Colloquial Speech

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 It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Colloquial Speech


(1) A term used to designate the oral (unwritten) everyday speech of those who use the literary language. Colloquial speech is studied by using taped and transcribed records of running speech or individual speech features of speakers of the literary language.

The various characteristics of the colloquial speech within the literary language are determined by the spoken language’s lack of preparedness, its spontaneity, linear nature, and principal means of expression (which contribute both to economy and excess). Phonetically, the colloquial speech of the Russian literary language is marked by reduction of unstressed vowels, distortion of stressed vowels, contraction and loss of sounds, and simplification of consonant clusters. Lexically, it is characterized by descriptive and other types of abbreviated naming. Morphologically, there are peculiarities in the way some parts of speech function and the way some forms are built. Syntactically, there are special features in the syntax of the nominative case, the special role of the actual division of a sentence, the presence of special predicative- and nonpredicative-type syntactic models, and special characteristics of the syntactic bond of words and sentences and the sentence boundary itself. An important question is that of the universal features of various literary languages’ colloquial speech and of the typology of the colloquial speech.

The nature of colloquial speech and its place in the literary and national language changes with time. Colloquial speech can be the oral form of the literary language; sometimes this is the only form of the literary language, as with the Greek literary language of Homer’s time. Sometimes colloquial speech is not part of the literary language at all, as with the French literary language of the 16th and 17th centuries. It may interact with the colloquial form of the written literary language, as is the case with the colloquial spoken variant of the modern Russian literary language. With many contemporary national literary languages, colloquial speech represents a style of the literary language. In preliterate periods, colloquial speech practically coincided with a regional dialect or koine. The regional character with respect to the literary language may be lost or preserved. With many languages, a common colloquial spoken norm became the basis for the literary language of a subsequent era. A separate problem concerns the relationship of the learned (knizhnyi) literary language and colloquial speech for new written languages based on a spoken colloquial national language or the chief dialect of a national language; in such cases, the colloquial and learned elements coincide in many respects.

Various national literary languages have different forms of colloquial speech. For example, the Czech literary language has two oral language variants: the colloquial speech of everyday communication (obecná čeština) and the colloquial literary language (hovorová čeština), which is an oral form of the literary language. In regard to the Russian language, E. A. Zemskaia, Iu. M. Skrebnev, and other scholars use the structural properties of colloquial speech as the basis on which to classify colloquial speech as an independent entity, separate from the codified literary language. Other scholars, including O. B. Sirotinina and O. A. Lapteva, regard the colloquial speech form of the literary language as the literary language’s colloquial variant or as a special style. Consideration of colloquial speech as a special style suggests the study of the colloquial language in relation to the functional styles of the literary language, the spoken form of the language of literature, popular speech and regional dialects of the national language, slang, and the dialects of social groups. In a special category is the oratorical style, whose linguistic means of expression derive from both functional styles and colloquial speech.

(2) The conversational speech of those who speak the national language, including dialectal and popular speech, the speech of separate social groups, and individual speech. In the study of speech behavior and the speech differentiation of social, local, age, and occupational groups of speakers of the national language, colloquial speech research borders on the domain of sociolinguistics, dialectology, and psycholinguistics.


Shvedova, N. Iu. Ocherki po sintaksisu russkoi razgovornoi rechi. Moscow, 1960.
Russkaia razgovornaia rech’. Saratov, 1970.
Russkaia razgovornaia rech’. Moscow, 1973.
Lapteva, O. A. Russkii razgovornyi sintaksis. Moscow, 1976.
Ure, J. N. The Theory of Register and Register in Language Teaching. Essex University Press, 1966.
“Problémy běžně mluveného jazyka, zvláště v ruštině.” Slavia, 1973, vol. 17, issue 1.


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