Trans Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 15. Nr. Spetember 2004

4.9. Transkulturelle Stereotype in den Kunst- und Literaturwerken
HerausgeberIn | Editor | Éditeur: Tamara Fessenko (Tambov/Russland)

Buch: Das Verbindende der Kulturen | Book: The Unifying Aspects of Cultures | Livre: Les points communs des cultures

Precedent phenomena as the markers of ethnic culture

S. V. Bannikova (Tambov, Russia)


Issues of language and culture have become the main focus of ethno-socio-linguistics. Language receives proper interpretation only within cultural and social settings. According to Sepir, all cultural facts can be presented by the means of language and the content of language is closely related to the culture [Sepir 1993 : 43].

The specific place of language is determined by its ability to store and transmit cultural values and to regulate and coordinate social activities. It is accepted that sense, thoughts, ideas and their lexical representation and associative potential are formed by ethnic culture. So the representatives of different ethnic cultures conceptualize and perceive the world differently which manifests itself in culturally coloured lexical units, i. e. precedent phenomena.

According to V. V. Krasnich, precedent phenomena (PP) can be defined as follows; 1) phenomena which are well known in the linguo-cultural society, i.e. all the representatives know about their existence; 2) phenomena which are connected with cognitive sphere, i.e. every PP has a mental image associated with it which makes its use in speech understandable and connotatively coloured; 3) phenomena which are frequently used in speech [Krasnich 1998: 51]. PP function within an ethnic culture and should be interpreted taking into consideration all cultural parameters.

PP make up the central part of the individual's cognitive space and that of the cultural community on the whole. The knowledge of PP can reflect people's interconnection with a certain culture and historical period [Karaulov 1987]. The corpus of PP is very large, it consists of famous books, titles of songs, names of heroes, names of authors, advertisements, slogans, i.e. different types of citation. Citation can be defined as either a traditional fragment of a text, framed in inverted commas, or a graphically unmarked reproduction of somebody else's text that is only associatively linked with the source; however, it allows identifying the original text with a certain degree of precision [Postnova 2001:109]. In other words, precedents are verbal models which can show similar facts without producing meaning every time but they copy standard meaning which is stored in memory.

PP, like other verbal units, reflect the real world and their use in speech is determined by the meaning which they have within certain culture. This fact becomes clear when precedents from one culture or society are interpreted by people from other cultures which leads to possible misunderstanding [Fessenko 2002].

It should be said that PP are verbal units but in cognitive space they are stored as ""invariants of perception" which are ""structured minimized ethnic images" [Gudkov 1999 : 55]. In speech PP are verbalized through the use of their symbols. The most important PP make up the central part of cognitive space. The least important make up the periphery. But in different cultures there are different ways of interpretation thus the perception of PP can differ greatly from culture to culture.

Every ethnic group has its own corpus of precedent phenomena which includes ethnic and world literature, folklore, TV and radio programs and many other forms, which can be peculiar to this very culture and quite unknown in other cultures.

Misunderstanding occurs at different stages of perception: precedent phenomena are unknown in the addressee's culture; the emotional volume of folklore can be unknown in other cultures.

Lets take, for example Ilija Muromets. In Russian cognitive space it has the following meaning:

I  The famous hero of Russian folklore, who was very strong and fought against different enemies of the old Russian state (solovej-rasbojnik, Idolisce poganoe, Kalin car'...). I was born in the village of Karacharovo near the town of Murom and served in Kiev prince's army with other heroes (Dobrynja Nikitic, Aljosha Popovic). Ylija Muromets is an ideal image of a hero and soldier.

II A very strong man, who is very kind and just. He struggles for justice and truth [Gudkov 1999 : 134]. This PP can function in speech to characterize a person as:

- physically strong and healthy (Net, ja sil'nyj kak Il'ja Muromec);

- able to perform an extremely difficult task, fighting for the home land (Ona ljubit geroev c avtomatami, Iljov Muromcev, zascitnikov zemli russkoj).

