Binary oppositions in Slavic Languages and Cultures via the Data of an Associative Experiment

Svitlana Martinek (Lviv)

Starting from Lévi-Strauss (1963), binary oppositions have been considered as a powerful tool to elucidate the fundamental structures of human consciousness, culture, and language. Conversely, in the writings by Jacques Derrida (esp. in 1977), the method of binary opposition was subjected to considerable criticism. The main aim of Derrida’s deconstruction is to transform the traditional binary oppositions of Western discourse and to disclose their asymmetry, changes in the hierarchy of their members, and the transference of a member in the opposition, often in the form of a new and expanded definition. Nowadays the anthropocentric approach in linguistics, which explores the forms of knowledge representation and cognitive mechanisms via language, enables a new opportunity in studying of binary oppositions.

The empirical investigation of binary oppositions US – THEM, LIGHT – DARK, and LEFT – RIGHT in Polish, Russian, and Ukrainian linguacultures are based on the data obtained via the associative experiment conducted with native speakers of these languages and presented in the Associative Thesauri. Associative responses are claimed to be not arbitrary but motivated by hierarchical conceptual structures existing in consciousness of the bearers of the above mentioned cultures and languages.

The responses given by the speakers not only reveal corresponding cognitive domains and their specific traits but also allow ranking them according to their relative prominence for the representatives of particular linguacultures. They unveil both the remnants of ancient semiotic systems in contemporary speakers’ minds and the changes occurring in respective conceptual structures.