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Article

The myth of the “Russian soul” through the mirror of language

 

This paper aims at a linguistic description and evaluation of the myth of the Russian soul. This myth is a prominent cultural stereotype centered on mental, emotional, and spiritual concepts. The specific goal of this paper is to project the linguistic “image” of the Russian soul, which consists mainly of emotions, onto the corresponding cultural myth which exists in Russian literature and philosophy, as well as in Russian folk belief. Such a superimposition should reveal whether linguistic evidence does in fact support the Russian soul myth. To test the linguistic specificity of Russian emotions, they are contrasted to their English-language counterparts. The English language material is based on American English since all my informants were American. Literary sources and corpora were also used. The task at hand requires a new framework for a cross-linguistic study of emotions and such a framework is proposed. As distinct from traditional word-to-word contrastive analysis, the proposed approach involves comparing entire emotion “clusters,” i.e. all linguistic means of expressing a particular type of emotion in a given language. The paper also touches upon certain related fields of emotion studies, namely neuropsychology and physiology, as they provide valuable insight into the similarities and differences between the linguistic model of emotions and their scientific counterparts. These fields also provide explanations for the similarity and variation in conceptions of emotions as they are attested across different languages and cultures.