media analysis

Metaphoric Presentation of Russia in Russian and German Mass Media

One of the important tasks of Culture Studies is investigating the stereotypes and images about certain nations and cultures. It is clear that the image of the own country and images of other countries and cultures are different: we know much more about our own nation, and this knowledge is colored mostly positively. Even the attitude to negative characteristics of our own nation differs from those existing in the other nation (e.g. lack of democracy in Russia). This fact is explained psychologically by the necessity to preserve the positive identity of the own cultural group (Грушевицкаяидр. 2003: 222). But there are also political and ideological reasons for it: a certain image is consciously built in a society with special purpose.

Metaphors have an especially big potential in such image building. The cognitive approach to metaphor investigation beginning with Lakoff and Johnson (1980) has lead to understanding metaphors as cognitive models of political reality which are propagated in a certain language society through mass media channels (Кобозева2001:78). This extraordinary role of metaphors in influence strategies on the mass consciousness is explained by the fact that in contrast to other means of (political) influence metaphors are precise, compact, outstanding, and the best memorized designations for some reality facts (Яцутко2001).

The aim of the current paper is to compare the metaphor usage in presentation of Russia by the Russian and German mass media. The intercultural comparison of metaphors is possible in two ways: 1) to follow up the peculiarities in use of the same metaphors across languages and nations, 2) to describe culture-specific metaphors. The first way is much more productive because the most metaphors are ontological as they are based on "our experience with physical objects (especially our own bodies)" (Lakoff, Johnson 1980: 25) which is clearly the same for the whole mankind. So typical metaphors described in terms of source and target domains are argument is war (source domain: war, target domain: argument), time is money (source domain: money, target domain: time), happy is up (source domain: up (a kind of spatial relations), target domain: happy (emotional condition)) and so on. We can continue this list by mass media metaphors which are wide spread across languages and are actively investigated. Such metaphors are Europe is (a common) house (Chilton, Ilyin 1993, Schäffner 1993), development is movement (Musolff 2003), biological substances are weapons (Sarasin 2004) and so on. In many of these cases the intercultural peculiarities in the use of the same metaphor are connected with different "argumentative strategies" in national mass media (Musolff 2003: 277) or with highlighting the different frame or script slots in the same domain (Schäffner 1993: 17, 26) [FN1]. Lutz (1988) explains the differences in intercultural metaphor usage by the emotional interpretation of the same source domain. Emotions and emotional experiences are learnt in the children's education by their parents and by society at large (Lutz 1988, quot. in Dirven 2003: 38).

The second way of finding out the culture-specific metaphors would be rather striking but there are not so many investigations of them. Lakoff and Johnson (1980) name one of such metaphors, which is possible not in all languages (solution of a problem). Such parallel with a chemical source domain is possible in German (Lösung des Problems) but not in Russian (решениепроблемы [solving a problem]). Speaking about media texts, Dobrosklonskaya (Добросклонская 2005: 209-211) illustrates the metaphorical level of the culture-specific context with more examples which are mostly quotations from certain films, songs, etc.

In the current paper I will try to combine both possibilities in finding out all the metaphors concerning Russia in the contemporary Russian and German media texts with the following quantitative analysis of the same source domains and describing argumentative differences of their use. An extra mention deserves the occurrence of culture-specific metaphors. The investigated metaphor examples were taken from so called qualitative periodicals (German newspapers Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (=faz), Zeit, magazine Spiegel, news agency, Russian newpapers Argymenty i fakty (=AiF) and Komsomol'skaya Pravda (=KP)). All the investigated texts are published in 2005.

The sample corpus consists of 360 Russian and 376 German metaphors concerning Russia and is classified according to the source domains. This classification goes back to the types of source domains offered by Chudinov (Чудинов2001) and Baranov, Dobrovol'skij (2003). The quantitative data about the occurrence of the most relevant source domains is presented in Table 1 (the bold type marks the source domains which are different in the frequency of use in Russian and German media texts).

NrSource domainRussian, %German, %
..Violence (Criminal & Military metaphor)
..Culture (Theater, Cinema, Art, Music)
..Others (Sport and games, History, Education, Philosophy, Religion, Trade, Banking, Insurance, Work)




..Physical objects
..Physical actions
..Plants and natural phenomena
..Spatial relations
..Tools and mechanisms
..Means of transport

Table 1. Source domains for Russia concerning metaphors in Russian and German media texts

As we can see, various source domains are used for Russia concerning metaphors both in Russian and German media texts. The main source domains are based on the common human experience and are practically the same with almost the same percentage. So the biggest group in both cases consists of metaphors with the main source domain social life which is followed by metaphors connecting Russia with human being and physical objects and actions. Each group of Nature, space and Artifacts as main source domain comprises nearly 10%. It is interesting to note, that social life as source domain is used more often than "the most potent of : body, clothing and shelter" (Chilton, Ilyin 1993: 9).

