Historiographical aspect of the research for lexical item «life»

In the article the philological works devoted to one of the key constants in the linguistic picture of the world — the lexical item «life» are systematized and classified. The potential ambiguity, the historically established conceptual content of the nominative-functional field of «life» allow to systematically explore the specified language unit from different positions, and therefore it is possible to classify the existing body of scientific works according to the following criteria: by geography; by language base; by chronology; by type of work; on the object of analysis. Modern historiography of lexical item «life» captures the movement of scientific thought from the lexicographic description of a single word through a comprehensive analysis of lexical- semantic parameters to the study of the concept, which coincides with the transition from the system- structural to the anthropocentric paradigm, where the study of the word «life» is represented as part of complex linguistic components on the synchronous and diachronic levels.

Historiography as a special genre of research had been initially associated with historical science, but over the past decades it has become firmly established in the practice of many humanitarian disciplines, including linguistics. The relevance of the historiographical description of studies of individual language units is caused by the existing large body of scientific works studying lexical, etymological, semantic, derivational, grammatical, etc. component that has been actively replenished in the last two decades due to linguistic works analyzing the conceptual features of words in the aspect of cognitive science, ethno-linguistics, hermeneutics, cultural linguistics, etc. Interest in the study of individual words is predetermined by the cumulative function of the language, explicable at the lexical level, since it is in the vocabulary of the language that information is presented about the features of the socio-historical and cultural-political life of an ethnic group.

The linguists pay the great attention to the lexical item life and its conceptual content and that can be explained by belonging to the key lexemes of any language, which absorbed the mental experience of an ethnos. The phenomenon of life is one of the central axiological components included in the basic, spiritual and moral values of any nation. Due to this, the word life represents both a cognitive and mental plan, has a certain degree of sacredness, is universal in the language picture, and also has a high frequency of use, broad derivational and syntactic capabilities. According to the Frequency Dictionary of the Russian language, edited by L.N. Zasorina (1977), the lexical item life takes the 6th place among nouns after the words: business, time, person, people, and hand. In the New Frequency Dictionary of Russian Vocabulary by O.N. Lyashevskaya and S.A. Sharov (2009) the lexical item life has position higher and follows the nouns: year, person, time, business. According to the observations of A.G. Mullagalieva, who analyzes the etymological nest with the root *gi-, life is the most frequent among all the words with the specified root [1; 103]. In the Russian Dictionary of Education, edited by A.N. Tikhonov, 48 derivative units are recorded on base of the lexical item life, each of which explicates one or another meaning embedded in the production basis. The relevance of this language unit is evidenced by a large layer of phraseological units recorded in various explanatory and phraseological dictionaries, as well as an extensive corpus of proverbs and sayings in which the word life is present.

The potential polysemy, the historically established conceptual content of the nominative-functional field of life allow you to systematically and comprehensively explore the specified language unit in selected scientific works for the historiographical analysis. The accumulated extensive lexicographic material becomes the basis for research of the lexical item life, not only as a separate language unit, but also as part of complex linguistic components.

More than 90 scientific works on philology, which can be classified for the following reasons, served as material for the historiographical analysis of the lexical item life research:

  •  on geography research;
  •  by language base;
  •  by chronology;
  •  by type of work;
  •  on the object of analysis.

The geography of research, determined by the place of residence/work of a scientist, is wide enough, which is explained by the axiological significance of the word life in the geographical space in the formation of the linguistic picture of the world, a special role in the transmission of the essential understanding of the phenomenon of life itself. Despite the obvious predominance of Russian linguists and literary critics (Moscow, St. Petersburg, Kazan, Ufa, Kemerovo, Novosibirsk, Penza, Tver, Saratov, etc.), which account for 90 % of all works, the analysis of the lexical item life and its conceptual expression in Russian and other languages are studied both by scholars of the near abroad (Kyrgyzstan, Belarus, Ukraine) and far abroad (China, Korea).

Depending on the language base, the entire corpus of scientific research can be divided into 3 groups: performed on the material only in Russian (83 %), on the basis of Russian and one of the popular languages (11 %), more often in English, and also on a comparison of Russian and native data languages, which is possible due to the bilingualism of the researcher himself (6 %).

Due to the fact that definition of the chronological framework from 1975 to 2018 is characterized by an active study of the identified problem, the appearance of scientific articles, sections in monographs and dissertations that systematically analyze life from different perspectives, but this does not indicate a lack of attention to the specified word before.

