It is not known for certain who authored the Biblical translations that have come down to us in the Old Church Slavonic corpus, though tradition assigns authorship to the brothers St. Cyril and St. Methodius. St. Cyril is generally acknowledged as the primary force behind the effort of translation, and St. Methodius is thought to have finished what was left undone by his brother. Nevertheless, due to the paucity of first- or even second-hand information pertaining to the two brothers, the question of intent must remain open insofar as it deals with the author's desire to remain close to or break away from the wording of the original Greek. Certainly the author was writing to make the Gospels transparent to the audience, since the original translations were composed as an act of missionary work. Therefore the wording of the text, though at times amazingly close to the Greek, cannot be presumed to be unnatural to the OCS language itself. It may nevertheless stretch the bounds of OCS here and there in an attempt to highlight linguistically the special nature of the Gospels. The OCS translations shadow the Greek original most in either of two situations: one where the Greek is at its most simple and direct, the other where the Greek is most convoluted and opaque.
Translations for the Biblical passages in these lessons are quoted from the King James version of the New Testament.
The following text, Luke 12:16-21, is a beautiful illustration of both the OCS translator's adherence to the Greek original and his playfulness with the OCS language. The passage begins with the first verse mimicking the Greek original nearly word for word. Noting the simplicity of the narrative at this point, one must assume that this word order was natural in both languages, and the OCS version should not be seen as in any way taxing the abilities of the language. Throughout the passage, there is little departure from the Greek, until the last verse. Here one sees the compositional talents of the author. His rendering of "he is not rich toward God" is a play on words not present in the original Greek. It cannot be said how much choice the author had in rephrasing the verse, but it is hard to believe this play on words was lost on the audience, and must have been rendered so in order to finish out the passage in high style.
рєчє жє притъчѫ к н҄имъ глагол҄ѧ чловѣкѹ єтєрѹ богатѹ ѹгобьѕи сѧ н҄ива |
и мъішл҄јаашє в сєбѣ глагол҄ѧ чьто сътвор҄ѭ јако нє имамь къдє събьрати плодъ моихъ |
и рєчє сє сътвор҄ѭ разор҄ѭ житьницѧ моѧ и бол҄ьшѧ съзиждѫ и събєрѫ тѹ вьсја жита моја и добро моє |
рєкѫ дѹши моєи дѹшє имаши мъного добро лєжѧштє на лѣта мънога
почиваи јаждь пии вєсєли сѧ |
рєчє жє ємѹ богъ бєзѹмьнє въ сьѭ ношть дѹшѫ твоѭ истѧѕаѭтъ отъ тєбє а јажє ѹготова комѹ бѫдєтъ |
тако вьсакъ събираѧи сєбѣ нє въ богъ богатѣѧ
рєчє жє притъчѫ к н҄имъ глагол҄ѧ чловѣкѹ єтєрѹ богатѹ ѹгобьѕи сѧ н҄ива | и мъішл҄јаашє в сєбѣ глагол҄ѧ чьто сътвор҄ѭ јако нє имамь къдє събьрати плодъ моихъ | и рєчє сє сътвор҄ѭ разор҄ѭ житьницѧ моѧ и бол҄ьшѧ съзиждѫ и събєрѫ тѹ вьсја жита моја и добро моє | рєкѫ дѹши моєи дѹшє имаши мъного добро лєжѧштє на лѣта мънога
почиваи јаждь пии вєсєли сѧ | рєчє жє ємѹ богъ бєзѹмьнє въ сьѭ ношть дѹшѫ твоѭ истѧѕаѭтъ отъ тєбє а јажє ѹготова комѹ бѫдєтъ | тако вьсакъ събираѧи сєбѣ нє въ богъ богатѣѧ
(12:16) And he spake a parable unto them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully: (17) And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits? (18) And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods. (19) And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry. (20) But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided? (21) So is he that layeth up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.
The early OCS documents are written primarily in two alphabets, Glagolitic or Cyrillic. Much research has been done on the origins of the two, and the debate as to which was devised by St. Cyril (AD 827-869) himself does not seem to have been resolved to everyone's satisfaction. The majority of scholars, however, are of the opinion that Glagolitic was the one devised by Cyril in his early missionary work, a conclusion based in large part on the fact that, of the extant OCS manuscripts, the oldest are written in the Glagolitic script.
