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.
reče že pritŭčǫ k n'imŭ glagol'ę člověku eteru bogatu ugobĭdzi sę n'iva |
i myšl'jaaše v sebě glagol'ę čĭto sŭtvor'jǫ jako ne imamĭ kŭde sŭbĭrati plodŭ moixŭ |
i reče se sŭtvor'jǫ razor'jǫ žitĭnicę moę i bol'ĭšę sŭziždǫ i sŭberǫ tu vĭsja žita moja i dobro moe |
rekǫ duši moei duše imaši mŭnogo dobro ležęšte na lěta mŭnoga
počivai jaždĭ pii veseli sę |
reče že emu bogŭ bezumĭne vŭ sĭjǫ noštĭ dušǫ tvojǫ istędzajǫtŭ otŭ tebe a jaže ugotova komu bǫdetŭ |
tako vĭsakŭ sŭbiraęi sebě ne vŭ bogŭ bogatěę
reče že pritŭčǫ k n'imŭ glagol'ę člověku eteru bogatu ugobĭdzi sę n'iva | i myšl'jaaše v sebě glagol'ę čĭto sŭtvor'jǫ jako ne imamĭ kŭde sŭbĭrati plodŭ moixŭ | i reče se sŭtvor'jǫ razor'jǫ žitĭnicę moę i bol'ĭšę sŭziždǫ i sŭberǫ tu vĭsja žita moja i dobro moe | rekǫ duši moei duše imaši mŭnogo dobro ležęšte na lěta mŭnoga
počivai jaždĭ pii veseli sę | reče že emu bogŭ bezumĭne vŭ sĭjǫ noštĭ dušǫ tvojǫ istędzajǫtŭ otŭ tebe a jaže ugotova komu bǫdetŭ | tako vĭsakŭ sŭbiraęi sebě ne vŭ bogŭ bogatěę
(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.
|A a||1||azŭ||A a||a as in 'father'|
|B b||-||buky||B b||b as in 'boy'|
|V v||2||vědě||V v||v as in 'vine'|
|G g||3||glagoli||G g||g as in 'good'|
|D d||4||dobro||D d||d as in 'dog'|
|E e||5||estĭ||E e||e as in 'end'|
|Ž ž||-||živěte||Ž ž||s as in 'pleasure'|
|Dz dz||6||dzělo||Dz dz||ds as in 'heads'|
|Z z||7||zeml'ja||Z z||z as in 'zebra'|
|I i||10||iže||I i||ee as in 'feet'|
|I i||8||ižei||I i||ee as in 'feet'|
|(G' g')||-||g'a, djerv||G' g'||g as in 'coagulate'|
|K k||20||kako||K k||c as in 'coop'|
|L l||30||ljudije||L l||l as in 'elk'|
|M m||40||myslite||M m||m as in 'mother'|
|N n||50||našĭ||N n||n as in 'not'|
|O o||70||onŭ||O o||ou as in 'ought'|
|P p||80||pokoji||P p||p as in 'post'|
|R r||100||rĭci||R r||r as in 'rather', but trilled|
|S s||200||slovo||S s||s as in 'song'|
|T t||300||tvrĭdo||T t||t as in 'top'|
|U u||400||ukŭ||U u||oo as in 'food'|
|F f||500||frĭtŭ||F f||f as in 'father'|
|Θ θ||9||fita||Θ θ||t as in 'top', or th as in 'path', or f as in 'father'|
|X x||600||xěrŭ||X x||ch as in Scots English 'loch'|
|Ō ō||800||otŭ||Ō ō||au as in 'caught'|
|Št št||-||šta||Št št||shed as in 'mashed'|
|C c||900||ci||C c||ts as in 'hats'|
|Č č||90||črĭvĭ, ča||Č č||ch as in 'church'|
|Š š||-||ša||Š š||sh as in 'sharp'|
|Ŭ ŭ||-||jerŭ||Ŭ ŭ||u as in 'put'|
|Y y||-||jery||Y y||oo of 'foot' with the tongue, with lips as in ee of 'feet'; compare Bronx pronunciation of 'Spuyten Duyvil'|
|Ĭ ĭ||-||jerĭ||Ĭ ĭ||i as in 'stop it!'|
|Ě ě||-||jatĭ||Ě ě||ya as in 'yam'|
|Ju ju||-||ju||Ju ju||you as in 'you'|
|Ja ja||-||ja||Ja ja||ya as in 'yacht'|
|Ę ę||900||jusŭ, ęsŭ||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)|
|Ǫ ǫ||-||jusŭ, ǫsŭ||Ǫ ǫ||on as in French 'bon'|
|Ję ję||-||jusŭ, jęsŭ||Ję ję||ien as in French 'bien'|
|Jǫ jǫ||-||jusŭ, jǫsŭ||Jǫ jǫ||ion as in French 'lion'|
|Ks ks||60||ksi||Ks ks||x as in 'tax'|
|Ps ps||700||psi||Ps ps||ps as in 'taps'|
