Interpretation of a basic concept in a literary text

The problems of interpretation of the term ‘concept’, language representation and methods of its analysis, difficulties connected with the study of its correlation with national mentality and culture, language and linguistic consciousness are regarded in the present article. Study of concepts helps to understand the conceptual and linguistic world images, to define the national specificity. Concept absorbs meanings of many lexical units and realizes them not only in a word, but also in а word-combination, an utterance, a text.

This article also lays out the principles for textual study and its various aspects, questions regarding the interaction between text and culture, methods for identifying and interpreting the basic ‘concept’ in a literary text.

In the context of globalization, widespread mass culture and all-pervading modernization, language is becoming an increasingly important factor for ethno-differentiation. Different worldpictures take shape among representatives of different language cultures. The individual endowed with language organizes the content of an utterance in accordance with his own world picture. It is through that picture that the specific nature of an individual’s perception of the world embodied in his language manifests itself. The particular nature of a language is to be found in the distinctive character of its cognitive base, shaped by an ethnic group or people in the course of its development, its perception and mastery of the world around it. ‘Concepts’ constitute the foundation of these cognitive bases. The study of ‘concepts’ enables us to glean information about such a unique phenomenon as the spirit of a nation [1, 64].

A ‘concept’ is a cognitive entity, i.e. an intellectual category. The idea of a ‘concept’ is taken from philosophy and logic. Today it is undergoing re-interpretation and affirmation in the academic world. Many scholars are currently conducting fruitful investigations into ‘concepts’ (such as N.D.Arutyunova, A.P.Babushkina, A. Vezhbitskaya, S.E.Nikitina, V.N.Teliya and R.M.Frumkina): hundreds of articles have been written on the subject and interpretations of the term ‘concept’ vary considerably.

A. Vezhbitskaya understands by ‘concept’ an object from the “ideal” world which has been assigned a name and which reflects an individual’s culturally conditioned idea of the “real” world [2, 11]. A.A. Zalevskaya (in accordance with a holographic hypothesis for reading information) believes that a ‘concept’ is a complex intellectual entity: during the process of intellectual activity its components are examined which serves to actualize its various features and levels. During that activity, however, the features under discussion may well not have words designating them in the native language of the individual concerned [Quoted from 3, 38]. D.S. Likhachev defines a ‘concept’ as a kind of algebraic expression of meaning, which the individual uses in written language [4]. E.S. Kubryakova proposes the following definition for a ‘concept’: a ‘concept’ is an operational and meaningful entity of memory, of cognitive vocabulary, of a conceptual system, of the language of the brain and of the whole world-picture reflected in the human psyche a quantum of knowledge” [5].

V.N. Teliya states that a ‘concept’ is a product of human thought and an “ideal” phenomenon and thus intrinsic to human awareness in general, and not merely to linguistic awareness. A ‘concept’ is a construct which is not re-created but “re-constructed” through its expression in language and through knowledge outside language [6]. R.M. Frumkina considers that a ‘concept’ is a verbalized idea reflected in cultural categories [7].

The definitions of a ‘concept’ cited above vary widely and contain pointers to a range of essential features for a ‘concept’, which we shall attempt to generalize using a list of those essential features.

Table 1 The definitions of a ‘concept’.



Authors of the Definition





Unit of Culture

R.M.Frumkina, A.Vezhbitskaya


Preservation, reworking, transmission of information, quantum of knowledge



Reflection of human experience, picture of the surrounding world



A ‘concept’ has boundaries that are movable, concrete functions in language and sometimes no designation in language


It is essential to take into account the fact that ‘concepts’ can consist of many different components and constitute a field of knowledge, pictures, ideas or associations, which have a core and a periphery. The description of a ‘concept’ in a dictionary or in the vocabulary of a nation’s language is based on the study of paradigmatic links between words and thus on paradigmatic analysis. The investigation of a ‘concept’ in a text, however, presupposes the predominance of syntagmatic links between words (as well as paradigmatic ones).

Many scholars in various fields of linguistics, from Wilhelm von Humboldt to representatives of relatively modern linguistic disciplines, such as linguo-cultorology and the theory of inter-cultural communication, psycho-linguistics and ethnolinguistics, have turned to the question of ethnoculturally specific language. Analysis of the theoretical literature on the study of ethno-culturally specific language enables us to state that the link between ethnic culture and language comes into being via human consciousness. Consciousness as a value system reflects all previous experience of a given society. Ethnic self-awareness or consciousness is rooted in language and therefore analysis of language is the key to the study of the languagebased world-picture of each particular people.

The unit of language is the word, the function of which is to stimulate language awareness, a definite ‘concept’. Language, however, is only a mechanism, which facilitates the coding and transmission of culture. Its true ‘custodian’ is text. It is precisely text which is bound up with culture by indissoluble ties, since it is permeated by a multitude of codes: it is precisely text which preserves information about the history, ethnography, psychology and behaviour of a nation or ethnic community, i.e. about everything which makes up the content of culture [1, 112]. Precisely text, which is the product of man’s speechand thought-related activity, is of the greatest interest to researchers within the framework of scientific ideas regarding language which have taken shape by this stage of the research. It is in text that the rules and norms of one or another language are actualized and transformed into something vital and dynamic constituting an integrated whole.

