Urban Voices: The Sociolinguistics, Grammar and Pragmatics of Spoken Russian

by Nicole Richter (Volume editor) Nadine Thielemann (Volume editor)
Edited Collection 260 Pages


The volume Urban Voices presents studies, analysing how speakers of Russian convey social meanings across a variety of speech situations. Rooted in quantitative and qualitative methodological frameworks, the contributions show how various linguistic, paralinguistic and pragmatic means relate to sociolinguistic dimensions (e.g. display the social, ethnic, local identity of a speaker, the institutional character of a communicative situation). The analyses are the results of the research network Urban Voices, which focuses on the sociolinguistics, grammar and pragmatics of spoken Russian and investigates its linguistic and communicative diversity. The contributors are Olga Blinova, Nina Bodganova-Beglarian, Beatrix Kreß, Lenore Grenoble, Peter Kosta, Elena Markasova, Ludger Paschen, Nicole Richter, Christian Sappok, Tatiana Sherstinova and Nadine Thielemann.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Content
  • Introduction and Overview (Nadine Thielemann / Nicole Richter)
  • Sociolinguistics
  • Studying Linguistic Variation and Communicative Diversity from the One Day of Speech-Corpus (Tatiana Sherstinova)
  • Addressing by Voice: Deixis and Design (Christian Sappok)
  • Grammar
  • Constructional Patterns Emerging in Talk-In-Interaction – Some Preliminary Observations on the Grammar of govorit’ in Colloquial Russian (Nadine Thielemann)
  • Побудительные реплики и их компоненты в русском устном диалоге: количественное описание (Imperative Utterances and Their Components in Russian Spoken Dialogue: Quantitative Description) (Olga Blinova)
  • Грамматика речевого доминирования (настоящее время) (A Grammar of Verbal Domination: The Present Tense) (Elena Markasova)
  • Pragmatics
  • Relational Work in Conversation (Beatrix Kress)
  • How Questions Can Affect Replies: Some Insights from Spoken Russian (Nicole Richter)
  • Third Position Repair, Overlaps, and Code-Switching within a Strict Turn-Taking Model (Peter Kosta)
  • О возможных «выходах» из хезитационного поиска в процессе речепорождения (On Options for the Resolution of Hesitation Phenomena in the Process of Speech Production) (Natalia V. Bogdanova-Beglarian)
  • Multimodality and Interactional Grammar in Russian Conversation (Lenore A. Grenoble)
  • On Clicks in Russian Everyday Communication (Ludger Paschen)
  • Series index

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Nadine Thielemann/Nicole Richter

Introduction and Overview

Face-to-face-interaction in the urban space is characterized by a wide spectrum of differentiation. The communicative situation, the composition of the group and social as well as the ethnic background of the speakers varies. All these aspects involve processes and mechanisms of accommodation and separation or othering. Interlocutors employ various linguistic, paralinguistic and pragmatic means in order to convey their social role (e.g., display the social, ethnic, local identity of a speaker, the institutional character of a communicative situation, etc.) which results in the social meaning.

It is this linguistic and communicative diversity characterizing the repertoire of urban Russian dwellers which has been the focus of the scientific network “Urban Voices” funded by the German Research Council (DFG).1 This volume presents the results of research projects which the members of the network – linguists from the State University of Saint Petersburg and several German universities (Hamburg, Greifswald, Potsdam, Hildesheim, Frankfurt/Oder, Bochum, Munich) – have worked on during an intense period of collaboration (2013–2016). The contributions reflect the variety of methods, topics, and approaches in research into spoken Russian within the network. The network members focus on different aspects and rely on different methods, both qualitative and quantitative. The volume thus reflects the design of the network, which was based on methodological triangulation in order to assess both the benefits and the challenges in applying and combining different analytic approaches. The overall nexus is the work with spoken language, including issues concerning the collection and preparation of data reflecting the linguistic and communicative diversity of urban speakers of Russian both in Russia and abroad. An important database formed by long-lasting recordings of a speaker’s communicative day has been provided by the Russian members who started collecting the One day of Speech-corpus in 2007 (ORD, Saint Petersburg) (Sherstinova 2009, Asinovsky et al. 2009).2 A sample ← 7 | 8 → selection from this corpus reflecting the linguistic and communicative diversity formed a basis for the joint work within the network “Urban Voices” in addition to recordings made by the members for the duration of network research activities. In the remainder of this section, we briefly sketch the major research focus of the network, which is also reflected in the structure of the current volume, i.e. the sociolinguistics, grammar and pragmatics of spoken Russian. These three perspectives have been adopted and extensively discussed during three topical workshops, organized in Hildesheim, Frankfurt/Oder, and Potsdam. Prior to this, however, we address the specific database involved in the project.