Regardless of the question of historical priority, for the study of OCS it is preferable to start by learning Cyrillic. Most of the textbooks on the subject make use of this alphabet throughout, to the point of transliterating Glagolitic passages into Cyrillic. These lessons will therefore focus only on it.
The Cyrillic alphabet is similar to the Greek alphabet from which it is derived. For the most part the Greek values of the letters are kept as they were pronounced in the time of Cyril and Methodius (c. 825-885); other letters were added to supplement the Greek system where it lacked representations for OCS sounds. This occurs most notably for sibilants, nasalized vowels, and reduced vowels (jers -- pronounced as the Modern English word "hairs", with the h replaced by y).
The following chart depicts the Cyrillic alphabetic character, its Cyrillic numerical value (which may differ slightly from its Glagolitic numerical value), its Slavonic name, its Roman transliteration, and a guide to its pronunciation. Unless otherwise specified, the examples of pronunciation are from American English.
|А а||1||азъ||A a||a as in 'father'|
|Б б||-||бѹкъі||B b||b as in 'boy'|
|В в||2||вѣдѣ||V v||v as in 'vine'|
|Г г||3||глаголи||G g||g as in 'good'|
|Д д||4||добро||D d||d as in 'dog'|
|Е є||5||єсть||E e||e as in 'end'|
|Ж ж||-||жівѣтє||Ž ž||s as in 'pleasure'|
|Ѕ ѕ||6||ѕѣло||Dz dz||ds as in 'heads'|
|З з||7||зємл҄ја||Z z||z as in 'zebra'|
|І і||10||ижє||I i||ee as in 'feet'|
|И и||8||ижєи||I i||ee as in 'feet'|
|(Ћ ћ)||-||ћа, дѥрв||G' g'||g as in 'coagulate'|
|К к||20||како||K k||c as in 'coop'|
|Л л||30||людиѥ||L l||l as in 'elk'|
|М м||40||мъіслитє||M m||m as in 'mother'|
|Н н||50||нашь||N n||n as in 'not'|
|О о||70||онъ||O o||ou as in 'ought'|
|П п||80||покой||P p||p as in 'post'|
|Р р||100||рьци||R r||r as in 'rather', but trilled|
|С с||200||слово||S s||s as in 'song'|
|Т т||300||тврьдо||T t||t as in 'top'|
|Ѹ ѹ||400||ѹкъ||U u||oo as in 'food'|
|Ф ф||500||фрьтъ||F f||f as in 'father'|
|Ѳ ѳ||9||фита||Θ θ||t as in 'top', or th as in 'path', or f as in 'father'|
|Х х||600||хѣръ||X x||ch as in Scots English 'loch'|
|Ѡ ѡ||800||отъ||Ō ō||au as in 'caught'|
|Щ щ||-||ща||Št št||shed as in 'mashed'|
|Ц ц||900||ци||C c||ts as in 'hats'|
|Ч ч||90||чрьвь, ча||Č č||ch as in 'church'|
|Ш ш||-||ша||Š š||sh as in 'sharp'|
|Ъ ъ||-||ѥръ||Ŭ ŭ||u as in 'put'|
|ЪІ ъі||-||ѥръі||Y y||oo of 'foot' with the tongue, with lips as in ee of 'feet'; compare Bronx pronunciation of 'Spuyten Duyvil'|
|Ь ь||-||ѥрь||Ĭ ĭ||i as in 'stop it!'|
|Ѣ ѣ||-||јать||Ě ě||ya as in 'yam'|
|Ю ю||-||ю||Ju ju||you as in 'you'|
|ЈА ја||-||ја||Ja ja||ya as in 'yacht'|
|Ѧ ѧ||900||юсъ, ѧсъ||Ę ę||in as in French 'fin', similar to an in American English 'can't' when final t is not fully articulated (a glottal stop)|
|Ѫ ѫ||-||юсъ, ѫсъ||Ǫ ǫ||on as in French 'bon'|
|Ѩ ѩ||-||юсъ, ѩсъ||Ję ję||ien as in French 'bien'|
|Ѭ ѭ||-||юсъ, ѭсъ||Jǫ jǫ||ion as in French 'lion'|
|Ѯ ѯ||60||ѯи||Ks ks||x as in 'tax'|
|Ѱ ѱ||700||ѱи||Ps ps||ps as in 'taps'|
|Ѵ ѵ||400||ижица||Ü ü||i in English 'ship', or u in French 'tu', ue in German 'Muenchen'|
The letter Ћ, ћ is adopted from late Serbian manuscripts to transcribe a letter found in the Glagolitic alphabet. It represents a palatalized articulation of Г, г. It is sometimes transcribed in Cyrillic as Г҄, г҄.