The interest of linguists of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century to life was associated mainly with the need for lexicographic research and was realized in the analysis of language material for preparing dictionary entries for various dictionaries. In the second half of the twentieth century scientific works had been appeared (for instance, the work «Essay on Russian Historical Lexicology» of P.Ya. Chernykh, the work «Semantic History of Slavic Studies in the Russian Literary Language of the New Time» of Ye.S. Koporskaya, and etc.), and a large number of popular science (Yu.V. Otkuptschikov with his work «To the origins of the word. Stories about the science of etymology», the work «Journey into a word» of Ye.A. Vartanyan, the work «In the world of words» of N.M. Shanskiy, Ye.G. Kovalevskaya with her work «History of words», etc.), in which separate etymological, semantic, derivational, stylistic remarks are presented concerning the word life.

The chronological parameter is informative only in combination with the distribution by type and research object. The period from 1975 to 2000 is accounted by 13 % of scientific papers addressed to the analysis of the word life, from 2001 to 2018 — 87 %; this can be explained by the active development of interdisciplinary sciences at the beginning of the twenty-first century, in connection with which the focus of attention shifted to the concept of life, which predetermined a surge of activity in its study due to the multidimensionality of the concept of the term itself. In the period from 1975 to 2000 67 % of studies are related to the study of a word-formation nest, a lexical-semantic group, or a nominative-functional field, and only 33 % are turned to the study of the conceptual content of a given language unit, whereas in 2001–2018 the ratio has changed: 19 % and 81 % respectively.

Depending on the object of analysis, the existing body of scientific works devoted to the word life can be divided into 3 blocks during the specified time period:

  1. linguistic proper (lexeme in aggregate of interlanguage connections: word-formation and etymological features, lexical-semantic groups and semantic fields on the material of literary and dialect languages in synchrony and diachrony) — 17 %;
  2. interdisciplinary (concept in the cognitive, linguistic, culturological, ethno-linguistic, psycholinguistic aspect) — 54 %;
  3. occasional (linguistic and literary analysis of the functioning of the language unit in the works of writers) — 29 %.

The object of research of the first block most often are lexical-semantic groups in diachrony and synchrony. The importance of analyzing the accumulated lexicographic material in relation to historical and literary studies was pointed out by V.V. Kolesov in the book «The World of Man in the Word of Ancient Rus- sia». Defining a group of words with the same root, going back to Indo-European *gi-, the author proceeds to the analysis of the lexical series «inside-living-life-existence» (живот-житие-жизнь-житье in Russian) and concludes: «The sequential change of words born from one verbal root turned out to be not accidental. In their semantics, there was a real consistency in the perception of «life»: only the physical — inside, primarily moral and spiritual — soul and, finally, socially significant — life» [2; 81]. To the actual linguisticstudies, in addition to the work of V.V. Kolesov, we can relate the historical and etymological works related to the study of the lexical item life as part of a lexical-semantic group: material for the article «Cheerful, cheerfulness» from the book of V.V. Vinogradov «History of Words», dissertation of A.G. Mullagalieva, «Functional and Semantic Features of the Etymological Nest with Root *gi- in Russian», articles of Ye.V. Petrukhina «History of the words inside, soul, life and the concept of «life» in Russian», and Yu.T. Orokhovatskiy «Words with root being (жир-)» and others. Analysis of the distribution and redistribution of lexical and semantic variants between lexemes in the works of the first block helps to understand the vector of evolution of national thinking, comparing the data of closely related languages, reveals the specifics of the Russian language world. Separately, it should be noted the study of the lexical-semantic group on the dialect material: article of Ye.A. Nefedova «Existence, living, being (житье, жисть, жира in Russian) in Arkhangelsk Dialects», in which 6 territorial variants of the semantic microfield are presented. To date, the lexeme of life remains scarcely studied both in the dialect system itself (comparison of functional and semantic features in different dialects), and in relation to the literary language in synchrony and diachrony. In our opinion the analysis of the word life in various functional styles is promising at different historical stages and representation in the sociolect (argot, jargon, slang) with the definition of the development path in the light of the native speakers' associations and the explication of the archetypical potencies of this lexeme. Sequential research and description of the functional-semantic features of the lexeme of life in synchrony and diachrony with the involvement of dialectal and phraseological material will allow defining the cognitive vector of the development of an ethnos, the specificity of the Russian perception of its existence, represented through language.

It should be noted that the studies of the first block often go beyond the limits of linguistics, drawing on data from history, culture and literature. With the development of the anthropocentric paradigm, many interdisciplinary works have been arisen, one of the tasks of which is to study the relationship of language with human cognitive activity, and for this it is necessary to combine not only lexicographic, linguistic, literary material, but also actively use historical, political, economic and geographical data — cultural, psychological nature. We have related such studies to the second block — interdisciplinary, in which life is analyzed as a concept, constant, linguoculture, logoepisteme, etc. According to N.V. Ufimtseva, concept life takes the leading position in the Russian language consciousness in the first decade of the 21 century, which, of course, could not but affect the frequency of his research, and the content changes: refusal of altruism, sacrifice in favor of rationality, egocentricity [3; 16, 17].

