Speech discourse of characters in military prose of the second half of XX-th century

Table of contents: The Kazakh-American Free University Academic Journal №3 - 2011

Author: Zaginaiko Olga, Kazakh National Pedagogical University in honor of Abai, Kazakhstan

The concept of "discourse" is widely used in speech behavior and is studied not only in linguistics, but also in literary criticism. In literary work the speech portrait of the character is defined not only by the individuality of the image, but also by the subject of the work. In military plots, the speech of the character depends on current events and it is mainly informative and emotional.

A speech event is a basic unit of speech communication which is completed with its own form, structure and borders. A speech event is developed from what is told, informed (verbal speech), and what it is accompanied by (mimicry, gestures), and also conditions in which a dialogue takes place.

A speech event is revealed through a dialogue. A dialogue transfers live speech in the military prose. It is formed upon exchange of statements and remarks. An important role is played by the length of dialogues. There can be dialogues-remarks consisting of one-two phrases, minidialogues including five-six remarks, and extended dialogues. Dialogues can be informal and ritually strict. Remarks having both sense and emotional shades are important. Therefore in the military prose a great attention is given to how interlocutors speak, how the author specifies lamprophony, pitch, tone, tempo of voice the speech of characters.

Any speech is accompanied by gestures and mimicry (7). Therefore a verbal dialogue includes «a paraverbal dialogue» which «besides words equally and actively involves gestures, mimicry, intonation continually challenging their direct meanings, involving them in inconsistent contexts or polemizing with them» (3, p. 20). Hence, speech discourse includes verbal and paraverbal dialogues.

The purpose of this article is to study speech discourse of the characters in three literary works devoted to Battle of Moscow of 1941: B. Momyshuly's story (Б. Момышулы) «Moscow’s behind us. The officer’s diary» («За нами Москва. Записки офицера») (published in 1958), A. Bek’s (А. Бек) book «Volokolamsk Highway» («Волоколамское шоссе») (1960) and K. Vorobyov's (К. Воробьев) story «Killed at Moscow» («Убиты под Москвой») (published in 1963).

We will give some brief information about the authors. A Russian writer Alexander Bek (1902-1972) became a war correspondent when the Great Patriotic War started. He spent first several months in the army which defended Moscow and Moscow outskirts. The book «Volokolamsk Highway» was planned to be written in 1942 as a series of four novelettes. The main protagonist telling the story is Baurzhan Momyshuly. Baurzhan Momyshuly (1910-1982) is an officer of the Second World War, the Hero of the Soviet Union, soldier of Panfilov’s Rifle Division, participant of the Battle of Moscow and a Kazakh writer. For bravery and heroism in the Battle of Moscow captain Baurzhan Momyshuly was nominated for the Hero of the Soviet Union award, but the decoration was awarded posthumously (in 1990). Baurzhan Momyshuly is a founder of military fiction genre in Kazakh literature. Konstantin Dmitrievich Vorobyov (1919-1975) is a Russian prose writer, the author of novelettes and stories about war. In December 1941 contused lieutenant Vorobyov fell prisoner and was in Klinsky, Rzhev, Smolensk,Kaunas, Salaspilssky, Shaulyask prisoner-of-war camps from 1941 to 1943. He escaped from a prisoner-of-war camp twice. In 1943-1944 he was the commander of a guerrilla group. He was awarded with a «Guerrilla of Patriotic War» medal of the 1st degree.

A. Bek’s and B. Momyshuly's books tell about the legendary Panfilov division which battled in Volokolamsk direction near Moscow in 1941, stopped fascists and went onto the counter offensive. Bauyrzhan Momyshuly participated in battles since September, 1941 and was a member of a division commanded by major general I. Panfilov. During the second major attack of Wehrmacht at Moscow from November, 16th till November 18th, 1941 the battalion directed by B. Momyshuly separately from the division heroically battled on Volokolamsk highway at village Matronino near Moscow. The skillful management of the battalion commander allowed detaining fascists for three days on the given boundary. Then the senior lieutenant B. Momyshuly and his troops broke out of encirclement.

