Research article
Issue: № 4 (46), 2016


The article considers the verbal and nonverbal features of the engraving and the epitaph as its part. The description of the epitaph semiotics is one of the aims of the article. Semantic, syntactic, pragmalinguistic aspects of epitaph are also very important. Indexicality, iconism, emblematizm and symbolism support the hylic expression of epitaph and are directed to initiation of background knowledge of the reader.

Ревякина Н. П.

ORCID: 0000-0001-5158-6118, старший преподаватель кафедры иностранных языков, Ростовский филиал Российской таможенной академии



В данной статье рассматривается текст эпитафии как сложное коммуникативное явление с точки зрения реализации в нем основных прагматических функций. Анализ семиотических компонентов эпитафии - одна из целей статьи. Семантические, синтаксические, прагмалингвистические аспекты надгробной надписи важны для ее понимания. Индексальность, иконизм, эмблематизм и символизм ярко проявляются в надгробной надписи. В статье также приводится анализ эпитафий с позиции иллокутивной силы речевого акта.

Ключевые слова: надгробная надпись, эпитафия, знаковые характеристики, семиотика, индексальность, символизм, прагмалингвистика, речевой акт.

Revyakina N.P.

ORCID: 0000-0001-5158-6118, Senior Lecturer, Rostov-on-Don branch of the Russian Customs Academy



The article considers the verbal and nonverbal features of the engraving and the epitaph as its part. The description of the epitaph semiotics is one of the aims of the article. Semantic, syntactic, pragmalinguistic aspects of epitaph are also very important. Indexicality, iconism, emblematizm and symbolism support the hylic expression of epitaph and are directed to initiation of background knowledge of the reader.

Keywords: engraving; epitaph; sign characteristics; semiotics; indexicality; iconism ; emblematizm; symbolism; pragmalinguistics; speech act theory.

Gravestone inscriptions research can be considered as an unconventional source of information about the life, culture, national identity and religious beliefs of the people. These inscriptions are laconic, but succinctly informative. Raising important questions of life and death, objective and virtual reality, they make it possible to trace their interpretation in the national consciousness.

Epitaph reveals axiological foundations of the world outlook, telling about ideals, ethics, customs and manners of people. So epitaph can be presented directly on the tombstones, as well as being a kind of speech genre, included into respective anthological collection. Epitaph has a special place as a tombstone inscription [7, 331] among modular memorial texts.

We can distinguish such kinds of epitaphs as military, religious, ordinary (directed to a stranger), innocent (devoted to kids or virtual women), professional, humorous, ironical and satirical. Tombstone engravings have verbal and nonverbal properties that perform specific functions. It’s of interest to note, that these features are in constant communicative interrelation.

The purpose of the article is to describe the epitaph’s semiotics: its iconic features, semantic, syntactic and pragmalinguistic aspects. From the point of view of semioticswe should mention such properties as a non-verbal indexicality, iconism symbolism and emblematizm that support the hylic expression of the epitaph.

Let's start with indexicality (from the Latin” index”–“sign”) [7, 211], which is implemented in the presentation of factual information: full name of the deceased person, his dates of birth and death, degrees, titles. A characteristic feature is the precise indication of dates, which are usually complemented by poetic or prosaic expression of grief. We can also witness the mention of the impermanence of life. An example of what a sign can be expressed in figures is an inscription on the pedestal of the monument to Peter I in St. Petersburg: "To Grandfather – Grandson, 1800". One of the inscriptions belonging to the era of Peter the Great, dated 1789, is accompanied by the maxima "Blossom having blown fades, a man having lived dies" [6, 117] .These signs immersing us in a certain historical period, help to feel color, stylistic features, and the connection of times and generations.

Let us consider iconism, which manifests itself in a meaningful representation of the deceased: some photos, drawings, attributes of the profession engaged in speech; the main business of life: propellers, aircraft, boats, musical instruments, etc. These designations due to their unequivocal interpretation no longer require verbal explanations. Symbolic art gravestones, usually (especially from the XVIII century) is expressed in simple, "readable" images. These are "cognitive communication mechanisms by which people retain, interpret and use the information" [3, 128].

More focus on the symbolism is expressed in socially important components with an abstract value (for example, the words "hero", "glorious son of the fatherland", "patriot", etc.). Sculptural embodiment of ancient symbols: broken or faded flowers (interrupted life), anchors (faith), bees (hard work and the transformation of the soul leaving the body), phoenix (rebirth), crow (family caring) - also receive development or explanation in the imagery epitaphs. Symbolic expression of  monuments of St. Petersburg and Moscow necropolis turns them into something between an individual way and universal symbol (an example is a mourning image of grief in the monument to E. S. Kurakina, embodied in the figure of a crying woman and a bas-relief, where the sons of the deceased are depicted) [2, 83]. It should, however, be recognized that religious tombstones’ semiotics plays a subordinate, but not a dominant role in relation to the name of the person being in the center of the tombstone. Wailers mourn the dead, but not the Christ. Cross symbolism in epitaphs is represented by three values: cross - a symbol of eternal life, Christ's victory over death, something like an award to a Christian: "Oh Cross! This is the first joy for an eternal sepulchral tenant. So let friends, it will be an award from you "[8, 138]. In this epitaph the cross is represented as a "reward". We can also reveal its other value - "sepulchral tenant joy”." Here the reader in the words "resident" and "joy" can feel connection with life, the desire to have eternal life, which means victory over Death.

