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Old Russian Online

Lesson 10

Todd B. Krause and Jonathan Slocum

VI. Early East Slavic Writing

The earliest East Slavic manuscripts serve to inform and to check scholars' understanding and reconstruction of the language spoken in the land of the Rus, as well as of its immediate predecessor, Proto-Slavic. Such reconstruction, however, depends critically on a proper understanding of the nature of the manuscripts and the process of their production. In the present section we discuss the work of two scholars, Horace G. Lunt and Charles E. Gribble, whose insights into the study of manuscripts elucidate some of the problems and pitfalls of manuscript interpretation.

VI.i The Interplay between Phonetic and Traditional Systems of Spelling

Linguistics seeks to describe language as a system. In the general case, that system comprises sound. The written word provides but an imperfect representation of that sound. Spelling mistakes abound, but far from being a hindrance, they often assist the linguist's task. Spelling mistakes provide clues to actual pronunciation, which may in fact differ from the the sounds a specific sequence of letters might suggest. To wit, if a writer is unsure of the spelling of a word, he or she will make a guess. That guess will, in turn, be informed by the writer's own pronunciation. The writer will choose the sequence of letters which he or she thinks represents the desired sound.

Historical linguistics seeks to describe the evolution of the system of a given language or languages over time. Describing the evolution of languages requires an understanding of both the starting point and the end point of the period under consideration. The description of the end point, relatively speaking, is usually a simple matter: it is typically a modern language, whose characteristics can be confirmed via recourse to native speakers. The starting point, by comparison, comprises some unique difficulties: frequently it is an ancient language, with no remaining native speakers. Accurate description of linguistic evolution requires a priori an accurate description of the starting point, i.e. of the original ancient language. The scholar must therefore reconstruct from the available materials the linguistic system of the ancient language in question. One fundamental aspect of this description is an adequate reconstruction of the phonological system.

Frequently it happens that the ancient language texts which most concern the historical linguist come from the earliest documentary period of that language. Such texts are frequently contemporaneous with, or follow shortly upon, the invention of the writing system employed or the importation of a foreign writing system and its original application to the language under investigation. In such instances the writing system is often novel enough to the writers of the texts that there is as yet no sense of "correct spelling": the writing system has been invented or imported precisely to represent the sounds of the language as uttered. Spelling therefore has not yet been systematized, and the writer spells essentially phonetically. In such situations, when the linguist finds spellings which differ between two authors, this is assumed to arise as a result of differences in pronunciation.

The preceding provides a caricature of the logic underlying the reconstruction of ancient phonemic systems through the careful analysis of spellings and misspellings in historical documents. However it overlooks some subtleties which can lead to erroneous conclusions, particularly in the reconstruction of the language of the texts and speakers of early East Slavic. The crucial ingredient often left out of analyses is this: any writing system is first and foremost a system. As such, it must be learned; to be learned, it must conform to rules. The very process of learning the system immediately generates notions of convention, or more loosely "correctness". The writer's desire to adhere to convention may interfere with the tendency to write phonetically, even when guessing the spelling of a word. This should, as a result, give the linguist a sense of caution before accepting any particular spelling as a representation of the underlying phonetic reality (Lunt, 1951). Based upon these considerations, the eminent scholar Horace G. Lunt outlines two basic principles that must be applied when interpreting documentary evidence (Lunt, 1987):

  1. Letters are not necessarily phonetic symbols; orthography is largely a matter of convention.
  2. Every linguistic system has its own internal variation.

Within the tradition of Old Russian, i.e. of early East Slavic, the writing system was adopted from the South Slavic area of the alphabet's invention. Moreover early documents such as the Ostromir Gospel were generally based on Old Church Slavonic models. The linguistic variation exhibited by the texts will therefore fall into three basic types (Lunt, 1987):

  1. Internal to OCS;
  2. Internal to Old Russian;
  3. Internal and shared by both.

This variation may result from geographic distance, i.e. regional dialectal variation, or from temporal distance, i.e. evolution within the language in situ. Incorrect assignment of variation to one type or the other may lead to a faulty picture of the state of the language during any given period and its subsequent evolution (Lunt, 1987).

At the same time it is important to understand the perspective of the contemporaneous speaker. The preponderance of evidence surrounding the Moravian mission, as well as the reception of the liturgy among the East Slavs, suggests that East and South Slavs recognized no fundamental difference in the speech of their respective communities at the point in which the languages entered the historical written record. We may therefore tentatively assume that speakers in the tenth and eleventh centuries recognized any variation between their respective speech patterns as variation within one common language (Lunt, 1987).

The manuscript copyists themselves were professionals, or at the very least technicians. They had learned a detailed system and were employed to apply it. They assigned a notion of correctness to the system. In copying a manuscript, the copyist sought to reproduce the text. This however does not mean that the copyist sought to reproduce the spelling. Copyists often felt free to "correct" manuscripts. Naturally the notion of "correctness" could be informed by local pronunciation. But arguably more important was the influence of the learned system on the notion of "correctness". Lunt describes how Durnovo had earlier outlined the fundamental points underlying such considerations (Lunt, 1987):

  1. Written language is always standardized to some extent;
  2. Learners are taught the conventional system, not the phonetic principles that underlie it;
  3. They learn the system well or poorly;
  4. The system does not describe a local dialect, but a standard (literary) language: it serves a different purpose and may be a combination of dialectal features.

Thus in the process of finding the correct spelling of a word, the Old Russian copyist would first have recourse to the rules of the system before possibly employing phonetic considerations. We find the same phenomenon in English: a writer schooled in the English writing system but at a loss for how to spell the plural of the particular would box would, all things being equal, be much more likely to guess boxes than *boxez, since the system itself contains no readily available instances of a plural written with final -z. The pattern established by the system frequently supersedes phonetic reasoning.

The task for the scholar, as Lunt explains, is therefore threefold (Lunt, 1987):

  1. establish the "norms of orthography preferred by the scribe";
  2. decide what is "right" and "wrong" from the scribe's perspective;
  3. explain "wrong" instances in terms of other factors: the scribe's spoken dialect, norms of the manuscript being copied, etc.

In this context, Lunt points out, forms reconstructed on linguistic grounds can serve as a guide to establishing the norms of scribal practice, but they need not provide a priori a rule for deciding what is "right" and what is "wrong" (Lunt, 1987).

VI.ii The Writing of Jers in Old Russian Manuscripts

The work of Gribble (1989) provides a concise and lucid account of a particular application of the principles described in the preceding section to problems of the linguistic interpretation of documentary evidence in Old Russian. We have seen that in early Slavic the jers were still vocalic, that is they could form the nucleus of a syllable. Moreover, if we judge correctness by our expectations based on etymological grounds, manuscripts originating in the regions of the early Rus generally write the jers as correctly as any other manuscript tradition in the early Slavic world until the middle of the 12th century. Nevertheless we frequently find that the scribe "drops" jers where they would otherwise be expected. The question therefore arises: what were the reasons for dropping the jers?

In a review of the literature surrounding the question, Gribble highlights four illustrative examples of the data contained in the early East Slavic manuscripts (Gribble, 1989):

  • Jers are dropped in the initial syllable of kŭto and knjazĭ: kto, kŭnjazĭ;
  • vĭsĭ and dĭnĭ often drop the initial jer: vsĭ & dnĭ;
  • sŭde frequently omits the jer;
  • drops the jer when followed immediately by tomu.

Concerning the loss of jers in the initial syllables of kto and knjazĭ, Gribble makes the following observations. Though jer loss is frequent in initial syllables, scholars have little reason to believe that initial syllables had stress any weaker than other syllables not bearing the primary stress. This follows at least in part from the fact that early East Slavic still had the remnants of a tonal system inherited from Proto-Indo-European and still exhibited in certain members of the closely related Baltic family of languages (Gribble, 1989). The difference in stress between syllables in the earliest period of East Slavic was therefore likely minimal, and stress was in all probability not the deciding factor in the loss of jers in initial syllables.

