Aspect and tense forms of the Russian verb in describing the kinesic behaviour of the characters in A.P. Chekhov’s stories

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Non-verbal semiotics is one of the leading areas of modern communication research. The study is devoted to the topical interdisciplinary issue - the relationship between non-verbal semiotics and Russian grammar. The aim of the research is to characterize the representation of the temporal forms of the Russian verb in describing the kinesic behaviour of literary characters. The elements of nonverbal semiotics were analysed in the stories by A.P. Chekhov “Death of an Official”, “Chameleon”, “Thick and Thin”, “Horse Name”, “Surgery”. The following methods were used as the main ones: descriptive, semantic explication, differential, analytical. The methodological foundations of kinesics as an integrative science were considered, the correlation between the verbal realization of kinema and the temporal forms of the Russian verb was revealed. It has been proved that the most recurrent manifestations of non-verbal semiotics in Chekhov's stories are communicative emblems (in particular, etiquette and ritual), symptomatic emblems and dynamic descriptors, nominated with the help of aspect and tense forms of the Russian verb. Emblems-illustrators are quantitatively less represented in the analyzed stories. They are prospective for further research on the example of Russian literary classics.

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Communication takes place in a complex semiotic space, where each sign – verbal and non-verbal – must be interpreted in a certain way. R. Jakobson's formula “addresser – text – addressee”, in fact, is a representation of discourse, that is “speech immersed in life” (Arutyunova, 2002). Speaking about the addresser, we should not ignore all his or her intentions, which model the text message in a certain way. The addressee, in turn, is seen as a perceptual consciousness that decodes the meanings embedded in the text, basing on its own presuppositions, the commonality of the communicants' cognitive base and the context where the interaction takes place.

However, communication is not limited to the verbal component. Its integral elements include nonverbal components, in particular gestures and facial expressions. This level of communication is studied by nonverbal semiotics. It is indicative that the number of works devoted to this aspect of communication has increased significantly in both Russian and foreign linguistics (Keck et al., 2022; Sweeney, 2022; Sharkov et al., 2022; Abakumova et al., 2022; Valentová, 2020). The authoritative Scopus database contains 892 papers devoted to the study of nonverbal semiotics. This indicates the emergence of a new interdisciplinary conceptual field, which has been actively developed since 19661.

The taxonomic distribution of non-verbal semiotics layers suggests that its importance in the communicative act is difficult to overestimate. Thus, there are kinesics (the science of gestures and facial expressions), haptics or tacesics (the science of tactility, language of touch), oculistics (the science of visual behaviour of people and eye language), sensorics (the science of sensual perception of another person), proxemics (the science of using space during communication), chronemics (the science of using time during communication).

This study focuses on kinesics as the science about a set of gestures, facial expressions, and body movements. It has now developed its own classification of somatic expressions that play a special role in both direct and mediated communication. Among the most striking “diagnostic spots” of nonverbal semiotics scientists usually distinguish communicative emblems (also including etiquette elements), emblems-illustrators and emblems-regulators. This classification proposed by G. Kreidlin, remains the most demanded in Russian linguistics (Kreidlin, 2002). This direction is actively developed by V.V. Barteneva, A.S. Zagrebelnaya, N.V. Belousova, E.M. Yakimova, L.V. Babina, V.B. Merkurjewa (Barteneva, 2017; Zagrebelnaya, 2021; Belousova, 2006; Yakimova, 2017; Babina, Proskurnich, 2019; Merkurjewa, Antipowa, 2019) and other researchers.

The relevance of the stated approach is due to the increasing need for explanatory knowledge in order to accumulate areas from different scientific fields. The present study is the first attempt to prove the relationship between non-verbal semiotics and Russian grammar on the material of fiction texts. Despite the fact that the elements of non-verbal semiotics in the fiction are a priori verbalized, i.e. expressed by the temporal forms of the Russian verb, they become markers of behavioral scenarios describing the characters, revealing their motives and becoming part of their psychological portrait. The works of authors such as A.P. Chekhov can provide rich illustrative material for analysing non-verbal components and elements of Russian grammar, which verbalize these components in the fiction text.