All the main source domain groups combine different types of metaphors. E.g. metaphors using Human Being as main source domain can be built on comparison with human body (or its parts), behavior, meals, sickness or kinship. These types and their preference are almost the same in Russian and German media texts. Even the argumentative strategies in using one certain type of source domain are similar. So in the source domain violence it is the Russian state which acts forcedly, mostly against some oligarchs who are often presented as criminals, cf. examples (1) and (2).

(1) (Ru): Нам все время хочется с помощью законовпоймать этоговорюгу-олигархаза руку [We want all the time to catch this thief-oligarch red-handed with the help of laws] [FN2] (AiF 25/2005: 9)

(2) (Ger): Präsident Putin nutzte den Vorfall für einen Frontalangriff auf das Management des Energiekonzerns UES [President Putin used the accident for the attack on the management of the energy concern UES] (, 25.05.2005).

As example (2) shows it is typical for German texts to personify Russia and its government with the Russian president or with the Kremlin which is one of the means to emphasize strong power concentration and lacking democracy in Russia. In contrast to it the combining "we" is used more often as subject in metaphors of Russian texts. Metaphors which show the necessity for Russia to defend itself on the world scene, e.g. against "the political blackmail" are also typical only for Russian texts.

Some quantitative differences are connected with the types of main domains. E.g. in German mass media there are more examples with source domain culture (Main domain: Social life) as in Russian media texts but these metaphors are mainly well known and widespread across languages; cf. example (3):

(3) (Ger): In Sachen Gazprom, so scheint es, geben derzeit allein die illiberalen nationalen Kräfte um Premier Michail Fradkow den Ton an [In Gazprom business as it seems the illiberal national forces around the Prime Mikhail Fradkov strike the keynote] (Spiegel Online, 23.06.2005).

Rather interesting is the higher percentage for meals (Main domain Human being) and animals (Main domain nature) as source domains in Russian mass media metaphors, ex. (4) and (5).

(4) (Ru): Не окажется липропитанное«демократическимсиропом» послание всего лишь сладким пирожным для мировой общественности [Will the message soaked with "democratic syrup" be only a sweet cake for the world community[]] (AiF 18/2005: 6).

Example (4) combines two meals-connected pictures (soaked with democratic syrup message and sweet cake) which both are "sweet". As a result the irony and critical position of the author towards the promises in the president's message becomes more stressed. Many metaphors of this group use the image of "eating up" (energy, compensations, "power pie" etc.) thus building a clear picture concerning the daily necessities of all the Russian newspaper readers.

Animal-metaphors have the same purpose of making a clear picture and revealing high emotionality (mostly of ironical kind). Thus exaple (5) shows a whole spectrum of emotions by using the source domain "milk cow" in the context of Russian connections with the Ukraine, Georgia and Baltic republics:

(5) (Ru): Россия перестала быть дойной коровой для соседних республик [Russia is no more a milk cow for the neighbor republics] (AiF 10/2005: 4)

Such source domains as physical objects and actions [FN3] are rather frequent in both Russian and German media texts. Russia is presented as something material that can be "given away" and then "demanded back", that can "fall apart". Foreign economics "breaks" in Russia, the inflation is "whipped up" and the efficiency is "whipped in" the gas branch. But it must be mentioned that together with metaphors showing Russia as a "falling apart object" there are contexts in Russian media where it is presented as something or somebody "re-born" (Main Domain Human Being). These two tendencies can be seen as a kind of opposition in the metaphorical presentation of Russia at the same showing its problems and giving a hope for a better future.
Some of the metaphors in the group physical objects and actions are so called synesthesias which are built on combining the perceptions of different senses. So the economic situation in Russia must be "transparent" albeit some firms and especially Gazprom-concern are "not transparent", the interference in their business by the Russian state is "hard" and the criticizing the Russian marine and corruption is "sharp". Such mostly negatively colored metaphors in the group Physical objects and actions even if they are negated serve as a warning against existing or possible problems. Cf. example (6).