Research into the linguistic and communicative diversity of spoken Russian is particularly challenging due to the limited availability of data. Edited collections of spoken language data for Russian are scarce and have mostly been prepared for specific purposes (e.g. Zemskaja/Kapanadze 1978, Šalina 2011). Although urban styles and registers, as well as situational or functional variation characterizing urban communication, are covered by some of them (e.g. Šalina 2011, Kirilina 2009, Zemskaja (Ed.) 1984, Šmelev/Zemskaja (eds.) 1984), colloquial Russian i.e. the language from casual face-to-face interaction of well-educated urban dwellers features prominently in the research based on these and similar data (e.g. Zemskaja 1973, 1979, 1983, Lapteva 1976, Mills 1990). Several settings and sociodemographic parameters are missing from almost all of these collections and the analyses based on them e.g. migrants’ communication. Most collections do not offer full access to the audio data and include transcripts which provide only very little information especially when it comes to interactional or paralinguistic features. In order to assess all (or at least as many as possible) potentially relevant parameters and features, an important prerequisite is an access to audio data which allows for the preparation of transcripts adequately reflecting the phenomena of interest. The analyses in this volume meet this desideratum in several ways. They are all based on audio data from the ORD corpus (or a sample selection from it) or on recordings taped by the authors. Peter Kosta, for example, recorded Russian migrants living in the greater Berlin area. They grant access to several sociolinguistically relevant parameters and settings that have been under-researched until now, as well as access to linguistic, paralinguistic and interactional features conveying social meanings (e.g. vocal features, clicks, hesitation markers). Lastly, ← 8 | 9 → they allow for the preparation of transcripts which conform to the demands of the analytical approach taken (e.g. Conversation Analysis, Functional Pragmatics) or when applying analytic methods that require audio data such as phonetic or prosodic analysis with praat.

Overview of the contributions

The contributions reflect the variety of topics and approaches taken by the members of the network which covers a range of social meanings such as gender, situation or dominance and/or cooperation and analysis of how linguistic, paralinguistic and pragmatic resources contribute to their signaling. Contributions are arranged in line with the perspective highlighted – sociolinguistics, grammar, and pragmatics.

Tatiana Sherstinova and Christian Sappok analyze how lexical preferences, as well as vocal features, correlate to social as well as situational parameters based on ORD. Both adopt a sociolinguistic perspective, while Sherstinova builds her argument on quantitative and Sappok on qualitative analysis.

Tatiana Sherstinova’s contribution familiarizes the reader with the structure and organization of the ORD-corpus. She shows how several dimensions of sociolinguistic variation are made accessible in ORD ranging from age, gender and educational background to communicative situation and genre. ORD further provides a solid database for quantitative analysis in the spirit of variationism which is demonstrated in her frequency analyses. She determines the lexical units most frequently used by men and women and correlates these with other sociolinguistic variables (professional and educational background, client – service encounter). Her results are consistent with gender-linguistic findings based on data from other speech communities which often do not rely on such a solid database.

Christian Sappok is interested in voice and variation as a means of adapting to various addressees and communicative situations. Promoting a perceptual approach, he shows how speakers contextualize the mode of communication (e.g. soliloquy, boss-talk) through audible vocal shifts and reveals the tremendous repertoire of voices in merely one speaker. His insights into the adaptive role of voices provide further empirical evidence for Accommodation Theory and Bell’s concept of audience design.

Nadine Thielemann, Olga Blinova, and Elena Markasova deal with linguistic aspects of spoken Russian. Their contributions analyze grammatical features of talk-in-interaction ( i.e. the language from face-to-face interaction) and view them as resources in dealing with recurrent tasks in conversations.

Nadine Thielemann analyzes the patterns emerging with govorit’ (‘to speak’) in ORD, combining Interactional Linguistics and Construction Grammar. She shows ← 9 | 10 → how each constructional pattern serves to highlight a specific participation role. This provides an argument for the grammar of talk-in-interaction being shaped by and tailored to the demands of social interaction. It offers an alternative perspective on register-specific grammar – a perspective that includes pragmatic features in the constructional analysis.

Olga Blinova analyzes imperatives in ORD from a quantitative perspective. She determines the lexemes which most frequently occur in 2nd person imperative forms, their aspectual distribution, the units with which they regularly co-occur and their position in the turn and the sequence. The results of her analysis not only support accounts of aspectual linguistics but also demonstrate how frequent linguistic patterns of spoken language such as slušajte, smotri(te) or podoždi(te) undergo semantic bleaching and acquire discourse-specific pragmatic meanings.