Methods and materials

The elements of nonverbal semiotics were selected from the early Chekhov's prose (The Death of an Official, Chameleon, Thick and Thin, Horse's Name, Surgery2). More than 30 nonverbal semiotic complexes, attributing proper direct speech and functioning in aspect and tense forms of the Russian verb, were analyzed.

The method of semantic explication, as well as descriptive, differential, and analytic-descriptive methods were used as the main ones.


The methodological foundations of kinesics as an integrative science were considered.

Taxonomic differentiation of the main semantic classes of kinemas has been compiled.

The early stories by A.P. Chekhov (The Death of an Official, Chameleon, Thick and Thin, Horse's Name, Surgery) have been analyzed from the point of view of verbal representation of kinemas.

The correlation between the verbal realization of the kinema and the tense forms of the Russian verb has been considered.

The conducted research leads to the conclusion that the most recurrent manifestations of non-verbal semiotics in the stories by A.P. Chekhov are communicative emblems (in particular, etiquette and ritual), symptomatic emblems and dynamic descriptors, expressed by the aspect and tense forms of the Russian verb. Emblems-illustrators are quantitatively less represented in the stories.


Methodological foundations for kinemas differentiating

Kinetic sign forms include gestures, facial expressions, body movements and nonverbal complexes – manners. This classification was first introduced by the American scientist Ray Birdwhistell in his monograph “Introduction to kinesics: An annotation system for analysis of body motion and gesture” (Birdwhistell, 1952).

One of the founders of the theory of nonverbal communication in Russian linguistics is G.E. Kreidlin (Kreidlin, 2002). In his opinion, people interact not only through words, but also through body movements, where each somatic attribute (shape and size of the body, position in space, etc.) is able to translate a certain meaning. Even “not performing a gesture” in a situation that conventionally requires it becomes meaningful in communication. Natural language and sign language, not isomorphic systems by their nature, are in a certain correlation. They can operate in parallel because the underlying processes of verbal and non-verbal communication are similar. Thus, in certain communicative situations, the meaning of a statement can be conveyed kinematically (for example, the movement of a finger to the lips means “Quiet!”, “Be silent!”).

The verbal reflection of kinema (a complex non-verbal semiotic set) is commonly referred to as “nomination”, which is usually a meaningful word or combination of words. The present study focuses on aspect and tense nominations of non-verbal behaviour of the characters.

We should note that the verbal and nonverbal systems have a number of fundamental differences, which do not allow us to attribute them to phenomena of the same order. “Non-verbal communication involves a significant number of signs that either nominate directly their denotation – the object and its attributes – shape, size, etc. (at the same time, the body parts themselves are used for direct reference to the object or substitute it), or they denote entire situations or fragments of situations, acting in communication as analogues of speech utterances” (Kreidlin, 2002: 46).

G.E. Kreidlin divides kinemas into gestures-emblems, gestures-illustrators and gestures-regulators (Kreidlin, 2002: 50).

Emblems are kinemas with an independent lexical meaning. They convey certain meanings regardless of the context. Communicative emblems carry general information: they are subdivided into general, deictic and etiquette. These are dialogic gestures, which can be both illocutionarily independent (for example, extending a hand to the interlocutor as a sign of greeting, we commit an illocutionary act), and illocutionarily forced (dependent): for example, in response to our words, according to the law of speech cooperation, a person nods, expressing consent. The largest group of gestures are communicatively neutral kinemas: tilt of the head, a finger to the lips, winking, a shake of the head, a hand clap on the forehead, etc.

Communicative emblems, as a rule, are attached to certain speech situations. Some units serve as stimulus reactions. For example, gestures “to threaten with a fist” or “to wink” require a response from the recipient. Gestures indicating the interlocutor or the addressee himself are called deictic.

Symptomatic emblems express the emotional state of a person. The denotation of this class of gestures is an emotion, not its physiological manifestation itself. For example, covering the mouth with the hand we mark astonishment, biting the lips – anxiety or emotional excitement. By their nature, symptomatic gestures are not dialogic, since they can function in contextual isolation, when a person is alone and experience his emotions independently. Nevertheless, even in a dialogue such gestures are aimed at demonstrating the communicant's emotional state, so such gestures frequently move from one category to another. At the same time, we do not rank as sign gestures natural physiological reactions, such as a rush of blood to the cheeks when a feeling of shame arises. This emotion can be expressed by an appropriate gesture, for example, to cover the face with hands.