So to understand this PP properly one should know all the background information. The same thing we can see with English precedents, for example: ""...Johnny Martin, one of his companions and another aspirant for street corner and Lothario honors, remarked... " (p.85); the precedent name ""Lothario" belongs to English culture and brings into consideration Nicolas Rowe's drama ""The Fair Penitent" (1703) where Lothario is one of the characters who is cheerful and likes women. In Russian society this text is not known and so the name Lothario doesn't make any sense without special commentaries being made. But it doesn't mean that it is impossible to find any equivalents at all. Russian literary tradition has such borrowed characters as ""Don Zuan" and ""Lovelas" which coincide with ""Lothario" in meaning besides they are also precedent phenomena and there are non-precedent words as ""soblasnitel', serdceed, povesa" which can be used instead. We see that misunderstanding in communication can be prevented even if the original precedent phenomenon is unknown in the addressee's culture, which can be commented on or replaced by addressee's ethnic precedent phenomenon or non-precedent word or phase, but in this case the volume of meaning can change, i.e. become larger or smaller.

It should be noted that PP are closely connected with emotional values, they reflect the speaker's attitude towards the real situation and its effect on the listener [Gudkov 1999]. A statement containing a PP doesn't give an objective value but a subjective emotional attitude which characterize the object as ""good or bad", ""beautiful or ugly" and verbalizes some ideal model to compare it with a real object. For example, in the statement: ""American a Pure Ideal, and we got to keep her so. I'd like to hear anybody talk rotten about a woman in my hearing! We drank our Tom-and-Jerries with the solemn righteousness of a Convention of Galahads" (p.102), the PP ""Convention of Galahads" refers to Arthurian Legend which is about King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. One of the characters was sir Galahad who was nicknamed ""Most Virtuous". So the meaning of PP ""Galahad" includes such components as ""pure, clean, right, gentle, noble" which are quite clear to native speakers of English but can be unknown to Russian recipients who need some commentary. So this epithet can be considered a compliment but taking into account the broader context that the characters were criminals and all their words were false the meaning here is different and we hear irony from the author who shows moral criminals.

Problems in intercultural communication may appear due to the difference in structure and volume of perception invariant of a precedent phenomenon. For example, in the statement ""Her name was Lolita Levchenko. Lolita - that name which conjured up images of sensuous beauty. Well, used to. This middle aged and obese Lolita, bless her waited until the very moment I was about to announce..." (p.129), in English cognitive sphere the precedent name ""Lolita" is associated with Nabokov's Lolita who is a woman-teenager. This name has become a symbol of ""beauty", ""youth", ""slim figure" other characteristics are ignored as unnecessary. So, when the author meets a woman named ""Lolita" he unconsciously expects her to have these features though it doesn't mean that all Lolitas should be young and slim. Here the author uses irony to show this difference between the reality and the mental image (which is shown in contrast of the epithets: sensuous beauty - middle-aged and obese). In Russian mental space ""Lolita" is also associated with Nabokov's novel and has the same differencial features but the link between the real name and its symbol and characteristics is not so strong and the volume of meaning is broader as the Russian invariant has some additional features which define the Russian pop-singer ""Lolita": stout, with a loud voice, extravagant clothes and behavior, so we see the difference in the structure of invariant which is associated with one and the same precedent name in English and Russian culture.

In conclusion it should be emphasized that precedent phenomena are the markers of ethnic culture, they represent cultural values, ethnic character and mentality which influence the everyday life of an ethnic cultural society, so PP are determined and ruled by culture, on the other hand they determine and control other cultural phenomena and people's behavior by representing the scale of moral values.

© S. V. Bannikova (Tambov, Russia)


Gudkov D.B. Precedentnoe imja i problemy precedentnosti. M.: Izd-vo MGU, 1999.

Karaulov Ju.N. Russkij jazik i jazykovaja licnost'. - M.: Nauka, 1987.

Krasnich V.V. Virtual'naja real'nost' ili real'naja virtual'nost'? (Celovek. Soznanie. Kommunikacija) - M.: Dialog-MGU, 1998.

Sepir E. Izbrannye trudy po jazikoznaniju i kul'turologii. M.: Progress, 1993.

Fessenko T.A. Specifika nacional'nogo kul'turnogo prostranstva v zerkale perevoda. - Tambov: Izd-vo TGU im. G.R. Derzavina, 2002.

Sources of examples:

1. Hawks T. Playing the Moldovans at Tennis - London: Ebury Press, 2001.
2. Modern American Short Stories. - Moscow, 1960.

4.9. Transkulturelle Stereotype in den Kunst- und Literaturwerken

Sektionsgruppen | Section Groups | Groupes de sections

TRANS       Inhalt | Table of Contents | Contenu  15 Nr.

For quotation purposes:
S. V. Bannikova (Tambov, Russia): Precedent phenomena as the markers of ethnic culture. In: TRANS. Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften. No. 15/2003. WWW:

Webmeister: Peter R. Horn     last change: 4.9.2004     INST