Elena Markasova approaches grammar, more precisely present tense, as a means to shape the interlocutors’ relationship. She provides examples that illustrate how the present tense of particular verba dicendi, mental verbs, and activity verbs impacts the interlocutors’ relationship in a way which either maintains the balance or which is indifferent towards the maintenance of the social equilibrium.

The last section gathers contributions dealing with pragmatic features of Russian face-to-face interaction. They analyze sequential patterns as well as linguistic and paralinguistic means regularly employed by Russian interlocutors to organize their social interaction.

Beatrix Kress discusses several concepts and frameworks for the analysis of the interpersonal dimension of face-to-face interaction including functional pragmatics and linguistic politeness. Using an example from ORD, she uncovers the complex interplay of several linguistic and pragmatic features in the signaling of rapport and other interpersonal meanings in interaction.

Nicole Richter is interested in adjacency pairs of questions and replies. Her analysis shows how specific question formats combine with specifically designed replies and thus facilitate the emergence of particular sequential patterns. Attention is also devoted to the transition between the first and the second part of these adjacency pairs.

Peter Kosta, too, deals with a sequential pattern, namely repair sequences. Using examples from ORD and from his own recordings of Russian-speaking migrants from Berlin and Potsdam, he conducts a fine-grained sequential analysis of the repair mechanisms in Russian including different trouble sources and repair initiators. He shows how migrant speakers of Russian rely on code-switching in their repair sequences. ← 10 | 11 →

Natalia Bogdanova-Beglalrijan is also interested in repair and repair-related phenomena in Russian interaction. Her starting point, however, is not the sequential repair mechanism but the trouble source and the repair initiator which she refers to in terms of hesitation. She identifies the verbal as well as paralinguistic markers employed by Russian interlocutors and in a next step identifies the sequential procedures by which they resolve the interactional problem.

Lenore Grenoble and Ludger Paschen further pursue the line of research into paralinguistic phenomena in Russian face-to-face interaction and thus add massively under-researched aspects to the volume. Lenore Grenoble addresses the role of paralinguistic means such as manual gestures and clicks and analyzes how they contribute to the projection of upcoming units on several levels. Her analyses are based on video data from screened interaction and reveal that the combination of several (linguistic and paralinguistic) resources affects projection at a discourse level, within turns, and across turns. Lastly, Ludger Paschen analyses click and their functions in Russian face-to-face interaction. Though their use displays high inter-speaker variation, his analysis clearly reveals that clicks facilitate the transition at various discursive boundaries. Interlocutors employ them in order to mark a shift of topic or activity and as turn-yielding devices in (competitive) turn-taking. He also finds evidence that clicks occur at moments in which interlocutors accomplish a shift in their interpersonal, affective or attitudinal stance.


Asinovsky, Alexander / Bogdanova, Natalia / Rusakova, Marina / Ryko, Anastasija / Stepanova, Svetlana / Sherstinova, Tatiana: “The ORD Speech Corpus of Russian Everyday Communication “One Speaker’s Day”: Creation Principles and Annotation”. In: Matoušek, Vaclav/Mautner, Pavel (eds.): TSD 2009. LNAI 5729, 2009, pp. 250–257.

Kirilina, Alla V.: “Russkij jazyk v megapolise kak indikator izmenenija jazykovoj situacii”. In: Ždanova, Vladislava (ed.): Russkij jazyk v uslovijach kul’turnoj i jazykovoj polifonii. Sbornik statej. Sagner: München 2009, pp. 75–89.

Lapteva, Ol’ga A.: Russkij razgovornyj sintaksis. Nauka: Moskva [1976] 2007.

Mills, Margret (ed.): Topics in Colloquial Russian. (American University Studies; Series XII, Vol. II). Lang: New York et al. 1990.

Sherstinova, Tatiana: “The Structure of the ORD Speech Corpus of Russian Everyday Communication”. In: Matoušek, Vaclav/Mautner, Pavel (eds.): Text, Speech, and Dialogue. (LNAI; 5729). Springer Heidelberg 2009, pp. 258–265.

Šalina, IirinaV. (ed.): Živaja reč’ ural’skogo goroda: ustnye dialogi i ėpistoljarnye obrazcy. Izdanie ural’skogo universiteta: Ekaterinburg 2011. ← 11 | 12 →

Šmelev, Dmitrij N./Zemskaja, Elena A. (eds.): Raznovidnosti gorodskoj ustnoj reči. Nauka: Moskva 1988.

