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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



the sound structure of artistic speech; also, the branch of poetics that studies this structure.

The phonic material that constitutes the foundation of artistic speech is provided by the given language itself. This material is always limited: for example, in Russian there are only 41 phonemes. Consequently, the occasional repetition of certain sounds takes place naturally in all speech. Artistic speech systematizes these repetitions and uses them for aesthetic effect. In versification, this systematization has been reduced to certain fixed norms, but such systematization has remained relatively unstructured with regard to euphony and sound instrumentation—that is, to phonics in the narrow sense of the term. The focus on the phonic structure of texts has differed in different literatures and in different epochs; for example, this focus has been more marked in Russian poetry of the 20th century than in that of the 19th century. However, attention to phonic structure has always been more marked in poetry than in prose.

The basic element of phonics, or euphony, is the repetition of sounds. There are four bases for such repetition, as follows.

(1) The repetition of sounds may be based on the nature of the sounds. For example, alliteration is the repetition of consonants, and assonance is the repetition of vowels.

(2) The repetition may be based on the number of times a sound is repeated, for example, double or triple repetition (A ... A ... or A ... A ... A ...), on simple or complex repetition (A . . . A . . . or ABC . . . ABC . . .), or on complete or incomplete repetition (ABC . . . ABC . . . or ABC . . . AC . . . BC . . .).

(3) Repetition may also be based on the distribution of the repeated sounds, for example, ABC . . . BCA . . . AC . . . (no terminology has been established for this type of repetition).

(4) Finally, the repetition of sounds may be based on the distribution of the repetitions in words or lines: anaphora (A . . .—A . . .), epiphora (. . . A—. . . A), epanastrophe, or anadiplosis (. . . A—A . . .), epanalepsis (A . . .—. . . A) or combinations of these.

Some of these repetitions may be reduced to a system and may become elements of versification. For example, alliteration combined with anaphora is typical in Germanic and Turkic alliterative verse, and alliteration and assonance combined with epiphora has become a typical feature of rhyme.

There are a number of ways in which repetitions are systematized, as follows.

(1) Repetitions are generally systematized according to the selection of sounds in a text. Repetitions may also be systematized according to the sounds lacking in a text, as in lipograms. Examples are found in Sanskrit poetry and in a number of poems by G. R. Derzhavin that were written without the sound r.

(2) Repetitions may also be systematized according to the distribution of sounds, generally selected for similarity but sometimes for contrast, as in Pushkin’s Pora, pero pokoia prosit, ia deviat’ pesen napisal (“It’s time, my pen pleads for peace, I’ve written nine songs”). Here the central word, deviat’ (“nine”), stands out against a background of alliteration based on the letter P.

(3) Finally, repetitions may be systematized according to identical sounds, for example, alliteration based on p or assonance based on u, or they may be systematized according to similar sounds, for example, alliteration based on labial consonants or assonance based on closed vowels.

Phonic systems derived in these ways combine sound with meaning and may be viewed in different ways, as follows.

(1) Phonic systems may be viewed as systems of onomatopoeia, as in Pushkin’s Znakomym shumom shorokh ikh vershin (“The familiar sound of the rustle of their tops”).

(2) Phonic systems may be viewed as systems of sound symbolism, as in Pushkin’s Brozhu li ia vdol’ ulits shumnykh (“Whether I wander along noisy streets”): studies have proved that the sound u, regardless of the meaning of the word in which it appears, is usually perceived as a dark, somber, and sad sound.

(3) Finally, phonic systems may be viewed as systems of sound associations: according to F. de Saussure’s theory of anagrams, alliterative sounds remind the reader of an existing or nonexisting key word in a text.

The very existence of an interaction of sounds in poetry produces effects that cannot be classified or interpreted. Such interaction enriches the text with inner associations, thus making the text potentially more expressive artistically.


Artiushkov, A. Stikhovedenie: Kachestvennaia fonika russkogo stikha. Moscow, 1927.
Briusov, V. “Zvukopis’ Pushkina.” Izbr. soch., vol. 2. Moscow, 1955.
Brik, O. “Zvukovye povtory.” In the collection Poetika. Petrograd, 1919.
Bernshtein, S. “Opyt analiza ‘slovesnoi instrumentovki.’ “In the collection Poetika, fasc. 5. Leningrad, 1929.
Shengeli, G. Tekhnika stikha. Moscow, 1960.
Goncharov, B. P. Zvukovaia organizatsiia stikha i problemy rifmy. Moscow, 1973.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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