Gestures-illustrators highlight a certain fragment of communication. They complement the semantics, syntactics and pragmatics of the communicative act, improving the external part (form) of the statement. They enter into a close relationship with the rhythm of speech, its semantic accents, prosody, and the organization of the speech flow. Illustrators include various kinds of imitative gestures.

Gestures-regulators control the communicative process. They start, continue or finish the speech act. Illustrators are a gestural representation of the verbal, but regulators perform the function of maintaining the dialogue from its beginning to the finish. Regulators are not communicative, but carry certain information and are an interactive component of communication. Individual head movements, postures of the interlocutor are called points. Body movements, changes of position in space are called gestures-positions. Finally, the largest group of gestures are called representations.

A separate class of gestures in kinesics are mimic (raise the eyebrows, curl the lip, furrow the forehead, etc.). They do not only manifest certain emotions, but also perform specific functions in a communicative event. The face is the “place” of feelings expression, the translator of a person's inner state. The basic function of facial gestures is emotive. When conveying certain information to the addressee, the communicative function is realized. When facial expressions react to stimuli the gesture has a contact-establishing function, i.e. it serves as a communicative regulator. Finally, a mimic gesture is extremely informative, as it informs the communicant about the emotional state of the interlocutor.

This means that kinesics, the study of the language of the body and its parts, examines all kinds of meaningful movements. However, it is sometimes identified with body technique; in this case the conceptual field of science also includes nonverbal communication. E.N. Zaretskaya calls kinesics one of the areas of linguosemiotics, accompanying speech and compensating it (Zaretskaya, 2002).

Verbalization of the kinesic behavior of the characters

One of the directions of kinesics is the functioning of nonverbal means in the fiction text. In contrast to the spontaneity of real discursive communication, in fiction nonverbal communication becomes a deliberate stylistic device.

In the fiction narrative, elements of the nonverbal-semiotic code are quite recurrent: they perform a compensatory function in conveying the meanings of communication. Since proper verbal means are polysemantic, kinemas are an auxiliary means to achieve unambiguous communication (Pavlova, Cheremisina, 2013).

Since changes of body position in space, gestures, facial expressions refer to active manifestations of human behaviour and physiology, they are usually represented with the help of the morphological class of verbs in the system of aspect and tense realizations.

The aspect and tense system of the verb in the grammatical structure of the Russian language expresses aspectuality and temporality; in this case, each verb form is understood as a form of this or that aspect.

The category of aspect consists in the temporal distribution of the main feature of the verb. “The perfective aspect implies that an action has an internal limit, finality or phase. The imperfective kind implements the idea of incompleteness or repetition of action” (Knyazev, 2017). A verb may have correlative aspect pairs; it may represent one-aspect perfective verbs (in this case, the development of action is limited), one-aspect imperfective verbs (the action is not limited in its development), two-aspect verbs (contextually determined verbs) (Knyazev, 2017).

Some researchers, in particular E.V. Petrukhina, note that in functional respect the category of aspect can be clarified through “the category of aspectuality as a universal semantic category of the verb. It characterizes the course and distribution of action in time, as well as the functional and semantic field of different linguistic means, united by the categorical meaning” (Petrukhina, 2009: 44).

Thus, the aspect and tense system of the Russian verb includes the aspectuality as a marker characterizing not only the process of the action, but also its internal limit. This is an important marker for representing an action in a fiction text: it is the aspect-tense realization of action that informs any subject of aesthetic reality of certain personal characteristics that become significant for interpreting their image.

It is noteworthy that in A.P. Chekhov's early stories kinesic representations often become stimuli for the event as a narrative element. For example, Chervyakov's uncontrolled physiological reaction (sneezing) in The Death of an Official creates a conflict situation and leads to the known result in the story.

The repertoire of the manual and facial gestures of Chekhov's characters is extremely varied. The most recurrent elements of nonverbal semiotics for Chekhov's discourse are communicative emblems. Thus, in The Lady with the Dog[3] we read: “He kindly beckoned the spitz to him and, as he approached, wagged his finger at him.” In this case, the communication is mediated: the gesture directed at the animal is addressed to the person. The perfective verbs “beckoned”, “threatened”, indicating that the action is not only completed, but also has a certain result, are the kinesic representations. In The House with the Mezzanine4 we read: “I bowed.” The body-movement, which replaces speech, is an etiquette emblem according to G. Kreidlin's classification. The perfective verb, verbalizing the movement of the body, carries the semantics of one-act action: it should not be repeated and supposes a certain response.

