Russian Etiquette Forms In The Aspect Of Modern Lacunology


The article deals with the problem of etiquette units’ interpretation from the point of view of lacunarity theory. The purpose of the article is to explain some features of the etiquette forms in modern Russian language in the aspect of modern lacunology. The main methods used in the study are the traditional methods of description and observation with the subsequent distribution of units by classes, comparative method, method of synchronous analysis, method of diachronic analysis, elements of distributive analysis (mainly contrast distribution) and seminal analysis. Lacunae are known to be motivated cognitively, pragmatically and ethnolinguistically, lacuna is an element of a language system, which reflects the language correlation and consciousness specificity on the synchronic and diachronic levels in this system. The lacunarity theory makes it possible to explain the etiquette units’ dynamics in their synchrony and diachrony. As a result of the study the availability of correlations between the etiquette form dependence on the situation and the type of lacunarity was defined and the dynamics of etiquette formulas by the changes of ethical and linguistic standards was determined. In the sphere of etiquette units’ functioning in the modern communicative situation, various types of lacunae are presented, it is determined both linguistically and extralinguistically. Analysis of the object specifies two types of lacunae: inter - and intra-lingual lacunae. As for the Russian speech etiquette, intra-lingual lacunae are predominant, at the same time the language system naturally tends to get rid of such lacunarity by eliminating lacunae.

Keywords: Etiquette, interlingual lacuna, intralingual lacuna, lacunarity


Lacunarity is determined by the opposition asymmetry of the signifier and signified, that is, a fundamental language feature. Thus, it is not a random phenomenon, but a regular one, determined by the very language essence as a system. Identifying the motivation of lacuna as a phenomenon makes it possible to identify and describe the peculiarities of this or that language system based on the new features as well as to clarify the language coding specifics. In our opinion, understanding the lacuna as a linguistic phenomenon has a significant explanatory power: it clarifies the typological and functional status of the language and the national uniqueness of the linguistic culture as a whole. In modern research, language is considered to be a "system of orienting behavior"; this definition is most suitable for a special language sphere – the field of etiquette forms.

Problem Statement

Lacunology as an explanatory field of modern humanities

The transparent internal form of the general humanities term "lacuna" itself is not able to provide terminological unambiguity in academic discourse. Rather, on the contrary: lacunae are fairly evaluated as a multi-faceted and difficult phenomenon for comprehension, because, on the one hand, lacuna is a real object, and on the other hand, it correlates with the concept of "non – existence", it is a significant absence, a systemic gap. Being applied to a single language system or two or more languages, this concept is modified. As a rule, intra-lingual and inter-lingual lacunae are distinguished, but the latter are not recognized by all the researchers. However, the researchers are much more likely to recognize the validity of identifying both types of lacunae, which are equally determined by systemic essence of natural language (and this point of view is shared in this article).

Since lacunae reflect the incompleteness or, on the contrary, the redundancy of some linguistic culture native speakers’ experience, they can be considered as a special tool which makes it possible to clarify the features of a particular linguistic culture.

Due to these properties, the lacunarity theory postulates have proved to be significant for the research in such areas as translation theory and cross-cultural communication, since the comparison of language systems is mandatory for them, and the ways and means of transmitting the elements of semiotic systems verbalized in one language but representing a zero icon – a lacuna – in another, are relevant. A particular area of linguistic and linguocultural knowledge – lacunology was distinguished on this basis.

This area has already gained popularity, so today there are even textbooks in lacunology for universities. The system term “lacunology” as a field of knowledge is not stable now, it is practically not unified either.

This applies even to the reference terms "lacuna" and "lacunarity", although lacunarity seems to be correlated with the lacuna implementation in a particular system. This interpretation fully corresponds to the principles of creating and using these terms in the Russian linguistic tradition.

In addition, currently, the researchers do not always accurately determine the lacuna status depending on the place of its fixation, although specifying the language system, where lacuna is a fixed gap, is significant when comparing to different languages and fragments of a language worldview reflected in the "cognitive world of the recipient" (Shalifova & Savickaya, 2015, p. 179).

