Comparative analysis of the concept of beauty in English and Russian

Table of contents: The Kazakh-American Free University Academic Journal №3 - 2011

Author: Chzhan Yelena, East Kazakhstan State University in honor of S. Amanzholov, Kazakhstan

Concept can be understood as a mental formation, which possesses a specific cultural value, and represents elements of the world for people in the course of reflection and communication (Neroznak, 2008). A national-cultural specificity of the concept as a unit of mentality is revealed in the comparative study of concepts in the linguistic consciousness of different peoples. The study of concepts is valuable because it helps us to identify the culturally specific world view of a certain lingual-cultural community. It also allows us to understand the word (as a lexical unit) in the context of culture, cognition, and communication.

Beauty” is one of the key concepts in a culture, which has an existential significance both for an individual person and for a lingual-cultural community. The concept "beauty" can be found in every ethnic culture, its existence is universal. However, the conceptual representation of beauty draws on local, national, cultural, and historical traditions, and the religious beliefs of ethnic groups.

To compare the concept of beauty in English and Russian we identified and described the conceptual, figurative and evaluative aspects of the concept "beauty", and conducted a comparative analysis of the concept on these three selected aspects.

A concept can be viewed as the structure with its core, periphery and far periphery. The core characteristics are most commonly used notions about the concept, and the farther from the core, the more rare they are. To determine the conceptual aspects of the concept of beauty in the Russian language we studied explanatory articles for several entries in the explanatory dictionaries of the Russian language by Ozhegov (two authors ), Shvedova (1986), Ushakov ( 2003), Dahl (1995, 2005).The analysis of the articles dictionaries showed that the main meanings expressed by the concept are:

- a characteristic feature, ornament, delight;

- something that gives pleasure and joy to the senses (vision, hearing) or mind;

- an abstract notion

- attractiveness due to pleasant appearance or inner world

These characteristics are the conceptual core of the concept "beauty" in Russian.

Other features make up the periphery of the conceptual core of the concept "beauty", such as:

- beauty as an interjection expressing feelings;

- beauty referring to a girl;

- beauty as a young female;

- beauty as the braid of a girl.

According to a survey of Russian respondents, most Russian-speakers defined "beauty" as harmony, a kind of feature that causes a person to experience positive emotions, satisfying the aesthetic needs of the person. When asked what might be beautiful respondents often mentioned a person's appearance, nature, or works of art.

In our view, the results of the survey indicate that the conceptual meanings comprising the concept can be divided into 3 groups according to their relation to the core component:

1) those that specify the features contained in the conceptual core, detected by the analysis of dictionary definitions (referring to the nature or works of art that delight the senses and the mind);

2) those that coincide with the nuclear conceptual features - something that satisfies the aesthetic needs of a human, brings delight and pleasure;

3) those that comprise new conceptual features such as harmony, certain perceptions of the world, perfection, or ideal happiness.

It is the third group of meanings that constitutes the far periphery of the conceptual aspects of the concept "beauty".

To identify the conceptual aspects of the concept "beauty" in English, we reviewed entries of four dictionaries: "Chambers's Dictionary" edited by William Geddie (1952); "Webster's Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary" (1966); "Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary of Current English" edited by Hornby A.S. (1980); "The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Languages" edited by William Morris (1979).

Our analysis reveals that all these dictionaries determine beauty as

1) the combination of qualities that give pleasure and joy to the senses (vision and hearing) and mind;

2) as a set of qualities glorifying the soul;

3) as an especially good feature;

4) as an elegant, superb quality.

These characteristics are the conceptual core of the concept "beauty" in English.

Such meanings of beauty as proportion, symmetry, beauty spot meaning a mole, beauty shop meaning a beauty salon make up the periphery of the conceptual core of the concept "beauty", as they do not occur that often.

We made a survey of ten British respondents. To the question "Who or what can be beautiful?" they often said nature, flowers, children, women, relationships, architecture in the descending order.

