"Profit": A New Key Concept in Russia and the Czech Republic. Parallels and Differences

By Petters, Johanna; Muller, Barbara | Journal for East European Management Studies, January 1, 2004 | Go to article overview

"Profit": A New Key Concept in Russia and the Czech Republic. Parallels and Differences


Petters, Johanna, Muller, Barbara, Journal for East European Management Studies


The article describes how the concepts - i.e. people's knowledge and attitude connected to the Russian and Czech words for profit have changed during the transformation after 1989. In the socialist period capitalist profit maximization is stereotypically damned whereas socialist profit remains rather an internal matter of the enterprises. In the 1990ies both the profits of particular enterprises and the general notion of profit become a public matter. In specialized and newspaper texts profit is endorsed as a motivation for people to work and the driving economic force. In Czech spoken discourse people are often skeptical towards the notion of profit.

Der Artikel beschreibt, wie sich nach der "Wende" von 1989 die Konzepte - dh. Wissen and Einstellungen - zum russischen bzw. tschechischen Wort fur Gewinn verandert haben. In den Texten aus sozialistischer Zeit wird kapitalistischer Gewinn stereotyp verurteilt. Sozialistischer Gewinn ist meistens eine interne Angelegenheit der Betriebe and nur eine von mehreren Kennziffern. In den 1990ern wird Gewinn zu einer Sache, die alle angeht: Er wird als wichtigstes Betriebsergebnis veroffentlicht; der Begriff wird eingehend diskutiert. In Fachund Zeitungstexten wird er als Arbeitsmotivation and treibende wirtschaftliche Kraft positiv bewertet. Im tschechischen Alltagsdiskurs herrscht eine skeptische Einstellung gegenuber Gewinn bzw. Gewinnstreben vor.

Key Words: Profit / Economic transformation / Corpus linguistics / key words concept

1. Introduction1

The aim of this paper is to describe "profit" (Russian pribyl `, Czech zisk) as a keyword of the market economy in current Russian and Czech. Central to our analysis are the changes in the concept of this word that occurred in the wake of the political and economic upheavals in Central and Eastern Europe around 1990. Our hypothesis is that even if the basic definition of a word (i.e. its meaning) remains unchanged, societal changes can affect the concept of this word, i.e. people's knowledge, values and attitudes connected to it. A concept, being a unit of the mental representation of our real-world knowledge, can only be identified indirectly, e.g. by the word that is tied to it. We therefore study the actual language use in connection with the keyword in question in order to find out about the structure and development of the attached concept, or rather its socially shared aspects.

The following paper starts from a short description of the analysed material and the applied method. After that we will present the meaning and use of the Russian and Czech equivalents of profit,2 especially concentrating on the shifts in the related concepts. Correspondingly, the main part of the paper is structured in chronological order, starting from Czech usage in the 1970s, going on to the Russian language of the Perestroyka period and then covering in detail the 1990s both in Russian and in Czech. We will show how, as a result of social and political change, the concept of the economic term profit has developed and eventually converged with the corresponding concept in a market economy context.

2. Method of analysis

The main method applied in the study is the quantitative and qualitative analysis of electronic text corpora - large collections of texts that have been compiled in order to reflect the language use of certain periods and domains. In order to examine the use of the Czech language before and after the fall of the iron curtain we use one corpus from the 1970s and several from the 1990s. The language use of the socialist period is represented in the so called "Marked corpus of Czech texts from the years 1972 to 1975" which was kindly provided to us by the Institute of Czech language at the Academy of Science of the Czech Republic. It contains 540 000 words of non-fictional text material: mainly professional and scientific literature from various fields, but also administrative and media texts. …

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