Semantic Condensations in French and Russian Proverbs Based on the Thematic Group Family

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The article is devoted to the study of semantic condensations in French and Russian proverbs from the point of view of family values perception by native speakers of French and Russian. The analysis was carried out based on a study of a card index of proverbs extracted from paremiographic sources that offer a presentation of the material on a thematic basis and contain headings and subheadings related to family and family relations. In order to achieve greater objectivity of the results, the authors carried out a selection and counting of the number of identical proverbial units of the studied thematic group both in French (114 units) and Russian (270 units) paremiological dictionaries. A quantitative and semantic analysis of the key lexemes associated with family presented in the titles of headings, subheadings and proverbs of the card index allowed identify semantic condensations, which most clearly reflect behavioural priorities and peculiaritites of values comprehension. Proverbial semantic condensations are understood as the main meanings and moral and ethical formulations, containing in a condensed form the meaning of a proverb and excluding its figurative component, which may differ in various languages. A comparative analysis made it possible to identify both universal and specific components in the considered French and Russian proverbial condensations, as well as values and anti-values adjacent to the family, which enables us to characterize their perception and functioning in the system of value coordinates of the studied ethnic groups. The presence of significant similarities is explained by the universality of family values and their understanding. Differences mainly lie in the fact that in the French material there is a more individualistic and pragmatic-everyday orientation, while in the Russian material there is a tendency towards the collective (family) and an emotional-sensory orientation. Russian proverbs are distinguished by a greater degree of concentration of thematic key lexemes. The differences in semantic condensations, the value perception of the family, and their representation using units of different linguistic levels, the functioning of which is explained by a combination of typological features of the compared languages, once again demonstrated the connection between the latter, the uniqueness of the world perception and the way of thinking of individual ethnic groups.

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Family is one of the generally recognized basic cultural values. The scope of the meaning of the lexeme family has been changing depending on the era, and the phenomenon itself has acquired new characteristics due to the specifics of the development and functioning of society. In different cultures, there is a different perception of marriage and family and kinship relations, which is reflected in different ways in the language system. Thus, since “the family is a universal human value, reflecting the specifics of national culture, depending on historical, geographical and political conditions; it acts as a pivotal element of the moral principles of society” [1. P. 29], it is relevant to determine its perception by representatives of various types of cultures.

Despite the presence in modern society of various forms of family existence, the perception of it as a universal, timeless value is confirmed by sociological research. According to 2018 data, for 86% of French people, family is very important, ahead of other values: work (62%), friends and acquaintances (53%), leisure (34%), religion (15%) and politics (10 %). At the same time, 63% find traditional marriage important [2. P. 151, 153]. Russians also consider the family to be one of the most important traditional values (58% of the respondents). Health is mentioned in second place, followed by money, work, home, housing, etc. [3].

The values of the ethnos are directly reflected in the language, because “language and its communicative realization — speech in distinct unity and existence — provide the categorization of reality and storage of the information and knowledge received” [4. Р. 597]. Mental constants of the people are often formulated in the form of paroemias, which “act as forwarders of traditions, mentality, national character, social experience” [5. Р. 313], illustrating “spiritual, moral and utilitarian values”. Despite the difference in figurative concretization, many proverbs express “common human priorities of behaviour” [6 . Р. 29]. In addition, “in the context of paroemias, basic national values are rethought in accordance with national and cultural experience, demonstrating an amazing mental “flexibility” and polyphony in assessing the most significant for a person values” [7. Р. 266—267]. Thus, since the concentrated expression of values are paroemias in general and proverbs, we have chosen them as the basic linguistic unit for the comparative analysis.

In this article, we proceed from the idea that behavioural priorities and features of value comprehension are reflected in proverbial semantic condensations. “The proverbial fund of various languages, regardless of their genetic classification, distinguishes a semantic condensation (E.I. Seliverstova), semantic dominants (O.V. Lomakina, V.M. Mokienko), or an axiologeme (L.K. Bayramova) — semantics, uniting paroemias of one or several languages, that allows expressing the main meanings and moral and ethical attitudes” [8. Р. 172—173].

The share of the national component in the proverbial fund becomes much smaller if we consider the features common to units of this genre in comparative studies of the material of different languages. Having mentally excluded from the proverb “metaphor, lexical redundancy, rhythm, rhyme, etc., then its essence can appear in the form of two or three components, expressing the meaning of paroemia in a condensed form. It is difficult to call it a ‘proverb’ due to the lack of the necessary proverbial markers, but we can call it a proverbial condensation, a proverbial idea” [9. Р. 59]. E.V. Ivanova uses the concepts “cognition” and “cognitive model”. E. Kokare speaks about proverbial types: a type combines synonymous proverbs that have the same ideological content, which can be expressed by different images and linguistic means [Cit. by: 10. Р. 88—89].

This study uses the term “proverbial semantic condensation”, which, in our understanding, expresses the main meanings and moral and ethical formulations, containing in a condensed form the meaning of a proverb and excluding its figurative component, that may differ in various languages.

The purpose of this article is to identify and compare the main semantic condensations of French and Russian proverbs of the thematic group family, obtained from dictionaries, in an axiological perspective.

The research methodology included the following stages:

  • the choice of two French and two Russian dictionaries of proverbs, offering the presentation of the material on a thematic basis, since the names of thematic associations of proverbs reflect the main vital conceptual spheres, and, consequently, the value orientations of the ethnos;
  • identification and counting of the number of identical proverbial units of the studied thematic group in both French and Russian paremiographic sources with a view to achieving greater objectivity of the results;
  • quantitative and semantic analysis of key lexemes associated with the family and presented in the titles of headings, subheadings and proverbs of the card index of French and Russian material in order to identify semantic condensations;
  • comparative characteristic of the universal and specific components in the obtained French and Russian proverbial condensations from the point of view of reflecting value orientations in them;
  • identification of values adjacent to the family so as to characterize its functioning in the system of value orientations of the studied ethnic groups.

