Russian Formal Style as a Cognitive Category

Igor Pustovoit, Hofstra University

Viewing language as an integral part of human cognition inevitably leads to re–evaluation of traditional categories used in stylistics. Categories like metaphor and metonymy, not long ago viewed primarily as tropes, have recently become valuable tools in describing human categorization. This calls for re–visitation of the notion of style itself. It was argued earlier (Pustovoit 2000) that traditional classifications of Russian styles must be replaced by a trilateral scheme Formal–Informal–Literary. That allows one to incorporate a broad range of linguistic units and phenomena in research that attempts to reconstruct human motivations instead of limiting stylistic analysis to lexical markedness and genres attributed to the traditional styles. By starting to look beyond vocabulary one may discover that communicating with an academic advisor is not that different from communicating with a dormitory superintendent, since both types share a number of features characteristic to formal style.

This paper focuses on the Russian Formal style as a unifying term for a series of linguistic and extralinguistic features serving the purpose of expressing formality. The concept of formality, without doubt, suggests more than merely a set of linguistic devices. In addition, formality clearly affects individual's behavioral patterns. A phrase he was very formal characterizes more than just the language spoken during the encounter. The concept of formality also has certain culturally specific aspects, such as attitudes towards acceptability of smiling in a formal situation. However, the linguistic aspects of formality are of primary interest to this paper.

It will be shown that on the lexical level, Russian Formal style tends to use words in their basic, propositional meaning. As a corollary, it is a fact that metaphoric transfers are essentially eliminated from the formal discourse. I will also touch upon the issue of stylistic neutrality. One's understanding of formality affects the selection of morphological, derivational, and syntactic devices. So–called syntactic formality, which incorporates restrictions on word order, sentence type, and optional syntactic movement, is pivotal to understanding how formality is manifested linguistically.

In terms of practical application, the concept of formality can help us to re–define approaches to teaching Business Russian in particular, and Russian stylistics in general.