Human communication is a complex and complicated process. Its complexity is rooted in the fact that the interlocutors (i.e. the speaker and the addressee) generally exchange not only linguistic, but also nonlinguistic signs, mainly signs of the body language. This explains why it is important for the linguists to pay attention to how people sit, stand and look at each other, what distance is between, how their bodies are oriented, whether they use any gestures or not, what the tones of their voices are, etc. These are the actions in which human body and its parts are directly involved. Nowadays the linguists and the specialists both in nonverbal communication and cognitive science are interested to know how the body is used in the everyday communicative processes, how it is spoken about and what images of body people have in their minds.
To answer all these questions the scholars need to adopt a trustful theoretical basis which would allow for the comparative analysis of the representations of human body in different semiotic codes of the given culture. The semiotic codes that are crucial for everyday communication are the natural language (i.e. how the body is spoken about) and the body language (i.e. the role that body plays in producing nonverbal signs – gestures proper, postures, facial expressions, meaningful glances and meaningful body movements). As a result of such analysis one would obtain a semiotic conceptualization of human body in the culture given.
The notion of semiotic conceptualization of body as it exists in the Russian culture and communication reflects the ideas of ordinary, unsophisticated Russian speakers concerning body and its different parts, such as organs, liquids, veins, muscles, hair, etc. All these objects (including the body itself) will be further referred to as “somatic objects”. The semiotic conceptualization is a formal model for the representation of the so-called “naïve semiotic picture of body and body parts” and is a useful generalization of the old notion that is known as “language conceptualization”. The semiotic conceptualization demonstrates how the body and its parts are represented in human mind and how they are codified in the NL or/and BL signs.
The challenge to learn how human body is reflected in these two codes brought the teachers and students of RSUH (Russian State University for the Humanities, Moscow, Russia) to the idea of launching the research project “Body parts in the Russian language and culture”. This project was aimed at performing the following general tasks: (1) to construct the Russian semiotic conceptualization of body; (2) to give the analysis of the phenomenon of corporeality and compare the expressive possibilities that the Russian semiotic codes possess; and (3) to provide common grounds for the perspective cross-linguistic and cross-cultural analyses of semiotic conceptualizations of human body.