Special mention must be made of the sound jot, denoted j and pronounced like the y in 'year'. It had no corresponding representation in either the Glagolitic or the Cyrillic alphabets. However, when it formed a phoneme with a following vowel, it was indicated in the Cyrillic alphabet as in ја, ѥ,ю,я,ѭ. It was not indicated in combination with и, and only inconsistenly with є. When following a consonant, its presence was occasionally indicated by ҄. Hence we have the following representations:
|Б҄ б҄||B' b'||b as in 'beauty'|
|К҄ к҄||K' k'||c as in 'cute'|
|Л҄ л҄||L' l'||ll as in 'William'|
|Н҄ н҄||N' n'||ni as in 'onion'|
|П҄ п҄||P' p'||p as in 'computer'|
|Р҄ р҄||R' r'||re as in 'are you', but trilled|
|Х҄ х҄||X' x'||ch y as in 'Is this the loch you mentioned?'|
In addition an apostrophe ҄ is often used to denote an omitted jer, as in ч҄то for чьто.
The sounds of OCS may be arranged in tables by their articulation. The chart below indicates consonants. Note the letters in parentheses are not separate phonemes (see the discussion below concerning soft and palatalized sounds).
|voiceless||п||т||(п҄, к҄, х҄)||к|
The consonants in parentheses are palatalized, meaning that they are doubly articulated. For example, the sound represented as к҄ has a primary velar articulation and a following palatal off-glide.
The vowels are as follows
The compound vowels such as ја,ѥ, etc. were pronounced like the corresponding vowels in the chart above, preceded by the glide j.
There are two types of consonants: hard and soft. The hard consonants are followed by a back vowel, the soft by a front vowel (as listed in the vowel chart above). This distinction is not graphically distinguished in the OCS writing system. This presumably stems from there being no phonemic distinction between, say, k and k' (that is, accidentally saying k instead of k' would not result in a change of meaning). However, in pronouncing a word like пьсати 'to write', p is pronounced as p', and t is pronounced as t', like the "t y" in a slow pronunciation of "aren't you" (i.e. a pronunciation where one is not saying "arenchoo").
By contrast, the jot, j, adds to a preceding consonant a palatal off-glide. In some situations, the consonant preceding the jot itself acquires a palatal articulation, so that sj (с + j), say, regularly develops into š (ш). With labial consonants, one either finds the same labial with a palatal off-glide, or, more commonly, with an epenthetic l inserted between the original consonant and jot. This l is then represented as having a palatal off-glide (l'). Thus three major possibilities must be discerned: hard (preceding a back vowel), soft (preceding a front vowel), and palatalized (preceding jot). The following examples illustrate the distinction:
|[r]||рабъ [rabŭ]||рѣка [rěka]||мор҄є [morje]|
|[m]||имати [imati]||имѣти [iměti]||ѥмл҄ѫ [jemljǫ]|
|[s]||пьсати [pĭsati]||письць [pisĭcĭ]||пишѫ [pišǫ < *pis-jǫ]|
|[v]||слава [slava]||славити [slaviti]||славл҄ѫ [slavljǫ]|
|[d]||родъ [rodŭ]||родити [roditi]||рождѫ [roždjǫ < *rod-jǫ]|
One never finds the jot written in an OCS text. Thus, one may discern by looking at a word whether a given consonant is soft or hard in the above sense. Deciding whether a consonant is palatalized, if not so marked, may however be tricky. In general one looks for clues as to the presence of jot, as with the third example above, where с alternates with щ; likewise in the last example, where д alternates with жд.
It is quite certain that there was for the native speakers of OCS a definite distinction between soft and palatalized consonants. The following forms make this clear:
The nouns of OCS are inflected to show their role in a given sentence. Seven cases and three numbers are possible for each noun. In addition each noun may can be either singular in number, dual (two of a thing), or plural (more than two of a thing): рѫка '(a/the) hand', рѫцѣ '(the) two hands', рѫкъі '(the) hands'. There are three genders: masculine, feminine, or neuter. Grammatical gender often agrees with the sexual gender of the item denoted, e.g. жєна 'woman' is feminine; the assignment of gender may, however, have no overt rationale, e.g. рѫка 'hand' is feminine.
