DOI: 10.18413 / 2313-8912-2015-1-3-41-48



The modern urban studies addresses its subject − the city − as a complex organized system whose multiple-aspect nature allows to analyze it from various perspectives. This article deals with one of possible aspects of the study of the city, a cognitive aspect, in which the image of the city appears as a mental pattern formed in the process of its perception by subjects of urban life. The authors refer to the latest research in cognitive science and onomastics and substantiate their thesis on that the image of the city is an important part of onomastic and, in a broader sense, linguistic consciousness. To support theoretical provisions the authors used data of the association experiment conducted by them to identify how the city of Pavlodar is perceived by its residents.


This article summarizes the authors’ efforts to consider the scientific problem of the study of the city image from the perspective of urban studies, cognitive linguistics and onomastics. This provision is associated with our grant-supported research of the general cultural landscape of the city of Pavlodar, the implementation of which provides for the identification of residents’ perception of their city as one of the scientific objectives of the project.


In general, the scientific and methodological basis of the research project rests on a number of fundamental concepts of onomastics and urban study, while the study of the problem of “the image of the city” made it necessary to address the basic conceptual vocabulary of cognitive science since onomastic phenomena are considered by the authors through the prism of cognitive processes. The feasibility of such approach is substantiated by scientists based on the fact that the cognitive structures of organization of proper names are “an organized fragment of linguistic view of the world” and exist in the linguistic consciousness of an individual and the whole community as well”[1, p.154].

This provision is supported by the findings of researcher Shcherbak A.S. stating that “in terms of the cognitive approach the subject of onomastics is transferred from linguistic means provided by the language to onomastic realities in terms of involvement thereof in the process of formation of meaning ...” [14, p.7]. The researcher also cites the opinion of Golomidova M.V. on “the cognitive function of onomastic phenomena”, which manifests itself “in involvement of proper names in the process of human mental activity and ability to retain knowledge, either of linguistic or encyclopedic nature” [14, р.8].

Main part

Since the name of the city is also a proper name, in particular such type thereof as astionym, it is fair to say that it may also be the subject of onomastic research, and as such can somehow be perceived by people or evoke certain associations, i.e. it may in a particular manner be associated with a certain city.

A word, a sign, a symbol play a fundamental role in the process of perception and formation of the image of a city. It is reflected, in particular, in that people have for a long time named cities not only in a specific manner using proper names but endowed them with individual characteristics: Kyiv the mother of Russian cities, free Novgorod, golden-domed Moscow, Odessa the Mother, Rostov the Father. In the Russian culture a number of original “locus” sayings or “teasers” for cities and their inhabitants have been preserved; Vyatka is the queen of wealth; Nizhny Novgorod is Moscow’s closest neighbor; Orel and Kromas are the first thieves; He who has never been to Ufa, never saw dirt; Any good hare is a cuff, any good bloke is Tula dweller etc. [9].

Thus, the purpose of this article is to support the provision on that the “image of the city” represented by an astionym  is part of onomastic consciousness and as such can serve as subject of a number of sciences, namely urban study, onomastics, cognitive science.

At the beginning of the 1960’s Kevin Linch, a renowned architect and urban study expert, conducted a series of studies on the perception of the same city by various individuals. [4] Interviews about the images of the central parts of Boston, Los Angeles, and New Jersey served as the basis for the assessment. One of the main results of this study was a provision stating that the perception (the image) of the city varies considerably from person to person. In turn, such perception depends on a number of reasons, including age, social and civil status, and level of education.

Vilkovsky M.B., unwrapping the essence of the views of K. Linch, places emphasis on that “The Image of the City” written by the urban study expert has provided a platform for initiating a series of new studies of human perception and behavior in the city - cognitive psychology in the city. The task of further research to be conducted by specialists in this field is to bring problems from the level of psychology to the level of social psychology and sociology of the visual image of the city, i.e, architectural sociology [2]. It is worth mentioning a modern work [Gottdeiner Mark and Hutchison Ray], the authors of which write about the need to “humanize” urban studies. [15]

The today’s urban study uses the concept of the city image as “a common mental pattern of the external physical world of the city” originating from the Linch's work. [16] As you can see from this definition, the term “the image of the city” is undoubtedly associated with human cognitive processes that result in the formation of its cognitive base. Pirogov S.V. points out that “in order to effectively study and design urban life it is not enough to consider the city only as a material-and-production and socio-institutional system, but necessary to focus on the third mode of the reality of the city – the reality of urban life subjects’ view of the city” [7, р.12]. In this case, the scientist refers to the works of Max Weber, who was the first to draw attention to the fact that the city is not just a material object but also a system of perceptions thereof. In addition, scientists believe that in this case a sort of intersubjective reality emerges existing in the form of speculative constructions, i.e. what is now called concepts, mental images.

