ISSN 0024-5089
Copyright © 2008 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.

Volume 54, No 3 - Fall 2008
Editor of this issue: Violeta Kelertas

Reflection of Cultural Patterns in Collocations:
What the Lexical Item NEIGHBORKAIMYNAS in English and Lithuanian tells us

Violeta Kalėdaitė
Laima Palevičienė

Violeta Kalėdaitė is Associate professor of English Linguistics in the Department of English Philology at Vytautas Magnus University, Kaunas. Her research interests lie in contrastive linguistics and translation studies. Major publications include a monograph “Existential Sentences in English and Lithuanian.” (2002) as well as articles on different issues in translation. 

Laima Palevičienė is a graduate of the Master’s program in English philology at Vytautas Magnus University.

The aim of this paper is a cross-linguistic analysis of collocations. The focus of the study is the collocational behavior of the English lexical item neighbor and its Lithuanian equivalent kaimynas. Special attention is paid to discourse prosody and the relation between collocations and culture. The word neighbor has been chosen for several reasons. In addition to being used quite frequently, it demonstrates an ambiguous semantic prosody. It is also socially significant; therefore, its semantic analysis may reveal interesting insights with respect to both English and Lithuanian cultures.


“Why do builders not produce a building or authors not invent a novel…?” (Bolinger and Sears 1968, 55, as cited in Baker 1997, 47). Language is not made up of words that may be used together in free variation; words have “a certain tolerance of compatibility” (Baker 1997, 63). It is often argued that native speakers’ unconscious knowledge of collocations is “an essential component of their idiomatic and fluent language use and an important part of their communicative competence” (Stubbs 2001b, 73). 

The aim of this paper is a cross-linguistic analysis of collocations. The focus of the study is the collocational behavior of the English lexical item neighbor and its Lithuanian equivalent kaimynas. Special attention is paid to discourse prosody and the relation between collocations and culture. The word neighbor has been chosen for several reasons. In addition to being used quite frequently, it demonstrates an ambiguous semantic prosody. It is also socially significant; therefore, its semantic analysis may reveal interesting insights with respect to both English and Lithuanian cultures. 

Definition of collocations, corpus of data and research method

Lexemes are related along two intersecting dimensions: horizontal and vertical (Crystal 1996, 160). On the horizontal dimension, we sense the relationships between lexemes in a sequence – there are particular mutual expectancies between the main lexemes in a sentence that are called “collocations.” For example, our linguistic intuition tells us that excruciating tends to occur with pain, agony, but not with joy or ignorance. Other definitions of collocations stress the frequency of co-occurrence, which is a “lexical relation between two or more words that have a tendency to co-occur within a few words of each other in running text” (Stubbs 2001b, 24). This paper takes the view that a collocation conveys a syntagmatic relation between words; this aspect involves their mutual expectancy and frequent co-occurrence. 

The data for the present analysis have been collected from two sources, namely, the corpus compiled from the 1995 edition of the Sunday Times (consisting of about 40 million words), and the Corpus of Contemporary Lithuanian, or CCL ( The Lithuanian subcorpus compiled for the present research uses the section of periodicals that consists of 24.8 million words and the section of local periodical press consisting of 16.9 million words (this comes to a total of 41.7 million words). Consequently, the English and Lithuanian data match each other as to text category (i.e., newspaper texts) and size. 

As regards the method of analysis, the paper takes into account three variables; i.e., the frequency of co-occurrence, the presence of at least two notional words as constituents in a collocation, and its meaning (see Marcinkevičienė 2000, 74). The first step of the analysis involved computing the concordance of the lemma neighbor, which was carried out with the help of WordSmith Tools. The concordance included such forms as neighbor, neighbor’s, neighbors, and neighbors’; 516 instances of collocations suitable for the analysis were found. The same procedure was applied to the Lithuanian lemma kaimynas. In addition to its base form, other forms included kaimyno, kaimynė, kaimynės, kaimynai, kaimynų, kaimynių, etc.; the search gave 1,464 hits. 