The following chart indicates the basic meanings for the various cases.
|Case Name||Description of Use||Basic Preposition||Example|
|Nominative||case of the subject, or something predicated to the subject||(none)||градъ '(a/the) city' (as subject)|
|Accusative||case of the direct object, or of the terminus of directed motion||(none); toward||градъ '(a/the) city' (as object)|
|Genitive||case of the sphere of relation; possession; (masculine direct object)||of; (none)||града 'of (a/the) city'|
|Locative||case of the location in space or time||in, on, at||градѣ 'in (a/the) city'|
|Dative||case of the indirect object; person/thing affected by the action||to, for||градѹ 'for (a/the) city'|
|Instrumental||case of the instrument of an action; case of accompaniment||with, by||градомь 'with (a/the) city'|
|Vocative||case of direct address||o!||градє 'O City!'|
Terminology: The nominal endings found in the following two sections constitute the twofold nominal declension.
By far the most common type of nouns are the o- and jo-stem declensions, so called based on historical linguistic grounds. Some authors employ the terms hard and soft o-stems, respectively.
The following are paradigms for the masculine hard stem nouns градъ 'city' and чловѣкъ 'human being'.
The paradigms below are for the masculine soft stem nouns мѫжь 'man' and змии 'dragon'.
The neuter hard stem nouns are declined like мѣсто 'place' and вѣко 'eyelid'. Note the accusative forms are the same as the nominative, which is always true for neuter nouns.
The neuter soft stem nouns are declined like срьдьцє 'heart' and знамєньє 'sign'.
A few things should be noted in the paradigms. One is the action of softening of the final stem consonant before front vowels. Hence чловѣкъ for the nominative singular, but чловѣцѣ for the locative; similarly the alternation of вѣко and вѣцѣ. In addition, the vocative is the same as the nominative in the dual and plural forms of nouns.
In the paradigm for знамєньѥ, in each form the jer ь is tense, and therefore may be vocalized as и. (This will be discussed further in the next lesson.) Hence the entire paradigm has the alternate forms знамєниѥ, знамєниѥ, знамєнија, знамєнии, and so on.
The a- and ja-stem nouns are feminine, except for a relatively few nouns whose natural gender is masculine. Thus жєна 'woman', глава 'head', and ладии 'ship' are feminine; but владъіка 'ruler' and сѫдьи 'judge' are masculine.
The following are paradigms for the feminine hard stem nouns жєна 'woman' and нога 'foot'.
Below are paradigms for a feminine and a masculine soft stem noun, дѹша 'soul' and сѫдьи 'judge'.
As in the o, jo-stem nouns, the stem consonant is softened before endings with front vowels. Thus the nominative singular is нога, but locative is ноѕѣ.
Like знамєньѥ, the ь of сѫдьи is tense; each form has an alternate with the ь replaced by и: сѫдии, сѫдиѭ, сѫдиѩ, etc.
Verbs are inflected for number and for person. Separate endings distinguish 1st, 2nd and 3rd person subjects; likewise a distinction is made between singular, dual, or plural subjects. Three simple tenses are distinguished: present, imperfect, and aorist. There are also three compound tenses: perfect, pluperfect, and future perfect.
The present tense is used for actions contemporaneous with the utterance and for the future. The same tense is used for both statements like "I am walking", which is a continual action ongoing at the time of the utterance, and like "I walk", which is a general statement about the situation surrounding the time frame of the utterance. OCS has no future tense, so that the present tense is used in reference to future time. Compare English: "We are going to the store tomorrow."
The construction of the present tense forms of a given verb proceeds naturally from the present tense stem. This stem is obtained from the 2nd person singular by dropping the ending -ши. Hence if one has зовєши 'you call', the present tense stem is зовє-. To this stem one adds the endings for the other persons and numbers. This is analogous to how one might, in slightly older English, take a verb like 'sacrifice' and append -st to obtain the 2nd person singular form 'thou sacrificest'. If one does the same to the verb 'have', however, one does not find 'havest' but rather 'thou hast'. Here the stem has undergone phonological changes which obscure its bare form. The situation is much the same in OCS, so that one must be aware of the possible changes undergone by verbal stems.