Finally, let’s consider emblematizm, which is used in the epitaph primarily as a heraldic symbol and an allegorical manifestation of the image of death and glory. Following V. I. Karasik, we understand emblematizm as the use of simplified images duplicating or replacing the verbal expression of information [4, 142]. Such property of the emblem as the uniqueness of its interpretation for the representatives of the same society (due to the presence of the social and cultural background information in each member) should also be mentioned. The emblem is different from the point of view of its characteristic features, too, having the sign nature and requiring multiple interpretations.

The logo describes the existing text or speech in the form of a simplified notation emotionally experienced image, being, in fact, just sign-index (deictic sign). Let’s also pay attention to such property of the emblem as imagery, allowing even considering it as a kind of linguacultural concept. Epitaph is seen in the context with other semantic elements of the monument - primarily with heraldry (approval of family honor and continuity kind: for example, a family of the Mines in Russia) and allegorical emblems of death (“memento mori”) and glory (laurel and palm branches, trumpeting angels, etc.). In a number of monuments of the end of the XVIII century, for example, you can see the ornate, decorated with volutes and crowned, high sarcophagus (e. g, the Fonvizin spouses in the necropolis of the Donskoy Monastery in Moscow) [2, 85]. The theme of sorrow and interrupted life is embodied in the images of the mourning women, babies with fading torches, broken trees, etc. Figures of ancient goddesses embody citizenship, wisdom, valor and other military virtues. Allegories of time, eternity and oblivion are represented in the form of an hourglass with wings.

Decoration, forms, images are also very important for the gravestone inscriptions. They perform symbolic function. All iconic elements of non-verbal epitaphs are aimed at inciting background associative connections with the reader. This is the power of non-verbal acting fragments of the epitaph.

The second verbal epitaph feature also has the effect of acting and is considered here from the perspective of three aspects: semantic, syntactic and pragmalinguistics.

In semantic terms the selection of tokens implemented in a cemetery genre is noteworthy. Here such epitaph features as solemnity, sublimity, rigor, seriousness, soulfulness, expressiveness, documentalism of praise can be mentioned. Vividly these properties are manifested in the epitaphs to famous people. Here is the text on the gravestone of a famous physicist Newton: "Here lies Sir Isaac Newton, whose unparalleled power of mind for the first time explained the motion of the planets, the paths of comets, the tides of the ocean." [8, 139] There are just two words on the gravestone of great mathematician Leibniz: "To the Genius of Leibniz."[8, 139] "He snatched the lightning sky and then the tyrant's scepters" - can be read on the bust of Benjamin Franklin [8, 140]. In these epitaphs along with their linguistic elements: the use of adjectives, words of high pathos (“the unparalleled power of "mind", "genius", "tyrant", etc.), metaphors ("snatched lightning", "stopped the sun”), and extralinguistic factors can be traced: appreciation offspring admiration for the talent of the dead, pride for their outstanding service to the community, the desire to follow them in the affairs. Gala style epitaphs, their penetration and expression can be felt and read in the graves inscriptions of common people as well: "The pain is immortal, sadness is infinite. Memory will remain forever," "More, cannot be lost. Sorrow has no boundaries. Grief cannot be expressed” [8, 140]. Love of friends, bitterness of loss, grief and sorrow, eternal memory is felt in these epitaphs.

In terms of the syntactic meaning we can mention: compositional originality, conciseness, brevity, and narrative rhythm, the presentation of the situation, its poetic form. "Finally happy" - this short phrase is placed on the grave of one of the creators of the theory of electricity - Amper [8, 140]. The monument to the legendary Moscow doctor Theodor Haas represents his famous motto: "Hasten to do good!" [8, 140] The epitaph to V. Bagritsky written by Marina Tsvetayeva expresses astonishment: "I am an eternal object. Why I was buried? I did not like to disappear from my beloved land!" [8, 140].

The analysis of these and similar epitaphs show that their syntactical features are shown in the following: a) the epitaph usually consists of simple sentences, which allow internal expansion; b) the transition of simple sentences into complex does not exceed 25per cent; c) a model of declarative sentence is prevailing in the epitaph (78 per cent); g) interrogative sentences are widely used in the epitaph, including a rhetorical question. Through rhetorical device the author “invites” the reader to reflect and come to the joint decision of the vital issue, for example, about the transition of life and the need to do something useful beforethe departure.

From the point of view of pragmalinguistics we should dwell on two sides of the epitaph: its internal and external significance and communicative relationship. The speech acts of the epitaph are considered from the standpoint of their locution, illocution and perlocution.

In terms of locution epitaph reflects the composition of the reference information described above.

The illocutionary plan in the epitaph addresses a number of parameters: positive (in rare cases, negative, ironic and satirical) estimation of the deceased and their deeds, usually for the benefit of the humanity, gratitude, preservation of grief and sadness, sincerity and love.

Finally, one more important characteristic of the engraving is its perlocution effect . Of course, the epitaph is focused on the impact on the recipient. It is interesting to note, that the implementation of this action is based on guessing. This is so-called "simultaneous application", i. e the imposition of different semiotic signs of nature [1, 100].


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