Is there a three-ictic taktovik in the verse of Russian bylinas?

2023. №4, 65-95

Alexander M. Petrov
Institute of Linguistics, Literature, and History, Karelian Research Centre, Russian Academy of Sciences, Petrozavodsk, Russia;


The paper attempts to clarify some theses of the accentual theory of folk versification in relation to bylinas — Russian epic songs. A brief overview of the research tradition from Vostokov to the modern time is presented, the most difficult problems of studying the metrics and rhythm of bylina are explicated. Criteria for selecting material for analysis are formulated. The sample is based on published texts from classical folklore collections of Kirsha Danilov, Gilferding, and Rybnikov — 10,111 lines (41 texts). An extensive audio material collected from a bearer of the folklore tradition is used for the study — 632 lines (36 fragments of bylinas). With the help of audio recordings, the features of epic accentuation, previously not fully reflected in published texts, were revealed. Based on them, a hypothesis was formulated about the alternation of lines with 3 and 4 stresses in the structure of an epic verse. Data extracted from audio recordings were extrapolated to texts whose exact sound is unknown. The most typical rhythmical variations of lines with 3 and 4 stresses are presented based on a complete separate metrical and rhythmical analysis. The results are presented in 15 tables. As far as I could discover, the shares of lines with 3 and 4 stresses are more or less balanced, and together normally make up more than 80 % of an epic text. I suggest that the three-ictic model of the epic verse arose as a result of separating text from melody and is a mere reflection of an artificial literary declamation. In reality, the verse of bylina is a taktovik (an accentual verse with mono-, di-, and trisyllabic inter-ictic interval) with alternation of lines with 3 and 4 stresses, variable anacrusis (the range of variation is normally 0–2 syllables), and dactylic or masculine (less often hyperdactylic) ending, with no rhyme.

For citation:

Petrov A. M. Is there a three-ictic taktovik in the verse of Russian bylinas? Voprosy Jazykoznanija, 2023, 4: 65–95.


The paper was written as part of the state task assigned to the Karelian Research Centre of the Russian Academy of Sciences, No. 121070800089-0 “Folklore, Handwritten Books and Literature of the European North: Source Study and Poetics”, individual section “Questions of Structure and Typology of Russian Folk Epic Verse”. I express my deep gratitude to the anonymous reviewers for a careful reading of the manuscript and constructive comments and suggestions for its improvement.