Zoolexemes And Zoo-Phraseological Units In The German And Russian Political Discourses


The article discusses the factors that determine the use of animalistic vocabulary in modern political discourse. On the one hand, these factors are related to a new awareness of the relationship between humans and animals in the modern world; on the other hand, they are related to the pragmatic potential of zoomorphic lexemes. The dominant of political discourse, which is the confrontation of political competitors, is manifested in the use of zoomorphic lexical units that take part either in creating an attractive image or in discrediting politicians and political associations. The pragmatic potential of zoonyms correlates with the semantic of the lexical unit, which can be used in the texts of modern political discourse in a direct meaning, metaphorical meaning, and in some cases both types of meanings are realized simultaneously. Consideration of zoonyms according to the types of semantics allows covering most comprehensively the entire arsenal of zoomorphic units functioning in German-language and Russian-language texts of political communication. Since phraseological units with an animalistic component are explicators of the linguistic view of the world, in some cases an understanding of the meaning and functions of the concerned units is possible only based on knowledge of the national culture of native speakers. The article compares Russian-language and German-language texts of political subjects containing animalistic vocabulary, including phraseological units with an animalistic component. The comparison is based on the material of election posters, party program documents and media texts on political and social issues.

Keywords: Zoolexempolitical discoursephraseological unitGerman languagedouble actualizationhuman-animal studies


Animalistic vocabulary and animal images are often used in the texts of modern media, including publications devoted to political topics (Ly`zlov, 2018; Universität Greifswald, 2017). This is due to a certain extent, a change in attitude towards animals in modern society.

As the authors (Kompatscher, Spannring, & Schachinger, 2017) note, renewed focus of scientists on humans attitude to animals occurred in English-speaking countries at the beginning of the 21st century. Since 2010, special research projects and publications appeared on this topic, and training courses started to be taught at universities in Germany. All this things contributed to the formation of a new interdisciplinary scientific field of Human-Animal Studies. New issue in these studies is the focus on animals that are interesting for the scientists as subjects, as “activists”. The sharp focus of this approach concentrates on the relationship between people and animals, on those areas where the lifestyles of humans and animals intersect (Kompatscher, Spannring, & Schachinger, 2017).

Such a change in attitude towards animals in society is compared with the feminization in its essence and significance, with a revision of the role of women in society and a change in attitude towards gender (Chimaira-Arbeitskreis für Human-Animal Studies, 2011; Kompatscher, Spannring, & Schachinger, 2017).

Problem Statement

Changing attitudes toward animals gave new impetus to the development of linguistics. On the one hand, linguists consider animalistic words in a new paradigm, focusing on the manifestation of anthropocentrism in the language system. These issues are considered in the framework of a new course – ecolinguistics. On the other hand, linguists will have to answer the question of how the “animalization" of society (so to speak) affects the further development and functioning of the language. Let’s consider these aspects in more detail.

The focus of attention of linguistic scientists is on the relationship between humans and animals; previously animals were considered as “symbols”, carriers of nationally significant cultural information. A fresh approach at the relationship between humans and animals allowed German scientists to conclude that humans distance themselves from animals by using different lexemes to describe similar processes. For example, the verb “essen” is used to denote the process of human absorption of food in German, but for denoting the process of absorbing food by animals the word “fressen” is used in German. A human transfers his dominant position through zoonyms-metaphors, zoonyms-phraseological units where animals are mainly associated with negative traits and qualities. In order to veil the negative aspects of their actions in relation to animals, namely the use of animals as food, a person uses euphemisms in his language. This approach corresponds to the objectives of modern ecolinguistics, which studies the reflection in the language of human interaction with nature and the world around him, when a human is considered as an element of the biosphere (Kompatscher, Spannring, & Schachinger, 2017; Py`laeva, 2011).

The paradigm shift related to consideration of animals is manifested in the emergence of new phenomena, new documents, new behavioral strategies; this is reflected in modern languages. For example, in German, the lexeme Tier / Tierschutz has become a full-fledged element of the thematic field “politics”, where combinations with the words representing different phenomena of the legal and political spheres have served as a source of new derivative units in the German language – Tierschutzpolitik, Tierschutzrecht, Tierschutzgesetz, Tierschutzrichtlinien, Tierwohl.

In this regard, it becomes necessary to study which zoonyms and animalistic combinations in the modern language are the most common and in which contexts. In this article, we will focus on the field of political communication.