Often the verbal representation of the gesture has a commentary, which explains the content of the non-verbal sign. In the story Agafya5 the following contextual use is given: “Savka waved his hand – meaning don't shout – and disappeared in the darkness.”

Symptomatic emblems are also quite common in Chekhov's stories. It is noteworthy that they are used in a non-communicative aspect. As we mentioned above, symptomatic emblems manifest the inner state of a person by exteriorizing the emotions he experiences. Let us return to the story The Death of an Official: “ ‘Oh, dear... I have already forgotten, and you're still talking about the same thing!’ – said the General and wiggled his lower lip impatiently.” The mimic gesture, intensified by the adverb “impatiently” and the perfective verb, draws the reader's attention to the state of the character – his discontent.

Other emotional reactions, expressed by kinemas and verbalized with the help of the imperfective verbs, imply an extension of the action in time: “ ‘...I will not pass his exam today,’ said the receiver, nervously rubbing his hands and sweating...”

Gestures-illustrators in Chekhov's stories are less frequent: “...and as if to prove his words, he squinted his eyes, and, raising his finger, uttered: ‘Anthropos!’ ” (The Man in a Case6). As a rule, they are expressed with the imperfective verbs, which, in turn, emphasizes their descriptive connotations. Gestures-regulators are the least frequent kinemas in Chekhov's stories. They are expressed with perfective verbs. “ ‘Can I give him a bone?’ – and when she nodded her head affirmatively, he asked affably, ‘Have you come to Yalta long ago?’ ” (The Lady with the Dog).

In the story Chameleon, a provincial town sees an incident: the goldsmith Khrukin is bitten on the finger by a puppy, whose origin remains unknown to the end: it has two identification marks, a sharp muzzle and a yellow spot on the back. The fate of the animal must be sealed by the warden Ochumelov. Remarkably, to the deafening screeching of the dog (a paraverbal sign that does not belong to the kimesics, but is nevertheless significant), the street is filled with people, presented as a collective observer and commentator. The overseer is required to make a decision in a situation that eventually changes several times. Kinesic elements in this case perform several functions: communicative (emblematic) and dynamic. At the same time, the kinesic element is not semiotically complete, not so much expressing the intention of the actor as reproducing the real movements of his body in space. It remains debatable whether it is legitimate to refer semiotically incomplete non-verbal elements, such as physiological reactions or somatic manifestations that do not appeal to direct communication, to kinemas. It seems that such elements should be referred to as kinemas with clarification. As we have established earlier, kinemas are sign formations that in one way or another support communication. If the text intends to describe the corporeal manifestation differently, appropriate reservations must be made. Thus, for example, kinemas as emblems can be communicative and noncommunicative; moreover, kinemas are probably not always emblematic. The verbal representation of the position of the body in space may be an element of narrative rather than communication.

Thus, in Chameleon7 we read: “He ran after her, and, pitching forward with his torso, fell to the ground and grabbed the dog on his hind paws”. A change in the body position is a kinematic element if it manifests certain states of the addressee aimed at a response. In this case, we see a dynamic element of the narrative; nevertheless, the communicative effect in terms of the fiction text is achieved through the interaction between the author and the reader. If there is no communication between the actors of the aesthetic reality, the reader nevertheless decodes the verbal representations, expressed by the imperfective verbs, of the characters' kinesic behaviour as signifiers. Representing certain author's comments, they perform representational and informative functions, therefore, they are not absolutely meaningless. We qualify this type of non-verbal behavior as contextual kinesic. The body, which is put forward, expresses Khrukin's desire to catch the animal: the impression is also reinforced by the grabbing gesture, designed to actualize his emotional state: impatience, annoyance, anger. Consequently, the parameters of the symptomatic emblem are manifested in this dynamic element. Thus, we consider this kind of kinesic elements as descriptors, that is, signs aimed at the reader. Their asemantic nature in this case appeals to the internal communication between the actors of the situation; in terms of external communication (author – reader), the semantics of such elements is preserved.

