Communicative-functional approach to the learning of phenomenon “silence” in proverbs and sayings (on the basis of Russian, English, and German folk proverbs

Research article
Issue: № 1 (37), 2023


This article is devoted to the representation of the prohibitive semantic in the Russian and German paremias. The study is based on comparative analysis of structural-semantic features of the paremiological phrases containing prohibitive constructions. The groundwork of this research is presented by a collection of 1743 paremiological units (1500 Russian and 1243 German paremias), which have been selected by a method of continuous and special selection from authoritative Russian and German paremiological works, by such authors as: V. P. Anikin, H. and A. Beyer, S. Wagener, K. Wander, V. I. Dal, V. P. Zhukov, K. Simrock, I.I. Illustrov, V. M. Mokienko, I. M. Snegirjov. Building on empirical base of this research, we identified 10 Russian and 10 German syntactic structures which are explicitly expressing prohibitive semantic in proverbs, sayings and folk omens. The author of the article defines a concept of a prohibitive construction in a broad sense. During the structural-semantic analysis of the presented structures common syntactic and semantic characteristics are identified, also along with them structural-semantic differences of the analyzed paremias are opened up. The lacunarity formed in a type of lack of some structural equivalents in the compared languages, according to the author, is due to differences in features of national mentality in the paremiological space of the Russian and German languages.  

1. Introduction

Silence as communicative meaningful element often becomes an object in the works of modern linguists. Interrupting oral speech, a man is thinking constantly, processes of internal verbalization continue to function. So silence is a process of communication and can cause different psychological and social factors

. Silence as phenomenon of communication presents an ambiguous phenomenon and requires a complex approach to study. A great attention in the article is devoted to consideration of this phenomenon in the frame of folk study. In proverbs and sayings as a means of representation of speech etiquette norm is fixed an attitude of different linguo-cultures to silence. The actuality of this research is due to insufficient study of questions related to phenomenon in proverbs and sayings discourse, but with communicative-functional and comparative-matching approach to study this problem, which corresponds a modern vector of linguistic researches. Development of this problem represents a perspective to study paremias with silence component, its specification and mechanisms of display in linguistic picture of world in Russian, English and German paremias.  Polysemy of paremias in different languages is due to detailed, component analysis of this lexicological units. There is a great demand of more adequate comparison of paremias methodology.

2. Research methods and principles

The aim of this research is study of silence phenomenon in Russian, English, German linguo-cultures on the basis of folk sayings, which is realized by this phenomenon in the frame of communicative-functional approach. A set goal predisposes to solve a great deal of tasks:

1) to design theoretical-methodological basis of research;

2) to collect and systematize empirical corpus of investigation;

3) to detect a characteristic functions of proverbs about silence in comparative languages;

4) to carry out a static analysis and determine a quantitative proportion of proverbs and sayings with performed functions in 3 languages;

5) to determine a role of phenomenon of silence in comparative linguo-cultures.

Scientific novelty is due to insufficient study of communicative-functional approach in proverbs and sayings about silence. First a comparative- contrastive and static analysis of proverbs and sayings with silence component is carried out in Russian, English, German languages.

Methods of research has a complex character. A comparative- contrastive method, method of word definitions, method of full field enumeration from dictionaries and special reference-books, statistical and descriptive methods are used.

A performed analysis of communicative proverbs with component silence in comparative linguo-cultures are based on files of research, made by method of full field and special enumeration, which has 100 Russian, English, German proverbs and sayings. 

3. Main results

Results of comparative-contrastive analysis is described in the Table 1.

Table 1 - Quantitative representation of communicative functions of silence in research file

Communicative functions of silence

Card index of Russian proverbs, %

Card index of English proverbs, %

Card index of German  proverbs, %





















Note: 100% = 100 folk sayings

As it is shown in the table, informative function is one of widely spread in proverbs and sayings about silence in Russian, English, German languages. Axiologic function of proverbs, fixed to a folk representation, is shown by an average indicators (from 18 to 23% cases of usage). Besides, common for 3 linguo-cultures is the fact that constant function is represented in card index  (9 cases of usage in Russian language, 5 – in English and 4 – in German).

It is interesting to point out that in card index of Russian and English proverbs with component silence informative function is dominant in quantitive proportion i.e. silence can signalize about agreement and disagreement to perform something, otherwise German proverbs and sayings in the majority of cases (38%) summons to silence, performing a directive role. 

4. Discussion

Practical relevance is in possibility of results application in different cognitive- discourse scientific research, development  of special courses in comparative paremiology, pragmalinguistics, linguo-culture etc.

Interest of linguists in this phenomenon is due to modern tendencies in linguistics, such as integration, communication, culture-centricity and so on. However, the important principle is consideration of human factor

, which stipulates the significance of studying deep semantic bases of language and mentality of people. The problem of  polysemy of the term “silence” is studied by Yavorsky A.
, which sees in this phenomenon  a wide-scale concept, N.D. Arutyunova refers an act of silence to “zero speech acts”
, G.G. Pochepzov considers silence as “a zero sign with a definite context, interpreting by members of this community”

In this article silence is considered to be as a non-verbal communication, during which a definite intention of addressee is used.

