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THE LANGUAGE OF FOOD: EXPLORING THE REPRESENTATION OF THE CULINARY CULTURE




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The last twenty years have seen a massive flow of scientific studies of food that can be divided into a number of areas including food habits, dietary changes, nutrition, malnutrition, hunger and food security, agriculture and food production, food governance and policy, political economy of food, food and the environment, food choice, food history, food culture and society.

By the same token linguists have been investigating such topics as cross-cultural and gender perspectives on eating behaviours, recipes, cookbooks, and menus as texts, the category of taste and its functioning, food in fiction, film, and art. Many more overlapping areas still encourage vigorous debate among linguists. Organized around the topic of food, they seek to explore the culinary as a means to understand culture.  The language of food as the focus of projects and research permits linguists to approach intangible meanings.

Brillat-Savarin in his book Physiologie du Gout, ou Meditations de Gastronomie Transcendante (1826) wrote “Dis-moi ce que tu manges, je te dirai ce que tu es” [7] which means “Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are”. Nowadays the quotation is taken literally and some researchers even interpret the axiom further asserting that it is not only what we eat, but also how/where/with whom.

Food is not only something we eat, it is something we use to define ourselves. Powerful social, economic, political and symbolic roles of food cannot be ignored.  Food is also a marker of cultural and ethnic identity – the self.

According to Isabelle de Solier [8], “We often hear that selves are no longer formed through producing material things at work, but consuming them in leisure, leading to ‘meaningless’ modern lives”. Indeed, modern people strive to form meaningful selves through the material culture in leisure.

We see that food offers such a means of shaping the self not only as a consumer but also as an amateur who engages in the consumption of material culture as well as in its production, for instance, in cooking. Suchlike self-formation takes a professional approach in a variety of practices: TV cookery shows hosted by celebrity chefs, food television and digital food media such as cookbooks and blogs, online grocers and restaurant review sites, meal preparatory kitchens, competitive eating contests, carnivals and fairs.

Such eagerly sought manifestations, according to authors Kathleen LeBesco and Peter Naccarato of “Culinary Capital” [10], serve as productive sources for understanding the role of culinary capital in shaping individual and group identities in contemporary culture. These food practices play an important social role offering status to individuals who conform to their culture’s culinary norms and expectations while also providing a means of resisting them.

All of the above-mentioned promise the viewers/readers/consumers status through the acquisition of culinary capital and, as they do so, intersect with a range of cultural values and ideologies, including those of gender and strata. This is the way food shapes our lives, perceptions and identities hence the culinary culture is a central element to ethnic identifications. Everyday practices that are collectively used to produce and sustain a shared sense from a cultural identity.

This field of study demands greater research, particularly given the current cultural moment on the basis of the English language. Here in the article we will examine how representations of the conceptual sphere “food” function as a sort of language. We will look at food being represented in the English language in connection with the aspects of social life and limit the scope of the research to eating as cultural experience.

Culinary language quite often lies at the heart of some figurative transfers in everyday life because there is a relationship between gastronomic considerations, for instance, the types of food events, specific foods and culinary customs that are highly correlated with kinship behaviour of the country/region where they are held.

The research into the symbolic meanings of food names assumes their division into common literary words, slang, metaphors, metonymies and other figurative name units.

We come across lots of metaphors in English slang food names e.g. torpedo or sub (big hamburger), hand grenade (big hotdog), pig in blanket (sausage in pastry), bangers (sausages), scoff (food), spud (potato) etc.

Figurative transfer of meaning lies at the basis of the name of the cake devils food cake (a moist, airy, rich chocolate layer cake) and its counterpart — white (or yellow) angel food cake. White is commonly associated with purity and holiness of angels whereas a dark colour (brown or black) is associated with Saran or devil.

Metonymies are no exception in the word-formation process of the names of dishes in the English language, e.g. hot pot (meat in a pot)  or ox in the box (braised beef).

Having analysed the thematic group “food”, a Russian researcher Rogova A.V. identifies the following groups [4, 149-152]: 1) positive — negative connotation; 2) ready meals – natural food; 3) plant foods – foods of animal origin — seafood; 3) alcoholic – non-alcoholic drinks; 4) sweet — salty; 5) verbs to eat, to drink etc.