For a philologist, the study of the image of the city implies addressing the theory and methodology of cognitive and onomastic studies simultaneously.

 The solution of such research tasks requires using some scientific methods and techniques: the descriptive method and some of its techniques, such as systematization, generalization, classification. Quantitative and qualitative sociological methods have traditionally been used in the study of perception, the image of the territory, and features of the urban mentality. Thus, collecting evidence required using experimental methods of cognitive linguistics, where native speakers (informants) are the most important source material. In addition, the authors used empirical methods: the study of relevant literature, the analysis of the results, the study and generalization of experience. Analyzing the results of the association experiment requires the use of semiotic and statistical methods to a certain extent. The former is used in determining the semantic groups of response-words, while the latter is necessary for counting the number of nominations and selection of the most widely-spread among them.

Thus, identification of perceptions about the city is directly connected with the study of linguistic and onomastic consciousness acting as a part of consciousness in general. Linguistic consciousness, being a specific kind of consciousness, is characterized primarily by its availability for direct observation: its operation processes and their results are recorded in the form of language. Trapeznikova A. indicates that “the term “linguistic consciousness” has a wide field of reference” and sets forth known scientific points of view as relate to this phenomenon [11, p. 27].

We share the views of representatives of the Moscow psycholinguistic school, in particular, Ufimtseva N.V. and Tarasova E.F., considering linguistic consciousness as a part of consciousness in general, and understanding it as “a combination of cognitive images created and formed using linguistic means – words, free and set phrases, sentences, texts and associative fields” [10, p. 36]. Consequently, there is a direct link between linguistic consciousness and language skills, and proper names, including astionyms, being a language means, are involved in human cognitive processes, representing fragments of linguistic consciousness. Referring to this, researcher Shcherbak A.S. writes: “Any proper name is an onomastic sign, reflecting the complex of knowledge of the proper name (linguistic and encyclopedic knowledge) and serving to organize onomastic knowledge in the human mind” [14, p. 22].

Thus, the scientists refer to the language and onomastic consciousness as a part of human consciousness in general, and by analogy with the cognitive science use the term “onomastic knowledge”, “onomastic representation”, “onomastic concept” [14, p. 36]. Researcher Shcherbak A.S. in her dissertation research sets forth the position on the existence of the scope of concepts of proper name, which reflects the worldview at the regional level as part of the worldview at the national level. This, according to the researcher, allows to consider onomastic material as a means of formation and expression of onomastic knowledge in the human mind. Onomastic knowledge is transmitted in units of language and consciousness units as onomastic concepts. The researcher considers the process of such transfer as onomastic representation [14, p. 37]. The method of free association experiment is another recognized method of study of linguistic consciousness that allows “to assess the features of functioning of human linguistic consciousness and ways to generate a verbal utterance, usually not perceived by native speakers and not detectable by other methods of research” [13, p. 229].

The methodology of the association experiment is based on a proven fact in the classic psychology: the course of associations is strictly determined, and the stream of words popping-up in mind can be characterized by either cognitive or affective processes.

The association, i.e. assigning to the object (stimulus) the meaning that pops-up in mind first (response) is a dual process [8]. On the one hand it involves activation of the personal experience, on the other - the typical social experience. This research process allows, first, to get information about recurring sense, i.e. to identify the social component of knowledge. Second, it provides an opportunity to explore a qualitative variety of social meanings. Thus, as a result of the association experiment we could identify certain views of Pavlodar city dwellers towards the city as well as the image of the city in the minds of non-Pavlodar residents, having visited Pavlodar before.

Based on the foregoing, and in order to identify the perceptions of Pavlodar and, as a consequence, outline its image the authors conducted a free associative experiment in which the respondents were invited to speculate on word-stimulus “Pavlodar” and asked to write whatever would come to mind first without any restrictions on verbal reactions. As a result, the respondents provided single and multiple free associations without limitation to one word in response to a stimulus, providing as many answers as could be associated with the word. A total of 235 persons were involved in the experiment distributed as follows:

The 1st group of respondents: residents of the city of Pavlodar - 83 persons;

The 2nd group of respondents: residents of other regions of Kazakhstan, having been to or heard of Pavlodar, of 82 respondents only one person met such criterion.

