Semantic field of soul concept in Serbian language

Semantic field of soul concept in Serbian language

Both speech and language are representing ”energiae” activities in which subject forms its own image of world, ”personal world”. In that act subject and object meet each other in language medium as ”energiae”, living, active reality which is represented in language system(1). Soul concept, as a part of that world image and world experience , in Serbian language names principle of life, basics of life, principle of existence in reality(2).

In that respect, soul concept is equivalent with archaic representations of soul as a center of native religion. In the same time by integrating macro(cosmos) and microcosmos (human being), by coding nature world and transcendental reality, and also by shaping world image and world experience, soul – principle of life, represents center that organizes everything with sense(3).

Viewed as a part of  ”mythical field of power” or as a number of life energy centers, human soul is both organic (dynamic) and free. In organic context, soul concept is adjacent to life force and life concepts. As ”free”, soul  is referred as individual ,separate person, in form of spiritual duplicate, alter-ego, or ”psyche”(4). This kind of belief is recognized in antic Greek understanding of  ”psyche”:”…while his own self (person who sleeps), unaware of himself, sleeps, his double is vigil and active”(5).

Soul as a ”sen” (shadow,) represents free soul, and conceptually as a shaded nature is part of collective Slavic archetypal heritage. In that respect  there is identity of shadow and life concept on one side, and etymological affinity of words ”duša”(soul) and ”duvati” (to blow) at the other. Analogous understanding of shadow as alter-ego can be found in Latin word ”umbra”, while Latin ”spiritus animus” is analog with verb ”duvati”(to blow)(6).

In Slavic languages soul concept is inferred of words ”duh” (spirit) and ”ja”(myself). Contemporary linguistic definitions of soul concept show identity of ”soul and essence, basics of every feeling, experience, something which reach depths of being, feelings, being (to be) , existence in reality”. Mentioned concepts with their meanings constitute semantic field of soul concept (2).

In Serbian ethnological tradition, mythological heritage of soul concept represents expression of everyday experience with nature, which is viewed as vast field of transcendental secrets and discoveries in same time. Experienced as a part of world soul, anima mundi (light), human soul (microcosmos) is born in cosmogonical act (microcosmos) in time when world of living beings is created. Viewed as reflection of god, human soul (light) is triumph of light over darkness. According to that, Serbian cosmogonical tradition mention ”svetlost”(light), ”vidilo”(heavenly eyesight) and ”duša”(soul) (as constituents of anima mundi).In that respect concepts of light and heavenly eyesight are also referring on human enlightenment – outside by eyesight, and inside by soul itself (7).

By archetypes and symbols, our language kept its role of bond between times of past and present. Energetically drawn and encircled by soul concept, archetypal representations in oral tradition made experiences of light, god and soul more resistant and lively. In that direction goes Plato when he says that people ”by relying upon writing, initiate memories (memories of soul meaning as form of existence in reality) from outside, using unfamiliar signs” and in same time ”they will not remember them from inside by  themselves”(7,8).

Historical continuity (synchronical aspect of time) can be tracked by embodiment of collective-unconscious ideas, archetypes or primordial images which introduce our temporary conscience with psychic life of our ancestors from ancient past (7,9). Primordial images of soul are concerning originally experienced reality of one’s own soul-existence of life as a part of anima mundi (cosmos, light). As such they represent necessity of diachronical reality (psychical reality of events – I exist, I am) which forms link between past and present in personal time of both individual and community (7,10,11).

Psychic reality of ”I am – I exist” experiences (diachronical reality) find  its materialization in form of Slavic idols (9,10,12). In that manner, especially is interesting authentic idol of Sveti Vid that is known by embossed engravings of four faces. These four faces represent orientation in four world directions that essentially forms quaternity as symbol of cosmic revelation, image of world, expression and actualization of forces of god. Soul, as part of these essences (lights), symbolically shown through Svetovid represent identification of micro and microcosmos, human being and universe. Feature characteristics of this deity are rein and saddle as symbols of restraining drive forces, which made two-way communication possible. Svetovid is both seer and deity who ”give words”(13,14,15).