|Ü ü||400||ižica||Ü ü||i in English 'ship', or u in French 'tu', ue in German 'Muenchen'|
The letter G', g' is adopted from late Serbian manuscripts to transcribe a letter found in the Glagolitic alphabet. It represents a palatalized articulation of G, g. It is sometimes transcribed in Cyrillic as G', g'.
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 ja, je,ju,ja,jǫ. It was not indicated in combination with i, and only inconsistenly with e. When following a consonant, its presence was occasionally indicated by '. Hence we have the following representations:
|B' b'||B' b'||b as in 'beauty'|
|K' k'||K' k'||c as in 'cute'|
|L' l'||L' l'||ll as in 'William'|
|N' n'||N' n'||ni as in 'onion'|
|P' p'||P' p'||p as in 'computer'|
|R' r'||R' r'||re as in 'are you', but trilled|
|X' x'||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 č'to for čĭto.
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||p||t||(p', k', x')||k|
The consonants in parentheses are palatalized, meaning that they are doubly articulated. For example, the sound represented as k' has a primary velar articulation and a following palatal off-glide.
The vowels are as follows
The compound vowels such as ja,je, 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 pĭsati '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 (s + j), say, regularly develops into š (š). 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]||rabŭ [rabŭ]||rěka [rěka]||mor'e [morje]|
|[m]||imati [imati]||iměti [iměti]||jeml'ǫ [jemljǫ]|
|[s]||pĭsati [pĭsati]||pisĭcĭ [pisĭcĭ]||pišǫ [pišǫ < *pis-jǫ]|
|[v]||slava [slava]||slaviti [slaviti]||slavl'ǫ [slavljǫ]|
|[d]||rodŭ [rodŭ]||roditi [roditi]||roždǫ [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 s alternates with št; likewise in the last example, where d alternates with žd.
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): rǫka '(a/the) hand', rǫcě '(the) two hands', rǫky '(the) hands'. There are three genders: masculine, feminine, or neuter. Grammatical gender often agrees with the sexual gender of the item denoted, e.g. žena 'woman' is feminine; the assignment of gender may, however, have no overt rationale, e.g. rǫka '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)||gradŭ '(a/the) city' (as subject)|
|Accusative||case of the direct object, or of the terminus of directed motion||(none); toward||gradŭ '(a/the) city' (as object)|
|Genitive||case of the sphere of relation; possession; (masculine direct object)||of; (none)||grada 'of (a/the) city'|
|Locative||case of the location in space or time||in, on, at||gradě 'in (a/the) city'|
|Dative||case of the indirect object; person/thing affected by the action||to, for||gradu 'for (a/the) city'|
|Instrumental||case of the instrument of an action; case of accompaniment||with, by||gradomĭ 'with (a/the) city'|
|Vocative||case of direct address||o!||grade '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 gradŭ 'city' and člověkŭ 'human being'.
The paradigms below are for the masculine soft stem nouns mǫžĭ 'man' and zmii 'dragon'.