The 3rd group of respondents: residents of areas of Pavlodar region - 83 persons.

* Note regarding the number of respondents in each group: this figure was not specifically agreed upon, and the fact that the figures are essentially the same, is a coincidence.

Socio-demographic characteristics of the informants:

1) Group 1 - Pavlodar residents, 83 persons. The respondents were selected having lived in the city for at least 2 years. In this group the broadest age range of respondents was from 8 to 78 years old. This circumstance determined the diversity of social statuses. This includes pupils (19); students (26); employees from different industries, entrepreneurs (23 persons aged 23 - 55); “blue-collar” workers (5); housewives (4), pensioners (6).

2) The experiment covered 83 respondents living in rural areas, of which only 1 person was aged 50 (he gave a detailed response “the city of my youth”); the remaining 82 respondents were pupils and students aged 15 - 25. Anticipating any respective comments we refer to the authoritative opinion of the expert in the considered field of study Karaulov Yu.A.: “Basically, associative norms are “harvested” from the student audience... It is believed that at this age (17-21 years old) the formation of language competence is mainly completed. Whereas the semantic content of language competence (vocabulary, hierarchy of values, pragmatic attitudes) and its formal combinatorial skills in the majority of people remain relatively stable throughout life” [4, p. 192-193].

Thus, processing of the results of the association experiment with respect to the use of response-attributes revealed the following.

A total of 288 verbal responses were provided, most (155) responses were provided by residents of Pavlodar. This is explained by the fact that it was exactly in this group where the respondents provided multiple associations as well, while the third group represented individual free associations (58 responses). Residents of other regions provided 80 responses of both types.

Due to the limited scope of this article we focused only on the individual reactions of the respondents, namely the attributes associated with the proper name “Pavlodar” provided by the respondents in the three groups. Further analysis of all types of reactions will be carried out and become part of a monograph summarizing the results of the project.

The choice of reactions expressed by adjectives is explained by the authors as follows. Ideas about something (someone), as a rule, contain an assessment, and “the attitudinal meaning is characterized by the most vivid expression in the lexical and grammatical class of adjectives. With excessively broad semantic scope, adjectives express the properties of objects, personal assessment of their qualities and combine with a large class of subject names” [12, p.15].

Scientists, based on the experience of conducting associative experiments, suggest that only a few associations are unique, while most of the answers are typical. Counting results may allow to identify the frequency of occurrence of each association. The most frequent responses are called cultural primary ones, with idiosyncratic as the least common. The lower the time to think, the more frequent are typical responses of respondents, whereas the increase in time leads to a greater variety of responses and to the appearance of unusual and even unique associations.

In our case, 24 attributes associated with the proper name “Pavlodar” were provided, 20 of them were expressed in adjectives and 3 in participles (contaminated, prosperous, Russified). These response-attributes are the implementation of syntagmatic associations, which, according to scientists, reveal subject relationship manifested in speech. The adjective itself is, as is known, a classical language means of denoting various features of the subject, in this case - the city of Pavlodar. Attribute relationships are expressed by participles as well.

Thus, the following response-attributes were identified:


Group A

Pavlodar residents

  Group B

Residents of rural area

Group B

Residents of other regions

Clean (3 responses)

Clean (3 responses)

Clean (4 responses)

Beautiful (2 responses)

Beautiful (2 responses)

Beautiful (5 responses)

Industrial (2 responses)


Industrial (3 responses)

Prospering (1 response)

Prospering (1 response)


good (1 response)


Good (1 response)











Inhabited mostly by youths

warm welcoming




the best

dirty and crazy


Total: 11 attributes

Total: 10 attributes

Total: 9 attributes


As is evident from the table, the number of attributes is almost the same in the three groups, which cannot be said of their semantic features. 5 responses should be considered frequent (in italics), of those 2 responses were provided throughout all three groups: clean and beautiful, in three more cases the responses were repeated in the two groups. These are such attributes as “industrial”, “good” (groups 1 and 3), “prosperous” (groups А and Б). “Clean” and “beautiful” should be considered the most frequent responses (9 cases of use), followed by “industrial” (5 responses).

Of those 5 common responses, three responses reflect positive assessment (clean, beautiful, good), two of them characterize the outside of the city – personal attitudinal meaning (clean, nice), with the third attribute having general attitudinal meaning (good).

The rest of the individual response-attributes are as follows:

1) In group A one of 6 adjectives has general attitudinal meaning - the best, all the other adjectives reflect personal attitudinal meanings ​​that give an idea of the native city from various perspectives:

- Emotional evaluation of the positive nature: favorite, dear;

- Assessment of the size of the subject: small;

- Understanding of the cultural level of the city: civilized.