The same considerations moreover suggest that jer loss in kto and knjazĭ was also not to be ascribed to the jers' pre-tonic position. Additionally, in other words showing a jer subject to loss, e.g. sŭtvor-, the stress frequently does not fall on the syllable immediately following the jer that can be dropped (Gribble, 1989).

The example of vsĭ and dnĭ, as Gribble points out, is important for discarding another hypothesis: that perhaps loss is essentially conditioned by the strong-versus-weak opposition of jers. In the instance of vsĭ and dnĭ, the jers dropped are precisely the strong jers, not the weak. Thus we may consider it unlikely that the strong-weak opposition of jers was the deciding factor in jer loss.

As we move to the remaining examples, we should keep in mind a particular fact of languages: they are idiosyncratic in the clusters of consonants that they "permit", that is the clusters that naturally appear as the result of historical evolution up to the epoch being described. As a simple example, English abhors an initial consonant cluster [kt], though it finds no particular problem pronouncing the cluster word-internally, as in tic-tock or backtalk. Classical Greek, by contrast, evidently did not bat an eyelash at initial [kt]: kteino: 'I kill'.

Gribble credits Markov and then Lunt with drawing attention to the consonant clusters that result due to jer loss (Gribble, 1989). In particular we find that sd, the cluster resulting from jer loss in sŭde, was not a permitted cluster within early East Slavic. More specifically, Lunt had noted in work on the OCS Marianus manuscript that the consonant groups kt, čt, ps, pt are not found elsewhere in the language. Thus jer omission in a word such as kto would be interpreted phonemically as [kVto], with an interpolated vowel (Gribble, 1989). Gribble finally proposes that this serves to explain why jers are dropped in certain syllables and not in others. In particular, jers may be dropped when the resulting consonant cluster does not naturally occur within the language.

From the copyist's perspective, several factors would have contributed to such a tendency. Gribble outlines the following (Gribble, 1989):

  • When copying another South Slavic manuscript, the original itself may have omitted jers.
  • Certain words regularly omitted letters. Typically these were words related to the divine, such as bogŭ, and they were marked with a "titlo" (tilde). But they nevertheless likely contributed to a general willingness to forego letters which could easily be surmised.
  • Jer omission saved space.

Moreover, in the practice of copying manuscripts, scribal convention would have reinforced some consonant combinations as unproblematic. For example, as kto was already a frequent spelling, the sequence kt would not have alarmed the typical copyist. This would in turn make jer omission in kŭ tomu unobjectionable. However where the consonant cluster that would result from jer loss could otherwise occur naturally, there was a strong tendency to retain jers. This happens for instance with the sequence sŭn-: both sŭn- and sn- could occur naturally in early East Slavic, and so the jer was therefore typically retained (Gribble, 1989).

Gribble's work provides an elegant example of how consideration of the scribe's perspective can complement linguistic understanding with the goal of explaining apparent anomalies. In the author's own words, "I would maintain that it is not a matter of ignoring the living pronunciation, but just the opposite: the living pronunciation was a factor that was taken for granted, which meant that no confusion could arise from the omission" (Gribble, 1989).

Reading and Textual Analysis

Our final selection relates the scene when Svjatopolk's henchmen finally catch up with Gleb on his futile voyage to his father's side. We leave off as Gleb implores his enemies to have mercy on his innocence.

43 - I sice emu stenjuščju i plačjuščjusja, i slĭzami zemlju omačajuščju, prispěša vŭnezapu posŭlanii otŭ Svjatopŭlka, zŭlyja ego slugy, nemilostivii krŭvopiicě, bratonenavidĭnici ljuti zělo, sverěpa zvěri dušju imějušče.

  • I -- conjunction; <i> and; also, too, even -- And
  • sice -- adverb; <sice> thus, so -- so
  • emu -- pronoun; masculine dative singular of <*i> he -- he
  • stenjuščju -- participle; masculine dative singular of <stenati, -njǫ, -nješi> groan, moan -- (while... was) mourning # Note the dative absolute construction emu stenjuščju i plačjuščjusja i... omačajuščju
  • i -- conjunction; <i> and; also, too, even -- and
  • plačjuščjusja -- participle; masculine dative singular of <plakati, plačǫ, -češi> weep, mourn + pronoun; accusative singular of <sebe> -self, oneself -- weeping
  • i -- conjunction; <i> and; also, too, even -- ...
  • slĭzami -- noun; feminine instrumental plural of <slŭza> tear, teardrop -- with (his) tears
  • zemlju -- noun; feminine accusative singular of <zeml'ja> earth, land -- the ground
  • omačajuščju -- participle; masculine dative singular of <omačati, -čajǫ, -čaješi> moisten, wet -- wetting
  • prispěša -- verb; 3rd person plural aorist of <prispěti, -spějǫ, -spěješi> come; approach, near; hasten -- approached
  • vŭnezapu -- adverb; <vŭnezaapǫ> suddenly -- suddenly
  • posŭlanii -- past passive participle; masculine nominative plural of <posŭlati, -l'jǫ, -l'ješi> send, summon -- the dispatch
  • otŭ -- preposition; <otŭ> (w. gen.) of, from; by -- from
  • Svjatopŭlka -- proper noun; masculine genitive singular of <Svętoplŭkŭ> Svjatopolk, Svyatopolk, Sviatopolk (name of a prince, brother of Jaroslav, Boris, Gleb, and Predslava) -- Svjatopolk
  • zŭlyja -- adjective; feminine nominative plural of <zŭlŭ> evil, bad -- evil # Taking its grammatical gender from the grammatical gender of slugy
  • ego -- pronoun; masculine genitive singular of <*i> he -- his
  • slugy -- noun; feminine nominative plural of <sluga> servant -- servants # The form is grammatically feminine, though the referent is masculine
  • nemilostivii -- adjective; masculine nominative plural of <nemilostivŭ> unmerciful -- unmerciful (group)
  • krŭvopiicě -- adjective; masculine nominative plural of <krŭvopijica> blood-drinking, bloodthirsty -- a bloodthirsty # Feminine form, but with masculine grammatical agreement
  • bratonenavidĭnici -- adjective used as substantive; masculine nominative plural of <bratonevavidĭnikŭ> hostile to one's brother -- an... (bunch of) brother-haters
  • ljuti -- adjective; masculine nominative plural of <ljutŭ> terrible, wild -- ferocious
  • zělo -- adverb; <zělo> very -- exceedingly
  • sverěpa -- adjective; masculine genitive singular of <sverěpŭ> wild -- wild
  • zvěri -- noun; masculine genitive singular of <zvěrĭ> (wild) animal -- of a... beast
  • dušju -- noun; feminine accusative singular of <duša> soul -- the soul
  • imějušče -- participle; masculine nominative plural of <iměti, imějǫ, iměješi> have, possess -- possessing

44 - Svjatyi že poide vŭ korablici, i srětoša i ustĭ Smjadiny.

  • Svjatyi -- adjective used as substantive; masculine nominative singular of <svętŭ> holy, blessed -- the holy one
  • že -- conjunction; <že> and, but -- And
  • poide -- verb; 3rd person singular aorist of <poiti, -idǫ, -ideši> go, set out; go back, return -- set out
  • -- preposition; <> (w. loc.) in; (w. acc.) into -- in
  • korablici -- noun; masculine locative singular of <korablĭcĭ> caravel, (a type of) boat -- the caravel
  • i -- conjunction; <i> and; also, too, even -- and
  • srětoša -- verb; 3rd person plural aorist of <sŭrěsti, -ręštǫ, -ręšteši> meet -- they met
  • i -- pronoun; masculine accusative singular of <*i> he -- him
  • ustĭ -- noun; feminine accusative singular of <ustĭ> door, gate, entrance, mouth -- at the mouth # The accusative here gives more the connotation of 'coming up to the mouth of...'.
  • Smjadiny -- proper noun; feminine genitive singular of <Smjadina> Smjadina, Smiadina, Smyadina; Smjadin, Smiadin, Smjadyn, Smiadyn (name of a river, affluent of the Dnieper) -- of the Smjadina

45 - I jako uzĭrě ja svjatyi, vŭzdradovasja dušeju, a oni uzĭrěvŭše i omračaaxusja i grebjaxu kŭ nemu.