When working with paremiological material, we proceed from the idea that the vocabulary direction is one of the ways to reconstruct the paremiological picture of the world [11. Р. 127]. The examples presented in the article are selected from our card index, which includes 114 French and 270 Russian proverbs about family. The translation of French proverbs and Russian equivalents are proposed by the authors and are partially taken from Internet sources [12].

Analysis of French proverbs

The representation of the thematic group family is reflected in the dictionaries of French and Russian proverbs and is manifested primarily in the names of the headings, which make it possible to identify the key lexemes that characterize the studied group. The French dictionary of proverbs and sayings [13] does not call it directly. The relevant topics are reflected in the headings: La vie domestique / home life (116 units) and Les objets usuels / household items (83 units). Earlier we gave a detailed description of the headings and a commentary on the semantics of French proverbs about the family based on this dictionary [14]. The lexeme family occurs once in the names of subheadings, other names are based on the concepts traditionally associated with and revealing it: la vie domestique / home life (53 proverbs), which lists 21 general proverbs and highlights smaller subheadings: le ménage, l’épouse / couple, spouse (20 units) and le mariage / marriage (12). Subheading la femme / wife / woman includes 28 units; les enfants, les relations de famille / children and family relations — 27, lhabitat / dwelling — 8.

To obtain more objective data on the representation of the theme family and semantic condensations, we have compiled a card index of the same proverbs given in two dictionaries [13; 15]. The electronic dictionary of French proverbs [15] has a subheading Famille / family (36 units, 14 of which are proverbs from France and 1 from Martinique) in the rubric Relations humaines / human relations.

The electronic dictionary was used to make a search for all the proverbs of the above headings of the printed dictionary. In total, 114 common units were identified, placed in the electronic dictionary in different headings, which is understandable: the theme and value of the family is one of the central ones in the consciousness of each ethnic group and is closely related to various areas of life.

Let us consider the key lexemes associated with the family, and the frequency of their use in the proverbs of the card index. The results are presented in Table 1 in descending order of frequency.

Table 1 / Таблица 1
Key lexemes of French proverbs of the thematic group family and the frequency of their use
Ключевые лексемы французских пословиц тематической группы «семья» и частотность их употребления

Key lexeme


Number of uses

Percentage of uses per total number of proverbs

Femme / wife, woman

1. Des femmes et des chevaux il n’y en a point sans défaut / There are no flaws in women and horses

2. L’homme est pour le purgatoire, la femme pour l’enfer (Martinique) / Purgatory is for men, hell is for women

3. Qui femme a, noise a / Got a wife, forget the silence



Maison / house

4. Maison faite et femme à faire / Take a ready house, and a pliable wife



Enfant(s) / child, children

5. Enfant haï est toujours triste / A hated child is always sad

6. Celui qui n’a qu’un enfant n’en a aucun / У кого только один ребенок, детей нет

Who has only one child has no children at all



Fille / girl, daughter

7.  Jolie fille porte sa dot au front / A beautiful girl wears a dowry on her forehead

8. La plus belle fille du monde ne peut donner que ce qu’elle a / The most beautiful girl in the world can’t give more than she has



Homme / man, human

9.  Il faut aux filles des hommes et des murailles /

10. Girls need either a husband or monastery walls

11. Beauté de femme nenrichit lhomme / Feminine beauty doesn’t make a man richer



Père / father

12. Un père peut nourrir cent enfants mais cent enfants ne nourriraient pas un père / One father can feed one hundred children, but one hundred children cannot feed one father



Mère, maman / mother

13. Folle mère pour enfant / Mother is crazy about her child

14. Une maman n’est un bon bol à couvercle (Martinique) / Mother is a lovely bowl with a lid (Martinique)



Fils / son

15. Tel père, tel fils / The son is alike his father

16. A père avare, fils prodigue / A stingy father has
a waster son



Famille / family

17. Il faut laver son linge sale en famille Don’t wash dirty linen in public



Frère / brother

18. Tantôt frère, tantôt larron / Now brother, then a thief



Gendre / son-in-law

19. Amitié de gendre, soleil d’hiver

 A son-in-law’s friendship of is like the winter sun



Belle-mère / mother-in-law

20. Quand vous êtes bien habillé, vous ne rencontrez pas votre belle-mère (Guadeloupe) / When you are well dressed, you do not meet your mother-in-law (Guadeloupe)



Voisin / neighbour

21. Qui a bon voisin, a bon matin / Whoever has a good neighbour has a good morning



The analysis showed the highest frequency of the lexeme femme /woman, wife, and in 9 cases out of 15 it is used precisely in the meaning woman. We find a lexeme fille /daughter, girl in 6 proverbs. A detailed commentary on the semantics of proverbs about a woman and a wife was given by us earlier [14. Р. 52; 16]. The revealed features are explained by the fact that each language carries traces of patriarchy, which implies gender asymmetry in the assessment of women in paremiology: traditionally, a woman is assessed by a man [17. Р. 89] as an anonymous author of proverbs, and the assessment is mainly critical, cynical, bordering on misogyny, which is repeatedly emphasized in the comments by the authors of the French dictionary of proverbs and sayings [13].

