The concept of beauty in different languages or beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Maria Tainkina

People say: “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” and there is no doubt it is true. So, what makes people define what is beautiful and what is not and, in general, see the surrounding world in different ways? It can be explained by the inner world of any particular person. We see the world through the prism of ourselves. This very prism is formed by culture features which we were brought up in. And it is very well known, that language is an inseparable part of culture. Thus, any language must reflect cultural richness of the people and each person in particular; in other words, show the way people think of different abstract and material things of the world, forming certain concepts in their minds.

In this article we are going to get acquainted with the scientific notion of “concept” and pay special attention to the concept of beauty in different languages, namely Russian, English and French.

So, in spite of the fact that the notion of “concept” is considered to be firmly established in modern linguistics, its contents may vary in ideas of different schools and scientists. The concept is a category of thought that gives lots of opportunities for its interpretation. The category of the concept appears nowadays in researches of philosophers, logicians, psychologists, culturologists, and hence it has features of all these extralinguistic interpretations. Thus, various definitions of the concept come to the following:

* It is an element of thought, including our knowledge about the surrounding world

* It interprets the reality through our own experience

* It is the essence of a notion, appearing in images, ideas and symbols

* Concepts may not always reflect cultural wealth, but have empirical nature (as in to run, red, a window etc.)

* Concepts may not always have linguistic form which means that they may not have an established name, but nobody doubts their conceptual status

Scientists, representing different lines of linguistic investigation, have been paying attention to studying concepts because the information contained in them is extremely many-sided; it gives us the data about an object in all its variety of connections with other objects. The majority of research works is devoted to such concepts as “life”, “death”, “destiny”, “family”, “happiness”, “soul”, “will” etc.

Among all concepts, the concept of beauty, in my opinion, is one of the most interesting, because it gives us a great opportunity to turn to national aspects of people’s picture of the world, reflected in the languages.

Now are going to refer to explanatory dictionaries of each of the three languages to see what definitions of the word “beauty” they offer and then, get acquainted with their usage in mass media of late ( based on the material of articles from national corpuses of the three languages).

Russian explanatory dictionaries by T. Efremova, D. Ushakov, S. Odgegov and N. Shvedova give us 6 definitions of the word:

1) Something beautiful (often as in “beauty of something”)

Ex.: beauty of a picture

2) Something beautiful (in the general meaning)

Ex.: The truth, kindness and beauty.

3) Beautiful landscapes.

Ex.:Southern beauties.

4) Attractive looks.

Ex.: He is not remarkable for his beauty.

5) Good, adroit (ironic)

Пр.: Slipped, fell to mud – beautiful!

6)About something pleasant,impressive.

Пр.: We’ve had a great walk, a swim – beautiful!


So, as we see the leading position belongs to the fourth meaning, namely “Attractive looks”, the fifth meaning “Good, adroit (ironic)” terminates the list, and the rest of the meanings given above don’t show big difference in number of usage.
English explanatory dictionaries such as Oxford, Cambridge, Macmillan dictionaries offer the following definitions of beauty:

1) Something pleasing to look at, to hear, that pleases aesthetic senses.
Ex.: This is an area of outstanding natural beauty.

2) Beautiful appearance.
Ex.: a blonde beauty

3) Something pleasing the intellect
Ex.: the beauty of football

4) Something that can make somebody beautiful
Ex.: beauty products

5) Аn excellent example of something
Ex.: a fish was a beauty

6) The pleasing or attractive features of something.
Ex.: the beauty of keeping cats is that they don’t tie you down.


Here the first place is given to the first meaning “Something pleasing to look at, to hear, that pleases aesthetic senses”. It is followed by the second one “Beautiful appearance” (unlike Russian), the third, fourth and sixth meanings show a gradual recession in usage and the fifth meaning “Аn excellent example of something” is the most infrequent.

Le grand Robert, Larousse and Dicoillico dictionaries of the french language show us just 3 meaning of beauty:

1) Caractère de ce qui est beau, esthétique à la perception.
Ex. : La beauté d’une ville

2) Quelque chose ce qui est digne d’admiration par ses qualités intellectuelles ou morales
Ex. : La beauté d’un acte désintéressé.

3) Jolie femme ou fille.
Ex. : Une jeune beauté.


These results indicate that the first meaning “Caractère de ce qui est beau, esthétique à la perception” takes the leading place (like in English), and the rest are approximately on the same level.

If we compare the three languages, we will see that:

• surprisingly, there are twice less meanings of the word “beauty” in French;

• the leading number of usage of this word belongs to “beautiful appearance” in Russian, while in English and French “something, pleasing the aesthetic senses” is more important;

• speaking of beautiful appearance, while it is meant in general in English and Russian, French dictionaries point out the beauty of a girl/woman only;

• Some of the meanings are common for all the three languages, some are completely different and unique;

The difference can be explained by mentality of the people, their culture, but still we see that vision of beauty is highly individual. Does it mean that beauty is in the eye of the beholder?






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