As B. Momyshuly is the character of two literary works we will consider how his image in a speech discourse of the novel and notes of the officer are revealed. In B. Momyshuly's story «Moscow’s behind us» there are three types of dialogues: dialogues with general Panfilov, dialogues with fellow soldiers and dialogues with juniors. These dialogues can be issued as direct speech or indirect speech with reflection elements.

Let's examine a scene of Momyshuly’s meeting with Panfilov in the city of Volokolamsk. This fragment is in the beginning of the work and becomes a rising action of the subsequent plot and relations of two main characters. The sent aide-de-camp reports that general Panfilov wants to see the senior lieutenant B. Momyshuly. «Пройдя через сени, я открыл указанную адъютантом низкую дверь. Переступив порог, я было вытянулся, чтобы по форме доложить, но генерал Панфилов не дал и рта раскрыть. Он быстрым движением шагнул мне навстречу, взял мою руку обеими руками и, тепло, по-отечески пожимая ее, знакомым тихим голосом сказал» (4, p.211-212).

Further there is Panfilov's direct speech the meaning of which can be understood from the following remarks «- Садитесь, товарищ Момышулы. Чаю не хотите?» (« - Sit down, companion Momyshuly. Would you like some tea?»); «- Много людей потеряли?» («- Have you lost many people?»). Bauyrzhan Momyshuly answers questions of the general, reports about losses. The general gives encouraging remarks «- Ну, рассказывайте, рассказывайте» («- Well, go on, go on») and thus makes a junior soldier have a confidential, frank dialogue about a role of « commander’s authority» and responsibility of the commander to his subordinates. 

The dialogue is four pages long, separate fragments are presented in the form of indirect speech «я кратко доложил ему» («I have reported briefly»), «я рассказал ему» («I have told him»), «я устыдился своих резких слов» («I was ashamed of the sharp words»). The story-teller keeps remarks of the general, and makes his own speech partly indirect. The speech portrait of the general is supplemented with nonverbal components «his lips were spread in a sly smile», «the general answered in a sad voice», «the general frowned discontentedly». The paralinguistic comment promotes the image of general Panfilov as a wise instructor, "aksakal", «the father of his soldiers».

There are no single dialogues-remarks in «Volokolamsk highway». Practically, the words said by the main character are always heard and have answers. In each chapter there are dialogues of average length, often the dialogues between the battalion commander and the soldiers finishing with monologue-lecture or edification. The longest dialogues are the ones between Momyshul and general Panfilov where the senior lieutenant acts in a role of the listening interlocutor. In dialogues with soldiers Momyshuly takes a position of the commander, the leader and the instructor who communicates Panfilov's tactics.

The speech intention and subjects of dialogues between the characters in the works «Moscow’s behind us» and «Volokolamsk highway» represent classical rhetorical scheme and allow to distinguish distinguishing five types of a discourse. The paramount problem is to inform the interlocutor, hence an informing type of a discourse, further to state and prove an opinion, to convince – a reasoning discourse. One of the major problems of military rhetoric is to rouse to action which is an agitating discourse. And Momyshuly’s favorite speech reception is to discuss a problem with the interlocutor, to find right tactics together which is a heuristic type of a discourse. For example, in the first story, in the first chapter «Не умирать, а жить» («Live, not die») B. Momyshuly participates in an educational conversation a political leader Dordiya has with the first company. Dordiya tells the truth that the enemy threatens Moscow, the motherland demands from soldiers not to let the enemy occupy the place and to die if it is necessary. But soldiers do not listen to him. Then the battalion commander starts to talk to soldiers about motherland. Putting elaborative questions, he gradually brings them to the idea that «Родина – это ты! Убей того, кто хочет убить тебя!» («Motherland is you! Kill the one who wants to kill you!»), «Я, ваш командир, хочу исполнить веление наших жен и матерей, веление нашего народа. Хочу вести в бой не умирать, а жить!» («I am your commander and I want to execute command of our wives and mothers, command of our people. I want to commit to battle not to die, but to live!») (1, p.14-15).