If language were not part of all thought processes, if it were not capable of creating new intellectual spaces, then man would not have been able to move outside the framework of the immediately observable. The real world is not reflected in text, but the way it is interpreted depends upon the principles underlying it and how deeply this or that object it is understood. For this reason text, created by man, reflects the movement of human thought and concretizes man’s thought with the help of linguistic means [8, 19].

A key ‘concept’ constitutes the core of an individually engendered literary world-picture, embodied in a text or group of texts by a specific author. The conceptualization of the world in a literary text reflects the universal laws behind the ordering of the world and those of the individual as well, i.e. literary meaning can be filled with a multitude of individual meanings. This is why the extra-linguistic parameters of text play an important part in the moulding of a text’s conceptual space – the author’s name, biography, the genre of a literary work, the time when it was created and so on [9, 28].

Conceptual analysis is one of the fruitful trends in linguistic analysis of text at the present time, since it increases to a considerable extent the possibilities for more accurate investigation of the concept. Conceptualization, or the methodology for the explication of the conceptualized domain of the literary text, is based on the semantic separation of its components from the totality of language entities shedding light on one particular theme, or micro-theme.

L.G. Babenko proposed an algorithm for carrying out conceptual analysis of literary text and this algorithm is a systematized generalization for accumulated results obtained during the study of text from various philological positions. An algorithm has the following components:

  1. Identification of pre-textual presuppositions (extra-linguistic parameters of text) important for formulating the conceptual space of a text (time of creation, the name of the author which brings with it certain information about him);
  2. Determination of key words in a text – the lexical representations of the textual ‘concept’;
  3. Analysis of the lexical composition of a text in order to single out words from one particular thematic domain with varying levels of expressiveness;
  4. Description of the concept-sphere of a text and the overview of contexts, in which key words are used so as to bring out the characteristic properties of the ‘concept’;
  5. Modelling of the structure of the conceptsphere (the basic cognitive-propositional structure), of the pre-core zone (the basic lexical representations), of the immediate periphery (nominative components together with associative-image representations) and of the more distant periphery (subjective-modal meanings, knowledge of which can be deduced from the semantics of the emotional-evaluative words encountered in the text) [9, 111].

In order to designate the content of the most complex language sign, namely text, the term “semantic space” is used. When discussing differrent kinds of such space, A.I.Novikov expressed his idea of textual space, as follows [10, 36]: “With regard to text we need to mention several kinds of space and various methods for sub-dividing it. First there is the text itself as a material object, which constitutes a two-dimensional space, in which the constituent language entities are arranged in a specific sequence. Another space in the sphere of consciousness, which corresponds to text, is actual semantic space. In connection with that we need to distinguish between two kinds of semantic space: the virtual and the actual. Virtual semantic space is shaped by the selection of content entities in the process of the generation of text and it emerges via the mechanism of conception. Actual semantic space is where the result of the conceptualization and understanding of a text as a whole takes place”. In other words text in this category of space is considered as a totality of signs and meanings.

The most important components of literary text are the sender (author), addressee (reader), the time and place where the writing took place, the depicted reality and the linguistic means selected

by the author for writing the literary work. In this way the universal givens “human being”, “space”, “time” – become the dominants for the semantic space of the literary text.

When a literary text is being interpreted, background knowledge has a far from insignificant role to play. In this instance the discursive parameter of inter-textuality acquires special status. The discursive parameter of inter-textuality demands that when different kinds of literary texts are being analysed, their links with other texts written earlier need to be taken into account – this makes it possible to broaden the confines of the written work. After all “each text is an inter-text – other texts are present within it at various levels in more or less recognizable forms: texts from a previous culture and texts from the surrounding culture. Each text represents a new fabric woven from old quotations. Extracts from cultural codes, formulas and rhythmical structures, fragments of social idioms and so on – they have all been absorbed into the text and stirred together within it, because language will have existed before the text and around it” [11, 78].

In this way the affirmation in academic research of the category ‘concept’ marked a new stage in the understanding of methods and of patterns and features of the interaction involving language, consciousness and culture: it broadened the framework for analysing the content of language phenomena and helped make semantic research more profound and effective.

In linguistic articles and books of recent years the correlation between language and thought is taken into account when the individual styles of writers are being studied, together with the methods used for expressing realities outside language, knowledge of the world and the laws followed with regard to the organization of the world-picture presented through language. In other words a literary text is interpreted like a complex sign, which expresses an author’s individual world-picture (as a picture by a representative of one or other people). Analysis aimed at identifying conceptual information to be found in a text can sometimes be confined to just one task – the identification and interpretation of the basic ‘concept’ of a work, or it can be directed towards extending and adding to the analysis of a particular ‘concept’.



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Magazine: KazNU BULLETIN
Year: 2018
City: Almaty
Category: Philology