The neuter hard stem nouns are declined like město 'place' and věko '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 srĭdĭce 'heart' and znamenĭe '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 člověkŭ for the nominative singular, but člověcě for the locative; similarly the alternation of věko and věcě. In addition, the vocative is the same as the nominative in the dual and plural forms of nouns.
In the paradigm for znamenĭje, in each form the jer ĭ is tense, and therefore may be vocalized as i. (This will be discussed further in the next lesson.) Hence the entire paradigm has the alternate forms znamenije, znamenije, znamenija, znamenii, and so on.
The a- and ja-stem nouns are feminine, except for a relatively few nouns whose natural gender is masculine. Thus žena 'woman', glava 'head', and ladii 'ship' are feminine; but vladyka 'ruler' and sǫdĭi 'judge' are masculine.
The following are paradigms for the feminine hard stem nouns žena 'woman' and noga 'foot'.
Below are paradigms for a feminine and a masculine soft stem noun, duša 'soul' and sǫdĭi 'judge'.
As in the o, jo-stem nouns, the stem consonant is softened before endings with front vowels. Thus the nominative singular is noga, but locative is nodzě.
Like znamenĭje, the ĭ of sǫdĭi is tense; each form has an alternate with the ĭ replaced by i: sǫdii, sǫdijǫ, sǫdiję, 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 -ši. Hence if one has zoveši 'you call', the present tense stem is zove-. 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 -e- are distinguished from those that end in -ne-, and so forth. These classifications will be discussed further in subsequent lessons. Here the present tense paradigms of two common verbs, glagolati 'to say' and moliti 'to beg' are given.
In some OCS texts the ending -ta of the 2nd person dual is used in place of -te 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, mol'jaaxŭ.
The forms of the imperfect are obtained from the infinitive-aorist stem. This stem is derived from the infinitive by dropping the suffix -ti. This may leave a stem with or without a vowel: nesti 'to carry' gives nes- for the stem, while glagolati and moliti give glagola- and moli-, respectively. This process, however, does not always give the proper result, since the stem may have undergone phonological changes when the -ti suffix was added. These changes must be "undone" in order to arrive at the proper stem. Thus pasti 'to fall' should give the stem pas-; but the s is the result of an original d changing before the ending -ti. Hence the actual stem is pad-.
The distinctive marker of imperfect verb forms is the suffix -ax- or -ěax- added to the stem. The suffix -ax- is appended to verbs with a stem ending in a or ě, the suffix -ěax- to all other verbs. So znati 'to know' gives the imperfect zna-axŭ and sěděti 'to sit' gives sědě-axŭ; but nesti 'to carry' gives the imperfect nes-ěaxŭ. If the ending -ěax- is appended to a stem ending in k or g, the final consonants undergo First Palatalization and become č and ž, respectively. (The rules of palatalization will be discussed further in the next lesson.) However, following the palatals č, ž, j, the ě changed to a, resulting in the suffix -aax-. For example, the verb mogǫ, mošti 'to be able' forms the imperfect možaaxŭ < *mog-ěaxŭ. Simply put, in practice one looks for -ax-, -aax-, and -ěax- as signs of imperfect verb forms.
Below are the paradigms for glagolati 'to say' and moliti 'to beg'.
In the later language, the suffixes were often shortened to -ax- and -ěx-, leading forms like nesěxŭ instead of nesěaxŭ. Also as variant endings in the dual, -šeta is replaced by -sta, -šete by -ste; and in the plural, -šete is replaced by -ste.
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 reče '(he) said'. The second position is occupied by the connective že 'and', a position usual for several enclitic conjunctions, such as bo 'for' and li 'if'. Similarly in the sentence
In both these statements the last word (glagol'ę or bogŭ) 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 iže '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 reče že pritŭčǫ k n'imŭ (where pritŭčǫ is acc., k n'imŭ 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 sĭjǫ noštĭ '(in) this night' in the reading and common phrases like dĭnĭ sĭ 'this day, today', a demonstrative might precede or follow its noun (here sĭjǫ and sĭ).