Thielemann, Nadine/Kosta, Peter (eds.): Approaches to Slavic Interaction. Benjamins: Amsterdam/Philadelphia 2013.

Zemskaja, Elena A.: Russkaja razgovornaja reč’. Lingvističeskij analiz i problemy obučenija. Nauka: Moskva 1973.

Zemskaja, Elena A.: Russkaja razgovornaja reč’. Lingvističeskij analiz i problemy obučenija. Nauka: Moskva 1979.

Zemskaja, Elena A. (ed.): Russkaja razgovornaja reč’. Fonetika. Morfologija. Leksika. Žest. Nauka: Moskva 1983.

Zemskaja, Elena A. (ed.): Gorodskoe prostorečie. Nauka: Moskva 1984.

Zemskaja, Elena A./Kapanadze, Lara A.: Russkaja razgovornaja reč’. Teksty. Nauka: Moskva 1978.

Zemskaja, Elena A./Kitajgorodskaja, Margarita V./Širjaev, Evgenij N.: Russkaja razgovornaja reč’. Nauka: Moskva 1981.

1 All members of the network “Urban Voices – Linguistic and communicative diversity in a face-to-face interaction of Russian-speaking interlocutors in Saint Petersburg and German cities” (DFG TH 1506/2-1) express their gratitude to the German Research Council for the generous funding of their meetings.

2 The first recordings of the ORD corpus were supported by the Russian Foundation for Humanities within the framework of the project “Speech Corpus of Russian Everyday Communication “One Speaker’s Day” (project # 07-04-94515e/Ya). The significant enlargement of the ORD corpus has been funded by the Russian Scienсe Foundation, project # 14-18-02070 “Everyday Russian Language in Different Social Groups”. Currently, further corpus development is supported by the Russian Scienсe Foundation project # 18-18-00242 “Pragmatic markers in Russian everyday speech”.

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Tatiana Sherstinova

Studying Linguistic Variation and Communicative Diversity from the One Day of Speech-Corpus

Abstract: The paper discusses a corpus approach for studying linguistic variation in everyday spoken Russian. The methodology of long-term audio recording used for collecting spoken data for the “One Day of Speech” corpus (the ORD corpus) has made it possible to obtain a representative collection of recordings made by volunteers in natural everyday contexts. At present, the corpus contains more than 1250 hours of audio recordings referring to various communication situations (business communication, family conversations, customer-service communication, educational communication, etc.). Moreover, most of the participants had different social roles in one day of recording, providing valuable material to study variants and styles of spoken Russian. All the recordings gathered from the participants are annotated in detail to facilitate data retrieval from the corpus and their further analysis concerning linguistic, sociolinguistic and pragmatic factors. The paper gives an overview of spoken styles observed in corpus recordings, describes approaches to the study of linguistic variation and communicative diversity based on the corpus, and gives an example of studying lexical variation in speech depending on speaker’s gender and the type of communication.

1. Introduction. The “One Day of Speech” corpus of everyday Russian

The “One Day of Speech” corpus is a 1-million-word linguistic resource of present-day Russian. The corpus is being created with the aim to study spontaneous Russian speech in natural communicative situations (Asinovsky et al. 2009). Individuals-volunteers of both sexes between the ages of 16 to 83 and of different occupations were asked to spend a day with active audio recorders to record all of their verbal interactions. In most cases, the participants made recordings over the course of a single day, which gave rise to the Russian title of the resource “One Day of Speech” (in Russian — “Odin Rechevoy Den’”), which is abbreviated as the ORD corpus.

When recording, participants were asked to go about their day as usual and to do what they ordinarily do (ibid.). They were requested to keep a diary and to complete a sociological questionnaire and several psychological tests. In the journal, each respondent briefly described his/her primary daily events (communication situations) including what he/she was doing, where and with whom. ← 15 | 16 → The participants obtained permission for recording from their interlocutors with whom they engaged in spoken communication and provided information concerning their social role in the given setting, as well as data on their sex, age, social group, profession, etc. A similar method for obtaining long-term recordings had been earlier used for gathering data for the British National Corpus (Burnard 2007) and the JST ESP corpus in Japan (Campbell 2004).

