Academic journal article Review of European Studies

Communicative Value of Stylistic Variants in Russian Punctuation: A Guide for English Speakers

Academic journal article Review of European Studies

Communicative Value of Stylistic Variants in Russian Punctuation: A Guide for English Speakers

Article excerpt

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1. Substandard Punctuating and Contextually Conditioned Punctuation Marks in Russian

In general, modern Russian punctuation is regulated by both general rules with a higher degree of stability and situational rules adapted to the functional qualities of a certain type of text. General rules represent a required punctuation minimum. Situational rules are not so rigid; they provide a special informational content and expression of speech. N. S. Valgina explains that these rules cause substandard punctuation variants (Valgina & Svetlysheva, 1993, p. 277).

The functions of punctuation marks that conform to situational rules are the following: logical-semantic (as revealed in different texts but especially in scientific and official ones), emphatic (mainly in official texts, partly in journalistic and artistic ones), expressive and emotional (in artistic and journalistic texts), signal (in advertising texts). Such usage of marks, conformed to the situational rules, is not entirely dictated by a writer`s will, but reflects the general stylistic properties of functionally different texts. Such substandard punctuation is regulated by the nature of texts and exists alongside standard punctuation.

Russian researchers concur that in every period of Russian punctuation system development the functions of marks and conditions of their usage changed. In this sense, the rules always "lag behind" the usage and, therefore, need to be revised from time to time. Changes in the function of punctuation marks are constant; they reflect "the life" of language, in particular, its syntactic structure and stylistic system.

For example, the guides of N. S. Valgina and V. N. Svetlysheva note that in modern Russian media the dash has come to be used increasingly between elements of the asyndetic sentence (in place of the colon), marking an illustration or a reason in the second part, generalizing words before a list of parallel items, etc.:

(1) ...

(2) ...

(3) ...

(4) ...

(5) ...

(6) ...

The authors point to a similar usage of punctuation marks in literary works:

(7) ...

(8) ...

(9) ...

Such deviations from the rules reflect common modern trends in Russian punctuation development and gradually prepare the ground for change or clarification of the punctuation rules formulations. Such punctuation choices are not due to author idiosyncrasy because such cases can be found among different authors in similar grammatical and stylistic conditions of a sentence (Valgina & Svetlysheva, 1993, p. 278).

Punctuation marks could be used according to the specific communicative tasks, and therefore connect with a writer`s personality to a greater degree. Such marks are contextually conditioned and submit to the tasks of the communicative intention of a writer who has the right to choose one or another punctuating depending on the communicative situation, the context. Therefore, different authors can use identical punctuation variants to express the same communicative situation.

But the problem is that the communicative situation itself may be interpreted individually. In this case, the punctuation depends on the context, its regularities in semantic and lexical-grammatical structure. The punctuating of a text depends on its interpretation, but such punctuating may be as consistent with the rules and so do not comply with them.

N. S. Valgina gives the following examples in her guide:

(10) ...

(11) ...

(12) ...

Such punctuation variants are not spelled out in the rules governing how the words and phrases that clarify the meaning of the preceding words are set off by commas but not dashes. In addition, one and the same word can be considered as clarifying or not clarifying, depending on the meaning (Rozental, 2004, p. 125).

In the first and second sentences the authors used the dash, which is traditionally considered to be a "stronger" mark of enclosure than the comma. …

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