guesser, but he still sees at least a distant resemblance to the subject.

Most riddles require the guesser to identify the object specified in the allusive general statements. As you know, inference by analogy, including transduction, is a process of thought transition from the private to the private. It seems to us that this kind of connection is the basis of the process of guessing traditional Kazakh riddles. In search of an answer, the guesser puts forward hypotheses that may contain an analogy with the original text of the riddle. As a holistic picture of the connections of essential elements is built, the requirements for the desired analogy are concretized. When the essential features of the desired object or situation are identified, the transition to the identification of a similar object is carried out. The sudden discovery of the coincidence of objects by similarity is often experienced as an insight [23] – a phenomenon that has become the main object of research in the European tradition of productive thinking [9] and in the psychology of creative thinking in Russia (S.L. Rubinstein [29], Ya.A. Ponomarev [27], A.V. Brushlinsky [ 3], V.K. Zaretskyi  [10, 11 ], B.D. Elkonin [31] and others).

In the mindset of the guesser, a great role is played by sorting through various options in order to find what is needed, but both creative tasks and Kazakh riddles cannot be solved by sorting through options.

The correlation of the text of the riddle with the hidden object depends primarily on the hypothesis put forward, on the guess. Very rarely, the guesser guesses the hidden object "on the move". One by one, he puts forward particular hypotheses in which the vision of the problem situation contained in the riddle changes. And the new options are derived from the new "picture" of the situation. The solution is the experience of the coincidence of two images: the image contained in the riddle, and the image in the riddle, in which the hidden content is extracted.


The use of methods of ethnopsychology (psychological anthropology), historical ethnology and cultural-historical psychology seems to be very productive for studying the role of riddles in the cultural, intellectual, personal development of representatives of the corresponding ethnos in the pre-written period. Kazakh riddles are a vivid example of the traditional form of broadcasting cultural and historical experience from generation to generation, compensating for the lack of an educational institution in the modern sense of the word. As a genre, riddles belong in all cultures to the archaic layer of folklore. But the images and poetic comments of even simple riddles are clearly part of the general literary culture. They remain in the culture of a written person not only as a message, as a reminder of a faded tradition, but also contain in a kind of encrypted form the unique historically formed ways of thinking, features of mentality, forms of storage, accumulation and transmission of cultural and historical experience of an ethnic group that supports its integrity and uniqueness.

The traditional Kazakh riddles reflect the ethnomental paradigms of the Kazakh people. Acquaintance with them gives an opportunity to get acquainted with the historical context of the life of Kazakh society.

In simple folk riddles, external signs of objects are usually given, and in competitive ones, in parallel, their most essential qualities and causes of phenomena are outlined. In simple riddles, the answer is usually expressed in one word or a simple sentence. In competitive riddles, the answer, like the very basis of the riddle, results in the form of poetically rhymed poetic lines.

If the ordinary riddles are intended mainly for entertainment, then the competitive riddles had a deeper purpose. The practice of solving riddles seemed to replace school knowledge, teaching children quick thinking, intellectual skills and classification. Competitive riddles, composed mainly by improvisational poets, propagandized the importance of knowledge, art, and technology. Public and social topics were also touched upon in the competitive riddles. That is, for centuries riddles, as part of oral folk art, performed various social functions, the main of which should be considered an educational function – the translation of cultural and historical experience.

The ethnic orientation of the riddle is connected with its very psychological and logical nature. The psychological and logical nature of riddles can be interpreted both in terms of the way they are guessed, and in terms of the ambiguity of the answer.

In simple folk riddles, external signs of objects are usually given, and in competitive ones, in parallel, their most significant qualities and causes of the phenomenon are outlined. In simple riddles, the answer is usually expressed in one word or a simple sentence. In competitive riddles, the answer, like the very basis of the riddle, takes the form of poetically rhymed lines of verse.

If the usual riddles were intended mainly for entertainment, then the competitive riddles had a deeper purpose. The practice of solving riddles seemed to replace school knowledge, teaching children quick thinking, intellectual skills and classification.  Competitive riddles, composed mainly by improvising poets, promoted the importance of knowledge, art, and technology. The competitive riddles also touched on social and social topics. That is, for centuries, riddles, as a part of the oral folk art, performed many social functions, including the function of transmitting cultural information from one generation to another.

We have considered the process of guessing riddles in two ways: firstly, in terms of the influence of the ethnic context on the guessing process; secondly, in terms of how mental activity proceeds in the process of searching for the desired.

The difficulties of guessing them are connected with the disguise of the sought under the shell of the ethnic context and a special way of ꞌꞌstampingꞌꞌ the riddle. The poetic form of the riddle, although pleasant to the ear, makes it difficult to perceive, creating a barrier to differentiating the main plot of the riddle from the redundant moments of the poetic text.