Discussion of findings: discourse prosody 

Discourse (semantic) prosody is a particular collocational phenomenon: some words have a predominantly negative prosody; others have a positive prosody, while many words are neutral in this respect (Sinclair 1991). It is argued in the literature that discourse prosody is an aspect of extended lexical units that is not easy to identify because it often expresses speaker relations to other people and may depend on assumptions and worldview (Stubbs 2001b, 105). For example, collocations of lavish with lifestyle, parties, spending, attention, hospitality, depending on one’s point of view, may be evidence of an approving connotation of “generosity” or a disapproving connotation of “excessive wastefulness.” The corpus collocations of the lexical item neighbor / kaimynas (denoting a person) fall into two groups, evaluative and neutral. The examples of neutral collocations are next-door ~, near ~, nearest ~, immediate ~, former neighbors/šalia gyvenantis ~, artimiausias ~, buvęs kaimynas. 

The table below classifies and summarizes the findings of the analysis related to evaluative collocations along several dimensions: type of collocation and a positive/negative semantic prosody. 

The data in the table demonstrate that the lemma neighbor – kaimynas possesses both positive and negative semantic prosodies. Verbal collocations are predominantly negative, whereas modifiers and short phrases are predominantly positive in both languages. In total, 128 occurrences of positive and 122 of negative semantic prosody have been found in the English corpus. The respective Lithuanian data are 140 instances (or 37.2%) of positive and 236 occurrences (or 62.8%) of negative semantic 24 prosody. To sum up, in English a positive semantic prosody prevails only slightly over the negative, whereas in Lithuanian a negative semantic prosody is almost twice as frequent. 

In a similar vein, the lexical item neighbor – kaimynas denoting a country has neutral collocations in both languages, for example, next-door ~, nearest ~, immediate ~, artimiausia ~. The examples of collocations with positive discourse prosody are powerful ~, gera ~, draugiški ~. Collocations with negative discourse prosody have not been found. 

            Evaluative collocations of the lemma neighbour – kaimynas denoting a person

Type of collocation

Discourse (semantic)

English collocations

Lithuanian collocations



Good 47, quiet 10, friendly 9, respondent 7, caring 3

Budrūs 11, draugiški 5, ger-a, -os 22


Noisy 37, hostile 5, antisocial 3, bad 6

Gramelį išmaukiantys 4, išgerti mėgusios 4,
neblaiv-us, -i 21

Verbal collocation


Help 16, care 5

Bendrauti 11, išgelbėjo 10, gelbėti 5, perspėjo 5, susitarti 8


Kill, -ed, ‑ing 17, slitting 9, complain, ‑ed 15, disputes 8, accuse, -ed 6, threatened 5

Girtavo 18, nužudė 16, gėrė 14, mirė 13, nušovė 12, skundėsi 12, sužalojo 12, grasino 11, išgėrė 11, bijojo 9, išgerti 9, užpuolė 9, sumušė 7, aiškintis 6, gąsdinti 5, pasiskundusi 5

Short phrases


Friends and neighbours 18; love thy neighbor 4; make good neighbors 3; be good neighbors 3; everybody needs good neighbors 3

Kaimynui ar giminaičiui 5; giminėms ir kaimynams 3; kaimynus ir pažįstamus 3; pagalbos pas kaimynus 3; parnešti pasiuntė kaimyną 3; geri santykiai su kaimynais 20; su kaimynu galima sutarti 6; budrūs ir draugiški kaimynai 4; kaimynas kaimyną gerai pažįsta 4; gyventi kaip geriems kaimynams 4; kaimynas susitaikydavo su kaimynu 4; kreipėsi pagalbos į kaimynus 4


Neighbor disputes 4; disputes between neighbors 4; disturb the neighbors 3

Kaimynas kaimyno nepažįsta 6; girtavo pas kaimynę 5; neblaivi kaimynė 3; nušovė savo kaimyną 3; nužudė savo kaimyną 3; kiršins kaimyną su kaimynu 6; kaimynas kaimyną policijai paskųstų 4; kaimynas kaimynui nugano pasėlius 4; įvedus kaimyno kaimynui sekimą 4

Collocations as a reflection of cultur al stereotypes 

Differences in collocational patterning in different languages reflect the preferences of specific language communities for certain modes of expression. Some collocations are a direct reflection of the material, social, or moral environment in which they occur. This explains, for example, why bread collocates with butter in English, but not in Arabic (Baker 1997, 49). 