Our material revealed the following semantic condensations of proverbs about a woman and a wife: tips on how to choose the right wife:

  1. D’une bonne vigne prenez le plant; d’une bonne mère prenez la fille / Take a vine from a good vineyard, and a daughter from a good mother — in this proverb there is a widespread and often positive metaphorical image of a vineyard, symbolizing a given by nature value that needs to be protected [13. Р. 33], especially in a country where winemaking has been a traditional activity since ancient times;
  2. Ne prends jamais femme chez un cafetier, ni une vache chez un meunier / Do not take a wife from the owner of a café, and a cow from a miller — both will cost a lot;

The need for the wife’s obeyance to her husband as a factor of a happy family life is expressed metaphorically with the help of zoonyms:

  1. Le ménage va mal quand la poule chante plus haut que le coq / Things are bad in a family where a hen sings louder than a rooster — the image of a hen is used in proverbs to denote the subordinate role of women in the family [13. Р. 52] in relation to a man, represented in the form of a rooster;

A critical and cynical attitude towards a woman can be expressed directly (using linguistic units of negative evaluative semantics), simultaneously with a metaphorical parallel or only metaphorically. Various ways of representation are shown in examples 1—3, 21—23, as well as:

  1. Femme et vin ont leur venin / The woman and the wine have their own poison — this proverb, like example 21, this one once again confirms that the theme ‘wine’ occupies a special place in French paroemias, and the metaphorical image of wine, along with vineyard, is used to characterize various life situations [18. Р. 979];
  2. Femme sotte se connaît à la toque / A stupid woman is recognized by her hat;
  3. Fumée, pluie et femme sans raison chassent l’homme de sa maison / Marriage makes or mars a man.

An equally cynical, but a softer attitude is observed towards daughters and girls (examples 7, 8). However, the idea of a necessary control which can be given either by a man or life in a monastery is emphasized (example 9).

A man (lexeme homme / man, a person is found in 6 proverbs) acts, as noted above, in the role of a controller, a judge, he is unhappy that he can marry unsuccessfully (see example 40 below), blaming for an unhappy marriage an unreasonable woman and natural phenomena (example 26).

The lexeme maison / house (7 units) has a high degree of frequency. These units are united by the semantics ‘shelter, asylum’, which allows the following semantic condensation to be derived: The house must be taken care of and full of warmth:

  1. Gardez votre maison, elle vous gardera / Take care of your home and it will take care of you;
  2. Maison sans flamme, corps sans âme / A house without fire, a body without a soul and prosperity:
  3. Farine fraîche et pain chaud font la ruine de la maison (Suisse) Fresh flour and hot bread are ruinous because they are eaten very quickly (Suiss) — reflects the value of frugality.

Besides, in the meaning ‘maison / house’ we sometimes find neutral logis / dwelling: and nid / nest — a metaphorical symbol of a house:

  1. Suivant l’oiseau, le nid; suivant l’homme, le logis / The bird leads to the nest, the person to the house.

The presence of lexemes denoting some parts of the house or furniture is illustrative: for example, porte / door (3 uses) functions as a symbol of entering and exiting a house, its boundaries:

  1. Que chacun balaie devant sa porte et les rues seront nettes / Let everyone sweep in front of his door, and the streets will be clean;
  2. Il faut qu’une porte soit ouverte ou fermée / It is necessary that the door was either open or closed;
  3. Le dernier venu ferme la porte / The last person to enter closes the door.

We should note the importance of the boundaries of the home and personal boundaries of representatives of the French linguistic culture, which is traditionally related to the culture of the individualist type, and which has received an obvious reflection in the proverbial fund as a mirror of the experience of the studied ethnos. Moreover, as one of the leading trends in modern French society, researchers note individualization, a high degree of autonomy, including in the family [2; 19].

There is a single use of the following lexemes:

cuisine / kitchen — as a central place in the house where the family gathers:

  1. Petite cuisine, grosse famille (Québec) / The kitchen is small — the family is big (Quebec);

grenier / attic:

  1. Quand la maison est trop haute, il n’a rien au grenier / When the house is tall, the attic is empty — this metaphor characterizes tall people whose heads are empty.

chaise / chair as a necessary piece of furniture, a symbol of the stable presence of someone or something in the house:

  1. Quand le malheur entre dans une maison, faut lui donner une chaise (Québec) / When misfortune comes to the house, give it a chair — it will settle here for a long time (Quebec).

We also note the presence in our material of the following lexemes associated with the family (few cases of use):

fiançailles / engagement:

  1. 37. Fiançailles vont en selle et repentailles en croupe / Engagement in the saddle, follows the remorse — this proverb reflects the need to weigh your decisions on the example of such serious steps as engagement;

épouser, se marier / get married:

  1. Qui épouse la femme épouse les dettes / Whoever marries a woman marries her debts;

marié / married:

  1. Il y a plus de mariés que de contents / More married than happy;
  2. Un homme mal marié, il vaudrait mieux qu’il fût noyé / It is better to drown than marry unsuccessfully — in the previous three proverbs, we observe the theme of an unhappy marriage and a negative assessment of a woman: this refers to the unhappiness of married men, not married women, thus emphasizing the responsibility of the woman for family happiness and minimizing the responsibility of the man, who is obviously considered the master of the house:
  3. Charbonnier est maître chez soi / The coal miner is the boss in his house — this proverb means that everyone is the boss in his house, and not a single proverb from our material directly mentions the mistress of the house.

Not only family members play a role, but also neighbours: example 20 expresses the importance of good neighbourly relations.

Only the closest relatives are mentioned: father, mother, son, daughter, brother, son-in-law, mother-in-law. The last three degrees of relationship are mentioned only once (examples 17—19). Analysis of this layer made it possible to identify the following semantic condensations, in addition to the already mentioned possible unhappiness in marriage: the ingratitude of children (example 11), the power of maternal love, sometimes bordering on insanity (example 12), the mother’s desire to hide the shortcomings of her child (example 13), the similarity of the parents and children, on the one hand, and their difference, on the other (examples 14, 15). Despite the peculiarities of the specified semantics, the material proves the importance of having a child in the family and better than more than one (example 6): in 15 proverbs there are lexemes enfant / child, fille / daughter, fils / son, parenting is also very important: 7 proverbs about fathers and mothers.