  • I -- conjunction; <i> and; also, too, even -- And
  • jako -- conjunction; <jako> as, when; in order to; that; because; (introduces quotation) -- as
  • uzĭrě -- verb; 3rd person singular aorist of <uzĭrěti, -r'jǫ, -riši> see, perceive -- caught sight of
  • ja -- pronoun; masculine accusative plural of <*i> he -- them
  • svjatyi -- adjective used as substantive; masculine nominative singular of <svętŭ> holy, blessed -- the holy one
  • vŭzdradovasja -- verb; 3rd person singular aorist of <vŭzdradovati sę, -dujǫ sę, -duješi sę> be happy, rejoice -- he rejoiced
  • dušeju -- noun; feminine instrumental singular of <duša> soul -- in his soul
  • a -- conjunction; <a> and, but; if -- but
  • oni -- demonstrative pronoun; masculine nominative plural of <onŭ, ono, ona> that, that one -- they
  • uzĭrěvŭše -- past participle; masculine nominative plural of <uzĭrěti, -r'jǫ, -riši> see, perceive -- (as)... saw
  • i -- pronoun; masculine accusative singular of <*i> he -- him
  • omračaaxusja -- verb; 3rd person plural imperfect of <omračati, -čajǫ, -čaješi> grow dark, darken -- they grew dark
  • i -- conjunction; <i> and; also, too, even -- and
  • grebjaxu -- verb; 3rd person plural imperfect of <greti, grebǫ, grebeši> scrape; comb; row; take the helm, steer (a ship) -- rowed
  • -- preposition; <> (w. dat.) to, toward -- toward
  • nemu -- pronoun; masculine dative singular of <*i> he -- him

46 - A sŭ cělovanija čajaaše otŭ nixŭ prijati.

  • A -- conjunction; <a> and, but; if -- ...
  • -- demonstrative pronoun; masculine nominative singular of <sĭ, se, si> this, this one -- He
  • cělovanija -- noun; neuter accusative plural of <cělovanĭje> salutation, greeting, embrace -- greetings
  • čajaaše -- verb; 3rd person singular imperfect <čajati, čajǫ, čaješi> hope; expect -- expected
  • otŭ -- preposition; <otŭ> (w. gen.) of, from; by -- from
  • nixŭ -- pronoun; masculine genitive plural of <*i> he -- them
  • prijati -- verb; infinitive of <prijęti, priimǫ, priimeši> take, seize -- to receive

47 - I jako byša ravĭno plovušče, načaša skakati zŭlii oni vŭ lodiju ego, obnaženy meča imušče vŭ rukaxŭ, blĭščaščasja, aky voda.

  • I -- conjunction; <i> and; also, too, even -- But
  • jako -- conjunction; <jako> as, when; in order to; that; because; (introduces quotation) -- as
  • byša -- verb; 3rd person plural aorist of <byti, bǫdǫ, bǫdeši> be, become -- they
  • ravĭno -- adverb; neuter accusative singular of <ravĭnŭ> level, even -- alongside
  • plovušče -- participle; masculine nominative plural of <pluti, plovǫ, ploveši> flow; navigate, sail -- (as)... sailed up
  • načaša -- verb; 3rd person plural aorist of <načęti, -čĭnǫ, -čĭneši> begin -- began
  • skakati -- verb; infinitive of <skakati, -čǫ, -češi> dance; spring vigorously, to leap or jump up, exult, revel, boast -- to leap
  • zŭlii -- adjective; masculine nominative plural of <zŭlŭ> evil, bad -- evil
  • oni -- demonstrative pronoun; masculine nominative plural of <onŭ, ono, ona> that, that one -- those... men
  • -- preposition; <> (w. loc.) in; (w. acc.) into -- into
  • lodiju -- noun; feminine accusative singular of <lodĭja> boat -- boat
  • ego -- pronoun; masculine genitive singular of <*i> he -- his
  • obnaženy -- past passive participle; masculine accusative plural of <obŭnažiti, -žǫ, -žiši> uncover; strip, deprive; spread apart, expand -- unsheathed
  • meča -- noun; masculine accusative plural of <mečĭ> sword -- swords
  • imušče -- participle; masculine nominative plural of <iměti, imamĭ, imaši> have, hold -- holding
  • -- preposition; <> (w. loc.) in; (w. acc.) into -- in
  • rukaxŭ -- noun; feminine locative plural of <rǫka> hand -- (their) hands
  • blĭščaščasja -- participle; masculine accusative plural of <blĭštati sę, -štǫ sę, -štiši sę> shine, glisten; shine, be bright + pronoun; accusative singular of <sebe> -self, oneself -- glistening
  • aky -- conjunction; <aky> as, like -- like
  • voda -- noun; feminine nominative singular of <voda> water -- the water

48 - I abie vĭsěmŭ vesla otŭ ruku ispadoša, i vĭsi otŭ straxa omĭrtvěša.

  • I -- conjunction; <i> and; also, too, even -- And
  • abie -- adverb; <abĭe> right away -- immediately
  • vĭsěmŭ -- adjective used as substantive; masculine dative plural of <vĭsĭ> all, every; whole -- everyone's
  • vesla -- noun; neuter nominative plural of <veslo> oar -- the oars
  • otŭ -- preposition; <otŭ> (w. gen.) of, from; by -- from
  • ruku -- noun; feminine genitive dual of <rǫka> hand -- hands
  • ispadoša -- verb; 3rd person plural aorist of <ispasti, -padǫ, -padeši> fall out, turn out, fall down, slip out, escape -- slipped
  • i -- conjunction; <i> and; also, too, even -- and
  • vĭsi -- adjective used as substantive; masculine nominative plural of <vĭsĭ> all, every; whole -- they all
  • otŭ -- preposition; <otŭ> (w. gen.) of, from; by -- with
  • straxa -- noun; masculine genitive singular of <straxŭ> shaking; terror -- fear
  • omĭrtvěša -- verb; 3rd person plural aorist of <omrŭtvěti, -vějǫ, -věješi> die -- froze

49 - I si viděvŭ blaženyi, razuměvŭ, jako xotjatĭ ego ubiti.

  • I -- conjunction; <i> and; also, too, even -- ...
  • si -- demonstrative pronoun; neuter accusative plural of <sĭ, se, si> this, this one -- these things
  • viděvŭ -- past participle; masculine nominative singular of <viděti, viždǫ, vidiši> see -- saw # Note the use of the participle in place of a finite (conjugated) verb.
  • blaženyi -- adjective used as substantive; masculine nominative singular of <blaženŭ> blessed -- the blessed one
  • razuměvŭ -- past participle; masculine nominative singular of <razuměti, -ějǫ, -ěješi> come to know, find out, know; understand -- (and) understood
  • jako -- conjunction; <jako> as, when; in order to; that; because; (introduces quotation) -- that
  • xotjatĭ -- verb; 3rd person plural present of <xotěti, xoštǫ, xošteši> want, wish -- they wanted # This verb shows present conjugations of both Class III and Class IV; cf. Section 42.
  • ego -- pronoun; masculine genitive singular of <*i> he -- him
  • ubiti -- verb; infinitive of <ubiti, -bijǫ, -biješi> kill -- to kill

50 - Vŭzĭrěvŭ kŭ nimŭ umilenama očima i slĭzami lice si umyvaja, sŭkrušenŭmĭ sĭrdcĭmĭ, sŭměrenŭmĭ razumŭmĭ i častyimĭ vŭzdyxaniemĭ vĭsĭ slĭzami razlivajasja, a tělŭmĭ utĭrpaja, žalostĭno glasŭ ispuščaaše, "Ne děite mene, bratija moja milaja i dragaja!

