linguocultural aspect of discourse (based on THE WORKS OF JOHN UPDIKE)

Research article
Issue: № 1 (37), 2023


Linguocultural study of discourse is an intensively developing trend of modern philological research. The focus is on issues related to the human factor in the language, the linguistic personality of the author, the reflection of his linguistic and sociocultural paradigms in the literary text. The paper attempts to highlight the cultural paradigm of John Updike’s discourse. The author concludes that this paradigm can be presented as the combination of individual culture (like the concepts of stereotyped behaviour and spiritual wealth of the individual), national culture (both behavioural and spiritual wealth of the nation) and world culture (as the best examples of the spiritual activity of mankind).

1. Introduction

Currently, interdisciplinary research is in the focus of attention of many scientists. In the linguistic sciences the object of study is not limited to linguistic possibilities but involves the whole complex problems associated with human communication in language ("background" knowledge, reflections of world images in language)

. The relevance of the discourse topic is predetermined by the variety of its interpretations in different sciences
. The scientific novelty of the research is determined by the attempt to study the thesaurus of a linguistic personality in the form of a cultural paradigm, giving its definition and the reflection in a literary text. The aim of the study is to analyze the cultural paradigm of the discourse of the famous American writer John Updike (1932–2009). The object of the study is the original texts of three works by this author (two short stories and a novel): “The Doctor's Wife” (DW) (1962)
, “Still Life” (SL) (1969)
, and “The Witches of Eastwick” (WE) (1984)
. The main research results obtained in the study can be applied for delivering a course on linguistic personality, a special course on text interpretation, and this is the practical significance of the work.

2. Research methods

In linguistics, the phenomenon “discourse” is considered from different points of view. The pragmalinguistic approach is focused on the study of emotional and informational exchange between the participants of communication, their verbal and non-verbal interaction. For psycholinguists, discourse is “the deployment of switches from the internal code to external verbalization in the processes of speech production and its interpretation, taking into account the socio-psychological types of linguistic personalities, role settings and prescriptions”

. Communication registers, genre varieties and functional styles of discourse are in the field of view of linguistic-stylistic analysis. Structural-linguistic analysis of discourse represents its segmentation, meaningful and formal coherence, methods of switching topics, hedges. Discourse as a cognitive-semantic phenomenon is studied in the form of frames, scenarios, mental schemes, cogniotypes, i.e. various models of representation of communication in consciousness

In this study, we are interested in the linguocultural study of discourse. This approach aims to establish the specifics of communication within a certain ethnic group, to determine the formulaic models of etiquette and speech behavior in general, to characterize the cultural dominants of the corresponding community in the form of concepts as units of the mental sphere, to identify ways of referring to precedent texts for a given culture

. The sociolinguistic approach to the study of discourse involves the analysis of the participants in communication as representatives of a particular social group and the analysis of the circumstances of communication in a broad sociocultural context
. The methods of observation, logical-semantic analysis, contextual analysis, interpretation, characterization and systematization form the methodological basis of the research.

3. Discussion

The cultural paradigm is a complex, multifactorial phenomenon that can be considered in two ways

. On the one hand, it underlies the general content of J. Updike's discourse as a background, i.e. generation of the text within the culture of the American people, and on the other hand, it is an element of the specific content of this discourse generated within the culture of J. Updike.

The cultural paradigm is the complex of paradigms of individual culture, national culture, and world culture. Within the text the cultural paradigm can be expressed explicitly (proper names, names of cultural heritage) and implicitly (cultural associations derived from the positions of the characters, their relationships).

The components of culture that carry a nationally specific colour include the following: traditions, customs, rituals; traditional-everyday culture; everyday behaviour (habits of representatives of a certain culture, norms of communication accepted in a certain society); mimic and pantomimic codes used by linguocultural community; “national pictures of the world”, reflecting the specific perception of the outside world, the national thinking peculiarities the particular culture representatives; artistic culture, reflecting the cultural traditions of a particular ethnic group


The cultural paradigm can be expressed explicitly – in the form of culture-bound terms, proper names, names of cultural heritage, etc., and implicitly – on the basis of cultural-conceptual associations, as well as extracted from the positions of the characters, their behavior, relationships, and the hidden position of the author.

Let us consider the first aspect of the cultural paradigm. In the analyzed discourse of J. Updike, there are often toponyms that carry a large semantic load. They determine the place of action, events, draw the culture related to the characters of the work, and give the works dynamism. Thus, in the story “Still Life”

the toponyms America, England, Britannia, Europe determine the culture of the main characters; the Lowlands, West Virginia, Hamburg, Holland, Germany, Black Country define the setting of the story. In the story “The Doctor's Wife”
 the toponyms the Caribbean, St Martin, Vermont, High Hill, The Bay define the setting of the story; Sussex, England tell about the doctor's wife belonging to the culture of England. Florida, Peru, Antique show a picture of the settlement of children of a svelte widow; Barbados, Yorkshire, Trinidad determine the place of residence of the doctor and his wife; Alabama, the South of U.S., the North of U.S. are associated with the problem of racism and the attitude of the main characters towards it. In the novel “The Witches of Eastwick”
the toponyms Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Manhattan, Italy, Norwich, Connecticut, Paris, West Germany, Frankfurt, Sweden, Russia, China determine the former and present place of residence of the characters. Thus, these toponyms represent an associative field of place, time, and history.

