Speech, Artistic

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 It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Speech, Artistic


the linguistic form of expression of the figurative content of verbal artistic works. The artistic expressiveness of an image depends on the symbolic value of the means of speech used by a writer in a specific context. The means of speech may not differ materially from the lexical and grammatical means of popular language or from certain types of dialectal speech, popular speech and jargons, and business and scientific prose that are also possible in artistic speech. Since creativity is to some degree characteristic of any “living” language, the contrast between everyday and artistic speech is revealed only on the level of content application, the deep functioning of language in artistic works.

Typically, the aesthetic (poetic) function of language, which is subordinated to the task of embodying the author’s intention, is used continuously in artistic speech but is encountered only sporadically in other kinds of speech. Thus, artistic speech in minimum texts such as proverbs, sayings, and riddles is distinguished from the reproduction of these texts in ordinary communication, as well as from the figurative quality of certain aphorisms, catch phrases, bons mots, and plays on words. However, it is almost impossible to draw a sharp distinction between artistic speech and oratorical eloquence.

In artistic speech, language functions not only as a means of reflecting extralinguistic reality but also as a subject to be depicted. For example, in drama the characters’ language frequently acquires characterological functions, but even beyond its limits, artistic speech is typified by the active reproduction and transformation of and deliberate influence on the reality of the language. In this respect, artistic speech is manifested even in the methods of organization of available and newly created linguistic elements and in their selection, combination and use. The “increments in meaning” (V. V. Vinogradov) acquired by linguistic elements in the dynamic structure of an artistic text depend on their potential expressiveness in the system of language and on the intratextual relationships assumed by them in the composition and subject of the work. From this point of view, for example, an emphasis is placed on the relationship between rhyming words and, on a strictly semantic level, the relationship between proper nouns and their periphrases.

As a work is composed, all the levels of language must be purposefully combined and subordinated to the writer’s intention. Thus, only relative autonomy should be attributed to such phenomena as syntactic inversions, juxtaposition of contrasting words in vocabulary, transformation of phraseological units, and the use of similes and allegories, metaphors and puns, aural decoration, and paronomasia, as well as the use of meter to enhance meaning. In artistic texts that do not use figures of speech, a stronger emphasis may be placed on the direct meanings of words and the relationship between them, on lexical and other types of repetition, and on the role of intonation, rhyme, and other methods used by the author in creating his characters and images. The examples can be found in the special “tone” of A. S. Pushkin’s poem “I Loved You”; the “inner dialogues” (M. M. Bakhtin) of the heroes in F. M. Dostoevsky’s novels; the special, multilevel significance of the choice of ordinary words and phrases in A. P. Chekhov’s plays and prose; and the opposition of the writer’s speech to that of “another” in A. A. Blok’s works, by means of quotations, first-person narrative, styliza-tion, or inner monologue.

The specific characteristics of artistic speech stem from its subordination to the tasks of spiritual and intellectual mastery of the world. Since the beginning of artistic knowledge, priority has been given to the most complex phenomena of life and society. Artistic knowledge cannot be effected without going beyond the limits of accepted language. In modern times neither the language of science nor a single, fixed literary language has satisfied the requirements of literature, which has needed a broader, freer, and more flexible system of linguistic means. Scholars have such a system in mind when they refer to poetic (artistic) language, as well as artistic speech, as a “special modus of linguistic reality” G. O. Vinokur, Izbr. raboty po rus-skomu iazyku, 1959, p. 256).

From the original, collective art of mythology to the diversity of individualistic forms in modern literary works, artistic speech has developed through an interaction between tradition and innovation. Over the centuries, artistic speech has preserved many figures of speech and has only gradually freed itself of certain anonymous, idiomatic belletristic formulas. Folklore, with its “poetics of identity,” has cultivated conventional epithets, introductions, and other similar devices, whereas the evolution of literature is associated with the increasing role of the individual and the innovative in the functions and structure of certain traditional means of artistic speech. This is particularly evident during transitional periods, when the establishment of a new artistic method is directly associated with extensive, strictly linguistic changes. For example, the development of realism in 19th-century Russian literature was integrally linked with the elimination of a number of compulsory prescriptions and restrictions after the traditional “poetic language” had been transcended. Before realism, the poetic language was a relatively strictly regulated system of means, the use of which was limited, depending on the genre and on the “high” or “low” quality of the subject.

The establishment of the aesthetics of socialist realism in the 20th century was also accompanied by a struggle against arbitrary prohibitions on artistic speech, which were typical of the nonrealist and modernist trends of the late 19th through early 20th centuries. The struggle was directed especially against the antidemocratic narrowness of vocabulary and the intentionally unstable multiplicity of meaning attached to every word by the symbolists, the attempts of some of the futurists to reject the entire artistic experience of the past, and the imaginists’ attempts to create an intrinsically valuable “catalog” of images. The latest pronouncements of Italian hermeticism or of the proponents of the French “new novel,” who demand the creation of the text from fortuitous relationships between words, openly contradict the tendencies toward a more informal contemporary artistic speech.