It is interesting to note that, according to a sociological survey, the place of children in a modern French family is still one of the most important, ranking second after fidelity in relationships, although this indicator has decreased compared to 2008 data. Most of the population considers having a child more of a factor in a successful family than a duty to society, although opinion may depend on a number of social factors: age, family experience, religious beliefs, etc. In any case, the question of whether to have children or not and when is more and more related to personal choice [2. Р. 169, 171].

Family ties are reflected through the connections of the above concepts by mentioning several key lexemes within one unit, and often none of them prevails, but all can be considered as equivalent: see examples 2, 4, 10—12, 14, 15 , 17, 21, 23, 26, 30, 34—36, 38. The analysis made it possible to identify contiguous values and value dyads: happiness — unhappiness (examples 5, 23, 26, 36, 37, 39, 40) love — hatred (5, 12, 13), wealth — poverty (22, 29, 38 ); intellect — stupidity, notably, only feminine (25, 26); food, gastronomy (24, 29); beauty (7, 8); faith, religion (2); friendship — enmity (18), life — death (40).

We consider the second rubric Les objets usuels / household items due to the obvious connection between everyday life and family life. The presence of a large number of proverbs with key lexemes-designations of household utensils in it serves as the names of subheadings and testify to the importance in the minds of French speakers of the practical, everyday side of family life. These units once again confirm the idea that the verbalization of folk-cultural historical traditions “is based on images that use the realities of traditional life and fixes the national character of paroemias” [20. Р. 318]. These designations underlie the metaphorical image used to describe a variety of life situations: assiette plate, écuelle / bowl, chaudron / boiler, plat / dish, marmite / pot, saucepan, poêle / frying pan, bouteille / bottle, tonneau / barrel, pot / pot, couvercle / lid, verre / glass, coupe / cup, flûte / wineglass, ciseaux / scissors, couteau / knife, torchon / rag, serviette / towel, mortier / pounder, sac / bag, boîte / box, chandelle / candle, lampe / lamp, clé / key, clou / nail, miroir / mirror.

Some of these lexemes serve as metaphorical designations for relatives, allowing us to also identify a number of semantic condensations:

  1. Il n’y a si méchant pot qui ne trouve son couvercle / There is no pot that is so bad for which there is no lid. In this proverb, as in the next one, we are talking about a woman who is looking for a husband;
  2. Chaque chaudron trouve son couvercle (Québec) / Each pot finds its own lid (Quebec);
  3. Petit chaudron, grandes oreilles / The bowler hat is small, but the ears are large — this case implies the image of a child, who attentively listens to everything that is said in the house.

With regard to the material studied, it should be noted that there are not only proper French units, which make up the absolute majority, but also proverbs of French-speaking countries. Their detailed analysis is presented in our previous works [16; 21; 22]. Of the 114 units of our card index, the analysis of which is presented in this article, 11 of them were identified (see examples 2, 13, 19, 29, 34, 36, 43): 4 proverbs of Martinique, 3 Guadeloupe, 3 Quebec and one Swiss.

Analysis of Russian proverbs

While studying the material of Russian proverbs, we also combined the data of two dictionaries [23; 24]. The dictionary by V.M. Mokienko and T.G. Nikitina [24] heading Брак и семья / Marriage and family (1236 items) includes subheadings Женатый холостой / Married — single (26 units), Жених невеста / The groom and the bride (78), Свадьба / Wedding (20), Семейная жизнь / Family life (83), Муж жена / Husband and wife (346), Родители дети / Parents and children (432), Брат сестра / Brother and sister (33), Другие родственники / Other relatives (190), Вдовство одиночество / Widowhood and loneliness (28). The indicated names, as in the French material, demonstrate the key lexemes representing the theme of the family, which also received partial reflection in the heading Мужчина и женщина / Man and woman (347 proverbs), including a number of subheadings: Молодость и старость: Youth and old age, Юноша девушка / Young man — young girl (92 units), Старик старуха / Old man — old woman (55); Ум, смекалка / Mind, savvy (27); Характер, поведение, привычки / Character, behaviour, habits (117); Труд / Work (32); Социальный статус, положение в семье / Social status, position in the family (24).

The presence of the proverbs of these headings, in addition, was verified according to the dictionary by V.I. Zimin [23], which offers numerous subheadings within the heading Свои люди (жених и невеста, сватовство, свадьба, цепи Гименея, о супружеской верности и ревности, семья, родня) / Our people (bride and groom, matchmaking, wedding, chains of Hymen, about marital fidelity and jealousy, family, relatives), numbering 465 units, and a separate heading Дети / Children — 279 (total — 744 units). The search was based on the proverbs from the dictionary by V.M. Mokienko and T.G. Nikitina, since in the dictionary by V.I. Zimin we collected not only proverbial, but also broader phraseological material. In total, 237 common units were found (source material — proverbs of the heading Брак и семья / Marriage and family of the dictionary by V.M. Mokienko, T.G. Nikitina) 33 common units (source material — proverbs of the heading Мужчина и женщина / Man and woman of the same dictionary).

The results of the analysis of the frequency of key lexemes use in our material and the percentage of their use for the total number of proverbs are shown in Table 2.

Table 2 / Таблица 2
Key lexemes of Russian proverbs of the thematic group family and the frequency of their use
Ключевые лексемы русских пословиц тематической группы «семья» и частотность их употребления

Key lexeme


Number of uses

Percentage of uses

Жена / wife

45. Добрая жена, да жирные щи другого добра не ищи / A kind wife, means fat cabbage soup — don’t look for any other good

46. В чужую жену черт ложку меда кладет / The devil puts a spoonful of honey into someone else’s wife

47. Добрая жена дом сбережет, а плохая рукавом разнесет / A good wife will save the house, and a bad wife will smash it with her sleeve

48. Худо тому, у кого жена хозяйкой в дому / It’s bad for someone who has a wife as a mistress in the house

49. Убоится жена мужа, да не дюже / The husband’s wife will be afraid, but not hefty