The recordings were made in St. Petersburg in 2007, 2010 and 2014–2015. The last series of recordings was established within the sizeable sociolinguistic project “Everyday Russian language in different social groups” supported by the Russian Science Foundation (Bogdanova-Beglarian et al. 2015). At present, the corpus contains 1250 hours of audio recordings made by 130 respondents (69 men and 61 women). The data refer to various communication situations (business/professional, familial, customer-service related, educational, etc.) and therefore to diverse spoken language styles. The recordings were made at different places — at home, in the offices, in educational institutions, in cafeteria and restaurants, in the car or outdoors, etc. The conversations cover a wide range of topics (e.g., family matters, work and professional issues, hobbies, leisure, politics, medicine, consumer goods, theatre, sports, arts, and many others). In the course of the recording, most of the participants had different social roles, providing valuable material to study variants and registers of spoken Russian.

All recordings gathered from the participants have been annotated in detail to facilitate data retrieval from the corpus and their further linguistic, sociolinguistic and pragmatic analysis. Thus, the ORD corpus has become an unparalleled resource in allowing the study of everyday speech variation and communicative diversity in Russian.

2. Social variables in the ORD corpus

The critical social factors which are usually involved in studying linguistic variation are a social group, ethnicity, age, gender, and style (Romaine 2008).

The questionnaire filled out by all participants is the primary source of data for the sociological description of the ORD corpus (Asinovsky et al. 2009). The survey solicits the following information: 1) gender, 2) age, 3) place of birth, 4) the native language, 5) the other languages spoken by the respondent, 6) qualification (level of education or technical training/certification), 7) current occupation, 8) previous occupation, and 9) places of long-term residence. Two additional questions related to the respondent’s parents, specifically their social background and nationality, were posted. Filling in the latter one is not mandatory. The same questionnaire was completed for all interlocutors who gave their consent for the ← 16 | 17 → recording. A detailed description of the current survey can be found in Baeva (2014).

Let us consider what kind of social variation may be analyzed using the material of the ORD corpus:

Gender variation. In describing ORD recordings, we have distinguished two gender categories: 1) men, and 2) women. From the beginning of work on the corpus, we tried to balance the participants according to this parameter. Unsurprisingly, these two social groups are the most numerous in the corpus.

Age variation. In responding to the sociological questionnaire, each respondent indicated his/her exact age in years. Each participant was then tagged with this number in the database. When conducting research, it is possible to sort the data into different groups, according to the researcher’s aim. For example, there may be two groups —“early adulthood” and “later adulthood” (usually, 18–35 years old, and 36+). There may be three groups — “the young” (18–35), “the middle-aged” (36–59) and “seniors” (60+), and even five groups (18–24, 25–34, 35–44, 45–59, 60+), etc. The borders for the age groups may shift according to researcher’s preferences.

Native language variation. Currently, the vast majority of participants were chosen from individuals whose native language is Russian; therefore, this parameter is not valuable for the corpus data.

Nationality variation. While it was not obligatory to respond to the questionnaire on the subject of the nationality of their parents, the participants usually did. Most of the respondents identified their parents as Russian, though other conventional answers included Tatar, Jewish, Ukrainian, and Belarusian.

Regional variation. With a few exceptions, all recordings were made in St. Petersburg. The corpus is therefore imbalanced regarding regional variation in favor of the St. Petersburg variant of Russian. Many of the participants are native to Petersburg, and many others have been exposed to this variant for long periods of time. However, numerous participants were born in other regions of Russia or/and resided there for a significant part of their lives. This information can be retrieved from two questionnaire items: “Place of birth” and “Places of long-term residence.” We have representatives from various Russian regions (Leningrad region, Moscow, central Russia, Volga region, southern Russia, Eastern and Western Siberia, etc.) and foreign countries that were part of the former USSR (Ukraine, Estonia, Kazakhstan). Some of these internal migrants have been living in St. Petersburg for many — even dozens of — years.

Social group variation is currently regarded through the lens of three critical dimensions: (a) professional groups, (b) educational groups, and (c) status groups. ← 17 | 18 →

Professional group variation. When planning a sociolinguistic extension of the corpus (Bogdanova-Beglarian et al. 2015b), we decided to limit it to the following ten rather large occupational groups, each representing a cluster of professions:

Biographical notes

Nicole Richter (Volume editor) Nadine Thielemann (Volume editor)

Nadine Thielemann is a professor of Slavic linguistics at Vienna University of Economics and Business. She is interested in the linguistics and pragmatics of talk-in-interaction, political discourse and multilingualism at the workplace. Nicole Richter is a professor of Multicultural Communication (Slavonic and English Linguistics) at the European University Viadrina, Frankfurt (Oder) and at Collegium Polonicum, mainly interested in contrastive phonetics and prosody.


Title: Urban Voices: The Sociolinguistics, Grammar and Pragmatics of Spoken Russian