Momyshuly is said to be a brave, but severe commander punishing on a place of crime. His speech often includes words which do not suppose any further discussions, contain certain estimation (praise or censure). This speech behavior is defined as an epideictic discourse. Here is a sample of such discourse: «Я показал за реку. Голова Брудного дернулась, словно он хотел посмотреть назад, куда указывала моя рука. Но он сдержал это движение, он продолжал стоять передо мною "смирно".

- Но там, товарищ комбат... - хрипловато выговорил он.- Да, там немцы! Иди к ним! Служи им, если хочешь! Или убивай их! Я не приказывал тебе явиться сюда. Мне не нужен беглец! Иди!- Со взводом? - неуверенно спросил Брудный.- Нет. У взвода будет другой командир! Иди один!» (1, p.65).In the text of the book there is a conditional dialogue of story-teller Momyshuly with the reader. Usually such form of dialogue appears during the moments of internal doubts, reflections. Momyshuly addresses the reader and at the same time has a dialogue with himself, i.e. a dialogue of bilateral action «Быть может, и вам представляется, что командир батальона - особенно в такой момент, накануне боя, - обязан что-то делать: разговаривать по телефону, вызывать подчиненных, ходить по рубежу, отдавать распоряжения» (1, p. 45); «Можете не сомневаться: я, наверное, не менее остро, чем вы, чувствую, что такое социалистическая Родина, что такое страна, которую мы защищаем, в которой мы живем» (1, p. 46).Forms of the main character’s speech introduction in the text are traditional enough: the story-teller says about himself «я сказал» («I have said »), «я доложил» («I have reported»), «я спросил» («I have asked»), «я проговорил» («I have spoken»). But speech of interlocutors is often accompanied by mentioning voice force, timbre, tone of speech, gestures and mimicry. «Вскочив, он (Заев) вытянулся, отдал честь и неожиданно гаркнул:- Встать! Смирно! Господа офицеры!Я проговорил:- Ну, Заев, отмочил... Хоть стой, хоть падай...» (1, p.133).

The speech of general Panfilov abounds with such characteristics: «раздумчиво сказал Панфилов» («Panfilov has said meditatively»); «как это было ему свойственно, он говорил, будто размышляя вслух» («as it was peculiar to him, he spoke, as if reflecting aloud»); «вновь поглядев на карту, помолчав, он продолжал»; («again having a look at the map, making a pause, he continued»); «Панфилов побарабанил по столу пальцами («Panfilov has beaten a tattoo on the table»); «Панфилов с улыбкой вынул часы, продемонстрировал» («With a smile Panfilov took out clock to show it»).

In the works «Moscow’s behind us» and «Volokolamsk highway» dynamics of occurring events is transferred through a speech behavior of the character. Often the subjects of the dialogues of the main character have heuristic and agitating functions. For Momyshuly it is important not just to inform fighters, but to find right tactics together and to inspire them before the battle.

The speech discourse of the character in K. Vorobyov's story « Killed at Moscow» is different. The action in the story takes place in 1941. The events of five days are described in it. During this time two hundred forty soldiers of not fired cadets make their way to the front line, take defensive positions, appear witnesses of chaotic deviation of some parts of the army, endure a shock from collision with the enemy. Their death is predetermined by circumstances, but the commander of a company Ryumin takes the blame upon himself. In the final chapter Ryumin's funeral is interrupted by tank attacks. Six cadets engage; lieutenant Alexey Yastrebov is the only one of the company who stays alive. He is the main character.

The action takes place in the front line: in the rear area and band in the field of fight. There are dialogues including about 80 remarks in the text. Dialogues can be divided into three groups. The first group includes verbal and paraverbal dialogues. They consist of the single remarks of authorized character which do not imply any verbal answer, but only implementation (action). For example, «По местам! Бегом! И без моего приказа ни шагу» («Stand by! Run! And do not make any movements without my command») (2, p. 428). The second large group are the mini-dialogues consisting of 2-6 remarks: «Алексей спросил капитана: - Он ранен? – Нет, - сквозь зубы сказал капитан. – А что же? – Ну… не может… Не видите, что ли?» (2, p. 416). the last group includes big dialogues (more than 6 remarks), there are only two such dialogues in the text.