  1. Aytys [Aytys]. Т. 2. Almaty: Zhazushy, 1966. 664 p. (In Kazakh).
  2. Alektorov А. Kirgizskie zagadki [ Kyrgyz riddles]. Astrahanskie vedomosti = Astrakhan vedomosti, 1893, no. 1302.  (In Russ.)
  3. Brushlinskiy A.V. Myshleniye i prognozirovaniye.: (Logiko-psikhologicheskiy analiz) [Thinking and forecasting.: (Logical and psychological analysis)]. Moscow: Mysl', 1979. 230 р. (In Russ.)
  4. Valikhanov Ch. Ch. [О formah kazahskoj narodnoj poezii]. [On Forms of Kazakh Folk Poetry]. Sobr. soch. v 5 t. Alma-Ata: Glavnaya redaktsiya Kazakhskoy sovetskoy entsiklopedii, 1984. Vol.1, pp. 280–286 (In Russ.)
  5. Vasile'v A.V. Obrazcy Kirgizskoj narodnoj slovesnosti [Samples of Kyrgyz Folk Literature]. Orenburg: Tipo-litografiya F.B.Sachkova, 1900. Vol. 2. 264 p. (In Russ.)
  6. Vygotskij L.S. Psihologiya iskusstva [The Psychology of Art]. Moscow: Pedagogika, 1987. 341 p. (In Russ.)
  7. Vygotsky, L. S. Myshleniye i rech.' Moscow: Labirint, 1999 (In Russ.)
  8. Dalanyn dara dіlmarlary [Selected Speakers of the Steppe]. Almaty: Kazahstan, 2001. 592 p. (In Kazakh).
  9. Dunker K. Psihologija produktivnogo (tvorcheskogo) myshlenija. Psihologija myshlenija. Moscow: Progress. 1965. P. 86-234 (In Russ.)
  10. Zaretskiy V.K. Tvorchestvo. Refleksiya. Samoopredeleniye [Creation. Reflection. Self-determination]. Materialy vtoroy Vserossiyskoy konferentsii po ekzistentsial'noy psikhologii.. Moscow: Smysl, 2004 (In Russ.)
  11. Zaretskiy V.K. Sotsial'noye poznaniye i mental'nost' v zerkale protsessa resheniya tvorcheskoy zadachi [Social cognition and mentality in the mirror of the process of solving a creative problem]. Konsul'tativnaya psikhologiya i psikhoterapiya. = Consultative psychology and psychotherapy, 2014, no 4, pp. 207-222 (In Russ.)
  12. Kazah zhumbaktary [Kazakh tales]. Comp: S. Amanzholov. Almaty: ТОО «Ана тілі», 2003. 123 p. (In Kazakh).
  13. Kazaktyn halyk zhumbaktary [Kazakh folk tales]: collection. Comp: S.Amanzholov, T.Zhanuzakov. Alma-Ata: Kazgoslitizdat, 1959. 244 p. (In Kazakh).
  14. Kazahskie narodnye skazki [Kazakh folk tales]. Alma-Ata: Zhazushy, 1980. 280 p. (In Russ.)
  15. Krupnik E.P. Psihologicheskoe vozdejstvie iskusstva na lichnost [The psychological impact of art on the personality]. Moscow: Institut psihologii RAN, 1999. 240 p. (In Russ.)
  16. Kukoba O. A. Priroda i struktura etnicheskogo mentaliteta [Nature and Structure of the Ethnic Mentalitete]. Filosofiya i obshchestvo = Philosophy and Society, 2004, no. 4 (37). URL: http://www.socionauki.ru/journal/articles/253192/. (Accessed 03.07.2021). (In Russ.)
  17. Leont'ev A.A. Psihologiya obshcheniya [Psychology of Communication]. Moscow: Smysl, 1997. 365 p. (In Russ.)
  18. Lur'e S.V. Istoricheskaya etnologiya: Uchebnoe posobie dlya vuzov [Historical Ethnology: Textbook for Higher Education Institutions]. Moscow: Akademicheskij Proekt: Gaudeamus, 2004. 264 p. (In Russ.)
  19. Masalskij V.I. Turkestanskij kraj [Turkestan Region]. In Rossiya. Polnoe geograficheskoe opisanie nashego otechestva = Russia. A Complete Geographical Description of Our Fatherland.  Saint-Petersburg, 1913. Vol. 19.  861 p.  (In Russ.)
  20. Melioranskij P. M. Kirgizskie poslovicy i zagadki [Kyrgyz proverbs and riddles]. Zapiski Vostochnogo otd. imperatorskogo russkogo arheol. Obshchestva = Notes of the Eastern Department of the Imperial Russian Archeology Society, 1892, Vol. I. pp. 20–31; 1893, Vol. VII, pp. 39–50. (In Russ.)
  21. Mukanov M.M. Issledovanie kognitivnoj empatii i refleksii u predstavitelej tradicionnyh kultur [A Study of Cognitive Empathy and Reflexivity in Traditional Cultures]. Issledovanie reche-mysli i refleksii = Study of speech-thought and reflection. Alma-Ata, 1979, pp. 3–12. (In Russ.)