However, while still in its formation, lacunology has already been able to offer the solutions to some of the traditional problems in linguistics. Thus, an acute issue of Anglo-Americanisms in the modern Russian language loses its polemical acuteness, if we take into account that semantic lacunae are eliminated in most cases, which is especially actual in such thematic areas as Economics, Finance, computer technology, etc. (Brusenskaya & Kulikova, 2018).

That is, with this approach, massive lexical borrowing is not a disaster, as it is sometimes defined, but a natural phenomenon.

We believe that some features of the etiquette sphere in the Russian language can be analyzed from the point of view of lacunology. The etiquette sphere is known to reflect the specifics of linguistic culture, so inter-lingual lacunae can be considered as inevitable inconsistencies of the etiquette systems of different languages and it will be relevant (this has always been the subject of interest in linguistics) (Gambier, 2019; Sdobnikov, 2019). This sphere is changeable and dynamic, since it responds sensitively to all the changes in the society life (and this defines an intra-lingual lacunarity). The importance of etiquette in society determines the emotional perception of the etiquette forms’ dynamics by native speakers (Locher & Larina, 2019; Mavrigiannaki, 2020; Tzanne & Sifianou, 2019; Zhao, 2016). This perception, in turn, is determined by the ethical and linguistic standards of a particular period (Brusenskaya et al., 2018).

For example, Chukovsky's description of Kony's emotional reaction to the choice of the "" form when saying goodbye to him: to say that Kony was outraged is almost nothing to say, he was offended by this form of farewell. Then, the form "" has ceased to cause such indignation, but it has got quite certain stylistic, functional and communicative characteristics, its use is quite acceptable, taking into account the status of communicants. There is currently a special model of the units’ formation, etiquette forms, associated with the repetition or doubling the lexemes in the Russian language in general, including the etiquette sphere in particular. In some cases, out of the etiquette sphere, in our opinion, the unit formed according to this model indicates the intensity or maximum of the standard, stereotypical qualities’ manifestation (). In the sphere of etiquette forms, such units act as a marker of either a communicative distance, or a desirable reduction in a time interval, etc. Since such units are not numerous, this property is perceived not by all native speakers. At the same time, most native speakers are aware of the reduced stylistic meaning of this form, but the usage of such units is constantly expanding. For example, the standard form for this class of units, "", has long been actively used even in the speech of TV presenters. Linguists evaluate such units ambiguously: the modification by repetition was evaluated, for example, by Krongauz, as terrible, taking into consideration the colloquial essence of the initial form: "Each time has its own scarecrows" (Krongauz, 2008, pp. 114-115). It is interesting that out-of-use addresses can remain a source of interesting stylistic effects:

Only for a caricature of Elena Malysheva, Galkin should be addressed as "Your Excellency", and he has not two or a dozen such finds (Kushanashvili "Not one").

Lacunology is a broad area related to all the language levels, to the problem of speech influence and comprehension in the process of communication, to the problems of cultural determination of the language phenomena. It is reasonable to extend its problems to such a specific area as etiquette with its national uniqueness, cultural specificity and "culture-bearing" function.

Research Questions

There is a problem of describing traditional objects in conditions of a modern communicative situation, taking into consideration the language systems’ dynamism in modern linguistics. Dynamism is known to be an obligatory property of any language system, but its individual elements have this property to varying degrees. It is necessary to determine the status of such elements in the language system as, for example, speech etiquette, taking into account the dynamism rate and complex analysis in terms of emerging approaches to their research, in particular, the lacunae theory. Thus, the generalized research question is, first, in determining the ratio of universality and nationality / specificity of speech etiquette as a communicative phenomenon, taking into account the intercultural communication sphere expansion; second, in the formation of lacunarity as a speech etiquette characteristic; third, in identifying the presence of etiquette units’ correlations and various types of lacunae; fourth, in clarifying the ways to overcome speech etiquette lacunarity.

Purpose of the Study

The purpose of this article is to explain some features of the etiquette forms in the modern Russian language in the aspect of modern lacunology.