Ребенок, дитя, дети / child, children

50. Маленькие детки маленькие бедки, а большие выросли большие бедки / Little kids are little troubles, and big kids are big troubles

51. Дети цветы жизни / Children are flowers of life

52. Каков батюшка, таковы и детки / What is the father, so are the children



Муж / husband

53. У умного мужа и дура умней выглядит / A smart husband and a foolish wife looks smarter

54. За хорошим мужем и свинка господинка / A good husband and a piggy is a queen

55. Муж не уж, а кровь сосет / Husband isn’t a grass snake but stings



Мать, матка, материнский / mother, maternal

56. При матери добро, при солнышке тепло / It’s good with mother, warm with the sun

57. У кого есть матка, так и головушка гладка / Whoever has a mother, so the head is cherished

58. Материнская молитва со дна моря достанет / A mother’s prayer will reach from the bottom of the sea



Сын / son

59. Не хвались отцом, а хвались сыном-молодцом / Do not boast of a father, but boast of a good son

60. Один сын не сын, а два не кормильцы / One son is not a son, and two are not breadwinners

61. Сын за отца не отвечает / The son is not responsible for the father



Отец, батька / father, daddy

62. Отец гряды копал, а сын в воеводы попал / The father dug the ridge, and the son became the governor

63. Отец рыбак, а дети в воду смотрят / The father is a fisherman, and the children look into the water

64. Отец сыну своего ума не даст / Father will not give his son his mind



Любовь / love

65. Любовь холостого как вешний лед / A single’s love is like vernal ice

66. Где совет, тут и свет, где любовь, там и Бог / Where there is advice, there is light, where there is love, there is God



(По)любить / love, fall in love



67. Чужого мужа полюбить себя погубить / To love someone else’s husband is to ruin yourself

68. Чужую жену полюбить свою погубить / To love someone else’s wife — to destroy yours

69 (a). Муж жену здоровую любит, а брат сестру богатую / A husband loves a healthy wife, and a brother loves a rich sister



Дочь / daughter

69 (b). Дочь чужое сокровище / Daughter is someone else’s treasure

70. Дочь отцу с матерью не корысть: пои-корми, да и в люди отдай / Father and mother do not have a daughter for self-interest: feed, breed, and give her to people

71. Дочь матери помощница / A daughter is mother’s helper



 (По)женить(ся) / marry, get married

72. Если любишь, то женись, а не любишь отвяжись / If you love, then marry, if you don’t — let go

73. Жениться не напасть, да как бы женатому не пропасть / To marry is not a big deal, but how not to get lost



Брат, братство / brother, brotherhood

74. Брат братом, сват сватом, а денежки не родня / Brother is brother, in-laws are in-laws, but money is separately

75. Брат за брата не ответчик / One brother is not responsible for another

76. Доброе братство лучше богатства / Good brotherhood is better than wealth



Зять / son-in-law

77. Зять любит взять, да не любит отдать / The son-in-law likes to take, but he does not like to give

78. Зять на двор пирог на стол / Son-in-law comes — lay the table



Свекровь / mother-in-law

79. У лихой свекрови и на затылке глаза / The dashing mother-in-law has eyes on the back of the head

80. Сноха веселится, свекровь злится / The daughter-in-law is having fun, the mother-in-law is angry



Теща / mother-in-law

81. Теща в дом дом кверху дном / Mother-in-law in the house — house upside down

82. У тещи для зятя и ступа доится / At the mother-in-law’s even pounder is milked for the son-in-law



Милый, любимый / sweetheart, beloved

83. С немилым жить только маяться / To live with not beloved — only toil

84. Чужой муж мил, да не жить мне с ним, а свой постыл волочиться с ним / Someone else’s husband is sweet, but I can’t live with him, but my own is hateful — to drag with him



Сноха, невестка / daughter-in-law


85. Блудливая свекровь и честной снохе не верит / The lascivious mother-in-law does not believe the honest daughter-in-law

86. Рано невестка встала, да мало напряла / The daughter-in-law got up early, but she strained very little



Дом / house

87. Сын глядит в дом, а дочь глядит вон / The son looks into the house, and the daughter looks out



Постылый, нелюбимый, немилый / hateful, unloved, unwelcoming

88. Любовь остыла, и жена постыла / Love has grown cold and the wife has grown cold

89. Нелюбимое дитя больше ест / Unloved child eats more

90. Немилый поперек кровати ложится / The unwelcoming one lies across the bed



Невеста / fiancé

91. Хороша невеста Аннушка, хвалит мать и бабушка / Mother and grandmother praise a good fiancé (Annushka)



Женатый / married

92. Постой, холостой, дай сказать женатому / Wait, a single, let the married man tell



Родить / Give birth

93. Не та мать, что родила, а та, что выходила / Not the mother who gave birth, but the one who brought up

94. Не тот отец-мать, что родил, а тот, кто воспитал и добру научил / Not the father-mother who gave birth, but the one who brought up and taught good



Выбирать, брать / choose, take

95. Жену выбирай не глазами, а ушами / Choose your wife not with your eyes, but with your ears

96. Первую дочь бери по отцу, по матери,
а вторую
по сестре / Take the first daughter by her father, by her mother, and the second by her sister



Семья / family

97. В родной семье и каша гуще / In the family even porridge is thicker

98. Вся семья вместе, так и душа на месте / The whole family is together, and the soul is in peace

99. Семья без детей что часы без гирьки / A family without children is like a clock without a weight



Золовка, золовушка / sister-in-law

100. Золовка змеиная головка / Sister-in-law is like a snake head

101. Лучше деверя четыре, чем золовушка одна / Better four brothers-in-law than one sister-in-law



Сват, сватья / matchmaker

102. Зять да сват — у тещи первые гости / Son-in-law and matchmaker are mother’s-in-law first guests

103. Знают сватью и в старом платье / They recognize a matchmaker even in an old dress



