Quote Big Brother from the Novel “Nineteen Eighty-Four” by George Orwell: Translation and Functioning in Russian

2021. № 3, 7-18

Maria M. Voznesenskaya

Vinogradov Russian Language Institute (Russian Academy of Sciences)
(Russia, Moscow)



The article considers two translations of the English quote Big Brother (the name of the leader of the fi ctional totalitarian state of Oceania) from the Novel “Nineteen Eighty-Four” by George Orwell — Starshii Brat (trans. by V. Golyshev) and Bol’shoi Brat (trans. by D. Ivanov, V. Nedoshivin), their semantics and usage in modern Russian. Starshii brat is the equivalent of the English expression big brother in its original meaning (‘an older brotherʼ), having the same denotatum. In Russian, starshii brat has several fi gurative meanings, and in these cases is an idiom. These phraseological meanings actualize the family metaphor. Different semantic features, such as ‘elder ageʼ, ‘careʼ, ‘authorityʼ, ‘signifi canceʼ and ‘kinshipʼ, associated with the meta phor’s source domain — the image of the older brother, become particularly signifi cant. The existing polysemy of the idiom starshii brat might have prevented it from acquiring another, intertextual, meaning, the inner form of which refers to Orwell’s character. As an intertextual unit, which denotes both ‘a totalitarian state that controls its citizens and monitors themʼ, and ‘the control and surveillance systems themselvesʼ, the Russian language has a variant of Bol’shoi Brat, which is a loan-translation of the English expression Big Brother. At the same time, the modern use of both expressions indicates their convergence, which can lead to the formation of two synonymous Russian expressions with the same polysemy structure in future.

For citation:

Voznesenskaya M. A Quote Big Brother from the Novel “Nineteen Eighty-Four” by George Orwell: Translation and Functioning in Russian. Russian Speech = Russkaya Rech’. 2021. No. 3. Pp. 7–18. DOI: 10.31857/ S013161170015449-2.


This research is supported by the grant from the RFBR 19-012-00396