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The Structural Organization of English and Russian Folk Riddles. P. 124–132

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Section: Philology




Naylya I. Fayzullina
Kazan (Volga Region) Federal University;
ul. Kremlevskaya 18, Kazan, 420008, Respublika Tatarstan, Russian Federation; e-mail:


The peculiar structure of folk riddles still occupies the minds of linguists and folklorists due to the complex organization of this genre. The author of this article suggests a hypothesis about the threepart model of the riddle (introductory part, descriptive part, and the answer). The introductory and the descriptive parts are differentiated on the basis of their functions. This distinction is best demonstrated in riddles with a clear “guess” intention expressed by the formula What is it? The author believes that it was under the influence of such phrases that some riddles took the form of an interrogative sentence. Folklore formulas appearing at the beginning and at the end of the description also prove the significance of the introductory part. Such formulas can be found both in Russian and English riddles and present a clear statement of intention prior to description. The undertaken detailed analysis of folklore formulas revealed a cultural frame of riddle guessing: the answer should be given within a certain period of time; often, only a wise man can guess the answer; a wrong answer leads to corporal punishment, while the right answer can bring financial reward. The paper also considered riddles with an implicit introductory part. Having performed syntactic transformations and a semantic analysis of such sentences outside of their communicative situation, the author concludes that a declarative sentence is perceived as a riddle only under certain conditions of communication or if the situation has been predetermined.


folklore, folk riddle, folklore formula, denotation, intention
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