There can be added more specific groups to the above classification such as fruits — vegetables, berries, flour goods.  We can divide them on the basis of:

— the attitude to labour who would eat the fruit must climb the tree, to bear fruit, forbidden fruit is sweet;

  • appearance/behavior/character of a person cheese-cake, a tree is known by its fruit;
  • relations/feelings to people/home sour grapes, to eat humble pie, a bowl of cherries, like a piece of cake, apples and oranges; as American as apple pie, moth­erhood and apple

These examples convincingly show how important it is to understand such transfers in metaphors, metonymies and other figurative units to a fuller understanding of the culture.

To enhance the research we divided the food/dish names as lexical units in the English language according to thematic-cognitive groups:

— onyms or name callers

1) after a person’s name (anthroponyms) – mostly the names of famous people, e.g. peach Melba (named after an Australian singer N. Melba [3,141]) with some rare exceptions, e.g. Sally Lunn (named after a girl who sold them in the streets of Bath, Avon in the 18th century [3,163]);

2) according to the origin (ethnonyms) – herein the names of the countries, e.g. Irish stew, Turkish delight, Russian salad, French ice cream, Mongolian lamb, Spanish rice, German sausage, Bologna sausage;

3) after some place (toponyms) — herein the names of cities, regions and states, e.g. New England Lamb, Scotch beef, baked Alaska, Melton Mowbray Pie;

4) after the name of an institution or commercial firm (ergonyms), e.g. tollhouse cookie (named after the Toll House Inn of Whitman, Massachussetts [3,190-191]), Waldorf salad (named after the Waldorf Hotel in New York where it was first created [3,196]), Club sandwich (named after a gambling club Saratoga Springs, New York in the 19th century [3,56]).

—  cooking process and food/dish qualities

1) the place of cooking, e.g. home bread, homemade soup, porterhouse steak;

2) the occasion, e.g. birthday cake, Christmas pudding/cookie;

3) the qualities:  

temperature, e.g. warm crab and lemon dip, ice tea, cold beef tongue,

— ingredient/component, e.g. apple pie, pecan pie,

cooking method, e.g.  scrambled eggs, mashed potatoes,

— colour, e.g. golden syrup dumplings, red meat, white chocolate,

— form/shape, e.g. chicken balls, boulettes, rolls,

4) eater’s status/occupation e.g. farmer cheese, royal burger; ploughmans lunch, shepherds pie.

The analysis shows the productive results of the word-building process as well as introduces the cultural element in each of the examples with the culturally-marked names – onyms (names of personalities, places, organizations, countries).

The research shows that he English culinary language comprises underived words including ancient ones from Germanic e.g. loaf, bread, milk, flitch, bacon, nut, yeast, fish, ham etc. The core cultural elements in the linguoculture are the words food, meal and dish [9]. These units are interrelated components of a unified mental food complex that can be described as an open system that undergoes the changes and is exposed to outer influences.

Let’s resort to the progenitor of the English language – the British English. According to Ermakova L.R., “the British are conservative, ethnocentred, reserved, traditional […]” [1,182]. Despite their resistance to any changes and adjustment to traditions and customs, there is still a threat of loss of the British identity.

Nowadays the British national identity undergoes deconstruction and diffusion. The current process inspired the British author Julian Barnes to write a patriotic novel “England England” [5] in which the characters declare openly their believes about their nation and the modern linguocultural personality is disclosed. This text has seen close analysis and is not the subject of this research.

Although resistant to influences, the modern British cuisine acquires the main features of the society in which it functions – globalisation and eclecticism, on the one hand, and its counterpart – glocalisation, on the other hand. Few may give a second thought to British multiculturalism, but British society is influenced by many cultures. The extent and scope of British colonialism explain some key features. Modern multiculturalism refers to the historical evolution of cultural diversity. Moreover, Great Britain is growing in diversity every year.

The modern cuisine reflects the cultural transfusions well as the dynamism and more rational food consumption. As a result among the popular British restaurants there are a lot of French ones  (The Square, Petrus, Le Gavroche) as well as Italian (River Cafe) and Asian (Hakkasan) ones. In 2014 London’s Gymkhana has become the first-ever Indian restaurant to be named National Restaurant of the Year [2].

There is also a tendency to combine ingredients and cuisines like in a restaurant with the traditional British cuisine St. John where you can try a dish which combines British and American cuisines. Such coexistence leads to the appearance of such neologisms as “new world cuisine” and “culinary globalisation” and its innovative implementation is “fusion сuisine” which combines elements of various culinary traditions while not fitting specifically into any.