Some grammars classify verbs into five categories based on the form of the present tense stems. Thus verbs whose present tense stem ends in -є- are distinguished from those that end in -нє-, and so forth. These classifications will be discussed further in subsequent lessons. Here the present tense paradigms of two common verbs, глаголати 'to say' and молити 'to beg' are given.
In some OCS texts the ending -та of the 2nd person dual is used in place of -тє for the 3rd dual.
The imperfect tense is used for continuous actions started and ongoing prior to the utterance, as well for habitual actions. Thus "I was begging" and "I used to beg" are both English renderings of what would be in OCS imperfect forms. They would be expressed by the same verb form, мол҄јаахъ.
The forms of the imperfect are obtained from the infinitive-aorist stem. This stem is derived from the infinitive by dropping the suffix -ти. This may leave a stem with or without a vowel: нєсти 'to carry' gives нєс- for the stem, while глаголати and молити give глагола- and моли-, respectively. This process, however, does not always give the proper result, since the stem may have undergone phonological changes when the -ти suffix was added. These changes must be "undone" in order to arrive at the proper stem. Thus пасти 'to fall' should give the stem пас-; but the с is the result of an original д changing before the ending -ти. Hence the actual stem is пад-.
The distinctive marker of imperfect verb forms is the suffix -ах- or -ѣах- added to the stem. The suffix -ах- is appended to verbs with a stem ending in а or ѣ, the suffix -ѣах- to all other verbs. So знати 'to know' gives the imperfect зна-ахъ and сѣдѣти 'to sit' gives сѣдѣ-ахъ; but нєсти 'to carry' gives the imperfect нєс-ѣахъ. If the ending -ѣах- is appended to a stem ending in к or г, the final consonants undergo First Palatalization and become ч and ж, respectively. (The rules of palatalization will be discussed further in the next lesson.) However, following the palatals č, ž, j, the ѣ changed to а, resulting in the suffix -аах-. For example, the verb могѫ, мошти 'to be able' forms the imperfect можаахъ < *mog-ěaxŭ. Simply put, in practice one looks for -ах-, -аах-, and -ѣах- as signs of imperfect verb forms.
Below are the paradigms for глаголати 'to say' and молити 'to beg'.
In the later language, the suffixes were often shortened to -ах- and -ѣх-, leading forms like нєсѣхъ instead of нєсѣахъ. Also as variant endings in the dual, -шєта is replaced by -ста, -шєтє by -стє; and in the plural, -шєтє is replaced by -стє.
The word order in OCS sentences was generally free. What dictated a word's position in a sentence was its importance in the utterance: the important elements of a statement tended to be set toward the beginning. This "important element" could be the subject, but it could likewise be the object, the verb, an adverb, or what have you. In the typical narrative passages found in the translations of the Bible, the verb was generally placed first. This is illustrated by the first sentence of the Lesson 1 Reading:
|said||and||a parable||to them,||saying|
The first word is рєчє '(he) said'. The second position is occupied by the connective жє 'and', a position usual for several enclitic conjunctions, such as бо 'for' and ли 'if'. Similarly in the sentence
In both these statements the last word (глагол҄ѧ or богъ) refers to the subject. In addition to placing words at the beginning of a sentence for emphasis, words in final position were likewise highlighted.
In subordinate clauses, the first element was generally a conjunction or relative pronoun. The verb would then follow this or be placed at the end of the clause. Such subordination is less common, with most actions subordinate to the main verb being expressed via participles. Even the relative pronoun ижє 'he who' still retained much of its demonstrative force: more 'and he, that one, he...' rather than the weak 'he who...'. This left relative clauses to be interpreted simply as paratactic constructions joined by a pronoun and enclitic conjunction.
Other general tendencies included a preference for datives to precede accusatives, although рєчє жє притъчѫ к н҄имъ (where притъчѫ is acc., к н҄имъ is dat.) shows this is clearly not a hard and fast rule. A partitive genitive would follow its noun, as in 'one of the servants'; but an attributive genitive would precede the noun: 'of silver a cup'. As is seen from сьѭ ношть '(in) this night' in the reading and common phrases like дьнь сь 'this day, today', a demonstrative might precede or follow its noun (here сьѭ and сь).