Inside the second block, 2 subgroups are clearly distinguished: works performed on the Russian material and studies comparing data from Russian and other languages. The dissertation of O.A. Ipanova «The concept of «life» in the Russian language picture of the world: linguocultural and lexicographical as- pects», articles of Ye.N. Rudnev «The concept of «life»: analysis and interpretation», the work «The concept «life» as a socio-cultural component of the concept-sphere of the modern Russian language» of V.V. Opryshko, the work «The concept of «life» in the ethno-hermeneutic aspect» of S.A. Lifantseva, etc. The second subgroup combines the dissertation of N.V. Kuznetsova «Word-building structures of the nuclear lexemes of the concept of «life» (on the material of Russian and English folk tales), D.R. Khalikov with work «Aspects of the implementation of the macroconcept «to live» in the Russian and German languages», S.A. Vlasova with work «The concept of «life» in modern English-speaking culture», Z.F. Abubakirova, «Representation of the superconcept «to live» in the Russian-Bashkir functional-cognitive dictionary», Ye.K. Valiakhmetova and her study «Comparative analysis of nuclear components of the functional- semantic sphere «to live» in Russian and English languages», etc. All the authors in their research note the contamination in the life of universality and national specificity, the organic connection of physical and sacral-spiritual components, the syncretism of the rational and irrational, which allows the word to gain conceptual fullness. The work of the second unit allows us to speak about an absolutely obvious expansion of the boundaries of interdisciplinary research, combining the possibilities of not two, but more sciences.

If the two previous blocks are distinguished by an analysis of high-frequency phenomena that are universal for all native speakers, the third block combines work on the study of authorial, occasional use. This includes linguistic and literary works analyzing the lexical item or concept life in the works of individual authors. The importance of such studies is confirmed by S.A. Vlasova: «The picture of the world is formed in a person in the course of his life activity, in the course of all his contacts with the world and on the basis of his most diverse abilities. Interpreting the world, he removes too much, grinds, polishes, imitates, until what he does is close to the ideal form; he gets rid of unnecessary things, straightens corrections, returns shine to what has darkened, and does not get tired to sculpt himself» [4; 155]. The appearance of occasional use ofthe lexeme is an indicator of how many more potential explicit meanings have been recorded in the dictionaries, but exist in the author's perception of the world. Among the works of this block are the following: dissertations of O.V. Savko «Features of the language representation of the artistic concept of «life» in the poetry of B. Pasternak» and the work «The concept of «life» in the idiolect of Victor Pelevin» of Ye.V. Kholopkova and as well as the articles «Concept of «life» in the poetry of B. Pasternak» by A. Fedorinchik, «The concept of «life» and conceptual metaphorization in historical discourse of V.O. Klyuchevskiy» by N.G. Smirnova, «Concept «life» as a fragment of the Russian language picture of the world in L. Petrushevskaya's texts» by Jiao Fengyue, «Concept «life» in L. Ulitskaya's novel «Sonechka» by O.N. Chistyakova and others. Studying the lexical item and the concept of life in the works of individual representatives of philosophical, literary, historical thought at various stages is of great scientific interest, because it records the subjective content that materialized in the linguistic sign. The individual specificity of perception, reflected in the text, makes it possible to reveal the hidden possibilities of the lexeme and concept, which are not reflected either in the lexicographic sources or in the folklore texts. This direction is very promising, as evidenced by the statistics: only 33 % of the studies of this unit took shape in major scientific works.

