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SL8: The History of the Russian Language

This paper is available for the academic year 2023-24.

The earliest texts written in an East Slavonic language appear in Kyivan Rus’ in the 11th century. These texts exhibit both Church Slavonic and native East Slavonic features. The Church Slavonic features in the texts represent a continuation of the sacral language that came into being in Moravia following the Cyrillo-Methodian mission in the 9th century. Over the course of many centuries both Church Slavonic and native East Slavonic varieties appear to have been in use, sometimes coexisting and sometimes mixing with each other. The breakthrough of a unified standard based on the East Slavonic variety took place in the 18th to 19th centuries. This is the beginning of the period of Contemporary Standard Russian.  

In this course we will focus on the language situation in what is now Russia (although we will be drawing some comparative data from the related East Slavonic languages -- Belarusian and Ukrainian). We will trace the changes in the sound structure, morphology and syntax of Early East Slavonic and subsequently Russian. We will explore the interaction of Church Slavonic and East Slavonic in a number of medieval and early modern texts. The supervisory component of the paper was designed to confer an additional set of meta-skills: (i) ability to work with unfamiliar linguistic data (i.e., to generalize, establish patterns, and present the findings in a manner consistent with the conventions of the field); (ii) facility with certain technologies (Latex). We will also address the historical and socio-cultural factors that have played a role in the development of the Russian language.  

Lectures and supervisions in this course form an integrated package which will give you a thorough grounding in the subject and prepare you for the examination. This means that you cannot make a success of this course by concentrating just on supervisions: regular attendance at lectures is vital.

Objectives:

By the end of this course you should be able to:

  1. identify Church Slavonic versus East Slavonic forms in some of the earliest East Slavonic texts;
  2. analyse the significance of a variety of forms found in the earliest East Slavonic texts in terms of the history of Russian;
  3. translate short passages from a variety of different East Slavonic texts;
  4. analyse sets of related words from a historical perspective
  5. discuss the most important phonetic, phonological and morphological developments in the history of Russian
Topics: 

Historical sound changes (phonology)

  • Kiparsky, V.: Russian historical grammar. Vol. 1. The development of the sound system. Ann Arbor 1979.
  • Schenker, A. M. (1995): The Dawn of Slavic: An Introduction to Slavic Philology. New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press

History of Russian

  • Press, I. (2007): A History of the Russian Language and its Speakers. Munich: LINCOM Europa. => simplistic, but good to get an overview
  • Vlasto, A. P. (1986): Linguistic History of Russian to the End of the Eighteenth Century. Oxford: Oxford University Press. => use it as a reference book

Old Church Slavonic / Old East Slavonic / Russian Church Slavonic / Diglossia

  • Lunt, H. G. (1987): On the relationship of Old Church Slavonic to the written language of early Rus’, in: Russian Linguistics, Vol. 11, No. 2/3 (January), 133-162.
  • Worth, D. S. (1985): Vernacular and Slavonic in Kievan Rus’, in: G. Stone and D. Worth (eds.), The Formation of the Slavonic Literary Languages, Columbus, Ohio: Slavica, 233-242.
  • Collins, D. E. (1992): On diglossia and the linguistic norms of medieval Russian writing, in: Studies in Russian Linguistics (= Studies in Slavic and General Linguistics Vol. 17), 79–94.
  • Ferguson, Ch. (1959): Diglossia, in: Word, 15, 325-340. Reprinted in: P. P. Giglioli (ed.), Language and Social Context, London: 1972, 232-251.

South Slavonic influence

  • Birnbaum, H. (1976): On the Significance of the Second South Slavic Influence for the Evolution of the Russian Literary Language. Lisse: Peter de Ridder Press.
  • Worth, D. S. (1983): The ’Second South Slavic Influence’ in the History of the Russian Literary Language (Materials for a Discussion), in: Michael S. Flier (ed.), American Contributions to the Ninth International Congress of Slavists. Kiev, September 1983. Volume I: Linguistics. Columbus: Slavica. 1983. 349-72.
Preparatory reading: 

Linguistics

  • Campbell, L. (1998): Historical Linguistics: An Introduction. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
  • Radford, A, and M. Atkinson, et. al. 2009. Linguistics: An Introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

History of Russian

  • Press, I. (2007): A History of the Russian Language and its Speakers. Munich: LINCOM Europa. => simplistic, but good to get an overview
  • Vlasto, A. P. (1986): Linguistic History of Russian to the End of the Eighteenth Century. Oxford: Oxford University Press. => use it as a reference book
  • Nesset, T. 2015. How Russian Came to Be the Way it is: A Student’s Guide to the History of the Russian Language. Slavica: Indiana: Indiana University Press.

Old Church Slavonic / Old East Slavonic / Russian Church Slavonic / Diglossia

  • Lunt, H. G. (1987): On the relationship of Old Church Slavonic to the written language of early Rus’, in: Russian Linguistics, Vol. 11, No. 2/3 (January), 133-162.
  •  Worth, D. S. (1985): Vernacular and Slavonic in Kievan Rus’, in: G. Stone and D. Worth (eds.), The Formation of the Slavonic Literary Languages, Columbus, Ohio: Slavica, 233-242.

Full reading list

The full reading list for Sl.8 is available here.

Teaching and learning: 

Lectures and supervisions form an integrated package which will give you a thorough grounding in the subject and prepare you for the examination. This means that you cannot make a success of this course by concentrating just on supervisions: regular attendance at lectures is vital.

Assessment: 

For all candidate: a 5-hour timed online examination.

Candidates for Part IB

Answer any three questions from any section. For each answer you should write no more than 1,300 words.

Candidates for Part II are required to answer three questions. Candidates must answer Question 1 from Section A and two questions from Section B. Candidates are not permitted to answer from Section C. Essay answers should be no more than 1,500 words.

Candidates for Linguistics Part IIA and Part IIB are required to answer three questions. Candidates may answer from Sections A and B, but must not answer from Section C.

Essay answers should be no more than 1,500 words.

Candidates for this paper may not draw substantially on material from their dissertations or material which they have used or intend to use in another scheduled paper. Candidates may not draw substantially on the same material in more than one question on the same paper.

Course Contacts: 
Dr Ksenia Zanon

 

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