Intonation of Russian Coherent Discourse

Tanya Yanko, Institute of Linguistics of the Russian Academy of Sciences


It is widely recognized that the intonational marker of text incompleteness in many languages is the rising tone. This paper proposes the description of various types of rises in Russian which all maintain text coherence but have different timing, vary in their functions, and follow different principles of sentence accent placement. (The terms accent and tone refer here to sentence intonation; stressed and post-tonic refer to word stress.)

These types of rises are:

- a specific Russian rise on the stressed syllable of the accent-bearer followed by a dramatic fall on the post-tonics (indicated by LH L- in Pierrehumbert's notation adjusted for Russian by Yokoyama (Yokoyama 2001), or LH if the post-tonics are lacking; the corresponding Russian term for this pattern is IK-3);

- a rise on the post-tonics which follows a fall on the stressed syllable HL H-, or a rise within an integral falling-rising tone on the stressed syllable HLH if the post-tonics are lacking (IK-4);

- a rise on the stressed syllable followed by high and long post-tonics LH H- (IK-6).

On the other hand, a fall on the stressed syllable is indicated by HL (IK-1). It does not mark text incompleteness. Here, it marks the accent-bearer of the rheme.

Sentences (1)-(4) instantiate different types of incompleteness. (The accent-bearers are boldfaced, the stressed vowels are capitalized.)

In sentence (1), the marker of incompleteness is the sentence-final verb carrying the rise LH (IK-3). At the same time, the accent-bearer of the rheme, the complement пиджак, carries the fall.

(1)  Я   тогда






The accented verb is a marker of text coherence. It shows that the narrated event is complete and its description draws the narration ahead. The examples are numerous in colloquial speech. If the idea of incompleteness remains unexpressed, the verb has no rise:

(1a) Я тогда






The strategy exemplified by (2) is based on the principle of multiple themes. The non-final sentences of a text function as themes; the final one is the rheme. The accent placement follows the rules for themes/rhemes with the syntactical structure of a sentence.

(2) За  мной  бегала


я от нее  бегу






In sentence (3) incompleteness is expressed by a rise on the sentence-final post-tonics of the accent-bearer of the rheme. The rheme itself carries its ordinary fall. As a result, the falling-rising tone occurs:   

(3) Мы говорим о том, в чем суть взаимоотношений между мужчиной и



HL H-(IK-4)

This strategy is found in prepared speech of educated people.

            Example (4) shows not incompleteness itself but a similar meaning, namely, a process of recollecting the successive events that took place in the past.         

(4) Мы заехали на


на березовую,

погулЯ-Яли там.


LH H-(IK-6)


LH H-(IK-6)

            To conclude, in Russian, incompleteness is indicated by various rising tones and a specific choice of their accent-bearers.

*This work is supported by the Program «History, languages, and literatures of Slavic peoples in the worldwide socio-cultural context» (5.19).