Research Questions

Political discourse is an arena where the interests of different political forces striving for power at stake. In order to attract supporters, politicians use various strategies and tactics (Babaeva, 2018; Basco, 2017; Chudinov, 2003; Shejgal, 2000). Interest to animal images in politics is not new, because the images of animals that were supposed to symbolize certain qualities (strength, dexterity, cunning, etc.) have been historically used.

3.1. Zoononyms are the words conveying people's perception about an animal and its symbolization. It is no coincidence that a large number of studies based on the material of different languages are devoted to cultural information contained in zoononyms and comparison of metaphorical zoononyms in different languages (Antonova & Kim, 2017; Bogoyavlenskaya & Simonova, 2018; Bulgakova & Krasnoborova, 2016; Chrissou, 2000; Dobrovol´ski & Piirainen, 1997; Ermakova & Fajzullina, 2016; Gadzhiaxmedov & Sultanov, 2019; Karpenko, 2006; Kovshova, 2016; Kudryavceva, 2015; Ly`zlov, 2017; Nyam Txi Van An, 2017;Riegler, 2019; Skachyova & Gorodishheva, 2016; Taki, 2011). There are not many works devoted to the consideration of zoonyms in various types of discourse, therefore, this article attempts to answer the question – what zoonyms are used in contemporary political discourse and why.

3.2. Political discourse includes various speech genres, such as election posters, political programs, speeches of politicians, articles on political topics. The dominant trait of political discourse texts is the struggle for power. The objective of our study is to trace in which types of text zoonyms, zoo-phraseological units, and for what purpose, what are the strategies for their usage in political communication.

3.3. The research material was the texts of political communication in Russian and German languages. At the first stage of the study, the trends in the use of zoononyms in political discourse in general were identified; at the final stage, the features of the use of animalistic vocabulary in German-speaking and Russian-speaking political communication were compared.

Purpose of the Study

The main purpose of the study was to identify the zoonyms that are the most typical for modern political communication, to conduct an analysis showing what is the reason their use, and what are the main pragmatic functions of zoonyms in the texts of German-speaking and Russian-speaking political discourse.

To achieve this goal, it was necessary to solve a number of problems: to determine the main types of text of political discourse, to identify the most characteristic lexemes of these texts, to determine their semantic and pragmatic characteristics.

Research Methods

For analysis, the discursive analysis method was used, in which linguistic and extralinguistic factors, a combination of verbal and nonverbal means were taken into account to interpret the semantics and pragmatics of the units researched (Ural State Pedagogical University, 2016).

The research material was the texts of political posters found by the author on the streets of Hamburg and Flensburg (Germany) at the beginning of September 2017 (during the election campaign), political posters and texts found on the Internet through the author's work with search engines, as well as a databases of electronic corpuses (only posters and texts appeared after 2010 were analyzed in the work). Requests were formulated by a combination of the “names” of political parties and the words denoting animals.


As a result of the study, it was concluded that in modern genres of political discourse an important place is occupied by animalistic vocabulary, which can be used both in direct and figurative meaning. Let's consider it in more detail.

Animalistic vocabulary in a direct meaning

The use of zoonyms in the texts of political communication with a direct meaning is associated with the actualization of relations between humans and animals. In this regard, derivative words and combinations appear in these texts, in which there are elements indicating the involvement of animals in the social and legal sphere. Lexical units and combinations reflecting the relationship of animals and humans can be divided into three groups.

The first group includes complex words and phrases that refer to legal documents and policies, for example, laws, regulations, associations, main trends, prohibitions, programs focusing on animals: Tierrecht, Tierschutzpolitik, Tierschutzrecht, Tierschutzgesetz, Tierschutzverband, Tierschutzstandard, Tierschutzrichtlinien, Tierwohlkennzeichen, Tierversuchskapazität, Nutztierhaltungsverordnung, tierschutzrechtlich, Zirkuswildtierverbot, Wildtierverbot, Verbot des Pferdekutschenbetriebes, Verbot von Ponykarussels, Programm zur Kastration von freilebenden Katzen, Hundegesetz; единые стандарты содержания домашних животных, правовое регулирование отношений в области обращения с животными, правила разведения и содержания домашних животных, административная ответственность за нарушение правил содержания и разведения домашних животных, нормативы для обеспечения жителей городских территорий площадками для выгула собак (ediny`e standarty` soderzhaniya domashnix zhivotny`x, pravovoe regulirovanie otnoshenij v oblasti obrashheniya s zhivotny`mi, pravila razvedeniya i soderzhaniya domashnix zhivotny`x, administrativnaya otvetstvennost` za narushenie pravil soderzhaniya i razvedeniya domashnix zhivotny`x, normativy` dlya obespecheniya zhitelej gorodskix territorij ploshhadkami dlya vy`gula sobak), etc.