  • Vŭzĭrěvŭ -- past participle; masculine nominative singular of <vŭzrěti, -zrǫ, -zriši> look closely at, gaze at; look up at (w. prep.) -- Having looked
  • -- preposition; <> (w. dat.) to, toward -- to
  • nimŭ -- pronoun; masculine dative plural of <*i> he -- them
  • umilenama -- adjective; feminine instrumental dual of <umil'enŭ> dejected, abject -- with pitiful # Note again the usage of feminine form of the adjective with the noun oko, typically neuter.
  • očima -- noun; neuter instrumental dual of <oko> eye -- eyes # Note once more the shift from the normal *s-stem očes- to the stem ok-, here palatalized due to the ending. This particular form seems to be adopted from the *i-declension, and the agreement with the adjective suggests the grammatical gender has also shifted to feminine.
  • i -- conjunction; <i> and; also, too, even -- and
  • slĭzami -- noun; feminine instrumental plural of <slŭza> tear, teardrop -- with tears
  • lice -- noun; neuter accusative singular of <lice> face, form -- face
  • si -- pronoun; dative singular of <sebe> -self, oneself -- his
  • umyvaja -- participle; masculine nominative singular of <umyvati, -vajǫ, -vaješi> wash -- washing
  • sŭkrušenŭmĭ -- past passive participle; neuter instrumental singular of <sŭkrušiti, -šǫ, -šiši> run together, shatter, crush; strike, smite, strike together -- shattered
  • sĭrdcĭmĭ -- noun; neuter instrumental singular of <srĭdĭce> heart -- with a... heart
  • sŭměrenŭmĭ -- past passive participle; masculine instrumental singular of <sŭměriti, -rjǫ, -riši> lower, reduce, lessen, humble, abase -- dispirited
  • razumŭmĭ -- noun; masculine instrumental singular of <razumŭ> understanding, sense, opinion, basic thought -- with... mind
  • i -- conjunction; <i> and; also, too, even -- ...
  • častyimĭ -- adjective; neuter instrumental singular of <čęstŭ> dense -- deep
  • vŭzdyxaniemĭ -- noun; neuter instrumental singular of <vŭzdyxanĭje> respiration, breathing; sigh, groan -- sighs
  • vĭsĭ -- adjective; masculine nominative singular of <vĭsĭ> all, every; whole -- all
  • slĭzami -- noun; feminine instrumental plural of <slŭza> tear, teardrop -- with tears
  • razlivajasja -- participle; masculine nominative singular of <razlivati, -ajǫ, -aješi> pour out + pronoun; accusative singular of <sebe> -self, oneself -- pouring himself... over
  • a -- conjunction; <a> and, but; if -- ...
  • tělŭmĭ -- noun; neuter instrumental singular <tělo> body -- in body # Note that this noun is originally an *s-stem, but here it shows the influence of the twofold, *o-stem declension.
  • utĭrpaja -- participle; masculine nominative singular of <utrŭpati, -ajǫ, -aješi> grow stiff or useless, become torpid, become listless or inactive, become dull -- becoming weak
  • žalostĭno -- adverb; neuter accusative singular of <žalostĭnŭ> sad -- sorrowfully
  • glasŭ -- noun; masculine accusative singular of <glasŭ> voice, sound, word -- a sound
  • ispuščaaše -- verb; 3rd person singular imperfect of <ispustiti, -štǫ, -stiši> loose, free; send forth, send out, send away, emit -- he uttered
  • Ne -- adverb; <ne> not -- not
  • děite -- verb; 2nd person plural imperative of <dějati, dějǫ, děješi> do, commit -- Do... touch
  • mene -- pronoun; genitive singular of <azŭ> I -- me
  • bratija -- noun; feminine nominative singular of <bratĭja> (collective) brothers, brethren -- brothers # Nominative singular used as vocative. Compare uses above.
  • moja -- adjective; feminine nominative singular of <moi, moe, moja> my, mine -- my
  • milaja -- adjective; feminine nominative singular of <milŭ> wretched, pitiable; excusable -- poor
  • i -- conjunction; <i> and; also, too, even -- ...
  • dragaja -- adjective; feminine nominative singular of <dragŭ> dear, precious -- dear

51 - Ne děite mene, ničto že vy zŭla sŭtvorivŭša!

  • Ne -- adverb; <ne> not -- not
  • děite -- verb; 2nd person plural imperative of <dějati, dějǫ, děješi> do, commit -- Do... touch
  • mene -- pronoun; genitive singular of <azŭ> I -- me
  • ničto že -- indefinite pronoun; neuter accusative singular of <nikŭtože> no one, nobody -- no
  • vy -- pronoun; dative plural of <ty> you, thou -- you
  • zŭla -- adjective used as substantive; neuter genitive singular of <zŭlŭ> evil, bad -- harm # Partitive genitive, denoting the whole of which ničto že selects a part.
  • sŭtvorivŭša -- past participle; masculine genitive singular of <sŭtvoriti, -rjǫ, -riši> do, make -- who (has)... done # Genitive, agreeing with mene.

52 - Ne brezěte mene, bratie i gospodĭe, ne brezěte!

  • Ne -- adverb; <ne> not -- ...
  • brezěte -- verb; 2nd person plural imperative of <brěšti, brěgǫ, brěžeši> be an object of care or thought, be a concern; (with negation) have no care for, be neglectful of, be careless, be negligent; look down upon, despise -- Let... be
  • mene -- pronoun; genitive singular of <azŭ> I -- me
  • bratie -- noun; feminine vocative singular of <bratĭja> (collective) brothers, brethren -- brothers
  • i -- conjunction; <i> and; also, too, even -- and
  • gospodĭe -- noun; masculine vocative plural of <gospodĭ> lord, master -- lords # Note the hallmark *i-stem plural.
  • ne -- adverb; <ne> not -- ...
  • brezěte -- verb; 2nd person plural imperative of <brěšti, brěgǫ, brěžeši> be an object of care or thought, be a concern; (with negation) have no care for, be neglectful of, be careless, be negligent; look down upon, despise -- let (me) be

53 - Kuju obidu sŭtvorixŭ bratu moemu i vamŭ, bratie i gospodĭe moi?

  • Kuju -- interrogative adjective; feminine accusative singular of <kŭi, koe, koja> which?, what?; some, any -- What
  • obidu -- noun; feminine accusative singular of <obida> injustice, outrage, injury -- injustice
  • sŭtvorixŭ -- verb; 1st person singular aorist of <sŭtvoriti, -rjǫ, -riši> do, make -- have I done
  • bratu -- noun; masculine dative singular of <bratrŭ, bratŭ> brother -- to... brother
  • moemu -- adjective; masculine dative singular of <moi, moe, moja> my, mine -- my
  • i -- conjunction; <i> and; also, too, even -- and
  • vamŭ -- pronoun; dative plural of <ty> you, thou -- you
  • bratie -- noun; feminine vocative singular of <bratĭja> (collective) brothers, brethren -- brethren
  • i -- conjunction; <i> and; also, too, even -- and
  • gospodĭe -- noun; masculine vocative plural of <gospodĭ> lord, master -- lords
  • moi -- adjective; masculine vocative plural of <moi, moe, moja> my, mine -- my

54 - Ašče li kaja obida, veděte mja kŭ knjazju vašemu, a kŭ moemu bratu i gospodinu.