The following dynamic kinema (descriptor) also belongs to descriptors: “Ochumelov makes a half-turn to the left and steps towards the crowd.” It is noteworthy that the kinesic element is represented with an imperfective verb (compound verb predicate), showing not only the immediacy of the action, its processuality, but also the change in the movement direction, which occurs on the fly, without additional reflection. This detail testifies to a certain relaxation, idleness of Ochumelov, being an important component of his portrait.

The next kinesic element can be classified more easily. It is a pictorial emblem, designed to show the communicants a certain state of affairs: “Near the warehouse gate, he sees, stands the man described above in an unbuttoned vest and, raising his right hand, shows the crowd a bloody finger.” The function of the kinema in this case is demonstrative: Khrukin not only shows his finger, but also expects sympathy. The description of the situation contains a symptomatic emblem:

“– I am passing by, your nobility, I am not disturbing anyone...” Khrukin begins, coughing into his fist. The “coughing into his fist” kinema emblem, represented by the imperfective participle, is not only symptomatic (it points to the awkwardness and a certain confusion of Khrukin in front of Ochumelov),  but also communicative, since it is aimed directly at the policeman.

Ochumelov's response is expressed in the following construction: “ ‘Hm! Well...’ says Ochumelov sternly, coughing and moving his eyebrows.” If we perceive the cough as a physiological reaction, that is, not a kinesic element proper, then the wiggling of the eyebrows is already a mimic sign, manifesting his determination to understand the situation. As later events show, the situation changes several times: the dog's fate directly depends on its belonging to a high-ranking person. This identifier also becomes key for Ochumelov, whose behavior changes depending on the informative stimuli he receives.

“ ‘– Has their brother arrived? Vladimir Ivanovich?’ – Ochumelov asks, and his whole face is suffused with a smile of tenderness.” The smile of tenderness is a mimic gesture of the symptomatic type, represented by the compound verb predicate. Since the temporal modus of the narrative is the present tense, it is indicative that the imperfective verb is used.

As we see, the gesture representations in Chameleon serve several important purposes: they act as narrative elements, participate in the verbalization of the symptoms, and in some cases act as illustrators of what is happening. Thus, kinesic elements become an important feature of Chekhov's stories. Since the writer does not observe the life of the “inner man” (E. Etkind), preferring to objectify the state of his characters through specific external manifestations, gestures (manual, somatic, mimic) occupy a significant place.

The kinesic elements in the story Thick and Thin8 are indicative.

When the friends meet, we observe the following scene: “The friends kissed each other three times and stared at each other with eyes full of tears.” The communicative and symptomatic emblems in the context indicate that the emotional modus of the event has not yet been inverted. The state of the internal communicators (note – the subjects of the narrative) is an emotional lift because of the meeting. The completeness of the threefold act of greeting is expressed by the perfective verb form: the kinema “kissed”, which indicates a kiss and mutual touching, here is not only a communicative sign, but also a regulator: it begins communication. The ocular details are noteworthy: the eyes of those who met are full of tears. However, as we wrote above, the event occurs only when the modus changes. While the Thin tells his friend about the events of his life without knowing his rank, the Thick remains “communicatively non-transparent” to him. Thus, Nathanael, son of Porphyry, does not immediately decide whether to take off his hat as a sign of respect:

“Nathanael thought for a while and took off his hat.” Taking off his hat is a kind of etiquette formula, a communicative emblem with etiquette meaning. It is expressed by the perfective verb and demonstrates (although belated) a respectful attitude to the interlocutor. Nevertheless, the teenager is socially disoriented: he does not know how to react to his father's old friend. As we see later, Porphyry is an exceptionally subservient person; he is characteristic of a deference that can override a sincere friendly attitude. The patterns of such behaviour could have been internalized by the teenager in the process of transmitting behavioral scripts. This kinesic element illustrates our observation.

“Nathanael thought for a while and hid behind his father's back” is a kinematic descriptor with the features of a symptomatic emblem.

