Intonational Correlates of Cognitive States and Procedures in Russian

Tatyana Yanko, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow

It is widely recognized that speech act types and their typical intonation patterns have a cognitive basis (Givon 1984, Sadock & Zwicky 1985, Lakoff 1987, Groenum 1992). This paper argues that in addition to standard speech act types there are non-neutral subtypes of declaratives in Russian that express specific cognitive states and procedures: recollecting, reasoning, dreaming, mental search. Sentences (1)-(5) exemplify some operations of this kind.

A specific pattern found in Russian is used in particular to describe visions of the future or of the past, which are mirrored in the mind of the speaker. Consider the neutral (basic) sentence (1) and the non-neutral sentence (2). I employ here Pierrehumbert’s notation for indicating pitch accents adjusted for Russian by Yokoyama 2001.

(1)     Napadajuščij          vyšel     na         ploščadku
         ‘The forward          came    in          the playing-field’
         LH L-                                            HL- L%
(2)     Vyšel napadajuščij  na         ploščadku
         ‘Came the forward in          the playing-field’
         LH H-                                            HL- L%

Sentences (1) and (2) differ not only in their intonational patterns but in their word order as well. Sentence (2) exemplifies a specific verb-initial sentence type where a verb is not a topic but a fragment of a split focus (Kovtunova 1976), while the topic NAPADAJUŠČIJ ‘forward’ is withdrawn to the second position after the verb. The evidence that the verb in (2) is not the topic is provided by the fact that the verb cannot accept a specific - “topical” – tonal sequence LH L-, at least if the semantics of sentence (2) are to be preserved. This - “topical” – tonal sequence is characterized by a rise on the stressed syllable of the accent-bearer followed by a fall in the post-tonic syllables. Meanwhile, in sentence (2) the post-tonic syllables are pronounced with almost the same fundamental frequency that has been attained by the rise occurred in the first stressed syllable. By contrast, a sentence-initial word in sentence (1) is a topic and it carries “topical” tonal sequence LH L-. Thus, the opposition LH L- vs. LH H- is phonologically relevant for Russian (Bryzgunova 1980). The specific feature of sentence (2) is that it produces an impression that a situation, which is in fact holding out of the hearer’s view, is taking place before his/her eyes. At the same time, sentence (2) is completely inconsistent with reporting on current events taking place in real time. If a sports journalist employs sentence (2) it means that the event took place yesterday and the speaker is recollecting how it was going on. In reporting on current events only sentence (1) can be used. The specific linear-intonational structure of sentence (2) is also used in describing dreams about the future:

(3)     Pojedu                   ja         zavtra               na         daču
         ‘Will go                  I           tomorrow         to         the summer-house’
         LH H-                                                                    HL- L%          

Thus, verb-initial sentences with an initial rise followed by a level tone in the post-tonic syllables express the cognitive state of dreaming or recollecting. This sentence type is widely employed in spoken Russian in reciting fairy tales, jokes, funny stories, and in recollections.

Another intonational type expresses cognitive procedures that are conceived of as demanding a certain considerable amount of time: running back over the past, mental search accompanied by a feeling of uncertainty or deliberation. The sentence starts low; then there comes a considerable rise on the accent-bearer accompanied by the lengthening of a respective vowel. The subsequent post-tonic syllables up to the end of a sentence are very high, level, and slow. The choice of the accent-bearer is subject to certain rules, whose description demands more space than an abstract allows for. Consider sentence (4), which conveys the process of recollecting an event distant in time from the moment of speech:

(4)     Rodi-iteli    sobralis′,           vse       znako-omyje    tam.
         ‘Parents      gathered,          all         acquaintances   there’
         LH H-        H%                  LH       H-                    H%

The last sentence type to be touched upon here is represented by the so called thetic sentences (according to the terminology of Mathesius) which could as well be called sentences about the causes of events or the reasons for logical inference: the intonational structure substitutes here the absence of the conjunction POTOMU ČTO ‘because’. (Intonational parameters and the choice of accent-bearers in thetic sentences are to be discussed).

(5)           <Ne                 šumi.>    Babuška           spit.
              ‘<Do not make noise.>    Grandmother is sleeping’ 

To conclude, intonation together with the order of constituents and the choice of accent-bearers is a powerful linguistic means to represent cognitive processes as they are conceived of in language.

* This work has been supported by the Russian Scientific foundation for the humanities (02-04-00065) and the Presidium of the Russian Academy of Sciences (program 5.19).