Significantly, many of the major literary artists in the 20th century are breaking the norms of artistic speech to which they subscribed in group declarations. Contemporary artistic speech is developing primarily on an individual basis, with each writer elaborating the “norm” for his artistic speech. The writer may substantially modify this norm from work to work, but he usually adheres to an essential nucleus of linguistic features that make it possible to recognize his style even in artistic speech. Readers correlate these linguistic features not only with the norms of literary language in general but also with the norms of other writers and with some average, belletristic level of artistic speech. Strongly influenced by colloquial speech, which it subtly transforms, artistic speech frequently overshadows the unique features of a text and therefore demands especially active perception by the reader. In reading the literature of remote periods it is necessary to revive the “sense of a norm” that was natural for its contemporaries but that has since been lost. In other words, it is necessary to realize the “well-founded deviations” from various norms in artistic speech (L. V. Shcherba, “Spornye voprosy russkoi grammatiki,” in the journal Russkii iazyk ν shkole [Russian Language in School], 1939, no. 1, p. 10).

Creative trends and tendencies are identified in terms of the similarities and differences between the individual norms of artistic speech. The totality of the individual norms of artistic speech reflects the entire spectrum of an artistic “world vision” characteristic of a particular society. Therefore some investigators regard the totality of norms for artistic speech as a feature of the concept of a period style. Although this concept is debatable, the historical and typological study of artistic speech is undoubtedly promising. This typological study, which is of interest to the scholarly history of literature as a study of literary forms, is one of the problems of linguistic poetics. Another problem is the elaboration of a theory of artistic speech—a project that faces objective difficulties, including the traditional restriction of the subject matter of linguistics to the framework of the sentence, as well as the complexity of artistic speech, which does not permit the abstractions from the unique that were typical of strictly linguistic approaches to all types of texts. In recent years there has been a noticeable rapprochement between textual linguistics and the aspect of poetics conventionally known as “translinguistics,” which focuses on the analysis of the main fragments of a text and the text as a whole.

Another difficulty confronting linguistic poetics is the necessity of systematizing the very material of artistic speech, especially the word. The preparation of the Dictionary of the Language of Pushkin (1956–61) revealed the extraordinarily labor intensive character of such projects and demonstrated the principal difference between the ordinary linguistic word and the word as a vehicle of figurative content. Therefore, in addition to such fundamental works, word indexes have been published, as well as dozens of simple sets of citations or concordances to the works of writers of various linguistic cultures. Electronic computers have been used in the compilation of most of these works. The rapidly increasing number of concordances and word indexes makes it possible to compare the vocabularies of writers and the functions of different words in a vast number of contexts. The electronic computer is also used to study certain characteristics of metrical speech, but machines are not yet very helpful to philologists in the study of many other features of artistic speech. Only a few works on poetics are overcoming the difficulty posed by the necessity of generalizing the results of analysis conducted not only with respect to individual aspects of artistic speech but also to their interactions and relationships with reality. The relations between form and content in particular contexts and in an entire text can only be fully interpreted in terms of the diversity of form-content relations. One type of relationship between form and content is mastered in poetic language by the “belletrists.” The others are in the process of being assimilated by the “innovators” or are already obsolete and used only by “archaists.”

Among the Soviet and foreign scholars who have made a major contribution to the study of the characteristics of artistic speech and to the determination of a general theoretical outline are A. A. Potebnia, A. N. Veselovskii, B. M. Eikhenbaum, B. V. Tomashevskii, Iu. N. Tynianov, B. I. Iarkho, V. V. Vinogradov, V. M. Zhirmunskii, G. O. Vinokur, M. M. Bakhtin, K. Vossler, L. Spitzer, J. Mukařovský, and R. O. Iakobson.

There are still considerable differences of opinion over the essence of artistic speech and the methods of analyzing it. Of importance in this controversy are various evaluations of the general linguistic dichotomy of “language and speech” (F. de Saussure) and criticism of this dichotomy in modern linguistics. However, these differences of opinion are also associated with differing general aesthetic views of the correlation in artistic works of technology and ideology, as well as with an overesti-mation or underestimation of the “intrinsic laws” of the development of poetic language, tendencies toward “immanent” analysis of artistic speech, and the difficulties of integral, systemic analysis, which entails overcoming the illustrative approach to the specific character of artistic speech (for example, the Society for the Study of Poetic Language [OPOIAZ], the Prague Linguistic Circle, structuralism, and semiotics).

In the USSR groups of scholars in Moscow, Leningrad, Saratov, Tartu, and other cities are studying artistic speech. Abroad, various schools focusing on artistic speech have developed in Poland, Czechoslovakia, the USA (the “new criticism,” for example), France, and the Federal Republic of Germany. Drawing on the entire history of poetics, from Aristotle to recent studies on general rhetoric, which is closely related to poetics, the principal tendencies in the contemporary development of the comprehensive study of artistic speech are directed at creating a theory to synthesize the achievements of literary criticism and study and those of linguistics.


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