The conceptual meanings revealed by the survey correspond to the conceptual core of the concept being analyzed. Thus, nature, flowers, architecture are classified on the basis of the beautiful - "combination of qualities that give pleasure and joy to the senses (eye, ear), intellect" and the children, women - on the grounds of "an especially good feature" (as both are often objects of love and adoration).

The results of the questionnaire also identified the far periphery of the concept "beauty" in English - "the beauty of relationships." But these signs of the concept are not the only ones in the English language and culture.

Table 1. Comparison of concepts in the conceptual aspect


BEAUTY (in Russian)

BEAUTY (in English)


- combination of qualities that give pleasure and joy to the senses (vision, hearing) or mind;

- luxury, property, jewelry;

- attractive or handsome.

- combination of qualities that give pleasure and joy to the senses (vision, hearing), or mind;

- set of qualities, glorifying the soul;

- especially good feature;

- elegant, superb quality.


- interjection expressing feelings;

- young female;

- braid of a girl.

-proportion, symmetry;

- beauty spot - a mole;

- beauty shop - beauty salon.

The far periphery

- harmony;

- distinguishing feature, causing a person to experience positive emotions, satisfying aesthetic needs;

- person’s certain perception of the world;

- perfection, the ideal;

- happiness.

- beauty of relationships.

The comparative table of conceptual aspect shows that the conceptual core of the concept "beauty" (Table 1) in Russian and English match on the grounds of the properties and qualities that bring delight to a person. However, it should be noted that the “internal” beauty, representing the inner, spiritual nature of a person is expressed more clearly in the conceptual core of the English concept and is accompanied by ethical evaluation (glorifying the soul).

Also in the conceptual core of the concept expressed in English there is a sign of the intensity of the ethical evaluation of this phenomenon (an especially good feature), which is absent in the conceptual core of the Russian concept. Peripherals and the far periphery of the conceptual aspect of long-range concepts of "beauty" did not match.

The far periphery of the conceptual aspect of the Russian concept is richer than the far periphery of the English concept, indicating a diffuse structure of the conceptual aspect of the Russian concept "beauty".

To describe the figurative aspect of the concept "beauty", we analyzed newspaper, art, and advertising discourses collected by continuous sampling.

Our analysis suggests that in the Russian language there are following types of cognitive metaphors (Lakoff, Johnson, 1980), reflecting the figurative representations of beauty:

1) Beauty = foe, a villain:

Beauty sometimes interferes with life.

Ah, beauty, beauty, but it is outrageous!

In these examples beauty is personified as a foe, causing nuisance, leading people to crime.

2) Beauty = money:

Beauty is in credit.

How true it is that beauty is not measured in currency.

In these examples beauty is personified as a beautiful thing that is bought and sold.

3) Beauty = living being, a flower:

Your beauty must bloom to the delight of us.

The gentle warmth of her quiet beauty sets off a rare property of psychic grace.

Beauty is personified as a living creature that emits gentle heat.

4) Beauty = savior:

Along with the history in photographs the author presents beauty, which really can save the world.

In this example beauty is personified as a living active substance that can save the world.

5) Beauty = deity:

Beauty needs sacrifice: cosmetic companies often conduct quite cruel experiments to create new products.

Beauty is personified as a deity, which requires certain sacrifices.

6) Beauty = spiritual food:

Truth, goodness, beauty - a necessary and essential food of a man, without it people perish.

In this discourse beauty is regarded as a human spiritual need and it is compared with food, without which man would perish.

7) Beauty = cache, the treasure:

Beauty is a cache that is not open to everyone.

8) Beauty = glare:

Beauty blinds, and from the blind it is easy to steal.

Beauty is regarded as a blinding bright light and means for crime.

9) Beauty = power:

Beauty is also power.

Ah, beauty is a terrible force ...

To describe the figurative aspect of the concept "beauty" in English, we analyzed newspaper, art, and advertising discourse as well.

Our analysis suggests that in English there are the following types of visual images of beauty:

1) Beauty = labor, effort, work:

I think beauty is something you do.

