Seeing Things “Russianly”, or «Языковая картина мира» Posted by josefina on Nov 26, 2008 in language
It doesn’t happen too often, but sometimes it does, and when it does, the joy I feel knows no boundaries – I’m talking about the rare occasions when what I’m studying at the Master’s Program in Russian Literature coincides with a current event in the real world. Or, as was the case this time; with an article in my favorite source for a weekly dose of Russian news. Last Thursday we discussed the problem with «языковая картина мира» in my linguistics class [I translated this into English as “linguistic worldview”, but when I googled it I got nothing, according to wiki it is something close to ‘linguistic determinism’], and when I opened the fresh number of «Русский репортёр» I got rather ecstatic when I found an article called «Картина мира, нарисованная языком» [‘A painting of the world, painted with language’]. And even though I know this post will be a little bit too long, and that I should’ve broken it up in two, I really don’t want to, because I’m too exited and can’t wait to share it all with you! This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot, ever since I came to Russia, and realized that the world around me in Russian was very different from how the world around me had been in Swedish (and I’m not just talking about the sheer fact of dissimilarities between life in Gothenburg and life in Siberia), but even Sweden was different in Russian, and Russia was different in Swedish. In class I gave the other, all Russian, students the following example from when I first realized that we look at things differently: One spring day in Omsk my Russian friend told me: «Сегоднянаулицегрязно» [It is dirty outside today.] I looked at the street, but I still couldn’t understand, so I told her: «Нет, тампростомокро» [No, it’s just wet there.] What my Russian friend meant was that the street was muddy (due to large amounts of snow melting), but she used the word «грязь» [dirt] for this, as the melting snow was rather dirty after lying next to heavily trafficed roads for over four months. But in my Swedish head the combination dirt (smuts) + nature is impossible; nature is always clean in Swedish. But it didn’t take me long to see things “Russianly” in this case – a few days and a couple of cleanings of my shoes later and I made peace with the fact that streets in Russian can be ‘smutsiga’ [dirty] indeed.
The article has the sub-title of «Толковый словарь как путеводитель по национальному характеру» [The Defining Dictionary as a Guide Book to National Character] and compares Russian words with words in English and Japanese. The basis for it is the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis that a “particular language’s nature influences the habitual thought of its speakers: that different language patterns yield different patterns of thought”. In other words – what we call something decides how we perceive this particular thing. If you’ve got an old wooden boat it’ll work much if you start calling it ‘your yacht’, that is. The article contains comparisions of the following words in these three languages, keeping in mind the context of national character:
«Корысть, [profit; advantage; gain; self-interest] выгода» [profit; gain; benefit; advantage]
«Долг, [duty] обязанность» [duty; responsiblity]
«Правда, истина» [truth]
In Russian there’s a difference between truth and truth. There can be many truths when you’re talking about «правда», but when it comes to «истина», then ‘she’ can only be one, and more often than not there’s a little ‘holiness’ to her, and she’s not to be understood by people.
«Радость, [joy; gladness] удовольствие[pleasure], наслаждение» [delight; pleasure; enjoyment]
Perhaps the fact that Russians are among the most unhappy people in the world – according to international statistics, that is – can be blamed on the question «Тысчастлив/а?» being far from as easy to answer positively as the English version: «Are you happy?”
«Собираться» [to gather, assemble; to collect; to prepare; to get ready; to be about to; to intend to]
This last verb, which in Russian doesn’t have to lead to any result at all, when in English, for example, saying: “I’m going to fire!” mean you’re really about to fire, whereas the Russian translation: «Я собираюсь стрелять!» doesn’t sound threatening at all… In Japanese, however, there is no such action; the whole article ends with the author trying to explain to the advisor on Japanese language at Moscow State University without any luck because – «мол, у него другая картина мира» [he has another linguistic painting of the world].
And to this I, as a native speaker of Swedish, can relate to. There is no such action called «собираться» in my native language [only in the meaning of ‘gather a group of people together somewhere’ can it be translated]. In Swedish you’d in this context use one of the two kinds of constructions to make the verb in future tense; either the one that’s for actions depending on you, or the one that’s for actions depending on others or the universe, thus being ‘out of your control’. Or just use the verb in present tense – which is actually just a third way of expressing the future tense in Swedish… Simple, isn’t it?
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