Etymologically, his name is connected with knowledge and miracle of sight. Name Svetovid was probably originally vseto, which means ”one who see the world”, everything in world, or more precise, one who knows everything in whole world and knows world itself totum universum. According to that, analysis of name Svetovid would be: въсето – видъ (vseto – vid). Noun вьсěть, or вьсěта, which is formed from adjective– вьсь –(whole), meant ”all”(entirety of universe, totum universum). Second part of word (вьсěтo- вид) is related with indoeuropean word ”vid”, which means to see, to be vigil. Ancient Slavs  actually connected knowledge with sight sense; in other words – things that I see, I know. This claim is argumented with word ”eyewitness”. All these words are connected with root vid, вěд, which means ”to know”. Besides Indo-European vid, there is Sanskrit ”vid”, which means ”man of knowledge”,” man who knows”. In old Greek  root ”fid” in word ”oida” means I know, and in word ”eidon” means I saw. In gothic” wittan” means both to see and to know. Word Вьсěто – вид   represents the one who knows the world (entirety), one who knows the universe (totum universum). Svetovid was exactly shown as such – with four heads, and each are turned towards different side of world (14).

Summary, soul as principle of life, as light (part of anima mundi), as vid (Svetovid) in its semantic field as a matter of course include and meanings of verb ”biti” (to be) and a number of other verbs with similar meaning. Verb ”biti” means: ”što jesam”( I am), ”postojati”(to exist), ”koji jest”(one who is), ”živeti”(to live). In literature, verbs with similar meaning: ”to exist”, ”to live” are   identified with verb ”to bee-I am” by its meaning. In that respect, ”to exist” means to be in reality, to take place in space, in conscience, in feeling, in mind (2).

From psychological aspect, meaning of this concept can be shown in form of Self-concept, which basically express itself through two components: ego – bounds and body scheme. Psychological category of time founded on ego – bounds is forming the feeling of time continuance, while body scheme represents basis of personal integrity. These two dimensions unify synchronical and diachronical. Only the person who is located in time and with clear bounds can in such dynamical unity to represent wholeness, and in that way to express meaning of soul as embracing essence.

Corresponding meaning also can be found in old Greek psyche concept; man is alive, self – conscious, spiritually active as far as his soul resides in him(5).


Diachronical aspect, represented thorough primordial images, eventually reaches ancient mythological and symbolical heritage, which is represented thorough language system. Necessary in forming synchronical dimension, this aspect is being formally transformed by it, but essentially unchanged, and as such, it just forms new images of archaic essence. These transformations can be recognized in language development as intersection and contraction of semantic fields.


  1. Serl Dž. Govorni činovi – ogled iz filozofije jezika. Beograd: Nolit; 1991
  2. Lalević M S. Sinonimi i srodne reči srpskohrvatskog jezika. Beograd: Leksikografski zavod – Sveznanje; 1974
  3. Čajkavnović V. Studije iz srpske religije i folklora. Beograd: Srpska književna zadruga, BIGZ, Prosveta, Partenon M.A.M.; 1994
  4. Čajkanović V. Stara srpska religija i mitologija. Beograd: Srpska akademija nauka i umetnosti, Srpska književna zadruga; 1995
  5. Rode E. Psyche. Novi Sad: Izdavačka knjižarnica Zorana Stojanovića Sremski Karlovci; 1991
  6. Čajkanović V. O vrhovnom bogu u staroj srpskoj religiji. Srpska književna zadruga, BIGZ, Prosveta, Partenon M.A.M.; 1994
  7. Popović – Radović M. Srpska mitska priča. Beograd: Pečat; 1989
  8. Platon. O jeziku i saznanju. Beograd: IP Rad; 1977
  9. Levi-Štros K., Totemizam danas. Beograd: Kultura; 1990
  10. Meletinski E M., Poetika mita. Beograd: Nolit
  11. Elijade M. Šamanizam i arhajske tehnike ekstaze. Novi Sad: Izdavačka knjižarnica Zorana Stojanovića Sremski Karlovci; 1990
  12. Kazirer E. Jezik i mit. Novi Sad: Izdavačka knjižarnica Zorana Stojanovića Sremski Karlovci; 1998
  13. Chevalier J. Gheerbrant A. Rječnik simbola. Banja Luka: Romanov d.o.o.; Biblioteka : Posebna izdanja; 2003
  14. Vasiljev S. Slovenska Mitologija. Srbobran; 1928
  15. Lang D M. Mitologija. Ljubljana – Zagreb: Mladinska knjiga; 1990

Written by: Ćuk-Jovanović L,  Jovanović V,  Džunić O

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