There is another implementation of globalisation — culinary tourism or food tourism. It is the exploration of food as the purpose of tourism. In fact, it is an attempt to transfer food that is traditionally prepared for some occasion/holiday/ritual into everyday cuisine.

The modern trends of fusion cuisine and food tourism activate multicultural ethnic component of the food linguoculture by means of growing interest for national cuisine.

To conclude, historically the British food linguoculture is multicultural, unified, homogenic with the modern globalisation tendency including the trendsetting American fastfood culture.

Fast food is becoming popular in Great Britain and in particular in such a megapolis as London as the pace of life demands speedy process of food consumption. Such food can be found in gastro pubs, bars, bistros or original McDonald’s or other fast food restaurants like KFC, Burger King, Eat, Wasabi, noodle bars. As a result, we observe the following trends: pragmatization, functionalising, the loss of the identity and ethnicity, unification of everyday culture in gender, age group and other social aspects.

The opposite process – the reconstruction of the national cuisine is also explicit in glocalisation. The latter is adopted in traditional British cuisine which is represented in dozens of recipes in the Internet and cook books where the names of the ingredients advocate the history, the origin, the сooking process, the serving suggestions. Anybody interested can find the recipes, cook’s guides, seasonal dishes, regional cookies, food and feasting, eating history and can learn more about the traditional culinary culture.

The deliberate symbolisation of food as iconic of place and community identity through consideration of food-themed place branding is another modern trend. When the association between a place and a food item is abstracted and promoted, and the food becomes emblematic of the place, the communal landscape becomes a foodscape. When a locality stages a festive performance of its food-themed identity, it becomes a festive foodscape [6].

The analysis of modern culinary language trends reveals the dynamic role of historical pathways in understanding cultural formations as they have existed through time, and in positioning the present as a moment in a continuing process of structured mobility that determines what people eat, and how they understand themselves and the world around them.

This focus on food and its role in connecting and changing peoples, tastes and perceptions of the world yields insight not only to substances that people consider essential to the maintenance of identity, but also to the production of new cultural formations in a transnational world and to the role of cultural (re)production in the expansion of consumption.

 

References

1.Ермакова Л.Р. Глюттонические прагматонимы и национальный характер (на материале русской и английской лингвокультур): автореф. дис. … канд. филол. наук : 10.02.19. — Белгород, 2011 – 236 с.

2.Топ 10 лучших Британских ресторанов в 2014 году [Электронный ресурс]. – Режим доступа: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/foodanddrink/restaurants/10936057/National-Restaurant-Awards-Britains-top-10-restaurants.html

3.Козько Н.., Пожидаева Е.В. Англо-русский лингвокультурный словарь: пища и питие. – Магнитогорск, 2013. – 208 с., илл.

4.Рогова А. В. Концептосфера «еда» в метафорическом преломлении // Ярославский педагогический вестник — 2012 — № 3. – Т. 1. – С. 149-152.

5.Barnes J. England. England. — Jonathan Cape, 1998. —  272 pp.

6.Adema P. Festive foodscapes: Iconizing food and the shaping of identity and place. — The University of Texas at Austin, 2006, 360 pp.

7.Brillat-Savarin. Physiologie du Gout, ou Meditations de Gastronomie Transcendante, 1998 [Электронный ресурс]. – Режим доступа: http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/you%20are%20what%20you%20eat.html 8.De Solier I. Food and the Self: Consumption, Production and Material Culture. — Bloomsbury, London and New York, 2013                                                  9.Dirks R., Hunter G. The Anthropology of Food,  Illinois. — State University [Электронный ресурс]. – Режим доступа: http://www.academia.edu/1901765/The_Anthropology_of_Food             10.Naccarato P., Lebesco K. Culinary Capital. Oxford: Berg, 2012. — 145 pp.

THE LANGUAGE OF FOOD: EXPLORING THE REPRESENTATION OF THE CULINARY CULTURE
Written by: Pozhidayeva Elena Valeryevna
Published by: БАСАРАНОВИЧ ЕКАТЕРИНА
Date Published: 05/25/2017
Edition: ЕВРАЗИЙСКИЙ СОЮЗ УЧЕНЫХ_ 30.01.2015_01(10)
Available in: Ebook