It is necessary to designate the study of a binary pair life — death (40 % of all works) separately, in which the object of the analysis is a conceptual pair in its own linguistic, interdisciplinary and occasional aspects. The binary nature of this pair became possible due to the ambivalence of the concepts of life and death, their inseparable connection in the human mind, axiological significance for each individual. In the monograph by T.I. Vendina in the work «From the Cyril and Methodius Heritage in the Language of Russian Culture and Language» there is a separate chapter «Life and Death», in which the author notes the universal character of this opposition, describes its conceptualization in Old Slavonic, Russian book-writing and nonbook language of XI–XVII centuries and in the modern Russian language in its literary and dialect form. The analysis of cognitive, linguistic and culturological units of life and death is carried out as the only material of the Russian language in the scientific works of L.O. Cherneyko and Ho Son Te «Concepts of life and death as a fragment of the Russian language picture of the world», N.V. Deevaya with her work «The structure of the concepts of «life» «death» in the Russian language picture of the world», the work «Life-Death Concepts, Verbalized by Lexemes and Phraseological Units of the Russian Language in the Linguo-Cultural As- pect» of T.N. Loskutova, L.V. Balashova with her work «The structure of the semantic field of life-death in the modern Russian language», the work «The conceptual duad «life-death» and its linguistic embodiment in Russian phraseology, paremiology and aphoristics» of N.A. Novikova, the work «Conceptual couple «life- death» in the Russian language» of O.B. Volkomorova and etc. In comparative works the concept of life in comparison with the concept of death is studied: on the material of the Russian and English languages («The concepts of «life» and «death» the system of language and consciousness of multilingual speakers: on the material of phraseological units (V.V. Tarasenko); Russian and Serbo-Croatian («Semantics of words with roots -zhi (-жи(в)-) and -mer / mor- (-мер/мор-) in Russian and Serbo-Croatian against the background of the cultural concepts «life» and «death» by T. Pavlovich); Russian and French («The concepts of «life» and «death» in the system of language and consciousness of multilingual speakers: based on the phraseological units» by A.P. Timonina, Ye.S. Barabanova); Russian and Chinese («Concepts of life and death in Russian and Chinese languages (on the material of paremias)» by A.I. Golovni and Wang Wentao). Among the studies in which the concepts of life and death are studied from the standpoint of their lexical representation in the works of individual authors of works of art, the following can be called: «The concept of «life-death» in the idiolect of Mikhail Zoshchenko» by T.A. Bychkova, «Correlation of the concepts of «life» and «death» in B. Pasternak's idiostyle (on the material of the novel «Doctor Zhivago») by O.S. Chumak, «The concepts of life and death in the poetry of M.I. Tsvetaeva» by Ye.V. Dziuba, «Methods and means of implementing the concepts of «life» and «death» in an artistic text: on the material of the novels «Chevengur» by A. Platonov and «The Case of Kukotskiy» of L. Ulitskaya» by A.V. Yermakova, «The concepts of «life» and «death» in Russian romantic poetry: on the material of traditional poetic vocabulary and phraseology» by O.I. Kourova and others. Studies of the binary pair life-death show the cohesion in the linguistic consciousness of the three components birth-life-death, irreversible predestination in the European linguistic consciousness and, as a result, irreplaceable tragedy. It seems relevant linguo-culturological analysis of this conceptual pair in diachrony to identify semantic, stylistic, cultural, axiological changes in the word and concept in paganism and Christianity, as well as at the synchronous level, since such studies will help determine the direction vector of conceptual changes and reflect them in language.

In conclusion it could be stated that modern historiography of the lexical item life tends to develop from the lexicographic description of an individual word through a comprehensive analysis of lexico-semantic parameters to the study of the concept, which coincides with the transition from the system-structural to the anthropocentric paradigm, where the study of the word life is represented as part of complex linguistic components at synchronic and diachronic levels. The lexical item life in modern works is considered as a significant cultural-semiotic, complex-forming, nuclear unit, which demonstrates the importance of the axiological content in the formation of the linguistic picture of the world. The word life is a peculiar socio-ethical archetype that compactly expresses the national worldview, moral values. The study of a separate lexical item from different angles (etymology, history of the development of meanings, the emergence of new and disappearance of individual lexical and semantic variants, fouling with stylistic, culturological connotations) makes it possible to recreate the process of forming the linguistic picture of a people, determine the components of a collective worldview, predict further development.



  1. Mullagalieva, A.G. (2009). K istorii leksemy «zhyzn», vkhodiashchei v etimolohicheskoe hnezdo s kornevym *gi- [On the history of the lexical item «life» included in the etymological nest with root *gi-]. Uchenyie zapiski Kazanskoho hosudarstvennoho universiteta — Scientific notes of the Kazan State University, Vol. 151, 6, 102–109 [in Russian].
  2. Kolesov, V.V. (1986). Mir cheloveka v slove Drevnei Rusi [Human world in the word of Ancient Russia]. Leninhrad: Izdatelstvo Leninhradskoho universiteta [in Russian].
  3. Ufimtseva, N.V. (2016). Zhizn kak tsennost: evoliutsiia soderzhaniia [Life as a value: the evolution of content]. Voprosy psikholinhvistiki — Questions of psycholinguistics2. 15–19 [in Russian].
  4. Vlasova, S.A. (2003). Kontsept «life» v sovremennoi anhloiazychnoi kulture [The concept of «life» in modern English culture]. Candidate's thesis. Kemerovo [in Russian].
Year: 2019
City: Karaganda
Category: Philology