  • Ašče -- conjunction; <ašte> if, whether -- If
  • li -- conjunction; <li> or; whether -- ...
  • kaja -- indefinite adjective; feminine nominative singular of <kŭi, koe, koja> which?, what?; some, any -- (there is) some
  • obida -- noun; feminine nominative singular of <obida> injustice, outrage, injury -- injustice
  • veděte -- verb; 2nd person plural imperative of <vesti, vedǫ, vedeši> lead; lead off, lead away; carry; drag, draw -- lead
  • mja -- pronoun; accusative singular of <azŭ> I -- me
  • -- preposition; <> (w. dat.) to, toward -- to
  • knjazju -- noun; masculine dative singular of <kŭnęzĭ> prince -- prince
  • vašemu -- adjective; masculine dative singular of <vašĭ> of you, your (pl.) -- your
  • a -- conjunction; <a> and, but; if -- and
  • -- preposition; <> (w. dat.) to, toward -- to
  • moemu -- adjective; masculine dative singular of <moi, moe, moja> my, mine -- my
  • bratu -- noun; masculine dative singular of <bratrŭ, bratŭ> brother -- brother
  • i -- conjunction; <i> and; also, too, even -- and
  • gospodinu -- noun; masculine dative singular of <gospodinŭ> lord, master -- lord

55 - Pomiluite unosti moeě, pomiluite, gospodĭe moi!

  • Pomiluite -- verb; 2nd person plural imperative of <pomilovati, -lujǫ, -luješi> pity, have mercy on -- Have mercy
  • unosti -- noun; feminine genitive singular of <junostĭ> youth, young age -- for... youth
  • moeě -- adjective; feminine genitive singular of <moi, moe, moja> my, mine -- my
  • pomiluite -- verb; 2nd person plural imperative of <pomilovati, -lujǫ, -luješi> pity, have mercy on -- have mercy
  • gospodĭe -- noun; masculine vocative plural of <gospodĭ> lord, master -- lords
  • moi -- adjective; masculine vocative plural of <moi, moe, moja> my, mine -- my

56 - Vy mi buděte gospodie, azŭ vašĭ rabŭ.

  • Vy -- pronoun; nominative plural of <ty> you, thou -- ...
  • mi -- pronoun; dative singular of <azŭ> I -- my
  • buděte -- verb; 2nd person plural imperative of <byti, bǫdǫ, bǫdeši> be, become -- Be
  • gospodie -- noun; masculine nominative plural of <gospodĭ> lord, master -- masters
  • azŭ -- pronoun; nominative singular of <azŭ> I -- (and) I
  • vašĭ -- adjective; masculine nominative singular of <vašĭ> of you, your (pl.) -- your
  • rabŭ -- noun; masculine nominative singular of <rabŭ> servant -- servant

57 - Ne požĭnete mene, otŭ žitija ne sŭzĭrěla!

  • Ne -- adverb; <ne> not -- not
  • požĭnete -- verb; 2nd person plural imperative of <požęti, -žĭnjǫ, -žĭnješi> mow, reap, cut off, gather, crop, harvest -- Do... cut... down
  • mene -- pronoun; genitive singular of <azŭ> I -- me
  • otŭ -- preposition; <otŭ> (w. gen.) of, from; by -- with
  • žitija -- noun; neuter genitive singular of <žitĭje> life -- age
  • ne -- adverb; <ne> not -- not (yet)
  • sŭzĭrěla -- past participle; masculine genitive singular of <sŭzrěti, -zrějǫ, -zrěješi> mature; produce -- having... ripened # Genitive in agreement with mene.

58 - Ne požĭněte klasa, ne uže sŭzĭrěvŭša, nŭ mleko bezŭlobija nosjašča!

  • Ne -- adverb; <ne> not -- not
  • požĭněte -- verb; 2nd person plural imperative of <požęti, -žĭnjǫ, -žĭnješi> mow, reap, cut off, gather, crop, harvest -- Do... harvest
  • klasa -- noun; masculine genitive singular of <klasŭ> ear of corn -- (this) ear of corn
  • ne -- adverb; <ne> not -- not
  • uže -- adverb; <juže, uže> already -- yet
  • sŭzĭrěvŭša -- past participle; masculine genitive singular of <sŭzrěti, -zrějǫ, -zrěješi> mature; produce -- ripened
  • -- conjunction; <> but -- still
  • mleko -- noun; neuter accusative singular of <mlěko> milk -- the milk
  • bezŭlobija -- noun; neuter genitive singular of <bezlobĭje> innocence -- of innocence
  • nosjašča -- participle; masculine genitive singular of <nositi, -šǫ, -siši> carry; have -- bearing # Genitive, agreeing with klasa.

59 - Ne porěžete lozy, ne do konĭca vŭzdrastŭša, a plodŭ imušča!

  • Ne -- adverb; <ne> not -- not
  • porěžete -- verb; 2nd person plural imperative of <porězati, -zajǫ, -zaješi> cut off (from life) -- Cut
  • lozy -- noun; feminine genitive singular of <loza> twig, branch; grape-vine -- (this) vine
  • ne -- adverb; <ne> not -- not (yet)
  • do -- preposition; <do> (w. gen.) to, up to; (with numerals) about -- to
  • konĭca -- noun; masculine genitive singular of <konĭcĭ> a coming to pass, performance, consummation; highest or farthest point; end, limit, boundary; pivot, axis -- term
  • vŭzdrastŭša -- past participle; feminine genitive singular of <vŭzdrasti, -stǫ, -steši> be nourished, grow -- having grown # Genitive, agreeing with lozy.
  • a -- conjunction; <a> and, but; if -- still
  • plodŭ -- noun; masculine accusative singular of <plodŭ> fruit -- fruit
  • imušča -- participle; feminine genitive singular of <iměti, imamĭ, imaši> have, hold -- bearing # Genitive, agreeing with lozy

60 - Molju vy sja i milŭ vy sja děju.

  • Molju -- verb; 1st person singular present of <moliti, -ljǫ, -liši> beseech, ask; pray -- I beseech
  • vy -- pronoun; dative plural of <ty> you, thou -- you
  • sja -- pronoun; accusative singular of <sebe> -self, oneself -- ...
  • i -- conjunction; <i> and; also, too, even -- and
  • milŭ -- adjective; masculine nominative singular of <milŭ> wretched, pitiable; excusable -- humble
  • vy -- pronoun; dative plural of <ty> you, thou -- before you
  • sja -- pronoun; accusative singular of <sebe> -self, oneself -- myself
  • děju -- verb; 1st person singular present of <dějati, dějǫ, děješi> do, commit -- ... # Literally, 'I make myself humble to you.'

61 - Uboitesja rekŭšaago usty apostolĭsky, "ne děti byvajite umy, zŭlobiemĭ že mladenĭstvuite, a umy sŭvĭršeni byvaite."

  • Uboitesja -- verb; 2nd person plural imperative of <ubojati sę, -bojǫ sę, -boiši sę> fear, become afraid + pronoun; accusative singular of <sebe> -self, oneself -- Heed
  • rekŭšaago -- past participle; masculine genitive singular of <rešti, rekǫ, rečeši> say, tell -- the one who... said
  • usty -- noun; neuter instrumental plural of <usta> (n. pl.) mouth, lips -- with the mouth
  • apostolĭsky -- adjective; neuter instrumental plural of <apostolĭskŭ> of the apostle, apostle's, apostolic -- of the apostle # Cf. 1 Corinthians 14:20. The King James Version renders the passage as follows: "Brethren, be not children in understanding: howbeit in malice be ye children, but in understanding be men."
  • ne -- adverb; <ne> not -- not
  • děti -- noun; feminine nominative plural of <dětĭ> children; (often pl.) infants, children -- children
  • byvajite -- verb; 2nd person plural imperative <byvati, -vajǫ, -vaješi> be -- Be
  • umy -- noun; masculine instrumental plural of <umŭ> mind, reason, intellect -- in mind
  • zŭlobiemĭ -- noun; neuter instrumental singular of <zlobĭje> malice -- with malice
  • že -- conjunction; <že> and, but -- rather
  • mladenĭstvuite -- noun; 2nd person plural imperative of <mladenĭstvovati, -vujǫ, -vuješi> be a child -- be children
  • a -- conjunction; <a> and, but; if -- and
  • umy -- noun; masculine instrumental plural of <umŭ> mind, reason, intellect -- in mind
  • sŭvĭršeni -- past passive participle; masculine nominative plural of <sŭvrĭšiti, -šǫ, -šiši> prepare, perfect, complete -- matured
  • byvaite -- verb; 2nd person plural imperative <byvati, -vajǫ, -vaješi> be -- be

62 - Azŭ, bratie, i zŭlobiemĭ i vŭzdrastŭmĭ ešče mladenĭstvuju.