Research Methods

The choice of methods is determined by the specifics of the research object and the research subject. That predetermined the use of a set of traditional linguistics methods. Thus, the main methods used in the study are: traditional methods of description and observation with subsequent units’ distribution by classes, comparative method, synchronous analysis method, diachronic analysis method, elements of distributive analysis (mainly contrast distribution) and component analysis


The problem of eliminating lacunae and lacune etiquette forms.

Lacunae, as some gaps, empty spaces in the language system, need filling (compensation, de-lacunization, elimination (from Latin verb - to exclude, eliminate). The massive penetration of Anglo-Americanisms into Russian and other European languages in most cases turns out to be the elimination of semantic and pragmatic lacunae, which means that it is a positive process. Elimination of intra-lingual lacunae occurs (although, of course, with a lower degree of intensity) in the field of grammatical forms. Textual or discursive paradigms’ extensions, the "author’s" neologisms and occasionalisms should not be considered as the only means of lacunae eliminations.

Text deviation (if it is really an eliminated lacuna that fills the system cell and is in demand in this form) quickly becomes usual in modern discourses.

For example, for obvious extralinguistic reasons, the plural form of the noun has become usual in the last decade (Zakharova, 2016, pp. 33-35). The transitivity of the form has become common (). The verb form transitivity has become usual (). That was considered to be wholly a speech phenomenon in a reduced register of communication, but now can be qualified as a systemic phenomenon, at the same time reflecting the very important transition zone expansion for the Russian grammar process (Epshtejn, 2016).

The change of the form status can be obvious in the example of the newspaper headline “Has gone or has been gone?” (Arguments and Facts on Don, 2020, No.25), which is correctly understood even without the subtitle.

Formally, the title contains a grammatical antithesis in number, but a reader will never associate this with the opposition of one and many subjects of the action. The reader will easily guess that there is a contrast between transitive and intransitive verbs, and in transitive meaning the form is an eliminated grammatical lacuna. That is, the eliminated gaps, being permanently reproducible, have different degree of demand, but, in any case, they actively participate in the objective reality conceptualization.

So, lacunae elimination is caused by the need to overcome the obstacles to successful communication, which is also relevant for the etiquette sphere. Etiquette is based on the axiological scale of linguoculture, which includes universal and nationally specific elements (Shaklein & Mamontov, 2019). Perhaps that is why some of the etiquette units retain a transparent internal form for a long time (, etc.). This property determines the functional and communicative potential of such units, the degree of freedom to choose them in a specific communicative situation.

Many etiquette formulas coincide in different languages. Thus, indirect speech acts are considered to be the most acceptable for expressing a request or wish, rather than the imperative mood forms, since interrogative structures are aimed at actualizing the addressee’s feelings and units with modal semantics actualize the ideas about the possibility / impossibility, necessity or obligation for the addressee to perform any specific action. According to the researchers, "imperative mood in indirect form transfers its impact to the world of knowledge and feelings of the listener" (Bogdanova, 2016, p. 181).

A common feature of etiquette forms is their indissoluble connection with paralinguistics. Not without reason the Complete encyclopedia of etiquette (Yuzhin, 2007, p. 134) contains this advice: smile before answering the phone, because: "you can hear the smile on the phone!". Thus, a smile is a specific communicative sign: it is not only visible, but it is also audible.

Iconicity is a universal obligatory feature of etiquette formulas, since it marks the communicative distance and status of the interlocutors. It is possible to speak of a certain dependence: the greater the difference in status, and therefore in the communicative distance, the more voluminous the chosen etiquette formulas. Iconicity is also manifested in the ability to mark the degree of significance for the sender and/or recipient the fact, indicated by the communicative act, phenomenon, property with an etiquette formula. The higher the degree of significance, the larger and longer the etiquette formula, the more complex it is as a culture code sign.

Thus, in official communication, structurally and semantically complex etiquette formulas can be consistently chosen, etc.