Сирота, сиротство / orphan, orphanhood

104. Без отца дитя полсироты, без матери дитя полная сирота / Without a father, a child is half an orphan, without a mother, a child is a complete orphan

105. В сиротстве жить только слезы лить / To live in orphanhood is only to shed tears



Браниться / scold


106. Молодые бранятся тешатся, старики бранятся бесятся / Young scold — they amuse, old people scold — they rage

107. Муж с женой бранятся, да под одно одеяло ложатся / Husband and wife scold, but they lie under blanket together



Дед, дедушка / grandfather, grandpa

108. Дедушка и не ведает, где внучек обедает / Grandfather doesn’t know where his grandson dines



Лад / concord

109. Где мир да лад, там и благодать Божья / Where there is peace and harmony, there is the grace of God



Родители / parents

110. Родители берегут дочь до венца, а муж жену  до конца / Parents protect their daughter until the marriage, and the husband protects his wife until the end



Совет / affection, concord

111. Где любовь да совет, там и рай, там и свет; а ссоры да споры, там только лишь вздоры / Where there is love and concord, there is paradise, there is light; where there are disputes, there are only quarrels



Родня / relatives

112. Едет женина родняоткрывай ворота, едет мужнина роднязапирай двери / Wife’s relatives are going — open the gates, husband’s relatives are going — lock the doors



Холостой / single

113. Холостого сватом не посылают / Single matchmakers are never sent for



Сестра / sister

114. Брат сестру любит богатую, а тещу тороватою / Brother loves his sister rich, and mother-in-law — tough



(Вс)кормить / feed

115. Родителей кормить что старые долги платить / Parents to feed — old debts to pay



Внук(и) / grandchildren

116. Что быловидели деды, что будетувидят внуки / Grandfathers see the past, grandchildren see the future



Вдова, вдовушка / widow

117. На вдове жениться, как старые штаны надевать: не вошь, так гнида укусит / To marry a widow, as to put on old pants: not a louse, so the nit will bite

118. У вдовушки обычай не девичий / The widow’s custom is not girlish



Замужество / marriage

119. Хвали дочь в замужестве / Praise your daughter in marriage

120. Девушка красна до замужества / Girl is beautiful before marriage



Женитьба / marriage

121. До женитьбы все заживет / Everything will heal before marriage

122. Молодому женитьбарано, а старомупоздно / It’s early for a young man to get married, but for an old man it’s too late



Воспитать / bring up

123. Не тот отец-мать, что родил, а тот, кто воспитал и добру научил / Not the father or mother who gave birth, but the ones who brought up and taught good

124. Одними ласками не воспитаешь / One cannot brought up with caresses only



In the material of Russian proverbs, the lexeme wife is also in first place in terms of the number of uses, and, in contrast to French proverbs, which differ mainly in a negative assessment, this unit is used with various evaluative adjectives. A wife can be either плохая / bad, злая / evil, худая / thin, or хорошая / good, добрая / kind, красивая / beautiful (examples 45, 47):

  1. Злых всех злее злая жена / The wicked of all wicked, is the wicked wife;
  2. Добрая женавеселье, а худаязлое зелье / A good wife is fun, and a thin one is an evil potion.

As you can see from the examples, the opposition плохая / хорошая жена / bad / good wife can be found within the same unit and expresses a pronounced semantic condensation in Russian proverbs.

Women’s shortcomings, advantages and, in general, character traits are most clearly reflected in the heading Man and Woman, where female representatives are illustrated by the lexemes баба / old woman, wife (6 uses — 2.2%), бабий / women’s — vulg. (11 — 4.1%), девушка / young girl (6 –– 2.2%), девка / lass (2 — 0.7%), female (2 — 0.7%):

  1. У бабы волос долог, да ум короток / A woman’s hair is long, but her mind is short;
  2. Бабий язык — чёртово помело / The woman’s tongue is a devilish mob;
  3. Приехала баба из города, привезла вестей с три короба / A woman came from the city, talked our ears off;
  4. Бабья дорога — от печи до порога / Woman’s road — from the stove to the threshold;
  5. Девка красива, да прясть ленива / The girl is beautiful but lazy;
  6. Женский ум лучше всяких (многих) дум / The female mind is better than any (many) thoughts.

Apart from the latter, negative assessment prevails in these proverbs, which also reflects a critical attitude towards a woman and her dependence on a man and the need to obey him (example 48 — cf. French example 23; 130). This semantic condensation is neutralized by the content of other units expressing a certain balance of the roles and responsibilities of husband and wife, and even equality (example 49), as well as:

  1. Жена мужу не прислуга, а подруга / The wife is not a servant to her husband, but a friend;
  2. Муж голова, жена шея: куда захочет, туда и повернет / The husband is the head, the wife is the neck: wherever he wants, he will turn there;
  3. Муж за чарку, а жена за палку / The husband goes for a glass, and the wife — for a stick;
  4. Мужв поле пахать, а женаруками махать / The husband is to plow in the field, and the wife is to wave her hands;
  5. Муж да женаодна сатана / Husband and wife are one Satan.

The advantage of a married person over a single person is expressed (examples 65, 92), which is not reflected in the French material.

We shall note that, unlike French proverbs, Russian proverbs have enough examples of the use of the lexeme муж / husband (32 uses — 11.9%), who can also be not only хорошим (добрым, умным) / good (kind, smart), but also плохим / bad (examples 53, 54, 55 ). In addition, it is emphasized that a wife needs a husband, and a husband needs a wife:

  1. Муж без женычто гусь без воды / A husband without a wife is like a goose without water;
  2. Без жены как без шапки / Being without a wife is as being without a hat;
  3. Жена без мужавсего хуже / A woman without a husband is the worst.

Russian proverbial material, like French, contains tips on how to choose a wife (examples 95, 96, 117).

Besides, a feature of Russian material is the presence of a number of proverbs about other people’s wives and husbands and relationships with them (examples 67, 68, 84).