What they are doing is beauty, and it is hard work.

Beauty as we see it is enshrined here as an illusion, and it's a big effort (and a big business) to keep it up.

In these examples beauty is seen as the result of hard careful work, great effort.

2) Beauty = sports:

If beauty is not an innate characteristic, how can there be any competition?

Beauty is identified with the competition, sport.

3) Beauty = political idea:

Beauty is a political idea. It is a set of standards we are told to conform to - even if it takes surgery to do so! It is a set of behaviors to which we are restricted.

Beauty is seen as a political idea and emerging standards of beauty – as being imposed by some power outside the individual.

Table 2 Comparison of concepts in the figurative aspect

Types of metaphors

BEAUTY (in Russian)

BEAUTY (in English)

- foe, villain;

- money;

- living thing, a flower;

- savior;

- deity;

- spiritual food;

- hiding place, treasure;

- bright light;

- power;

- force.

- labor, effort, work;

- sports;

- political idea.

By comparing the results of the figurative aspects of the concept (Table 2), "beauty" we singled out the following features:

1) in the Russian language the updated metaphors that represent beauty are used in both negative and positive ways: beauty as the sphere of the living, the sacred - a living creature, flower, savior, god, spiritual food, hiding place, treasure, bright light and as the sphere of the evil - power, money;

2) the concept "beauty" in English is metaphorically realized without being marked axiologically (not including evaluations) - effort, work, sports.

To identify the aspects of value of the concept under consideration we analyzed proverbs in Russian and English (approximately 200 - 250 units) (Thesaurus, n.d.) as well as sayings and discourses of various types, which allowed us to identify the values associated with the concept in the minds of Russian and English speaking individuals in a given community at the present stage.

To study the associations of individual values within each of the linguistic communities, we used the association experiment, in which we studied verbal associations of the Russian lingual-cultural society with the word "beauty." Respondents were asked to write the very first word (or multiple words) that come to mind as a response to the presentation of a stimulus - the word "beauty." As an associative reaction, a response must follow immediately - the respondent should not think on what he/she would say. The very notion of an associative process eliminates the idea of selection responses. If there is a selection - there is no associative process in the conventional sense of the history of psychology (Frumkina, 2001: 189-190).

The results of the association experiment among the Russian respondents indicated that the most frequent associations to the word "beauty" are:

1) a group of adjectives, naming the aesthetic qualities that cause a positive emotional reaction of a person;

2) a group of nouns that name the phenomena of nature;

3) a group of nouns that name the person of the opposite sex, as well as adjectives that describe the external quality of sexually attractive people;

4) associations based on the image of the so-called "glossy" beauty.

According to the results of the association experiment, conducted among British informants, the most frequent associations to the word beauty are as follows: harmony, love, music, art, God, life, nature, earth.

Table 3. Comparison in the values aspect


Groups of values


BEAUTY (in Russian)

BEAUTY (in English)

Traditional self-consciousness

- mentality;

- happiness;

- bride;

- health;

-a transient property.

- depends only on the human perception;

- spiritual and moral areas in people (soul, kindness);

- personal and social (nature);

- intelligence (stupid);

- emotional (happiness).

National consciousness

- spiritual and moral sphere (love, human soul);

- intellectual sphere (mind);

- spiritual and aesthetic areas (harmony);

- personal and social spheres (simplicity, naturalness);

- gender areas (female);

- age sphere (youth).

- emotional (boredom);

- sacred-moral (gift from God, truth);

- value-normative aspect (perfect, ideal);

- global aspect (whole world).

Contemporary society

- simplicity, naturalness

- areas of the sacred (God, light);

- areas of emotional (boredom);

- social and aesthetic areas (style).

- gift from God;

- truth;

- unique quality

Individual associations

- preferences- aesthetic qualities that cause a positive, emotional response of a person;

- phenomena of nature, sunset, dawn;

- sexually attractive;

- something connected with the so-called "glossy" beauty.

