STRAIGHT and CURVED: semantic shifts

2016. № 3 (9), 448-469

National Research University Higher School of Economics 
Vinogradov Russian Language Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences


This study is performed within the framework of lexical typology. The article discusses semantic shifts in the semantic field of basic forms ‘прямой’ ('straight') / ‘кривой’ ('crooked'). The material is Russian and Chinese attributive words: прямой (‘straight’), извилистый (‘sinuous’), изогнутый (‘curved’), кривой (‘crooked’) in Russian and 直 zhí (‘straight’), 曲 qū (‘sinuous, tortuous’), 弯 wān (‘curved’), 歪 wāi (‘crooked , skew’) in Chinese.

The results suggest that there are three common metaphorical shifts in STRAIGHT zone. There are also shifts more specific to Russian and Chinese, the so-called implicative shifts, which, however, are also repeated in a larger sample of languages.

In the field of NON-STRAIGHT most significant is the role of assessment. There are metaphors involving assessment (Rus. кривые руки / программы ‘crooked hands / software’, Ch. 歪理 wāi lǐ ‘stupid logic’) as well as non-involving assessment (Rus. извилистый путь / разговор ‘tortuous path / conversation’, Ch. 弯路 wānlù ‘tortuous path’) metaphors.

Some shifts are repeated not only in unrelated languages, but also in the history of the same language. Apparently, this is the case for the shift ‘form’ → ‘function’ (Rus. кривой ‘crooked’) in the history of Russian.