  • Azŭ -- pronoun; nominative singular of <azŭ> I -- I
  • bratie -- noun; feminine vocative singular of <bratĭja> (collective) brothers, brethren -- brethren
  • i -- conjunction; <i> and; also, too, even -- both
  • zŭlobiemĭ -- noun; neuter instrumental singular of <zlobĭje> malice -- in... malice
  • i -- conjunction; <i> and; also, too, even -- and
  • vŭzdrastŭmĭ -- noun; masculine instrumental singular of <vŭzdrastŭ> age -- age
  • ešče -- adverb; <ješče> yet, still -- yet
  • mladenĭstvuju -- noun; 1st person singular present of <mladenĭstvovati, -vujǫ, -vuješi> be a child -- am... a child

63 - Se něstĭ ubijistvo, nŭ syrorězanie.

  • Se -- demonstrative pronoun; neuter nominative singular of <sĭ, se, si> this, this one -- this
  • něstĭ -- adverb; <ne> not + verb; 3rd person singular present of <byti, bǫdǫ, bǫdeši> be, become -- is not
  • ubijistvo -- noun; neuter nominative singular of <ubijistvo> killing, murder -- murder
  • -- conjunction; <> but -- but
  • syrorězanie -- noun; neuter nominative singular of <syrorězanĭje> (meaning unclear) child-killing? -- child-killing # Conjecture.

Lesson Text

43 I sice emu stenjuščju i plačjuščjusja, i slĭzami zemlju omačajuščju, prispěša vŭnezapu posŭlanii otŭ Svjatopŭlka, zŭlyja ego slugy, nemilostivii krŭvopiicě, bratonenavidĭnici ljuti zělo, sverěpa zvěri dušju imějušče.

44 Svjatyi že poide vŭ korablici, i srětoša i ustĭ Smjadiny. 45 I jako uzĭrě ja svjatyi, vŭzdradovasja dušeju, a oni uzĭrěvŭše i omračaaxusja i grebjaxu kŭ nemu. 46 A sŭ cělovanija čajaaše otŭ nixŭ prijati. 47 I jako byša ravĭno plovušče, načaša skakati zŭlii oni vŭ lodiju ego, obnaženy meča imušče vŭ rukaxŭ, blĭščaščasja, aky voda. 48 I abie vĭsěmŭ vesla otŭ ruku ispadoša, i vĭsi otŭ straxa omĭrtvěša. 49 I si viděvŭ blaženyi, razuměvŭ, jako xotjatĭ ego ubiti. 50 Vŭzĭrěvŭ kŭ nimŭ umilenama očima i slĭzami lice si umyvaja, sŭkrušenŭmĭ sĭrdcĭmĭ, sŭměrenŭmĭ razumŭmĭ i častyimĭ vŭzdyxaniemĭ vĭsĭ slĭzami razlivajasja, a tělŭmĭ utĭrpaja, žalostĭno glasŭ ispuščaaše, "Ne děite mene, bratija moja milaja i dragaja! 51 Ne děite mene, ničto že vy zŭla sŭtvorivŭša! 52 Ne brezěte mene, bratie i gospodĭe, ne brezěte! 53 Kuju obidu sŭtvorixŭ bratu moemu i vamŭ, bratie i gospodĭe moi? 54 Ašče li kaja obida, veděte mja kŭ knjazju vašemu, a kŭ moemu bratu i gospodinu. 55 Pomiluite unosti moeě, pomiluite, gospodĭe moi! 56 Vy mi buděte gospodie, azŭ vašĭ rabŭ. 57 Ne požĭnete mene, otŭ žitija ne sŭzĭrěla! 58 Ne požĭněte klasa, ne uže sŭzĭrěvŭša, nŭ mleko bezŭlobija nosjašča! 59 Ne porěžete lozy, ne do konĭca vŭzdrastŭša, a plodŭ imušča! 60 Molju vy sja i milŭ vy sja děju. 61 Uboitesja rekŭšaago usty apostolĭsky, "ne děti byvajite umy, zŭlobiemĭ že mladenĭstvuite, a umy sŭvĭršeni byvaite." 62 Azŭ, bratie, i zŭlobiemĭ i vŭzdrastŭmĭ ešče mladenĭstvuju. 63 Se něstĭ ubijistvo, nŭ syrorězanie.

Translation

43 And while he was mourning and weeping so, wetting the ground with his tears, the dispatch from Svjatopolk suddenly approached, his evil servants, a bloodthirsty, unmerciful (group), an exceedingly ferocious (bunch of) brother-haters, possessing the soul of a wild beast.
44 And the holy one set out in the caravel, and they met him at the mouth of the Smjadina. 45 And as the holy one caught sight of them, he rejoiced in his soul; but as they saw him, they grew dark and rowed toward him. 46 He expected to receive greetings from them. 47 But as they sailed up alongside, those evil men began to leap into his boat, holding in their hands unsheathed swords, glistening like the water. 48 And immediately the oars slipped from everyone's hands, and they all froze with fear. 49 The blessed one saw these things, and understood that they wanted to kill him. 50 Having looked to them with pitiful eyes, and washing his face with tears, with a shattered heart, with dispirited mind, with deep sighs, pouring himself all over with tears, becoming weak in body, sorrowfully he uttered a sound, "Do not touch me, my poor, dear brothers! 51 Do not touch me, who has done you no harm! 52 Let me be, brothers and lords, let me be! 53 What injustice have I done to my brother and you, my brethren and lords? 54 If there is some injustice, then lead me to your prince, and to my brother and lord. 55 Have mercy for my youth, have mercy, my lords! 56 Be my masters, and I your servant. 57 Do not cut me down, having not yet ripened with age! 58 Do not harvest this ear of corn, not yet ripened, still bearing the milk of innocence! 59 Cut not this vine, not yet having grown to term, still bearing fruit! 60 I beseech you and humble myself before you. 61 Heed the one who, with the mouth of the apostle, said, 'Be not children in mind, rather be children with malice, and be matured in mind.' 62 I, brethren, am yet a child in both malice and age. 63 This is not murder, but child-killing."

Grammar

46. Invariable Verbal Forms
46.1. Infinitive & Supine

The infinitive and supine are verbal nouns. The infinitive takes the ending -ti and generally corresponds to the 'to X' form of a verb 'X' in English: for example to do, the infinitive form of the verb do. The supine takes the ending -tŭ and in general corresponds to 'in order to X' for a verb 'X' in English. These forms are frozen, invariable forms: they do not change depending on function or grammatical relationships within a clause.

As the endings of the infinitive and supine are affixed to various verbal stems, the final phonemes of those stems frequently undergo phonetic changes. The following chart lists the most common changes, along with illustrative examples.

Articulation   Shift   Early CS   Late CS   Old Russian   OCS   Meaning
Velar   *-k-ti > -či       *tek-ti   teči   tešti   to flow
    *-g-ti > -či       *mog-ti   moči   mošti   to be able
                         
Dental   *-t-ti > -sti       *met-ti   mesti   mesti   to throw
    *-d-ti > -sti       *sěd-ti   sěsti   sěsti   to sit
                         
Labial   *-p-ti > -ti       *sup-ti   suti   suti   to heap up
    *-b-ti > -ti       *greb-ti   greti   greti   to bury
                         
Glide   *-v-ti > -ti       *živ-ti   žiti   žiti   to live
    *-j-ti > -ti       *ob-uj-ti   ob-uti   ob-uti   to put shoes on
    *-ĭj-ti > -iti       *bĭj-ti   biti   biti   to beat
    *-ŭj-ti > -yti       *mŭj-ti   myti   myti   to wash
                         
Nasal   *-ĭm-ti > -jati   *vŭz-ĭm-ti   *vŭz-ę-ti   vŭz-jati   vŭz-ęti   to take
                         
TorT   *TerT > TereT       *mer-ti   mereti   mrěti   to die

With the supine, the change *-k-t- > -č- generally fronts the following back jer to . Thus the supine of teči 'to flow' would be tečĭ, with final front jer. Similarly for the shift *-g-t- > -č-.