Let`s tackle the definitions of silence in comparative languages: ”Explanatory Dictionary of Russian Language” S.I. Ozhegov explains the verb to keep silence: not to pronounce a sound, don`t talk about anything

; according to German Dictionary Duden, to keep silence means: don`t talk at all, don`t answer, don`t pronounce any sounds
. In English language a separate token is absent, calling a silence. Along with silence its meaning is expressed by the word «silence»:

1) the condition of silence;

2) absence of noise;

3) rejection or impossibility to speak;

4) pause; period of silence


At present time, many investigations are carried out, focused on establishment of relevant silence signs as communicative act.  However, silence becomes a communicative- meaningful if it has a definite intention, which is perceived by addressee 

. In consequence, as an act of communication, silence must have many functions. Communicative-functional side of this silence  phenomenon is described in works of different Russian and foreign lingusits. A great significance of this research represents the works of T.J.Bruno
, V.V. Bogdanov
, S.Yu. Danilov
, V. Yeisen
, S. V. Krestinsky

During analysis of functional aspects in folk sayings about silence in Russian, English, German languages we managed to establish private functions. In English, there is no a separate lexem, named silence.  Along with silence this means by word  Silence:

1) the state or quality of being silent (condition of silence);

2) the absence of sound or noise; stillness (absence of noise, silence);

3) refusal or failure to speak, communicate, etc, when expected (refusal and impossibility to speak);

4) a period of time without noise (pause; period of silence);

In modern linguistics, different views on the problem of context and its structure.  Without saying, concept is a unit of mentality and representation in language with the help of units of different levels. We can talk about 2 concepts: linguo-cultural and linguo-cognitive, which are not contrastive but complementary trends. We can trace processes of weak equivalents formation:

1. reduction of semantic meaning in borrowing word but preservation in the language-source.

2. redistribution of semantic meaning leads to lacunarnost.

So weak equivalents only partly passes lexical meaning of prototype and eventually can be used in the translation practice. Vereshagin E. M., Kostomarov V. G. defines non-equivalental lexics as "words, using for expression notions, absent in a culture, in a language, characteristic for culture A, absent in culture B". Lexical equivalents of these words in translations, its character and means of transmission of non-equivalent words are taught and described by metres of translation theory and modern investigators (Fedorov A. V., Vinogradov V. S.) The problem of lacunas is put by the investigators in comparative aspect of two different languages (Lipatova Yu.Yu, Muraviev V. L., Sorokin Y. S.). A valuable component of concept in aspect “silence” is opened due to paremia with a nominative density, in consequence, meaningful for native speakers. “Better to keep silence than talk”, is different to “Silence is manifestation of wisdom”. But silence is not always positively valued in English linguo-culture. It can be a manifestation of foolishness and danger. Silence is associated with troubles. A similar installation – silence instead of sounds has danger and reflects in micro concept «Silence of the world / Тишина окружающего мира», which is charaterized by considerable less nominative density, than micro concept «Silence connected with the human / Тишина, связанная с человеком».

It should be marked that phraseological unit, objecting external silence of man, is accompanied with negative connotations, rather than units, representing silence. Apparently, it can be a consequence of external silence perception as a manifestation of foreign, hostile to a person world, at the same time silence is considered to be a manifestation of personal activity and ambivalent mark is explained in its own world. Silence association with death is represented in phraseological unit dead silence; (as) still as death (grave); (as) silent as the grave, realized as an image component of investigating concept. Death and grave in this phraseologisms are reference of absolute silence. It is necessary to point out that these phraseologisms due to their inner form, have a negative connotations for a man such silence is not comfortable and evil. All these phraseological units reflect archetypal manifestation about silence and death relationship, inherent mythological consciousness.

Dead silence "a dead silence, deathly silence";

(as) still as death (grave) "silent";

(as) silent as the grave "quiet as a grave";

the Great Stillness euphemism "great silence", "death";

deafening silence "unusual silence";

Beware of a silent dog and still water "There are devils in that pool"


1) An axiologic function reflects a relationship of lingvoculture to silence. It should be taken into consideration that Russian and German people express approval to silence with evaluation tokens: «лучше», "worse", "better", "besser", "das Beste": Лучше молчать, нежели врать

; Доброе молчание лучше худого ворчанья
; Доброе молчание лучше пустого болтания
; A sage thing is timely silence, and better than any speech 
(«Мудрая вещь своевременное молчание, и лучше, чем любая речь»); Speaking silence is better than senseless speech
(«Говорящее  молчание лучше, чем бессмысленная речь»); Better be silent than speak ill
Лучше молчи, чем говори плохо»); Schweigen ist das Beste
(«Молчание лучше всего»); Schweigen ist oft besser als sich verantwortet
(«Зачастую лучше промолчать, чем отвечать»);  Kein Kleid steht der Weibern besser als Schweigen
(«Никакое платье не подходит женщинам лучше, чем молчание») и т.д.

