Expressing emotions in English and Russian

Seminar Paper, 2009

15 Pages, Grade: 2+


Table of contents:

1. Introduction

2. Main Part
2.1 Natural Semantic Metalanguage
2.2 Model of a person: Anglo vs. Russian
2.3 The centrality of emotions in Russian
2.3.1 Joy
2.3.2 Sadness

3. Conclusion


1. Introduction

There is no better way to explore different cultures than through analysing the languages spoken by members of ethnical communities. Indeed, the best evidence for differences and similarities between people, as bearers and products of cultures, comes from languages. Besides body language and facial mimics, speech is essential for expression of thoughts or feelings and emotions for every human being. However, the way of expressing emotions differs from culture to culture and from continent to continent according to the indigenous values and norms of the persons concerned.

Anna Wierzbicka together with Cliff Goddard and their colleagues did linguistic research on many European and exotic languages, comparing them in order to find differences and similarities. They gained many interesting insights about the language as an “indicator” of culture, as it necessarily reflects on it. The Russians and the Anglo seem to be very different from each other as to expression of emotions due to their general attitude to having them and above all, to expressing them.

In order to provide an objective analysis for all languages which can be understood by everybody, a Natural Semantic Metalanguage based on semantic primitives, has been developed. This new mean allowed to produce cultural scripts and to develop “models of a person”, representing the culture-specific norms and values.

Further, in this work, the Natural Semantic Metalanguage and the Russian and Anglo models of a person are explained in greater detail. Finally, it concentrates on the linguistic evidence pertaining to expression of emotions in English and Russian.

2. Main Part

2.1 Natural Semantic Metalanguage

For a long time universalism dominated linguistic pragmatics. The major problem with universalist pragmatics is that it describes cultures from an external perspective, without even giving an explanation to the cultural phenomenons.

In sharp contrast, the studies by Anna Wierzbicka, Cliff Goddard and their colleagues start from the premise that speech practices are best understood from a culture-internal perspective. The researchers ask themselves not only: “What is distinctive about these particular ways of speaking?”, but also: “Why- from their own point of view- do the people concerned speak in these particular ways? What sense does it make to them?” (Goddard 2006:2).

This advanced approach with its new methodology based on empirical investigation constitutes a distinctive venture called “ethno- pragmatics”, which is a completely new paradigm in linguistics.

To understand and explicate the key ethnopragmatic concepts of

another culture, however, is no easy matter, precisely because

of their embeddedness within their own language. (Goddard 2006:2).

A solution to this problem is provided by the natural semantic meta- language, further abbreviated as NSM. This approach was originated and elaborated on by Anna Wierzbicka, Cliff Goddard and their colleagues.

The natural semantic metalanguage theory is based on evidence

supporting the view that, despite their enormous differences,

all languages share a small but stable core of simple shared

meanings (semantic primes), that these meanings have concrete

linguistic exponents as words or word-like expressions in all languages,

and that they share a universal grammar of combination, valency,

and complementation. ( Goddard 2006:3).

NSM successfully employs semantic primes as its vocabulary; its words and grammar constitute a “mini-language”, which allows the outsider to understand discourses in terms which make sense to the people concerned, i.e. in terms of indigenous values, beliefs and attitudes, social aspects, emotions, etc. There are circa 63 semantic primes, each of them has well-specified syntactic properties. The full set is presented in Table 1 (Goddard 2006:4):


Excerpt out of 15 pages


Expressing emotions in English and Russian
University of Cologne
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
577 KB
English Philology, Linguistics, Semantics, Emotions, Comparison of English and Russian, Semantic Metalanguage, Language as a mirror of culture and society
Quote paper
Lilian Bayer (Author), 2009, Expressing emotions in English and Russian, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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