Where the above chart shows a shift resulting simply in -ti, this signifies that the preceding phoneme suffered deletion. For example the shift *-p-ti > -ti shows that a root-final *-p was deleted before the infinitive ending. In the rows illustrating the phonetic changes undergone by the glides, we see that final *-v- and *-j- are lost before the infinitive and supine suffixes, except when -j- is preceded by a jer. In this scenario, the presence of the glide leads to tense position for the preceding jer and the typical shift encountered in tense position. Note also that the final row displaying the shift for TerT combinations is meant to be illustrative of all TorT-style shifts, as discussed in Section 7.3.

The infinitive derives from an original Indo-European nominal formation in *-ti-, generally used to create abstract nouns from verbs. Compare Sansrkit prajn'atis and Greek gno:sis (-sis from earlier -tis) with Old Russian and OCS abstract noun poznatĭ 'knowledge' built from the same abstract formation. The particular shape of the Slavic infinitive derives from the dative form of this abstract noun: *-tej > -ti in Old Russian and OCS.

As a noun, the infinitive generally provides a complement to some other finite verb form. The exact nature of the complement may vary: the infinitive may denote purpose, necessity, possibility, etc. The subject of the main verb of the clause is often understood as the subject of the infinitive: nŭ xoščju vy počĭstiti 'I want to honor you' (Primary Chronicle), where the subject I of the verb xoščju is understood also as subject of the infinitive počĭstiti. When the subject of the infinitive differs from the subject of the main verb, Old Russian typically puts the subject of the infinitive in the dative case: těxŭ bo proroci proricaxu jako Bogu roditisja 'For their prophets prophecied that God was to be born' (Primary Chronicle). The direct object of the infinitive, by contrast, generally takes the accusative as with any finite verb; when the verb is negated, this object is frequently cast in the genitive. In addition Old Russian frequently employs the infinitive in impersonal constructions which have the force of a command. For example: svininy ne jasti i vina ne piti 'One should not eat pork nor drink wine' (Primary Chronicle), but more literally 'it is not to eat pork and to drink wine'. Here svininy and vina are direct objects of the respective infinitives, but they take the genitive case as a result of the negation.

The supine derives from an original Indo-European nominal formation in *-tu-. Compare Latin adven-tus 'coming, arrival', an abstract noun built to the Latin verb ad-veni:re 'to come, arrive'. As the Latin supine corresponds to the accusative case of this nominal construction (Lat. adventum), so too does the suffix -tŭ of the Old Russian supine, with loss of the final consonant and reduction of the short *-u.

As a frozen accusative, the supine finds a natural use as a direct object or as the destination of directed motion. In fact within Old Russian the supine quickly became specialized as a manner of expressing a goal with finite verbs expressing or implying motion. For example, we find in the Primary Chronicle: posŭla Olĭgŭ muža svoja postroitŭ mira 'Oleg sent his men in order to arrange peace...'. Whereas the infinitive generally takes the direct object in the accusative (in the absence of negation), we see with this example the general tendency of Old Russian to place the object of the action denoted by the supine in the genitive, regardless of whether the action is negated or not. From the perspective of English, this becomes natural if we make sure to highlight the original nominal character of the supine. For example we may rephrase the last example as follows to elicit a parallel construction with the object in the genitive in English: 'Oleg sent his men for the arranging of peace'.

Thus the uniqueness of the supine lies not in the structure of its arguments, i.e. how its objects are denoted. Its novelty lies instead in providing a formal accusative (superficially a 'direct object', though not all accusatives need be direct objects) for verbs which are typically intransitive, namely verbs of motion: prixodiša otŭ Rima ucitŭ vasŭ 'they came from Rome in order to teach you', or more literally '... for the teaching of you'. Here the verb prixodiša 'they came' is intransitive and so cannot take a direct object. But fundamentally the supine, as an accusative, does not denote the direct object; rather it denotes the goal of the motion (cf. the discussion of the original senses of the accusative in Section 3).

46.2. The Gerund

Old Russian texts display numerous instances in which the present participle does not agree with its referent in some combination of gender, case, or number. One of the clearest examples of this comes in the Primary Chronicle's story of Olga's Revenge: idušče že emu vŭspętĭ razmyslivŭ reče družině svoei 'Having gone back (and) having considered he said to his retinue...'. Here we find the nominative plural masculine form idušče of the present participle where we would expect the dative singular masculine idušču to modify emu in a dative absolute (which nevertheless is not absolute, since emu refers to the subject of reče). Consider also the following passage from the Igor Tale: zdravi knjazi, i družina, pobaraja za xristĭany na poganyja polki 'May the princes, and the retinue, prosper fighting for the Christians against the pagan troops'. Here the masculine nominative singular pobaraja 'fighting' modifies the masculine plural knjazi 'the princes', and simultaneously the feminine nominative singular družina 'the retinue'. Such frozen forms become ever more common as time marches on. Though other forms occur, when we find such a mismatch between the present participle and its referent, most frequently the participle shows the masculine nominative form, singular or plural. This provides the point of departure for what in modern Russian grammars is termed the gerund, a sort of adverbial usage of the participle. Such gerunds provide a background action without demanding agreement of gender, number, or case. Some verbs so frequently fill this role that, much later in the language, the gerund takes on the role of a simple conjunction: e.g. xotja 'although', in origin the gerund based on the present participle of xotěti 'to want, wish'.

47. The Fifth Conjugation

The fifth conjugation, almost paradoxically, comprises a marginal class of critical verbs. The verbs which belong to Class V derive from verbs originally athematic in the present tense. By athematic we mean that no thematic vowel (either *-e- or *-o-) intervened between root and ending: the endings were affixed directly to the verbal root itself, or a suffixed extension thereof. The athematic conjugation was already ceding ground to the increasingly pervasive thematic conjugation within Common Slavic itself, and even to some extent within the parent Proto-Indo-European. It seems that the centrality of the Class V verbs within the lexicon -- encompassing such notions as 'be', 'give', 'see', and 'eat' -- assisted their retention into the historical period and beyond.

Perhaps the most unique feature of the fifth conjugation as a whole is the characteristic first person singular desinence of the present tense: -mĭ, from an original PIE *-mĭ as evidenced in Greek dido:mi and Sanskrit dada:mi, both 'I give' and reduplicated presents built to the same root which gives Old Russian damĭ 'I give'. In fact, the stem dad- of dati 'to give' is itself reduplicated, meaning that the initial consonant of the root, together with a vowel, were prefixed to the root itself much as any other verbal prefix within Old Russian. This reduplication, however, dates back to the proto-language and was no longer a productive verbal formation even within Common Slavic. However the fact that the stem was formed via reduplication and therefore resulted in a stem-final -d- within Common Slavic had important implications for the conjugation of this particular verb: though the final -d- drops before a following -m- or -s-, the stem-final -d- becomes -s- before -t-. This leads to the stem-final -s- characteristic of several forms, such as das 'he gives' and daste 'you (pl.) give'. The stem-final -d- is retained before vowels, as in dadjatĭ 'they give', from CS *dad-nti > *dad-ętĭ > Old Russian dadjatĭ, but OCS dadętŭ.

The same changes found between the stem of dati 'to give' and the following desinence occur also in the verb ěsti 'to eat', with stem ěd-, and in věděti 'to see', with stem věd-. We list the changes in the following table for convenience.

