Russian Language-Specific View of the World

Alexei Shmelev, Moscow Pedagogical State University, and Anna Zalizniak, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow

The worldview encoded in a language is usually presented in non-assertive components of meaning (that is, connotations, presuppositions, etc.); therefore, the speakers of that language often tend to take it for granted. Most of the words that reflect and pass on Russian ways of thinking are language-specific and defy translation; when translated directly or naively into other languages, they may cause cross-cultural miscommunication. A tentative list of key ideas of the vision of the world encoded in Russian lexicon was suggested in (Шмелев 2002); cf. also (Левонтина, Шмелев, Зализняк 2002; Wierzbicka 2002). A revised version of the list follows.

1.    Unpredictability of the world: (a) everything may happen; (b) things happen as if “by themselves” (avos′, vdrug, na vsiakij slučaj, esli čto; obojdetsja, proneset; vyšlo, polučilos′, složilos′; ugorazdilo; sčast′e).

2.    One is active insofar as one is able to gather one’s inner resources, as if concentrating them somewhere physically. In order to do something, a Russian speaker has to gather his or her strengths or thoughts (sobrat′sja s silami/s mysljami), or simply to gather his or her own self (sobrat′sja). This mindset is also present in many Russian words, including the specifically Russian adverb zaodno, prefixed verbs like zaiti, etc.

3.    Dual polar models of thought opposing “high” and “low”, or “heaven” and “earth” (bytbytie, istinapravda, dolgobjazannost′, dobroblago, radost′udovol′stvie).

4.    A special emphasis on interpersonal relations (obščenie, otnošenija, drug, rodnoj, poprek, obida, razluka, soskučit′sja).

5.    To feel good, a person needs much space; however, too much space may lead to feeling uncomfortable (udal′, volja, razdol′e, razmax, šir′; majat′sja, neprikajannyj).

6.    It is good if a person wants other people to know what this person thinks and feels (iskrennij, xoxotat′, duša naraspašku).

7.    It is bad to act in order to gain profit (rasčetlivyj, meločnyj, razmax).

8.    The conceptualization of parts of the day depends on human activity to a greater extent than objective time (utrom, utrečkom, s utra, pod utro, k utru, nautro, poutru, s utrečka, s utreca, etc.). 


Левонтина, И., А. Шмелев и Анна Зализняк. “Ключевые идеи русской языковой картины мира. ” Отечественные записки 3 (2002).

Шмелев, Алексей. Русская языковая модель мира. Материалы к словарю. Москва: Языки славянской культуры, 2002.

Wierzbicka, Anna. “Русские культурные скрипты и их отражение в языке. ” Русский язык в научном освещении 4 (2002).