In other words, the iconicity of signs as subcode units is essential in such a system as speech etiquette. Possessing universal elements, speech etiquette has a system of nationally specific units, which makes it possible to consider interlingual lacunae as a special type. As one of the ways to mitigate imperative mood in Russian speech etiquette, the forms of the 1st person verbs plural, which lose the semantics of a joint action, are used. According to Bogdanova, the form used by the sender makes it possible to significantly reduce the communicative pressure on the recipient. Such etiquette forms have national specificity and reflect the system of representations fixed in the Russian linguistic culture. For the Russian speech etiquette as a system, it is important to choose the specific form of the verb, the aspect category is able to pragmatically actualize the etiquette forms. Such differences represent an interlingual lacuna in comparison with the languages that do not have aspect category. Thus, for example, the choice of the perfect or imperfect aspect verb form in a situation of hierarchical / non-hierarchical communication can update the familiarity degree between the interlocutors, their status, and the degree of desirability/ undesirability of this action for the sender. In addition, in our opinion, a special etiquette sign is the form "we will call you" or "you will get a call", which is an etiquette-based formula for polite refusal, euphemistic in its essence. Such forms are also reflected in media and literary texts (Belyak, 2018; Cavaliere, 2018), which indirectly proves the systemic essence of such phenomena.

The nationally marked elements of speech etiquette include various etiquette forms of address. The dominant element in the politeness category implementation is the nomination of the recipient, "... in the address the whole previous personal experience and its social, intersubjective interpretation merge as some socio-psychological construct " (Makarov, 2003, p. 214). In Russian communication, the inclusion of the full name or the first and patronymic name in the greeting formula serves as a means of strengthening the category of politeness. The choice of a stereotypical neutral etiquette formula "Hello" without including the first and patronymic name or the first name in it, can be both situationally justified, for example, at acquaintance and additionally semantically complicated in communication between the familiar people. Depending on the relationship between the communicants, the same etiquette formula "Hello" (the difference between the imperative mood verbs forms in singular or plural is significant in Russian), can be considered as normatively polite form or as an indicator of situational reducing in politeness from the point of view of one or all the communicants.

Russian linguoculture is characterized by a syncretic lacuna – a neutral address to an unknown person. This lacuna is syncretic because it combines the features of inter-and intralingual lacunarity. For the modern communicative situation in Russian linguoculture, there is no typical polite form of address neutral in terms of style and semantics. The researchers’ opinion about the fixation of the address "comrade" in the system of etiquette seems to be insufficiently reasoned (Yuzhin, 2007).

We believe that even 13 years ago this was partially true, but today hardly anyone will agree that the address "comrade" "has no tendency to disappear": it has disappeared completely, today it is a pure archaism.

The address "", cannot be observed for the reason it is not popular. (Khazagerov, 2018) notes that it is unacceptable for the people with a low social status (). That is, "the transition from “comrade” to "" is not as short and simple as it seemed at first" (Novikov "Forty-two meetings with the Russian speech").

From the point of view of Lobanov, this address is not ironic, it does not create a comic effect, but demonstrates the gradual formation of new communicative principles, the change of hierarchical communication to non-hierarchical one in introduction of the address "" into common usage, regardless of the original social status. In his opinion, the use of this status address indicating the professional status of a communicant will help to neutralize social, or rather even social-class differences in status, and communication of equal persons will be formed – the communication of " and ..." (Lobanov, 2013, p. 108). It is necessary to form a certain extra-linguistic base for such changes, and etiquette dynamics will be directly determined by the positive changes in the socio-economic sphere.

But now with the lack of generally accepted standard, the elimination of this lacuna using address on sex – male, female – can even be a trigger to a conflict. Tokareva in the story "Late love" described the real episode: in the central clinical hospital the surgeon used the sex- determined address– "male" to a world-famous writer Vladimir Voinovich. Voinovich’s wife was outraged and told the doctor in chief that "it is disgusting to be in a clinic where a well-deserved person is treated without any respect, like in a queue for vodka." Voinovich left this hospital. As Tokareva writes, Voinovich's wife could stand disrespect for herself, but not for her husband. So the clinic lost a famous patient and a lot of money.

Some researchers, in particular Zhukova (2007, p. 185), note that such an address is regionally determined, "South Russian ones", but these forms used as etiquette ones are intralingual lacunae, are commonly used, and therefore they are characteristic of the language system.

This is the most natural elimination of the existing lacuna, which, however, is unacceptable as a polite address (Guinda, 2018), because sex is brought to the fore of all the parameters of a person, it is both unethical and does not meet the political correctness standards’ requirements.