The Updike's works also include: a)names of the places and buildings having social, cultural or historical significance: Constable School of Art, Kazmierczak Square; b) significant historical events that have influenced the culture of a given country: Fighting in Korea; Great Swamp Fight in King Philip's War; War between the South and the North in America; World War II: Britain, France, USSR and USA fight Germany, Italy, Japan; American War of Independence


The names of famous political and literary figures and artists are often used in the Updike's discourse. The associations which readers have in connection with these names increase the amount of hidden information. The names Castro, Ben-Gurion, Martin Luther King refer to racism and the black Americans rights protection

. The names Bing Crossby (American singer and actor), Sartre (French philosopher), Karl Barth (Swiss theologian), Jim Thorpe (American athlete), William Penn (Quaker and founder of Pennsylvania) show a variety of the Americans interests and also provide readers with an opportunity to guess the subtext, the concept

The discourse we analyze reflects culture-bound terms denoting the details of the national way of life of a culture, ethnic group, and nation. “Daily Express” – British newspaper, Levi's – American jeans brand, Camel – American cigarette brand, English Ford – English car brand, Chesterfields – American cigarette brand, Beatles, Monkeys – English pop groups; Celtics, Bruins, Whalers, Red Sox – American sports teams; Crest  – toothpaste brand, Webster – a Merriam (Springfield) dictionary, Chevy – the colloquial designation of the Chevrolet car brand, and Pennsylvania snack is a traditional dish of German immigrants in the USA – meat with sauerkraut. All these culture-bound terms – proper names – reflect everyday culture, closely connected with traditions.

Such words and phrases as Anglo-Saxon rubble, Greece's golden age, Roman-Christian, Venus de Milo, Chardinesque, Esquiline Venus, the Dying Gaul, Winged Victory, Japanese love tale, Italian fairy tale, Greek grace, Russian woman, Anglican vicar are associated with the culture of ancient Rome and Greece, France, England, and Japan. For example, the novel “The Witches of Eastwick”

directly describes a certain Chinese ritual:  “The Chinese used to tear the skin off a body inch by inch in the Middle Ages”

So, in the discourse of John Updike, the cultural paradigm is expressed, firstly, explicitly, through place names, proper names, and art objects. On the other hand, the cultural paradigm in the works of J. Updike is included in the implicit sphere, which is extracted from the positions of the characters, their behaviour and relationships. For example, appellatives and addresses used in the discourse characterize the norms of behaviour specific to a given local culture: “Dear friends… Dear me… Will you pass me this cabbage, please?”

. “Good heavens. God forgive me, I've come to hate them. Let's do it”
. “Oh, my God! Good Lord! Beg pardon, sir? Will you open your bag, please?! Listen, what the hell do I know! Come back and see us soon. Drop in any time”

In the story “Still Life”

the characters are from different cultures. Leonard Hartz and Jack Fredericks are Americans, both from Wheeling, West Virginia. Robin Cox and Professor Seabright are English. The action takes place at the British School of Drawing and Fine Arts in Oxford. Thus, there is a clash of two local cultures in the story. Updike emphasizes the belonging of his characters to different cultures through words and phrases such as: a slender and earnest American; a trademark of an American pencil manufacturer; resentful American veterans; a wispy English boy; sturdy English teenage girls; the melancholy of the English afternoon; American movies; Leonard’s American ears; the mist-reddened roughness of the Englishwoman’s legs; the haircut had the heavy British form; a disgusting silly American; serene Britannia stance

Obviously, the main idea of the story is connected with the conflict of cultures. Robin Cox, being an Englishwoman, has her own idea of the nation of Americans:

“You Americans are never serious. Everything you say's a variety of joke”

.  “You're just being a disgusting silly American”
. “All you Americans paint in the abstract”
. “All Americans are bores”
. Thus, national peculiarities of thinking of two different cultures representatives lead to misunderstanding between the main characters.

In the story “The Doctor's Wife”

one of the main ideas is also related to the clash of cultures. The main characters – doctor's wife, Ralph and Eve belong to different cultures: Ralph and Eve are an American family, although Eve has English and Russian-French roots: “Of English blood, enriched by remote and aristocratic injections of French and Russian, she denied…”
. The text does not directly indicate the nationality of the doctor's wife, however, words and phrases associated with this image description, such as: her English Ford, British official, Yorkshire, Sussex, England, London, а также обращения doctor’s wife к Ralph – "You Americans…so nervy"; "…you in America have lived with the problem so long. In England, now, they're waking up", give reason to assume that the doctor's wife belongs to the English culture

One of the main ideas of the story is directly related to the conflict of cultures. Each nation representatives have their own opinion on the racism issue: Doctor's wife: In America, now…are the coloureds well cared for? Are they  well off” Ralph:In some parts better than others. In the South…they're openly discriminated against; in the North they…have to live in the city slums but…they have full legal rights.Doctor's wife: "It is a problem, isn't it? Eve:Whose problem? She was a graduate of one of those female colleges where only a member of a racial minority or a cripple can be elected class president”


Thus, a representative of each local culture sees the world around him in his own way and “draws” his own picture of the world. As for the perception of a foreign culture, it should be noted that it is determined by national-specific differences that exist between different cultures.

4. Conclusion

The cultural paradigm in Updike's discourse is expressed explicitly, by means of geographical names, words-realities that carry a national-specific colouring. All of them evoke certain associations of time, space, history, place, culture, life in readers and set the general background. The cultural paradigm of John Updike’s discourse is also expressed implicitly and is derived from the attitudes and behaviours of the main characters as representatives of certain national cultures, which inevitably leads to their clash.

Article metrics