The second group consists of lexical units and phrases stating that animals are “used“ by humans: Massentierverhaltung, Tierversuche, Tierschutz, Tiernutzung, Nutzung von Pferden in Ponykarussels, Handel mit Hunden und Welpen, Schweinefleisch, Fleisch- und Kuhbabymilchkonsumenten; жестокие убийства собак и кошек, жестокое обращение с животным, меры по предотвращению появления нежелательного потомства у животных, выгул без поводка и намордника собак сторожевых и бойцовых пород, использование лабораторных животных, отлов животных, использование животных в культурно-зрелищных целях (zhestokie ubijstva sobak i koshek, zhestokoe obrashhenie s zhivotny`m, mery` po predotvrashheniyu poyavleniya nezhelatel`nogo potomstva u zhivotny`x, vy`gul bez povodka i namordnika sobak storozhevy`x i bojczovy`x porod, ispol`zovanie laboratorny`x zhivotny`x, otlov zhivotny`x, ispol`zovanie zhivotny`x v kul`turno-zrelishhny`x celyax), etc.

The third group consists of animalistic words and phrases reflecting the perception of animals by humans as full members of a single space (animal rights, animal welfare and living conditions): Tierwohl, tiergerecht, tierfreundlich, Schutzstatus des Wolfes, Sauen ohne Kontakt zu Artgenossen; защита животных от жестокого обращения, ответственность человека за судьбу животного (zashhita zhivotny`x ot zhestokogo obrashheniya, otvetstvennost` cheloveka za sud`bu zhivotnogo), etc. For example, an ÖDP party poster calls for respect for animals: „Respekt für Tiere jetzt! Tierqulerei ist sowas von gestern! Ökologisch-Demokratische Partei“.

The above-mentioned examples from the German language are usually complex words, and in the Russian language the following phrases are used for the same purposes: Tierschutz, Nutztierhaltungsverordnung; отлов животных, использование лабораторных животных (otlov zhivotny`x, ispol`zovanie laboratorny`x zhivotny`x).

In direct meaning in the German-speaking and Russian-speaking political communication, the derivative words from the morpheme “Tier” are predominantly used from animalistic vocabulary, as well as the names of the animals that surround a person and live with him in the immediate area: Hund, Schwein, Katze, Kuh, Pferd. Politicians are primarily interested in the topics related to the conditions of keeping domestic and farm animals, and much less often – problems concerning wild animals.

The active use of animalistic vocabulary in various genres of political discourse (programs, election posters, articles) in the direct meaning indicates that parties and politicians seek to expand the ranks of their supporters by updating the theme of “attitude to animals”.

Animal images and attitude to animals are the factors that can increase or decrease the attractiveness of a politician or a political structure. The strategy to increase the attractiveness of a politician is often used in campaign posters, where a politician is portrayed next to an animal. Information about the negative attitude towards animals represents the implementation of a strategy of discrediting politicians, for example, animal welfare advocates often post materials on the Internet about politicians called the mafia; animals suffer from this mafia: Tiermafia “Wegen dieser Politiker leiden Tiere in Deutschland”.

Animalistic vocabulary in an indirect meaning

As it was mentioned above, zoonyms have been historically used in political communication in a metaphorical meaning, when the image of an animal embodied various qualities that are conveyed to a person, a political union, a country.

The metaphorical use of animalistic words most often occurs with the use of zoo-phraseological units. In linguistic literature, the term “political idiom” is found, which correlates with phraseological units characterized by the use of political discourse in the texts. In the analyzed corpus, the following combinations can be attributed to political zoo-phraseological units: das trojanische Pferd / Trojan horse (secret insidious plan, disguised as a gift), Katz im Sack / cat in a bag (something unknown, which can then be bought or released), den Löwenanteil bekommen / lion's share (the majority received by someone unjustly), Wolf im Schafspelz / a wolf in sheep's clothing (a person hiding his true evil intentions), lahme Ente / lame duck (politician who will soon leave his post). These phraseological units are used both in German and Russian-language texts in similar situations, for example, when describing a candidate for deputy (Katz im Sack; кот в мешке – kot v meshke), emphasizing hostile elements in their ranks which can be a source of danger at any moment (das trojanische Pferd; троянский конь – troyanskij kon`); Wolf im Schafspelz; волк в овечьей шкуре – volk v ovech`ej shkure), when pointing out the unfair distribution of something (den Löwenanteil bekommen; получить львиную долю – poluchit` l`vinuyu dolyu), the manifestation of political struggle often occurs in the form of “bear service” (“disservice”) / Einen Bärendienst erweisen; оказать медвежью услугу – okazat` medvezh`yu uslugu.