The themes of the dialogues are limited to a military situation: heroes do not speak on abstract themes; their speech is a response to armed hostilities. Three out of six functions of speech defined by R.O. Yakobson (8, p. 280) are involved in speech behavior of the character: communicative – transferring information, messages; expressional (emotive) – a direct expression of feelings of the sender; appellative – influence on the addressee, encouraging it to action. The communicative function is shown in the following remark: «Убитых шестеро курсантов и политрук, - вызывающе ответил Алексей. - Раненных нет» (2, p. 431). The second function can often be observed in the text: «Алексей пронзительно, но никому не слышно крикнул: - Я тебя, матери твоей черт! Я тебя зараз…» (2, p. 462). As an example of appellative function we can take Alexey's order: «- Вставай! – крикнул Алексей. – Там… Там все гибнут, а ты… Вставай! Пошли! Ну?!» (2, p. 452).

It is possible to consider appellative function to be determinant in Alexey's dynamical speech behavior (the most frequently observed), followed by expressional function, and, finally, communicative function. Such parity speaks about the character of the temporal plot organization limited by five days during which the "dedication" of cadets in soldiers takes place.

The interlocutor is important in realization of speech functions. Alexey talking to Ryumin says 9 remarks, to classmate Gulyaev – 5 remarks, to the captain – 3 remarks, to the general – 3, the assistant of platoon commander – 7 remarks, to platoon, soldiers – 36 remarks, in the ending to the tank – 5 remarks. Accordingly, the character communicates with the interlocutor in a role of the subordinate saying 15 remarks (Ryumin, the captain, the general), in a role of the commander – 43 and as equals – 10 remarks (Gulyaev, the tank).

According to the content all the retorts can be divided into several types:

Types of remarks



«Разрешите обратиться… Чем рыть?» (2, p.409)


«Рассредоточиться, черт возьми! Всем по своим местам!!» (2, p.421)


«Задымил один, товарищ политрук» (2, p.424)


«Это шрапнель?» (2, p.425), «Дойти до КП могут? Где они?» (2, p.428)

Remark-exclamation :

«Ты знаешь, о чем я говорю!» (2, p.454), «Ничего, товарищ капитан! Мы их, гадов, всех потом, как вчера ночью!...» (2, p.457)

From lapidary remarks of the main character the role portrait of the young officer-lieutenant who wants to show that he is handling the situation corresponds to the image of the skilled commander. The story-teller neutrally makes comments in the whole text only six times: Alexey asked, repeated, told, shouted. In all other cases author's comments and their expression include expressive and emotional characteristics of voice (tone, timbre, rate), nonverbal details (emotions, gestures and mimic) and general impression from the speech. The storyteller’s comments don't confirm Alexey's mission, they represent his inner world: lost, uncomprehending, doubting in tactics of military operations. The amount of storyteller’s comments considerably exceeds the amount of direct speech. This disproportion shows motivations of speech behavior of the character.

Comments are differently correlated with direct speech of Yastrebov, but in all cases they explain the character’s speech behavior and also his image. The storyteller often fixes voice force, timbre, Alexey's tempo of speech and connects them with his emotional and mental condition: «он громко и весело крикнул» («he shouted loudly and cheerfully»), «задохнувшись, визгливо выкрикнул за два приема» («having choked, he cried out in two shrills») «он крикнул исступленно, с непонятной обидой и злостью ко всему тому, над чем только что чуть не плакал» («he shouted frenziedly, with sadness and rage toward everything that had nearly made him cry»).

There are notes in which the storyteller specifies the imitating character of speech of the young lieutenant who imitates his teachers and seniors. For example, dialogue with the friend begins with such a remark: «- И пуля попэ-эрла по каналу ствола! - остановившись у порога, сказал Алексей, подражая преподавателю внутренней баллистики в училище майору Сучку. Они несколько минут хохотали, не сходясь еще, мимикой и жестами копируя движения и походку чудаковатого майора» (2, p. 412). It is, of course, inappropriate in an approaching tragically fighting situation, but young lieutenants are still full of memoirs about their studies in peacetime.