  22. Mukanov M.M. O kazakhskom ustnom tvorchestve: poslovitsakh, aytys v ikh otnoshenii k traktovke intellektual'noy deyatel'nosti [About Kazakh oral creativity: proverbs, aitys in their relation to the interpretation of intellectual activity]. Geneticheskiye i sotsial'nyye problemy intellektual'noy deyatel'nosti = Genetic and social problems of intellectual activity. Alma-Ata, 1975, pp. 87–101. (In Russ.)
  23. Mukanov M.M., Nurgaliyev K.A. Issledovaniye protsessa otgadyvaniya zagadok v zavisimosti ot yazyka i konteksta [Study of the process of guessing riddles depending on the language and contex]. Issledovaniye intellektual'noy deyatel'nosti v istoriko-etnicheskom aspekte. = Study of intellectual activity in the historical and ethnic aspect. Alma-Ata, 1978. P. 18–37 (In Russ.)
  24. Mukanov S. Kazaktyn XVIII-XIX gasyrdagy edebieti tarihynan ocherkter [Essays on the History of Kazakh Literature in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries]. Almaty, 1942.   (In Russ.)
  25. Permyakov T.L. Ot pogovorki do skazki: zametki po obshchey teorii klishe [From Proverb to Tale: Notes on General Cliché Theory]. Moscow: Nauka, 1970. 240 p. (In Russ.)
  26. Petrenko V.F. Psihosemantika soznaniya [Psychosemantics of Consciousness]. Moscow: Publ. MGU, 1988. 208 p. (In Russ.)
  27. Ponomarev YA.A. Razvitiye problem nauchnogo tvorchestva v sovetskoy psikhologii [Development of problems of scientific creativity in Soviet psychology]. Problemy nauchnogo tvorchestva v sovremennoy psikhologii = Problems of scientific creativity in modern psychology. Moscow: Nauka, 1971. P. 46-150.
  28. Radlov V.V. Iz Sibiri. [From Siberia]. Moscow: GRVL, 1989. 752 p. (In Russ.)
  29. Rubinshteyn S.L. O myshlenii i putyakh yego issledovaniya [About thinking and ways of its research]. Moscow: AN SSR publ, 1958 (In Russ.)
  30. Tursunov E.D. Drevnetyurkskij fol'klor: istoki i stanovlenie [Ancient Turkic Folklore: Origins and Formation]. Almaty: Dajk-Press, 2001. 167 p. (In Russ.)
  31. El'konin B.D. Osobennosti znakovogo oposredovaniya pri reshenii tvorcheskikh zadach [Peculiarities of sign mediation in solving creative problems]. Psikhologicheskiye nauki i obrazovaniye = Psychological sciences and education, 1997, no 3, 55-61 pp. (In Russ.)
  32. Abrahams Roger D. Introductory Remarks to a Rhetorical Theory of Folklore. Journal of American Folklore, 1968, no. 81, pp. 143–158
  33. Ben Amos Dan. Solutions to Riddles. Journal of American Folklore, 1976, no. 89, pp. 249–254
  34. Dienhart John M. A Linguistic Look at Riddles. In The Language of Riddles, Humor and Literature. Edited by Nina Nørgaard. Odense: University Press of Southern Denmark, 2010. 279 p.
  35. Evans David. Riddling and the Structure of Context. The Journal of American Folklore, 1976, no. 89, pp. 166–188
  36. Kaivola-Bregenhøj Annikki. The Riddle: Form and Performance. Humanities, 2018, no. 7, 49, pp. 3–17
  37. Levi-Stross C. Pense'e sauage. Paris, Plon, 1962. 389 p.
  38. Taylor Archer. English Riddles from Oral Tradition. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1951. 344 p.

Information About the Authors

Agila M. Nurgaliyeva, Doctor of History, Associate Professor, West Kazakhstan University after M. Utemissov, Uralsk, Kazakhstan, ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-4447-5935, e-mail: agilan2009@rambler.ru

Kenes A. Nourgaliev, PhD in Psychology, Associate Professor, West Kazakhstan University after M. Utemissov, Kazakhstan, ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-8838-5272, e-mail: nourgk@rambler.ru



Total: 299
Previous month: 32
Current month: 10


Total: 57
Previous month: 13
Current month: 4