In some cases, various zoo-phraseological units are used to describe similar situations in the German-language and Russian-language political communication. For example, a description of situations of people impoverishment, deterioration of their financial situation in political texts in German is characterized by the phraseological unit “auf den Hund kommen”, and in Russian «сосать лапу» (“sosat` lapu” – “suck paw”), which means the image of a bear that eats nothing and sucks the paw during winter hibernation. Probably, the image of a bear and its habits are more familiar to the Russian person, and not to the German. The characterization of an incorrigible person or a party/country true to its habits is conveyed in the German-language texts by the phraseological units “die Katze lässt die Mausen nicht”, and in the Russian language «сколько волка ни корми, он все в лес смотрит» (“skol`ko volka ni kormi, on vse v les smotrit” – “you can give the wolf the best food, but he would hanker for the wood”).

In German texts, which say that deputies or party representatives are not telling the truth, the phraseological units “einen Bären aufbinden lassen” is used, there is no corresponding equivalent – zoo-phraseological unit in Russian, the equivalent «рассказывать сказки» (“rasskazy`vat` skazki” – “tell tales”) is found in the Russian-language texts in similar situations.

In Russian-language texts about two strong leaders claiming the same role, zoo-phraseological unit «два медведя в одной берлоге» (“dva medvedya v odnoj berloge” – “two bears in one lair”) is used; in German, no equivalent zoo-phraseological unit was found.

Zoo-phraseological units are used in the speeches of politicians in order to make speech more emotional and expressive. In addition, the purpose of using these language means is the desire of politicians to demonstrate their closeness to the people, because most phraseological units are colloquial. V. V. Putin actively uses phraseological units in his speeches, which are accompanied by the words «как говорят у нас в народе» (“kak govoryat u nas v narode” – “as our people say”). Zoomorphic lexical units were found in his speeches – «жирные коты» (“zhirny`e koty`” – “fat cats”) – about bankers, «от мертвого осла уши» (“ot mertvogo osla ushi” – “ears of a dead donkey”), «козел отпущения» (“kozel otpushheniya” – “scapegoat”), «ну куда же нам с нашей мордой, да в калашный ряд» (Usachev, 2013) – (“nu kuda zhe nam s nashej mordoj, da v kalashny`j ryad” – “well, where are we with our face, but in the Kalash trade arcade”, rephrased Russian idiom; English equivalent “a pig in a bun shop”). Zoo-phraseological units are found in the speeches of other Russian politicians as well. V. V. Zhirinovsky also turns to zoo-phraseological units in order to make his speech emotional. For example, he speaks with dislike of his political opponents, who made «дойная корова» (“dojnaya korova” – “a cash cow”) out the country.

In speeches of German politicians, we did not meet any zoo-phraseological units.

Double actualization of zoophraseologisms semantics

In the German-speaking corpus, there were pre-election posters where both direct and figurative meanings were implemented simultaneously through a combination of verbal and non-verbal codes. This method has enormous pragmatic potential, because a memorable image is created. It influences the emotional sphere and is remained in the memory for a long time, and at the same time, a value appealing to the mind is realized. For example, the campaign poster of the German vegan party used phraseological unit “die Kuh vom Eis holen” which means “to solve the problem”. The main text of the poster informed voters that the party’s representatives would solve problems related to climate change and consumers’ problems: “Wir holen die Kuh vom Eis- #Klimawandel #Tierrechte #Verbraucherschutz ”, while the effect of double actualization was created by adding a non-verbal component – an image of the hand, holding a cow over ice cream.

On the campaign poster of the CDU party candidate, the phraseological unit “bekannt wie ein bunter Hund” was played around. Double actualization was also realized through the use of several codes – verbal and non-verbal. The image of the female candidate is given in the form of a portrait hanging on the wall, in front of which a variegated dog sits and admires it. The verbal component of the poster is designed as the address of the web page “www.bekanntwieeinbunterhund.hamburg”.

Images of a dog, a pig, a goat were used on German posters implementing the double actualization of the semantics of phraseological unit.

