'Skaz (Russian: сказ) is a Russian literary term that describes a particularly oral form of narrative. The word comes from skazat, "to tell", and is also related to such words as rasskaz, "short story" and skazka, "fairy tale". The speech makes use of dialect and slang in order to take on the persona of a particular character. The peculiar speech, however, is integrated into the surrounding narrative, and not presented in quotation marks. This is not only a literary device, but is also used as an element in Russian monologue comedy.
Skaz was first described by the Russian formalist Boris Eikhenbaum in the late 1910s. In a couple of articles published at this time, the literary scholar described the phenomenon as a form of unmediated or improvisational speech. He applied it specifically to Nikolai Gogol's short story The Overcoat, in a 1919 essay titled How Gogol's "Overcoat" Is Made. Eikhenbaum saw skaz as central to Russian culture, and believed that a national literature could not develop without a strong attachment to oral traditions. Among the literary critics who elaborated on this theory in the 1920s were Yury Tynyanov, Viktor Vinogradov, and Mikhail Bakhtin. The latter insists on the importance of skaz in stylization.
In the nineteenth century, the style was most prominently used by Nikolai Leskov, in addition to Gogol. Twentieth-century proponents include Aleksey Remizov, Mikhail Zoshchenko, Andrei Platonov, and Isaac Babel. The term is also used to describe elements in the literature of other countries; in recent times it has been popularised by the British author and literary critic David Lodge. John Mullan, a professor of English at University College London, finds examples of skaz in J. D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye and DBC Pierre's Vernon God Little.
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