2) Directive function is in sayings with imperative function of silence. In this case it is said that interlocutor should cease to speak.  Знаючи говори, а не знаючи молчи

; Молчи, пора рожь толчи!
; Молчи, коли бог разуму не дал
; Умей сказать, умей и смолчать
; Be silent, or say something better than silence
Молчи или скажи что-нибудь лучше, чем молчание»); To silence another, first be silent yourself
(«Чтобы заставить замолчать другого, сначала молчи сам»); Silence and look out, we shall catch both hen and chicks
Молчи и смотри, мы поймаем как курицу, так и птенцов»); Sprich, was besser ist als nichts, oder schweige
(«Говори то, что лучше, чем ничего или молчи»); Verschweige, was du tun willst, so kommt dir niemand dazwischen
Умолчи о том, что ты хочешь делать, тогда тебе никто не помешает»); Wer sich schuldig weiss, der schweige
(«Кто знает свою вину, тот молчи») и др.

3) Emotive function in proverbs is directly connected with possibility to express psychological conditions and people`s experiences (joy, sadness, shame, fear, etc.). It was determined that in some situations silence can be perceived as a suitable approach of emotional events expressions. Говорить беда, а молчать другая

; Не стыдно молчать, коли нечего сказать
The best answer to anger is silence
 («Лучший ответ на гнев молчание»); Love and let the world know, hate in silence
(«Люби и дай миру знать, ненавидь в тишине»); Es ist Zeit zu reden, Zeit zu schweigen
(«Пора говорить, пора и помолчать»); Schweigen ist für viel Unglück gut
(«Молчание хорошо во время многих несчастий») и т.д.

4) Informative function of silence is in different interpretation of man`s silence in the conditions of definite communicative situation: Молчание – знак согласия

; Тихое молчание – ничему не ответ
; Большое молчание – первая любовь
; Доброе молчание – всему ответ
; Silence gives consentМолчание знак согласия»)
Speech is silver but silence is gold
Слово серебро, молчание – золото»); In the company of strangers silence is safe
(«В компании незнакомцев тишина – это спасение»); Schweigen ist auch eine Antwort
Молчание – тоже ответ»); Mit Stillschweigen antwortet man viel
Молчание в ответ говорит больше, чем слова») и т.д.

5) Constant function in proverbs and sayings is realized in introduction of the communicant a definite comment in reaction to interlocutor`s silence.  In such cases a folk wisdom is a means of description interlocutor`s silence: Замолчал как воды в рот набрал

; Замолчал будто кислым залило
; As dumb as a beetle
Молчит будто воды в рот набрал»); Silent as the grave
(«Нем как могила»); Schweigst du stille, so ist deine Wille
Молчи, твоя воля»); Stumm wie ein FischНем как рыба») 
и др.

The performed analysis of communicative functions of proverbs and sayings about silence in comparative linguo-cultures is based on research`s files, made by  method of full field enumeration, which includes 100 Russian, English and German proverbs and sayings.   

5. Conclusion

So we can make conclusions:

1. Russian, English, German proverbs and sayings with component silence can perform axiologic function and in the majority of cases gives a positive evaluation of silence phenomenon in comparative linguo-cultures. Axiologic function of investigated proverbs is characterized by emotional state, easy memorability and idiomatics. 

2. Performing a directive function, proverbs and sayings in comparative languages implicitly demonstrates prohibitive direction, as imperative forms of the verb «молчать»/ «to be silent» / «schweigen» have a similar meaning of a negative command “not to speak”.

3. Sayings of Russian, English, German people can express relation to silence while psychological conditions of people  (joy, grief, anger, sadness, etc.). It should be taken into consideration that in comparative linguo-cultures silence is evaluated as a pause, important for the best way out.

4. In linguistic world, picture of comparative languages silence is correlated with the answer, sign of agreement and safety, etc. It was detected that in spite of similarity, a different attitude to silence exists.  

5. Constant function of sayings with component silence in Russian, English, German languages is characterized by frequent use of silence conditions with different realia from surrounding world.  

We determine communicative-pragmatic characteristics of English, Russian, German proverbs and sayings. Peculiarities of using proverbs in comparative languages were analyzed. Silence has different meanings in cultures, so it is characterized by polysemy and multi-functionality. So, proverbs transfers people's experience, customs, way of thinking. The research of proverbs gives a possibility to know about stereotypes, mode of life, nation's traditions. Semantic and functional variation of proverbs and sayings provides a wide possibilities to use them in different contextual conditions. To solve these tasks a comparative-contrastive method, method of phraseological description, method of word definitions, method of full field enumeration from dictionaries and special reference-books, statistical and descriptive methods were used.

We can conclude, that phenomenon of silence in proverbs and sayings of different people represent a unique layer of folk wisdom, demonstrating relation to different nations to silence. From communicative function's side, silence can be considered not only a way of communication but a pause also. Also, silence as a linguistic phenomenon opens a wide horizon for future scientific researches in the field of cognitive linguistics, pragma-linguistics, paremiology, linguo-culture and other parts of linguistics. 

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