The Russian Imperative as a Mirror of Societal Logic

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By separating and defining the use of infinitives and imperatives as directives it is concluded that the infinitive is used to issue prohibition or to give orders at the authoritative level of the Russian society, whereas the imperative is used in social problem solving among ordinary people at the non-authoritative level of the society. When dealing with single actions, it is demonstrated that the perfective imperative form is linked to alethic modality, i.e. laws of nature, while the imperfective imperative is tied up with deontic modality, i.e. laws of society. Compared to the individualist culture of United Kingdom that seems to be based on the alethic notion of possibility and compared to the collectivist culture of China that seems to be grounded in the deontic notion of obligation, the Russian society stands out as a third variety with a sharp distinction between two different types of societal logic: knowledge of what is possible, impossible, necessary or unnecessary and knowledge of what is permitted, prohibited, obligated or not obligated for specific persons in concrete situations. It is furthermore demonstrated that whereas the English society focusses on the hearer’s face and the Chinese society on the speaker’s face, the Russian society focusses on both the speaker’s and the hearer’s face. In that way, a problem is considered a mutual problem, a problem of society that has to be solved as quickly as possible. By constantly establishing contact between members of the society the imperative mood can be said to have a binding effect. This is part of the reason why the imperative itself has no negative connotations.
Original languageEnglish
JournalHumanitarian Aspects
Issue number37
Pages (from-to)74-97
Number of pages24
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • Aspect and modality
  • Infinitives and imperatives as directives
  • Individualist and collectivist cultures
  • Face
  • First, second and third person

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