In the Russian-language corpus, double actualization is presented only in texts that use the lexemes such as «медведь», «медвежий» (“medved”, “medvezhij” – “bear”), and phraseological units with the given word. In all these cases, the well-known metaphorical meaning is updated and the metaphorical usual meaning is updated, indicating the party «Единая Россия» (“Jedinaja Rossija” – “United Russia” party), a symbol of which is the bear. For example, in the following excerpt from the article, there is a similar double actualization of the semantics of the phraseological unit «медвежья услуга» (“medvezh`ya usluga” – “bear service”): «Очевидно, что смс-рассылка не что иное, как очередная «медвежья» услуга наших политических оппонентов… Как еще объяснить эту неприкрытую попытку «стравить» на митинге, который действительно состоится 4 ноября, людей разных национальностей?» (Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) , 2011 ) (“Ochevidno, chto sms-rassy`lka ne chto inoe, kak ocherednaya «medvezh`ya» usluga nashix politicheskix opponentov… Kak eshhe ob``yasnit` e`tu neprikry`tuyu popy`tku «stravit`» na mitinge, kotory`j dejstvitel`no sostoitsya 4 noyabrya, lyudej razny`x nacional`nostej?” – “It is obvious that the SMS mailing is nothing more than another “bear service” of our political opponents ... How else to explain this overt attempt to turn people of different nationalities against each other at the rally which will really take place on November 4?”). «Медвежья» (“medvezh`ya” – “bear”) in this context has two meanings: “unpleasant” and “made by the representative of the party «Единая Россия»” (“Jedinaja Rossija” – the party “United Russia”).


1. Thus, a change in the attitude towards animals in society has influenced political discourse, which is manifested in the active use of animalistic vocabulary in the basic meaning, in the use of new derivative units and combinations that reflect refocus of attention from animals as carriers of cultural symbolic information to relationships of human and animals.

2. “Animalism” in society contributes to the expansion of the list of types of texts of political discourse in which zoolexemes are used: they are actively used in the texts of political posters, party program documents, speeches of politicians and political articles.

3. Animalistic vocabulary in political discourse performs a variety of pragmatic functions, which to some extent depend on whether the word is used in direct or figurative meaning.

4. Zoonyms used in their direct meaning in political discourse contribute to the involvement of the topic “attitude to animals” in the repertoire of the main issues on which it depends who will be in power in the context of democracy. The actualization of a positive or negative attitude towards animals in political discourse is the implementation of a strategy to increase the attractiveness of a politician / party or a discrediting strategy. Zoonyms in the direct meaning are mainly used in program documents, speeches, articles, less often in the texts of political posters.

5. Zoonyms in a metaphorical meaning have been historically used in politics as a symbol and means of identification when it was depicted on the coat of arms. In modern political discourse, zoonyms in an indirect meaning, often in the form of phraseological units, is used for emotional impact on recipients, to attract attention, to create imagery, to give generalized assessments. The metaphorical use of zoonyms is characteristic of articles in the media, less common in speeches of politicians (it determines the idiom style of a politician’s speech) and in texts of political posters.

6. The actualization of the topic “attitude to animals” is characteristic of both German-speaking and Russian-speaking political discourse, but it is manifested to a different degree. Zoonyms-lexemes are not represented on Russian election posters, while German posters actively use animal images and animalistic vocabulary; the issue of attitude to animals is addressed only in the program of one Russian political party – «Яблоко» (“Jabloko” – “Apple” party). In Germany, the main parties address this issue in their program documents, and there is even a special party of animal advocates; attitude to animals in Russian politics is not yet widely used as a means of increasing the image or discrediting a politician. When zoonyms are used in their direct meaning, the German language is characterized by compounding; in Russian, word combinations are used. Zoo-phraseological units are more actively represented in speeches of Russian politicians than in speeches of German politicians. Both German-language and Russian-language media texts on political topics actively use zoo-phraseological units, which are mainly the headings of articles.


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03 August 2020

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Sociolinguistics, linguistics, semantics, discourse analysis, translation, interpretation

Cite this article as:

Babaeva, R. (2020). Zoolexemes And Zoo-Phraseological Units In The German And Russian Political Discourses. In N. L. Amiryanovna (Ed.), Word, Utterance, Text: Cognitive, Pragmatic and Cultural Aspects, vol 86. European Proceedings of Social and Behavioural Sciences (pp. 53-62). European Publisher. https://doi.org/10.15405/epsbs.2020.08.7