(6) (Ger): Auch nach dem Urteil gegen den früheren Yukos-Chef Michail Chodorkowskij ist das Interesse westlicher Unternehmen an einem Einstieg in Rußland ungebrochen [The interest of western enterprises in Russian business is not broken also after the verdict against the ex-chief of Yukos Mikhail Khodorkovskij] (, 31.05.2005).

Most of mentioned problems are caused by the fact that Russia is on the way to a democratic society with a new economic order. The metaphors of "way" and "movement" which are combined in the group Space emphasize this idea of transitional period in Russia's situation. It is characteristic that the aim of such a "way" is mostly not directly defined:

(7) (Ru): Мы только в начале пути [We are still at the beginning of our way] (KP, 23.-30.06.2005: 9).

On the other hand the movement-metaphors often show a picture of business and capital "running away" from Russia so that it is necessary to return it:

(8) (Ger): Als wirtschaftspolitische Impulse verkündete Putin eine Amnestie für Fluchtkapital, um Investitionen anzukurbeln[As an economic-political impulse Putin declared the amnesty for the run away capital to speed up the investments] (, 25.04.2005)

Metaphors of way are sometimes connected with the sphere of transport (Main Domain artifacts). So "145 millions of Russians get stuck in the transitional period" and reforms "skid", because the modernization of Russia is "hindered" by corruption or politicians. An original metaphor presents the head of the main Russian energy concern UES Anatolij Chubais as an "unsinkable ship" both in Russian and German texts. Quotation marks in German text (ex. 9) make it evident that this metaphor is borrowed [FN4]:

(9) (Ger): Sinkt das "unversenkbare Schlachtschiff"? [Will the "unsinkable battle-ship" sink?] (faz, 129/2005: 1)

Some metaphors can not so easily be borrowed by direct translation as they have linguistic or cultural peculiarities of use in a national society. The percentage of such metaphors in the investigated texts is not so high – about 5 % in my corpus data for each language – but they give interesting material for consideration. Some of such metaphors are connected with the development of word meaning in a certain language, e.g. grauer Markt [grey market; = half legal market], Bekleidungskette [clothing chain; cf. the Russian сеть магазинов = store net], beißender Spott [biting sarcasm, cf. the Russian язвительныйсарказм, from язва = ulcer], ätzen [literally: corrode; = say sarcastically].

Among such language-specific metaphors there is a number of phraseological units, e.g.: заставить плясать под свою дудку [to make smb dance to smb.'s tune], стелить солому [to spread straw on the floor, = to prepare oneself to possible future troubles], требовать правды-матки [to demand mother-truth], an den Kragen gehen [literally: to go up to one's collar, = to make smb answer for smth, cf. the Russian теперь он влип = he got into a mess]. Such phraseological units have colloquial and partly vulgar connotations, evidently with the aim of the journalist to be closer to the reader, cf. example (10).

(10) (Ru): Правительствочешет репу и надследующей президентской установкой [The government scratches its head [literally: turnip] about another president order] (AiF, 18/2005: 6).

As the examples above illustrate, there are culture-specific metaphorical expressions which correspond to non-metaphorical expressions (Type 1) or to metaphors with another source domain (Type 2) in other languages. Examples of Type 1 are much more frequent, cf. the data in Table 2 supplying the already mentioned contexts.

Original expression in German/RussianLiterally translationMeaning
(Type 1) Metaphor corresponds to non-metaphor
der Draht nach Deutschlandwire to Germanyconnection to Germany
watering-can principledistribution in the equal way without taking into account different conditions
der staatliche Griff auf den Erdgaskonzernstate grasp on the gas concernstate control of the gas concern
Brandschriftfire letteralarm letter
Tschubajs "abzuschießen"to shoot Chubajs downto deprive Chubajs of his power
letter-box firmfalse firm
зонтичнаяторговая маркаumbrella trade marktrade mark of the same enterprise
отмывать нечестно нажитые состоянияto wash clean smb's not honestly made fortunesto make smb's not honestly made fortunes legal
(Type 2) Metaphor corresponds to metaphor with another source domain
subvention potssubvention sources, cf. the Russian "кормушка" [feeding-trough]
положить тезисы под сукноto lay the message under the broad clothto shelve the message, cf. the German "etw. auf die lange Bank schieben" [to move smth on the long bench]

Table 2. Types of metaphor correspondences [FN5]

Further to language-specific metaphors there are metaphors which have different cultural backgrounds. These backgrounds contain culture-colored concepts or key-words (cf. Wiezbicka 1997) which have connotations typical only for a certain national society. Examples of such kind are берёзовая революция ["birch revolution" = possible revolution in Russia following the "orange revolution" in the Ukraine; birch is one of main symbols of Russia], темный лес ["dark forest"; smth not clear], растревоженный медведь["disturbed bear", bear is another important Russian symbol], конституция, «принятая на крови» [constitution "on the blood", smth which cost too much, cf. the name of Cathedral "Savior-on-the-Blood" in S.-Petersburg]. Der sowjetische Sumpf [soviet bog] can be seen as a culture-colored notion although used in German text.