The lexeme мужчина / man was not found in our material, and the unit мужик/мужичок / man — vulg. has only three uses in the proverbs of the heading Мужчина и женщина / Man and woman:

  1. Мужика не шуба греет, а топор / The man is not warmed by a fur coat, but an ax.

As in French material, the role of children and parents is very important. In the proverbs of this theme, in general, similar semantic condensations were found: the power of maternal love (56—58), the importance of parenting (examples 56—58, 62—64, 93, 94, 104, 105, 123), the presence of children in the family (51, 59, 60, 99), the similarity of parents and children and their difference (52, 62—64). Thus, our material largely confirms the idea that “paremic condensations do not have a national connection — they are international. So, the generalized idea “A child is like a parent” is presented by the PU of various languages” [9. P. 60]. However, the theme of the ingratitude of children was not directly reflected in the material (with the exception of example 115, in which the duty to feed the parents is regarded as an onerous duty), which is possibly related to the importance of the tradition of honouring parents:

  1. Живы родителипочитай, померлипоминай / Alive parents — honor them, died — remember;
  2. Дети родителям не судьи / Children are not judges to parents.

A separate role is assigned to the upbringing of children, including in severity — examples 123, 124, as well as:

  1. Матерни побои не больны / Mothers’ beatings are not painful;
  2. Детей наказывай стыдом, а не кнутом / Punish children with shame, not a whip;
  3. Нелюбимого сыналозою, любимогожезлом / The unloved son — with the vine, the beloved — with the rod.

There are 2 times more proverbs about sons (24 units — 8.9%) than about daughters (12 units — 4.4%). This ratio is explained by the very content of the proverbs, revealing that parents pin great hopes on sons (example 59) than on daughters, who are considered someone else’s treasure (example 69 (b)), but at the same time a mother’s helper (example 71). Daughters, however, must be protected until marriage (example 110) and praised in marriage (example 119), since the creation of a worthy family by her is a priority. In general, representatives of the Russian linguistic culture are characterized by the fact that caring for children continues throughout their lives and that there are even more worries about adult children than about little ones (example 50).

A distinctive feature of Russian proverbial material in comparison with French is the mention of a large number of relatives, diversity and contradictions between close and distant relatives: husband and wife, brother and sister, mother-in-law and son-in-law, daughter-in-law and mother-in-law, etc., many of which are presented ironically (examples 74—82, 85—86, 100—103, 106—108). Thus, key lexemes in Russian proverbs denote the entire structure of family relations: close and distant kinship. Let us clarify that “close relationship includes the concepts of blood relationship (ancestors, mother, father, brother, sister, descendants) and relationship through marriage (relationship to a spouse); the distant one presupposes family relations in the next tribe (uncle, aunt, nephews) and subsequent relations with the spouse’s generation (ancestors, mother-in-law, father-in-law)” [1. P. 78—79]. This fact once again confirms that the closeness of relations between people, characteristic of Russians — representatives of collectivist culture [for more details see: 25], allows us to perceive the family as a union, a single whole. Nevertheless, the contradictions between relatives are very aptly expressed in the following proverb:

  1. Хороша родня, когда она далеко живет / Relatives are good when they live far away.

Let us note that the French material mainly reflects consanguinity and marriage. The mother-in-law is mentioned once in the proverb of Guadeloupe (example 20), which can be explained by a significantly greater degree of collectivism in the linguistic consciousness of the Francophones of this country and the recognition of a large family as a norm than in France. Most likely, the same fact explains that family ties in Russian material more often than in French are expressed by the presence of several units within one proverb (examples 49, 52, 59, 61, 69 (a and b), 70, 71, 74, 80, 82, 85, 87, 91, 96, 101, 102, 104, 107—109, 112, 114, 116, 133—138, 140, 143), that is, they differ in a greater degree of concentration of thematic key lexemes in the analyzed material.

As in French (examples 1, 22, 23, 29), there are zoomorphisms in Russian proverbs about the family — examples 54, 55, 100, as well as:

  1. Будь жена хоть коза, только б золотые рога / Be a wife, even a goat, only golden horns;
  2. Кошка да баба в избе, мужик да собака на дворе / A cat and a woman in the hut, a man and a dog in the yard.

Zoometaphors associated with the image of a snake (уж / grass snake, змея / snake) serve in Russian proverbs to convey the bad character of women and men, a cat symbolizes comfort in the house, and a dog — loyalty and protection. A vivid, ironic and very witty metaphorical image of the queen pig (example 54) is achieved by combining not very compatible portraits of one of the unsightly domestic animals raised mainly for slaughter and the queen. At the same time, an important role belongs to the diminutive-derogatory suffix -к and the use of господинка in the feminine gender. It is important to note the frequency of the use of this and other diminutive evaluative suffixes in Russian proverbs in general and proverbs about the family, in particular (examples 50, 52, 54, 100, 101, 108) in lexemes Аннушка / Annushka, золовушка / sister-in-law, внучек / grandson, детки / children, бедки / troubles, where they allow you to express irony and, at the same time, soften the negative assessment. Due to such derivational formants with a subjective-evaluative meaning, the expression of the proverbial sign increases [26. P. 100]. In the French proverbs of this theme, no such means of expressing evaluation have been identified.

In contrast to the French material, in Russian there were 18 cases (6.7%) of the use of the lexeme любовь / love (4.8%), (не / по)любить / (not) love, fall in love (examples 65—69 (a), 72, 77, 111 , 114). The theme of love is also expressed by the lexemes милый / sweetheart, немилый, постылый, нелюбимый / unwelcoming, hateful, unloved (examples 83—84, 88—90, 141). Thus, this topic is expressed in 46 units (17% of the total number of proverbs), which, of course, allows us to single out love as a value adjacent to the family.