It is possible to name other notes complex or combined. They include all elements connected with a speech situation: voice coloring, comparative constructions, special epithets and pantomimes. The paramount role is played by the voice characteristic, and after nonverbal components join . In the article «Language of emotions of M.A. Sholokhov’s and F.D. Krukov’s characters » A.A. Fomushkin writes about a role of nonverbal elements in a speech portrait: «Completed psychological criterion of characters behavior are expressive movements (mimicry, bearing, gestures, gait)» (5, p. 58). Then these notes-comments strengthen impression of the speech. We will result examples of correlation of a voice with paraverbal comments.

Voice and nonverbal components Examples
Voice and gestures «Алексей никак не мог ухватить сплюснутый мундштук папиросы, и тогда капитан спросил еще:- Курсанты все слышали?- Все, - сказал Алексей. - Генерал-майор...» (2, p.419)
Voice and mimicry «негромко сказал Алексей, с какой-то обновленной преданностью глядя в глаза Рюмина» (2, p.419), «морщась, сказал Алексей» (2, p.421)
Voice and pantomimes «Не сходя с места, Алексей, крикнул через плечо» (2, p.418), «строго сказал Алексей и зачем-то загородил собой нишу» (2, p.422),«Алексей пропустил пленных, пытаясь заглянуть в лицо каждому, и, пристроясь к курсантам, спросил на бегу у того, что отсчитывал шаг: - Куда вы их?» (2, p.443).

In the tragical story of Vorobyov the important role is played by a psychological function of a speech discourse. The speech behavior of the character shows his inner world, thoughts and feelings. Alexey's feelings combine inconsistent conditions: fear, despair and call of duty.

The esthetics of Vorobyov’s style is shown in selection of special characteristics for the description of Alexey’s speech in the culminating moments. The first example is connected with an outcome, a final episode. After the battle, bombardment from all company of the Kremlin cadets there is only one person who stays alive - Alexey. He stands near a tomb and the tank moves towards him. The lieutenant manages to blast the tank, and it by miracle remains live. «Подавленный всем этим, он шел и то и дело всхлипывающее шептал: - Стерва… Худая… Так было легче идти» (2, p. 464) and before«- Стерва, - вяло, всхлипывающее сказал Алексей. – Худая» (2, p. 463). This repeating comment accompanies two-forked dialogue with the tank and with himself. These remarks include abusive lexicon, vernacular, consisting of the truncated syntactic constructions. The word «всхлипывающе» (sobbing) is a characteristic of children's speech testifying psychological slackness of the person, who survived the horrors of the fight. (2, p. 404).

The final episode of the novelette is based on a mythological, matrix plot, all stages of the rite of a passage are visible in it. G. Fraser distinguishes three phases of the rite of a passage: the first phase – a phase of leaving, breaking off all the family relations, the second phase – a symbolical death of the devoted, the third phase – returning, revival in a new capacity (6, p.124).

Vorobyov’s story «Killed at Moscow» however as the majority of stories of military prose, represents initiation text which contains all the phases. The first phase - leaving is described with one phrase with which the story begins: «Учебная рота кремлевских курсантов шла на фронт» («The training company of the Kremlin cadets was heading for the front») (2, p. 404). The basic text of the novelette is a test which the entire company (240 cadets) and captain Ryumin passed there. Two hundred forty people with their captain Ryumin die. And only Alexey Yastrebov survives after all attacks, bombardments and a deadly duel with the tank. This phase of the test is accompanied by additional archetypical images: mentioning a tomb, Alexey's curse words «матери твоей черт» and complicated breath. Alexey falls into the bottom of the tomb, closes his head with hands, tries to take an embryo pose – «lying on one side, having turned knees to a stomach », breathing with deep-chest howl, loses memory and orientation – «he has forgotten everything that has occurred, and doesn’t know where he is». He passes all the stages of death, returning to the womb of the earth what is highlighted by repeating curse words: «пронзительно, но никому не слышно крикнул: - Я тебя, матери твоей черт! Я тебя зараз…», «- Ага, матери твоей черт! Ага!». Using abusive lexicon during such moment is not a casualty: it is something that comes from subconsciousnesssub consciousness, uncontrollable will of the speaking. Such remarks are unexpected, but rather significant, R. Yakobson after V. Hlebnikovym names them «free self-twisted speech» (8, 251).