“Gray” is a response of certain scientific interesting. This adjective in its literal sense refers to the color and in fact contains no evaluation. It remains unclear what the respondent meant while providing an answer: whether he was thinking of gray multi-storey buildings, which are common in Pavlodar, or defined the city as a boring, uninteresting place to live, devoid of any prominent features.

2) In group B (persons living in rural areas of the region) more interesting response-attributes could be observed compared with those provided by Pavlodar residents. The villagers named a variety of characteristics of the city, probably because the city makes a deeper impression on them than on its residents, accustomed to their city.

So, in group B the response-attributes allow to outline the following image of Pavlodar: a great big city, unfortunately, polluted; there are a lot of young people (inhabited mostly by youths), and, probably, it is a digital city. Named adjectives contain either positive or neutral attitude.

However, one respondent (woman aged 19) provided “an extremely dirty” and “crazy” attributes combining personal sensory and psychological assessment, enhanced with an adverb. Such response can be explained by social factors: the woman-respondent came to the city from a village, has been living here for the first year working as a waitress. We believe that the profession could affect the choice of such attributes related to the city whose negative sides are sometimes experienced by the above respondent.

3) The image of Pavlodar in the minds of the respondents in group B is generally positive, response-attributes convey the following:

- the external perception of the city: large, green, civilized;

- psychological impression: warmly welcoming;

The “Russified” response was provided by 1 respondent, a resident of Kyzyl-Orda, aged 45, a teacher who believes that the Kazakh population in Pavlodar speaks mostly Russian. Perhaps, a social stereotype served as the basis for such attitude, according to which the inhabitants of the northern regions of Kazakhstan are significantly affected by the Russian-speaking environment. However, it should be noted that this is far from actual setup: while in 1989 in the region there were 268,512 Kazakhs and 427,658 Russians, as of the 1st of January, 2014, this ratio was 374,779 and 280447, respectively [6].

Thus, the association experiment and preliminary analysis of response-attributes conducted by the authors allowed to identify some views concerning Pavlodar. The vast majority of respondents positively perceive the city evaluating it in terms of visual perception, sensory experience, psycho-emotional assessments, satisfaction of intellectual and cultural needs etc. Of course, the image of the city is very incomplete at the moment because the authors considered only one group of response- attributes, and further work involves completion of processing of all the results of the association experiment. The evidence used in the article was intended to illustrate our belief in undoubted cognitive importance of the proper name “Pavlodar” occupying a certain space in onomastic consciousness of our respondents.

While studying the problem of the “image of the city” in urban studies and cognitive science we came across the concept of culturological portrait and found it possible to apply to our study certain provisions of the cultural studies. In particular, we are referring to axiological paradigm of cultural studies, which describes the significant cultural characteristics of the portrait. Scientists emphasize its association with the category of human perception and compare it with the concept of the “image of the city” noting their proximity, but not identity, as well as narrowness and applied nature of the latter concept [3]. In the considered material of considerable importance is the statement that “the majority of axiological researches of the city focus on subjective perception by the inhabitants of the various aspects of urban life, urban environment, the image of the city” [3, p. 30].


Speculation on the image of the city and its culturological portrait send us back to the concept of the “heart of the city”, being a genetic prototype of cultural portrait. This concept was introduced into scientific use in the 20’s of XX century by N. Anciferov, I. Grevs, the founders of the St. Petersburg regional studies school [13 p.31]. What the authors of this article consider valuable for the project-based research of the general cultural landscape of Pavlodar is that the above authors mentioned in their work the variability of the urban landscape, the formation of its myths, legends, symbols, which certainly can and should be one of the subjects of the considered study [1]. Also, speculations on the image of the city, the heart of the city may in the long view form the basis of applied researches on the formation of the symbolic brand-capital of the city, revealing “its axiosphere and mentality, the semantic path of development of the city, the dynamics of perception thereof, changes in the attractiveness of the territory” [3, p. 33].

So, on the basis of the provisions put forward by the authors on the relationship of a number of concepts of urban studies, onomastics and cognitive science, the authors believe it is possible to single out the following logical chain: linguistic consciousness - the name of the city - a mental picture of the city, i.e. its image - onomastic consciousness - worldview. Further analysis of the components of the logical chain, its deepening and widening, identification and substantiation of their relationship is the task of the research in the framework of the considered project.

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