Such an emotional and sensory orientation of Russian proverbs, according to our assumption, may be associated with the fact that the Russian language largely tends towards an impressionistic orientation. In this case, we mean one of the two opposite psychological tendencies identified by S. Bally and which are manifested both in the vocabulary and in the syntax of languages: “impressionistic, which is characterized by the reflection of phenomena from the point of view of their perception, and analytical, focused on the rationalistic representation of the relationship between cause and effect” [Cit. after: 27. P. 39]. According to this point of view, the emotional state of a person, the feelings and emotions he or she experiences, find a detailed representation in the Russian material.

Themes not found in the French material are orphanhood (examples 104—105) and widowhood (117—118). The semantic condensation of these proverbs is the unenviable fate of widows and orphans.

In Russian proverbs about family and family life, there are not so many household items as in French ones. Perhaps this pragmatic orientation of metaphorical images can be explained by the fact that the French language belongs to the above-mentioned analytical type. In any case, among other factors, the realities of everyday culture, “imprinted in memory and images of consciousness, serve as a source of metaphors, painting them in nationally specific colors” [28. P. 913]. In Russian material, we found such lexemes associated with the house as изба / hut, двор / yard (examples 78, 148), печь / stove (130), порог / threshold (130) as a symbol of the border of a house, a постель / bed and одеяло / blanket (examples 90, 107), which act as a symbol of close relations between spouses, лавочка / bench:

  1. Учи дитя, пока поперек лавочки лежит, а как вдоль лавочки ляжет, тогда поздно учить / Teach the child while he lies across the bench, and as he lies along the bench, then it’s too late to teach.

There are no mentions of cuisine in our card index of Russian proverbs, but there are lexemes denoting traditional Russian food: щи / cabbage soup (example 45), мед / honey (46) as a symbol of sweetness and pleasure, пирог / pie (78), каша / porridge (97), which is thicker, more nourishing.

The analysis of Russian proverbs about the family made it possible to reveal, in addition to love, which was mentioned above, the following contiguous values ​​and value dyads, in most cases coinciding with the contiguous values ​​reflected in the French material: happinessunhappiness — this dyad is expressed mainly through the common meaning of proverbs using different lexemes (48, 51, 57, 66, 67, 68, 73, 83, 84, 88, 97, 98, 105, 109, 111); goodevil (45, 47, 50, 80, 94, 100, 123, 125, 126); worklaziness (62, 63, 86, 131, 136, 136, 141); faith, religion (46, 66, 109, 111, 128, 137); intellect stupidity (examples 53, 64, 127, 132, 148); wealthpoverty (74, 76, 114, 147); peace — quarrels (66, 106, 107, 109, 111); health (69 (a)); food (45, 46, 78, 97); beauty (120, 121); friendship (133). In Russian material, duality (mentioning both values ​​and anti-values) is more pronounced and can be observed within one unit, including with the help of antithesis (examples 47, 50, 53, 72, 77, 80, 84, 106, 111, 112, 126, 142, 146).

Separately, we would like to emphasize the following fact. In French material, the percentage of the use of verb lexemes associated with family and various situations of family life (15.6%) is less than in Russian (24%), where they are even more diverse: жениться / marry, свататься / woo, кумиться / become godparents, любить / love, браниться / scold, ложиться и валиться спать (под одно одеяло) / going to bed and fall asleep (under one blanket), выбирать / choose, брать (в жены) / take (as a wife), родить / give birth, воспитывать bring up, наказывать / punish, учить / teach, хвалить / praise, бить (как жену, так и детей) / beat (both wife and children), мести / sweep, поить / give drink, кормить / feed. In both languages are used verbs épouser and se marier / get married, prendre / take (as a wife), nourrir / feed, balayer / sweep, only in French material there are bercer / lull, déménager / move the house, laver / wash, garder / take care of (home), bouillir / boil, cuire / cook, stew. Almost all these verbs, in contrast to the Russian ones, were rarely encountered in proverbs, so we did not include them in the table.

This feature may be associated with the predicativeness of the Russian language [see. See also: 26. P. 101] and the nominative nature of French [28]. In both languages, verbs are used in different tenses of the indicative mood, as well as the imperative for expressing persistent advice or warning. In the French material, for the same purposes is used the construction il faut / it is needed (examples 9, 16, 32).


The analysis of French and Russian proverbs of the thematic group family, carried out on the material of two French and two Russian dictionaries of proverbs, showed a significant number of coincidences of proverbial condensations. The differences mainly lie in the fact that the French material (114 proverbs common to the two dictionaries) showed a more individualistic and pragmatic-everyday orientation, and Russian (270 common units found in two dictionaries) was more collective-oriented, in this the case to a family, and an emotional and sensory set. Russian proverbs are also distinguished by a greater degree of concentration of thematic key lexemes, among which verbs are used more often than in French material.

The revealed contiguous values and anti-values also showed a significant degree of similarity in the perception of the universal value of family. In Russian material, duality is expressed to a greater extent, where value and anti-value often find expression even within the same proverb.

Thus, the specificity of semantic condensations and value perception of the family in proverbial material is represented with the use of units of different linguistic levels.

The peculiarities of their functioning are explained by the combination of typological features of the compared languages, which, in turn, are closely related to the uniqueness of the worldview and thinking of individual ethnic groups.


About the authors

Natalia Yu. Nelyubova

RUDN University

Author for correspondence.
ORCID iD: 0000-0002-6538-8267

Ph.D., Associate Professor, Foreign Languages Department

6, Miklukho-Maklay srt., Moscow, Russian Federation, 117198

Natalia M. Dugalich

RUDN University

ORCID iD: 0000-0003-1863-2754

Ph.D., Associate Professor, Foreign Languages Department

6, Miklukho-Maklay srt., Moscow, Russian Federation, 117198

Victor I. Ershov

MGIMO University


English language department, associate professor

3, Novo-Sportivnaya, Odintsovo, Moscow region, Russia Federation, 143005


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