A cross-cultural study of the smile in Russian and English speaking world

Russia, ID CLEaR2015-270;

Smile is a universal facial expression, but the use of smiles in communication varies across cultures. This may cause some misunderstanding. Both Americans and Europeans experience the same frustration and indicate communication failure when they do not find smiles at faces in Russia. At the same time there is a commonplace in the Russian perception of Westerners that their smiles look artificial and insincere. What is the reason of such variety? Why Russians don’t smile in some contexts?

The study of the use of a smile as a nonverbal sign in a few chosen communicative contexts across Russian, European and American cultures showed the difference in its meaning and distribution according to the cultural tradition. The reason could be found in Russia’s history comparing to that of Western Europe as well as in the specific restrictions in Russian Orthodox Christianity and the traditions of laugh in Russia. It is clearly expressed and kept in the Russian language. If we compare Russian “ulybka” and “ulybatsya” with English “smile” we can see both common semantic elements and different connotations.

Key words: intercultural communication, smile, non-verbal sign, language, semantics, connotation

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