Besides examples containing the key-concepts, some metaphors are connected with concrete facts in history or reality of a certain nation. This can be illustrated with a very striking metaphor used by the head of Emergency Control Ministry Sergey Shoigu. The metaphor is built on the word «монетизация» ["monetization"] that appeared at the end of 2004, which concerns the government reform in the social sphere. This reform meant that the underprivileged people groups are supposed not to have further free social guaranties but to receive a certain sum of money; cf. example (11):

(11) (Ru): К сожалению, в последнее время у нас пытаются "монетизировать" это понятие 'нравственное начало' [It is pity but there have been attempts to "monetize" this notion lately] (AiF, 19/2005: 3).

Further Russian examples of this kind are шашлычный договор [shashlik agreement, unofficial agreement between president Putin and Russian oligarchs; goes back to the market meal-sellers who offer mostly Caucasian kind of meals], оборотень в погонах[werewolf with shoulder straps; corrupt high rank militiaman],банный компромат [bath-house discreditable materials; goes back to the scandal around the Public Prosecutor General of Russia in 1999, Yurij Skuratov]; Klippschüler-Niveau [primary school-level; refers either to northern-german primary school or to a school with not so high teaching level and lack of qualified staff], kafkaeske Situation in Moskau [precarious situation in Moscow; goes back to the name of the Austrian writer Franz Kafka (1883-1924), famous for his descriptions of absurd mysterious and threatening situations].

There are evidently more culture-specific metaphors of Russian origin as compared to German texts. This fact can be explained with the peculiarity of the investigated object, Russia. But the logic of describing Russia in both cases is similar – Russia is presented as having many problems connected with the "dark" and "bloody" past, the present full of troubles and a not clear future. Anyway the mostly negative colored situations which served as "source domains" for culture-specific metaphors are just more expressive and better memorized to make the reader think about the present situation in Russia.

Thus we can conclude that two ways in comparing the metaphoric image of a certain object – statistic and argumentative analysis of (the same) ontological metaphors and describing culture-specific metaphors – are rather productive in media and/or intercultural study. So the empirical data show that there are many similarities in the use of Russia concerning metaphors in Russian and German mass media. Both languages use different source domains which are almost equally qualitative and quantitative and which are connected with similar argumentative strategies. Main source domains social life, human being, physical objects and actions, nature, space and artifacts correspond to ontological metaphors which are based on common human experience and can be found across languages. The main domain Social life, especially source domain violence, is used more often showing Russia and Russian people struggling and defending against domestic and international challenges. Both Russian and German media metaphors present this situation critical but in Russian texts there are some examples which describe Russia positively and appeal to the national feelings in order to unite people. This fact is typical for a self-image and corresponds to the necessity to keep the positive national identity.

The analysis of culture-specific metaphors which goes back to linguistic or historical peculiarities of a certain national society not only helps to show the present strategies in image building but also serves as a source for culture knowledge about the investigated object (Russia) and about the nations which have produced such culture-specific metaphors.


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FN1 'Frame' of a metaphor is understood as "relatively stable set of facts about a domain" (Chilton, Ilyin 1993: 12), e.g. roof, door, window and so on in the domain house, and 'script' refers to "event sequences characteristic of stories, rituals, occasions and situations" (ibid., 13), e.g. visiting someone at their home or moving in.

FN2 All the translations of Russian (Ru) and German (Ger) examples into English are offered by the author.

FN3 This group combines metaphors which are not mentioned in other groups (meals, sport and games, movement, animals, plants and Artifacts). This fact shows the fuzzy boundaries between each group and different possibilities of metaphor classification.

FN4 Quotation marks with metaphors are not always a sign of foreign authorship. They serve also as means of conscious use of metaphorical expression (cf. Кобозева 2001: 79), which increases the expressivity of such a metaphor and leads e.g. to reviving the moribund metaphors.

FN5 Metaphor correspondences are considered for Russian-German and German-Russian pairs of languages. The results base on the data from explanatory and translation dictionaries as well as on the language knowledge of the author.

Larissa Shchipitsina

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