Misha, on the other hand, treats his friend with sincere feeling up to a certain point: “ ‘– Well, how are you doing, friend?’ – asked the Thick, looking at his friend rapturously, ‘Where did you serve? Have you served?’.” The “rapturous look” becomes a kinesic element. Chekhov is characterized by the use of perfective and imperfective participles – being a special verb form that semantically clarifies the main action, participles are part of a representative array of non-verbal elements. The question remains open as to whether or not oculistics should be considered part of kinesics. We tend to agree with researchers who propose the broad approach to this science (Kreidlin, 2002). Within its framework, oculistics, as well as haptics and sensorics, are qualified as parts of kinesics.

The next episode is almost entirely kinesic:

“The Thin suddenly turned pale, petrified, but soon his face twisted in all directions with the broadest smile; sparks seemed to fall from his face and eyes. He himself shrank, hunched over, narrowed... His suitcases and knots and cartons shrank and crumpled... His wife's long chin grew even longer; Nathanael drew himself up and buttoned all the buttons of his uniform...” The adverb “suddenly”, marking the sudden change, reinforces the perfective verb, accentuates the irreversibility of the events. Here we see the symptomatic emblems (he turned pale, petrified, huddled, hunched over, narrowed, his wife's chin became even longer (= her face elongated); communicative emblems (his face twisted in all directions with the broadest smile, sparks fell from his face and eyes); etiquette emblems (Nathanael straightened up and fastened all the buttons of his uniform).

Moreover, the above kinemas also have a stimulating function: they entail a specific reaction.

“ ‘Well, enough!’ – The Thick grumbled, ‘What is that tone for? You and I are childhood friends-and what's the point of all this deference!’ ” The kinesic emblem “winced”, represented by the perfective verb, is also a symptomatic emblem. Symptomatic emblems are also represented in the following context:

“ ‘– Pardon me... Come on’ chuckled the Thin, shrinking even more.” Once again, the participle is actualized, in this case, it is imperfective. The imperfective aspect indicates the procedural and gradual nature of the somatic transformation. If the initial reactions were instantaneous and irreversible, the subsequent ones require a certain time and physical (inter alia) comprehension.

The kinesic modus of the image is also presented in the final fragment of the story: “The Thick wanted to object to something, but the Thin's face had so much reverence, sweetness and respectful acidity written on it that the secret advisor threw up. He turned away from the Thin and gave him his hand in farewell. The Thin shook three fingers, bowed with his whole torso, and chuckled like a Chinese, ‘hee hee hee’. His wife smiled. Nathanael shuffled his foot and dropped his cap. All three of them were pleasantly stunned.”

Combination of kinemas reconstructs a complex situation of interaction between the actors. Mimic gestures act as symptomatic emblems. The Thick’s gestures – “turned away”, “gave the hand goodbye” – play the role of regulators, directly hinting to the internal communicant about the expediency of finishing communication. The semiotic field of nonverbal communication in this case is super-saturated.

In the story Horse's Name9 the kinesic component is rather limited. “Ivan Evseich raised his eyes to the ceiling and moved his lips.” We see a semiotic complex of recollection, realized in corresponding physiological reactions. These kinemas, are not communicative, but can be legitimately classified as symptomatic.

“ ‘No way’, replied Ivan Evseich, raising his eyes upward, continued thinking out loud.” Here the oculistic element is represented by a perfective participle.

“ ‘– No, not Merinov, Your Excellency’, replied Ivan Yevseich and sighed guiltily.” Probably, the sigh attributed to the adverb guiltily should be regarded as a communicative emblem, rather than a physiological reaction: it is aimed at the corresponding reaction of the addressee (forgiving).

“The clerk stood at the edge of the road, looking intently at his feet, thinking about something. Judging by the wrinkles that furrowed his forehead, and by the expression of his eyes, his thoughts were tense and painful...” – the context is filled with symptomatic emblems, representing a tense thought process.

“Ivan Evseich looked at the doctor dumbly, somehow smiled wildly, and without saying a single word in response, splashing his hands, ran towards the manor house with such rapidity, as if a mad dog was chasing him.” The cues “smiled wildly” and “splashed his hands” are also symptomatic.

As we can see, Chekhov's artistic world pays great attention to both communicative and emotional aspects of interaction. Thus, in the story Surgery we selected contexts with a kinesic component. Let us try to comment on the contextual meanings.