The notion of a cultural keyword (which is relevant for our study) was first introduced by Williams (1976), who investigated the history of over one hundred keywords in British culture. Traditionally, cultural keywords are understood to have obvious political or ideological meanings and are particularly revealing of the values of a culture. However, other scholars believe that even the most common words in the language, such as little, especially when used in frequent phrases, can have strong cultural connotations (Stubbs 2001b, 161). 

The choice of a lexical item as a cultural keyword may be determined by various factors, such as frequent occurrence in proverbs, sayings, etc. In fact, a lexical item is justified as a keyword in a given culture if its semantic analysis leads to interesting insights into that culture. It is argued in Stubbs (2001b, 215) that “Repeated patterns show that evaluative meanings are not merely personal and idiosyncratic, but widely shared in a discourse community. A word, phrase or construction may trigger a cultural stereotype.” 

The analysis of the lemma kaimynas showed that in 269 examples the premodification of kaimynas indicated the place of residence. Such examples as daugiabučio kaimynas, buto kaimynas, laiptinės kaimynas, bendrabučio kaimynas, or kambario kaimynas are a direct reflection of everyday reality. In contrast to English speakers, the majority of Lithuanians live in blocks of flats; many live in dormitories or share a room. In addition, it is natural in Lithuanian to refer to a neighbor pointing out his/her place of residence. In this case the lexical item neighbor – kaimynas denotes one of the senses that it can express; i.e., a person who lives next to you or near you. 

Another observation revealing significant differences between the two cultures is the great number of collocations and short phrases related to alcohol abuse in Lithuanian newspaper articles, for example, girtavo pas kaimynę; gramelį išmaukiantys kaimynai; neblaivi kaimynė; kaimynai išgėrė; išgerti mėgusi kaimynė. It is noteworthy that no collocations of this kind have been found in the English corpus. Two explanations for this are possible: either English newspapers pay less attention to social issues than does the Lithuanian press, or there are fewer people in Great Britain who suffer from problems related to alcohol. The English subcorpus, however, demonstrates collocations indicating social problems of another kind, as the items noisy neighbors or antisocial neighbors indicate. 

The collocations with the lexical item neighbor – kaimynas denoting a country may also be culture-specific. The most salient example is the Lithuanian collocation Didysis (didžioji) kaimynas (ė) – it has occurred 42 times. Not a single equivalent of the collocation has been found in the English subcorpus. Every Lithuanian knows that Didysis kaimynas or Didžioji kaimynė is Russia. Similar observations can be made about the English collocation Produce of Neighbors, which is a popular TV soap; it is quite likely that Lithuanians will not be aware of it. To sum up, the analyzed data confirm the statement that collocations are a direct reflection of the material, social, or moral environment in which they occur. 

Semantic and pragmatic meanings encoded in collocations and short phrases 

Members of a culture interpret the world in (approximately) the same way. At the level of phraseology, typical lexis and syntax show how people routinely talk about and evaluate significant areas of their social world. It is often pointed out that not only semantic but also “pragmatic meanings are often conventionally encoded in lexicosyntactic form” (Stubbs 2001a, 440). For example, phrases such as live to a ripe old age or reach a grand old age not only denote that someone has lived to an advanced age. Such phrases also convey the cultural connotation that this is “an achievement to be admired” (Stubbs 2001a, 439). 

