Grammar and Pragmatics of Russian Abridged Names

Yelena Belyaeva-Standen, St. Louis University

My paper addresses the issue of the LINGUISTIC STATUS and the pragmatic functions of shortened forms of first names which are created by dropping the unstressed ending from the nickname or its derivatives: i.e. Sasha—Sash, Sashka—Sashk, Sashulja—Sashul', Sashuxa— Sashux. The high frequency of incidents of these name forms in everyday speech constitutes one of the distinctive features of modern Russian. However, the linguistic status of these forms is not yet clearly defined. Some scholars use formal criteria and call them "abbreviated names" (Gerhardt 1994), others refer to them as "vocatives" on the grounds of their function (Zemskaia 1983). I will demonstrate that in addition to their vocative function, theses forms have several other functions; for this reason, I shall use the term "abridged names" (AN), which underscores their short form yet contains no implications about any particular function.

I shall argue that these forms constitute a specific subsystem within the complex system of Russian first names. Unlike other name forms, AN are never used to refer to or name people. The only communicative function of AN is to establish contact while their pragmatic function is to build rapport. This latter, pragmatic, function determines their other characteristics:

ANs are used exclusively in colloquial speech

The pragmatic contexts of ANs are limited to informal settings in face–to–face or telephone interaction of people with close psychological distance

Logically, ANs are isolated from the propositional content of the utterance, therefore, they can be used in any position within the utterance

ANs do not have any other case forms because they do not carry any content–oriented information (Lavrent'ev 2001)

Our data and the analysis of Russian colloquial speech corpora reveals that AN can perform several communicative functions: a) vocative, i.e. attracting attention, b) bonding, i.e. reaffirming involvement and genuine interest in the subject, and c) identificational, i.e. identifying people outside the visual range. Each of these functions is realized in a specific syntactic context and physical setting. For example, the pragmatic function of friendly bonding can be identified in cases when the AN occurs in the final syntactic position of the utterance in intimate communicative settings with close physical proximity between the communicants. The discourse function of the utterances with AN can be either eliciting information or providing a response to a question (1). It can also appear in a request wherein the AN acts as a means of intensifying the speaker's personal involvement in the required action (2).

(1) husband and wife in the living room

A. Ty chaju xochesh?

B. Net eshche, Marin// A ty xochesh? [RRR 158]

(2) A. Lud/ ty ne sdelaesh za menja zakaz?/ Sovsem ja zamotalas'.

B. Mogu.

Ethnographic interviews and a psycholinguistic test of minimal contrastive contexts with different forms of the first name prove that native speakers perceive the use of the abridged names as a means of establishing additional rapport ("in comparison with full names and regular nicknames, abridged names sound more intimate and warm").

The tentative conclusions of this research are:

1. Although relative frequency of occurrence of AN in vocative function is much higher than that of the bonding and identification uses (89%, 8% and 3% accordingly), AN can not be considered as an emerging vocative case in the Russian declension system since it subsists only in a limited group of proper names.

2. AN should be treated as a lexical subsystem of Russian first name forms that differs from other name forms by its unique morphological nature and a specific pragmatic function.