“There is an expression of duty and pleasantness on the face.” It is one of the few verbless kinesic realizations with the omitted linking verb; it is remarkable that, according to G. Zolotova's theory of semantic syntax, there are no verbless syntactic constructions in Russian; being omitted, the linking verb is always implied and easily reconstructed (Zolotova, 2009). Nevertheless, the verbal semantics is preserved in the verbal noun that has undergone metonymic transformation (“expression”). The absence of the active verb creates the effect of “masking”: the doctor's face is perceived as a frozen conventional mask, hiding his true emotions, feelings and thoughts.

“For a second the deacon searched with his eyes for an icon and, not finding one, crosses himself on a bottle of carbolic solution, then takes a prosphora out of his red handkerchief and bowingly places it in front of the paramedic.” “Crossed himself on a bottle of carbolic solution” is not a communicative or etiquette emblem. Probably, it should be referred to ritual emblems; the comic effect of the scene is achieved by the substitution of sacred symbols: the sacred is replaced by the ordinary, which allows us to conclude that the deacon is as “masked” as the paramedic. The paramedic is not interested in his job which is indicated in the following context:

“ ‘– Ah... mine to you!’ – the paramedic yawns. ‘– What brings you here?’ ” The symptomatic emblem “yawn” expresses boredom and indifference. The descriptive nature is emphasized by the imperfective form of the verb.

As we can see, the kinesic behavior of Chekhov's characters is diverse: the main semiotic classes of gestures are already represented in the early prose of the writer, using the whole palette of meanings of the tense forms of the Russian verb.


The study of nonverbal semiotics is a promising direction of modern humanitarianism. Considering that in real discursive practice we enter into communication not only verbally, the signs accompanying communication become semantically loaded. They can intensify the meanings embedded in the verbal message, illustrate them, compensate or completely replace them. Being semiotic systems of different levels, natural and non-verbal languages are mutually correlated.

A separate field of kinesics is the study of a fictional text from the point of view of verbal representation of kinesic components. As our analysis has shown, such representation is often achieved with the help of the perfective and imperfective verb forms, which is reasonable, because kinemas are dynamic phenomena, requiring isomorphic correlates of their semantics. In our opinion, the emblems-illustrators are quantitatively less represented in the analyzed stories of the writer, which is a prospect for further research on the example of the works of other authors.


1 Scopus. Retrieved October 15, 2022, from:

2 Chekhov, A.P. (1983). Complete works and letters. Vol. 3. Essays. Мoscow: Nauka Publ. (In Russ.)

3 Chekhov, A.P. (1983). Complete works and letters. Vol. 3. Essays (p. 118). Мoscow: Nauka Publ. (In Russ.)

4 Ibid., p. 216.

5 Ibid., p. 152.

6 Chekhov, A.P. (1983). Complete works and letters. Vol. 3. Essays (p. 230). Мoscow: Nauka Publ. (In Russ.)

7 Ibid., p. 79.

8 Chekhov, A.P. (1983). Complete works and letters. Vol. 3. Essays (p. 71). Мoscow: Nauka Publ. (In Russ.)

9 Chekhov, A.P. (1983). Complete works and letters. Vol. 3. Essays (p. 100). Мoscow: Nauka Publ. (In Russ.)


About the authors

Xinyan Liu

Vision Overseas Co., Ltd; Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia (RUDN University)

ORCID iD: 0000-0002-6449-8376

teacher of Russian as a foreign language, Vision Overseas Co., Ltd; postgraduate student, Department of Russian Language and Teaching Methods, Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia (RUDN University)

5 Jingsi Road, Shizhong District, Jinan, People's Republic of China; 6 Miklukho-Maklaya St, Moscow, 117198, Russian Federation

Min Xu

Shandong Yuanxu Law Firm; Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia (RUDN University)

ORCID iD: 0000-0003-3734-8900

translator, Shandong Yuanxu Law Firm; postgraduate student, Department of Russian Language and Teaching Methods, Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia (RUDN University)

88 Industrial North Road, Licheng District, Jinan, People's Republic of China; 6 Miklukho-Maklaya St, Moscow, 117198, Russian Federation

Elena V. Talybina

Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia (RUDN University)

Author for correspondence.
ORCID iD: 0000-0002-7958-7566

Candidate of Philological Sciences, Associate Professor, Associate Professor at the Department of Russian Language and Teaching Methods

6 Miklukho-Maklaya St, Moscow, 117198, Russian Federation


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