- the intangible (harmony, love);

- aesthetic areas (music, art);

- areas of sacred and moral values (God);

- areas of vital values (life, nature, earth).

Contrasted with

- ugliness;

- deformity.


The table (Table 3) demonstrates that in the Russian language beauty is traditionally compared with values that are not subject to the actual person, but rather are granted emphasizing the notion of beauty as a transient, temporary property, while the linguistic consciousness of English speakers traditionally associates beauty with the group of values that, in general, are "ruled by" a person and cannot be taken away (soul, character).

Further, in general, in the linguistic consciousness of Russian and English speakers, beauty is associated with the assets belonging to the spiritual, moral, personal and social spheres, in English – it is associated more with the values from the emotional sphere; in Russian - with the spiritual, aesthetic, age and gender values.

In today's Russian community it can be noted in addition to the above values the values of the sacred, emotional, social and aesthetic ("glossy beauty") spheres, and in the modern English-speaking community, beauty is also compared with uniqueness. In the sphere of individual views, beauty in the context of Russian and English matched only aesthetic values and vital areas (nature, earth, life). Specifically Russian were associations with the values of society and gender (something sexy) and socio-aesthetic (i.e. "glamorous"), while associations with the spiritual and sacred values turned out to be specifically British.

Comparative analysis of the concept "beauty" in modern Russian and English, carried out in the conceptual, figurative and evaluative aspects, allows the following conclusions:

1) the concept "beauty" in English has a more clear structure and boundaries than the concept "beauty" in Russian, which is characterized by vagueness and ambiguity of boundaries;

2) the concept "beauty" in the two languages shows the greatest similarity in the conceptual aspect, which indicates the coincidence of the results of a rational understanding of the phenomenon of the world in Russian and English speaking communities;

3) the figurative aspect of the Russian concept is much richer than the same aspect of the English concept, and is organized in two poles - the good and the evil, while in the figurative aspect of the concept "beauty" in English there cannot be observed any evaluation or polarity, but the estimated good pole is well expressed in the conceptual aspect of the English concept (beauty, beautiful - especially good feature). All this testifies to the fact that in English the estimated characteristics of beauty are streamlined, and subordinated to reason, and in the Russian language, assessment of beauty is manifested only at the level of images and emotions;

4) in Russian perceptions of beauty the image prevails over the concept (10 metaphors were found), and in English - the concept is much broader and more detailed than the image (we identified only 3 metaphors close to each other);

5) the value aspect of the two concepts can be represented as a multilayered structure in which we can identify the following "layers" values:

a) traditionally associated with beauty;

b) associated with the beauty as a whole in the minds of Russian or English speakers;

c) associated with beauty only at the present stage of development of communities;

g) associated with beauty in the individual consciousness of represent-tatives of a community;

6) the dynamics of the value aspect of the traditional, national Russian concept of "beauty" range from inner awareness of the sacredness of the phenomenon of beauty (what is given - and can be taken away again) through the profane, but with the preservation of a "high" ratio of the inner (spiritual, moral, aesthetic values) to the outer and profane understanding of beauty (age and gender-based values). On a modern and individual level, the dynamics ranges from the bizarre external, profane understanding of beauty (sexually attractive, fashionable, "glossy" beauty) to the sacred (God, the light);

7) the dynamics of the value aspect of the English concept is different: from understanding the phenomenon of beauty as a purely human being, and beauty as the focus of spiritual, moral and aesthetic values, to an understanding of beauty as originality and individuality, but in the individual consciousness, there are cases of referring to sacred values (God);

8) the value aspects of both in Russian and English concepts related to the fields of the spiritual, moral and aesthetic, which indicates that, despite their differences, the most important value orientations in the structures of the concepts are the same.

To summarize what was said above, it is necessary to mention that Gumboldt was right when he stated that different languages are different world views and to add to this – they are different concepts, which reflect this world view in the language.


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Table of contents: The Kazakh-American Free University Academic Journal №3 - 2011

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