Krongauz (2003, p. 8), wrote that linguistic phenomena can be negatively evaluated by native speakers, but they are the scientifically significant and interesting empirical material for linguists-researchers.

Indeed, intralingual lacunae in the sphere of etiquette addresses and various attempts to eliminate it have been observed for several decades. Thus, a well-known doctor and politician Svyatoslav Fedorov proposed the restored etiquette form "" as an official address on the territory of the Russian Federation, which in accordance with the ethical and linguistic standard should be thematically and stylistically regarded as neutral forms. To indirectly popularize such an address, the word "S" was even chosen as a title of a TV program in the genre of political talk-show, which was hosted by S. Fedorov himself. Similar proposals were received from other famous people, but as modern speech practice shows, such an address has not become popular, moreover, it is not perceived as a neutral form, possessing the signs of either stylization or irony.

In the "Literary newspaper "(2017, No.11) there was an article with the title "Let's become sudars!". After the usual complaints about the lack of such a neutral generally accepted address as Polish or German, and absolutely fair indications that the choice of typical address with we-forms in a standard communication situation "transport" without a corresponding status address may be regarded as insufficiently polite, even humiliating for the interlocutor, the author calls for the directive introduction of "" in the sphere of official addresses. For the first time, the quoted author believes, some artificiality, awkwardness will be felt, but then it will be got accustomed to like,,The instead of, restored in the active reserve of the language and irritated before, became usual, although at first it was a little strange to be pronounced.

However, these analogies are unlikely to be quite correct: the emergence of new authorities, the renaming of institutions and positions is fixed by the relevant directives, and native speakers have no choice but to use the new nominations. Another thing is the addresses fixed in society in other ways. In the same article from “Literary Newspaper” the author made an attempt to discuss the principles of introducing such addresses: whether this process should be regulated by legal acts or, as often happens in the speech / language system, such address should become common, and whether the intellectuals can initiate the regularity and particular use of such units.

But, at first the intellectuals should feel the advantage of this address, but in reality, this process has not been implemented so far.

At the time, the introduction of the address "" did not require any special regulations, since it reflected a new ideology, it was a sign of new relations between people. Of course, it would be good to have at least a universal address not burdened with any unnecessary connotations, but only the society development itself should lead to this. But now, in accordance with the linguo-ecological principles, as a part of ethical and linguistic standards, the use of the etiquette forms like "" is defined as a normative refuse to explicate a direct status address, since the choice of available forms is difficult.

All the address forms existing in the system of Russian speech etiquette are marked stylistically, as a rule, stylistically reduced, even colloquial. Thus, almost the only way to observe ethical and linguistic standards addressing to an unfamiliar interlocutor in any communicative situation is the choice of the apologizing formula, used in the meaning of neutral address.


Thus, the dynamics of etiquette forms, determined extralinguistically and linguistically, is determined by the changes in the system of ethical and linguistic standards, as well as availability / absence of various lacunae types. First of all, intralingual lacunarity determines the dynamics of the forms already fixed in a certain speech etiquette, and interlingual lacunarity determines the etiquette forms’ broadcasting processes. This process can be bi-directional: a particular system of speech etiquette can act as a recipient or etiquette forms’ donor. Lacunarity is more typical for the Russian language than for many European languages, in particular, English, probably due to the development continuity of the latter. Difficulties in eliminating the obvious etiquette lacuna, which not only makes communication complicated, but can become a source of speech conflict, give a reason to conclude that etiquette units and their functional and communicative potential are determined cognitively, pragmatically, and ethnolinguistically. In the future, it is important to clarify the correlations of etiquette forms and lacunae types in homogeneous and heterogeneous language systems.


The reported study was funded by RFBR according to the research project № 19-012-00016.


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Kulikova, E. G. (2021). Russian Etiquette Forms In The Aspect Of Modern Lacunology. In V. M. Shaklein (Ed.), The Russian Language in Modern Scientific and Educational Environment, vol 115. European Proceedings of Social and Behavioural Sciences (pp. 383-392). European Publisher.