The analysis of the data shows that both the English and the Lithuanians value their neighbors’ goodness and friendliness. However, according to the data, the English prefer quiet neighbors, whereas Lithuanians are happy to have watchful neighbors. Both sub-corpora have phrases which imply the desire to get on well with the people who live near or next to them; e.g., Everybody needs good neighbors / Geri santykiai su kaimynais. However, as the Lithuanian saying goes, We can’t choose our neighbors / Negalime pasirinkti kaimynų. It seems that both the English and Lithuanians often have problems in this respect, only the problems differ. If Lithuanians most often suffer from alcoholics, the English most frequently complain about noisy or hostile neighbors, as the examples show: Inconsiderate, noisy neighbors cause distress and suffering; The neighbors are very hostile. Moreover, neighbors are people who may sometimes become violent. Among the English verbal collocations indicating violence, killing and slitting are at the top of the list; similarly, in the Lithuanian corpus, the most frequent collocations indicating violence are nužudė, nušovė, and sužalojo

However, neighbors are not only people who cause trouble or danger. They are people who talk to you. The examples show they are also people who talk about you: A.Kazakauskienė kaimynams sakė, kad tą dieną Juozas…; Apklausti kaimynai sakė…/ Neighbors told a different story. 

In addition, neighbors are people who watch our lives and intervene when necessary. They are people who help us: Į pagalbą moteriai atskubėjo riksmą išgirdusi kaimynė; Medikus iškvietė Slavinskų kaimynai. / Windham went to help a neighbor whose library was on fire. The analysis also revealed an interesting fact – collocations of this kind are more rich and diverse in Lithuanian than in English: A. Mickevičius, sutikęs kaimynę, pasiguodė patekęs į bėdą; … man buvo paliepta nueiti pas kaimynę pasiskolinti keptuvės; … dažnai atbėgdavo pasislėpti pas kaimynę; Jo parnešti pasiuntė kaimyną ...; Pirmagimis Vytelis buvo paliktas pas kaimynę. No equivalents in the English subcorpus have been found for the Lithuanian collocations pasiguodė, pasiskolinti, pasislėpti, and pasiuntė. This may indicate that Lithuanians have a much closer relationship with their neighbors than do the English. 

Finally, Lithuanians much more often speak about their neighbors’ possessions than the English do. Among the most frequent collocations of this type are kaimyno tvora, kaimyno automobilis, kaimyno butas, kaimynų laukai, kaimynų kiemas, or kaimynų garažas. Lithuanians seem to be more interested in their neighbors’ lives than are the English. On the other hand, the English are more concerned about their privacy, as the example Good fences make good neighbors demonstrate. 


1. Different senses of the lexical item neighbor – kaimynas attract different sets of collocations. Thus neighbor – kaimynas denoting a person conveys neutral, positive and negative semantic prosody. In both languages verbal collocations are predominantly negative, whereas modifiers and short phrases are predominantly positive. In the case of neighbor – kaimynas denoting a country, positive semantic prosody prevails in both languages. 

2. A corpus-based analysis of the collocations of the lexical item neighbor – kaimynas has revealed interesting relationships between language and culture: the collocations reflect the material, social, and moral environment in which they occur. 

3. The analysis was instrumental in establishing the most salient cultural patterns. It showed that the semantic structure of the lexical item neighbor – kaimynas exhibits both differences and similarities in the two languages. The English concept of neighbor is often associated with the qualities of being good or bad, noisy or quiet, friendly or hostile; neighbors show inclination to talk to you or about you, cause trouble or danger, or intervene in your life when there is a need for help. In addition to this set of qualities, the Lithuanian subcorpus reveals that the concept of neighbor includes such aspects as a tendency to drink too much alcohol, to solve very personal problems with the help of neighbors, to have very close, even intimate relationships, and to care too much about their neighbor’s possessions.

4. As regards the collocations of the lexical item neighbor denoting a country, English speakers tend to notice the vigor of a neighboring country and they often talk about continental neighbors, whereas Lithuanians are inclined to speak about a neighboring country’s goodness and friendliness, mentioning most often Lithuania’s Eastern and Baltic neighbors. 


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