The phase following death is a phase of revival, transformation: «А затем пришло все сразу - память, ощущение неподатливой тяжести, взрыв испуга, и он с такой силой рванулся из завала, что услышал, как надломленно хрумкнул позвоночник…». Alexey is reborn: jerks from a tomb, howls and sits for a long time being very weakened, his nose is bleeding. After dedication, the character comes back to life in a new status, for Alexey it is shown in fighting armament: «он отрыл бутылку с бензином, СВТ, рюминский пистолет и подолом шинели протер оружие. Винтовки он повесил на плечи - по две на каждом, пистолет спрятал в карман брюк, а бутылку взял в руки». Here the detailed description of the weapon depicts man's phallic symbolics speaking about a successful rite of the passage.

The speech discourse of the main character of the story «Killed at Moscow» consists basically of single remarks or minidialogues. Terms and speech cliches prevail in the lexicon. The main characteristic of syntax is the use of simple sentences which are requests. Interrogative sentences are very common as well. The basic function of Alexey’s speech is emotional which galvanizes into action. External speech is developed through the story. It is connected with the peculiar subject organization which is constructed on a principle of gradual narrowing of a circle of operating characters. Only one person stays alive in the end of the story - Yastrebov. In connection with this fact the character of dialogues changes, they become less authorized, professionalism disappears while vernacular speech becomes common. The final dialogue is a dialogue with an inanimate object – the tank.

The speech discourse studying of the character allows to get an idea about speech portrait which is the compound characteristic of a literary image. When formulating a speech discourse concept of the character we have emphasized both individual, and typological components of the discourse. In A. Bek’s and B. Momyshuly's works in speech discourse presence of authorized dialogues of a great length are prepotent. The paralinguistic comment has an accompanying value. In K. Vorobyov's work a paralinguistic dialogue dominates over the linguistic one in the speech of the character. The role of an authorized dialogue decreases by the end while dialogues-remarks prevail. The external speech of the character, nonverbal dialogues and author's comments-notes have a special value in the story. Alternation of authorized and unauthorized dialogues, division of dialogues by size and addressee, prevalence of terms and speech clichés in the lexicon, presence of undeveloped syntactic constructions in imperative and interrogative forms are characteristic for all three works. The supervision and the allocated criteria can be used in speech behavior studying of characters of other products on the military theme. 


1. Бек А. Волоколамское шоссе. - Киев, "Радянська школа", 1989. – 313 с.

2. Воробьев К.Д. Убиты под Москвой // Военная проза. – М.:АСТ: Астрель, 2006. – 471 с.

3. Вайман С.Т. Драматический диалог. – М., 2003. – 208 с.

4. Момышулы Б. За нами Москва. Записки офицера. – Алма-Ата: «Жазушы», 1970. – 528 с.

5. Фомушкин А.А. Язык эмоций персонажей М.А. Шолохова и Ф.Д. Крюкова // Русская литература. – 1996. - №4. – с. 53-76.

6. Фрэзер Дж. Золотая ветвь: Исследование магии и религии / Пер. с англ. М. К. Рыклина / Пер. с англ. И. Утехина — М.: ТЕРРА-Книжный клуб, 2001. – 528 с.

7. Чернец Л.В. Невербальный диалог в романе Л.Н. Толстого «Анна Каренина» // Проблемы поэтики и стиховедения: Материалы V междунар. науч.-практ. конф. – Алматы: Искандер, 2009. – С. 123-128.

8. Якобсон Р.О. Избранные труды. – М.: Прогресс, 1985. – 353 с.

Table of contents: The Kazakh-American Free University Academic Journal №3 - 2011

About journal
About KAFU

   © 2022 - KAFU Academic Journal