Shift   Early CS   Late CS   Old Russian   OCS   Meaning
*-d-t- > -st-   *dad-ti   *dastĭ   dastĭ   dastŭ   he gives
*-d-s- > -s-   *dad-si:   *dassi   dasi   dasi   thou givest
*-d-m- > -m-   *dad-mus   *dadmŭ   damŭ   damŭ   we give

The verb byti 'to be' shows numerous idiosyncrasies. The present stem itself is jes-. This derives from PIE *Hes-, with initial laryngeal. The zero-grade of this PIE root is therefore *Hs-. Though the laryngeal was not retained into Common Slavic, the resulting structure of the root interacted notably with the athematic endings. Compare in the following chart the evolution of the full- and zero-grade forms as exhibited by the first person singular and third person plural.

PIE   Early CS   Late CS   Old Russian   OCS   Meaning
*Hes-mi   *es-mi   *jesmĭ   jesmĭ   jesmĭ   I am
*Hs-nti   *s-onti   *sǫtĭ   sutĭ   sǫtŭ   they are

We see that in the third person plural, the zero-grade of the root left the root-final *-s- as the initial element of the verb form itself, and the nasal of the ending *-nti, helped by the insertion of a thematic vowel, provided the vocalic element. This explains the unique shape of the third person plural form sutĭ. The same process applies to the present active participle. Moreover, the initial e- of the majority of the present forms combined with the final -e of the negative particle ne to give the vowel -ě- in the majority of the negated forms such as něstĭ 'is not'. This coalescence of vowels did not occur in the third person plural, however, due to the lack of a verb-initial -e, and so the resulting form is nesutĭ 'they are not'. The reader must take care to distinguish this form from the third person plural nesutĭ 'they carry' from the verb nesti 'to carry'.

The verb byti 'to be' is the only Old Russian verb to have a separate future-tense stem: bud-. The stem takes the endings proper to the thematic verbal conjugations. Thus budu 'I will be', etc.

In addition the verb byti 'to be' shows two different formations of the imperfect, as well as two different formations of the aorist. Some scholars label the forms běaxŭ, etc., the imperfective imperfect, while the forms budjaaxŭ, etc., receive the label perfective imperfect. The terminology derives from the fact that, across much of Slavic, the perfective verbal aspect typically denotes the future in the absence of a separate morphological future tense. Since the stem bud- serves as the future of byti 'to be', the imperfect built from that stem naturally falls under the heading of perfective. By analogy, the aorist forms běxŭ, etc., fall under the heading of imperfective aorist, and so the forms byxŭ, etc., receive the title perfective aorist.

The verb ěsti 'to eat' shows two stems in the aorist: a long stem ěd- and a short stem ja-. There seems to be no clear distinction of perfectivity or imperfectivity between the two stems.

The following chart lists the forms of the Class V verbs: byti 'to be', dati 'to give', věděti 'to see', and ěsti 'to eat'.

Class V   jes-   dad-   věd-   ěd-
Present                
1 Sg.   jesmĭ, jesmi   damĭ, dami   vědě, věmĭ, věmi   ěmĭ, ěmi
2   jesi   dasi   věsi   ěsi
3   jestĭ   dastĭ   věstĭ   ěstĭ
                 
1 Du.   jesvě   davě   věvě   ěvě
2   jesta   dasta   věsta   ěsta
3   jesta   dasta   věsta   ěsta
                 
1 Pl.   jesmŭ   damŭ   věmŭ   ěmŭ
2   jeste   daste   věste   ěste
3   sutĭ   dadjatĭ, dadutĭ   vědjatĭ   ědjatĭ
                 
Negative                
1 Sg.   něsmĭ, něsmi   -   -   -
2   něsi   -   -   -
3   něstĭ   -   -   -
                 
1 Du.   něsvě   -   -   -
2   něsta   -   -   -
3   něsta   -   -   -
                 
1 Pl.   něsmŭ   -   -   -
2   něste   -   -   -
3   nesutĭ   -   -   -
                 
Future                
1 Sg.   budu   -   -   -
2   budeši, budešĭ   -   -   -
3   budetĭ   -   -   -
                 
1 Du.   budevě   -   -   -
2   budeta   -   -   -
3   budeta   -   -   -
                 
1 Pl.   budemŭ   -   -   -
2   budete   -   -   -
3   budutĭ   -   -   -
                 
Imperative                
1 Sg.   -   -   -   -
2   budĭ, budi   dažĭ   věžĭ   ěžĭ, ěži
3   budĭ, budi   dažĭ   věžĭ   ěžĭ, ěži
                 
1 Du.   buděvě   dadivě   vědivě   ědivě
2   buděta   dadita   vědita   ědita
3   -   -   -   -
                 
1 Pl.   buděmŭ   dadimŭ   vědimŭ   ědimŭ
2   buděte   dadite   vědite   ědite
3   -   -   -   -
                 
Pres. Act. Part.                
Masc./Neut. N   sy   dada   věda   ěda
Fem. N   suči   daduči   věduči   ěduči
                 
Pres. Pass. Part.                
Masc. N   -   dadomŭ   vědomŭ, vědimŭ   ědomŭ
                 
Imperfect I                
1 Sg.   běaxŭ   dadjaaxŭ   vědjaaxŭ   ědjaxŭ
2   běaše   dadjaaše   vědjaaše   ědjaše
3   běaše   dadjaaše   vědjaaše   ědjaše
                 
1 Du.   běaxově   dadjaaxově   vědjaaxově   ědjaxově
2   běašeta   dadjaašeta   vědjaašeta   ědjašeta
3   běašeta   dadjaašeta   vědjaašeta   ědjašeta
                 
1 Pl.   běaxomŭ   dadjaaxomŭ   vědjaaxomŭ   ědjaxomŭ
2   běašete   dadjaašete   vědjaašete   ědjašete
3   běaxu   dadjaaxu   vědjaaxu   ědjaxu
                 
Imperfect II                
1 Sg.   budjaaxŭ   -   -   -
2   budjaaše   -   -   -
3   budjaaše   -   -   -
                 
1 Du.   budjaaxově   -   -   -
2   budjaašeta   -   -   -
3   budjaašeta   -   -   -
                 
1 Pl.   budjaaxomŭ   -   -   -
2   budjaašete   -   -   -
3   budjaaxu   -   -   -
                 
New Aorist I                
1 Sg.   běxŭ   daxŭ   věděxŭ   ědoxŭ
2     da, dastĭ   vědě   ěstŭ
3     da, dastĭ   vědě, věstŭ   ěstŭ
                 
1 Du.   běxově   daxově   věděxově   ědoxově
2   běsta   dasta   věděsta   ědosta
3   běsta   dasta   věděsta   ědosta
                 
1 Pl.   běxomŭ   daxomŭ   věděxomŭ   ědoxomŭ
2   běste   daste   věděste   ědoste
3   běša   daša   věděša   ědoša
                 
New Aorist II                
1 Sg.   byxŭ   -   -   jaxŭ
2   by, bystĭ   -   -   -
3   by, bystĭ   -   -   ja
                 
1 Du.   byxově   -   -   jaxově
2   bysta   -   -   jasta
3   bysta   -   -   jasta
                 
1 Pl.   byxomŭ   -   -   jaxomŭ
2   byste   -   -   jaste
3   byša   -   -   jaša
                 
Past Act. Part.                
Masc./Neut. N   byvŭ   davŭ   věděvŭ   ědŭ
Fem. N   byvŭši   davŭši   věděvŭši   ědŭši
                 
Resultative Part.                
Masc. N   bylŭ   dalŭ   vědělŭ   ělŭ
                 
Past Pass. Part.                
Masc. N   -   danŭ   věděnŭ   ědenŭ
                 
Infinitive   byti   dati   věděti   ěsti
                 
Supine   -   datŭ   vědětŭ   ěstŭ
                 
Verbal Noun   -   danĭje   věděnĭje   -
48. 'Have' & 'Take' Verbs

Three verbs provide a perennial source of confusion for learners of Old Russian and Old Church Slavonic. The confusion arises not only from the similarity of their forms, but also from the overlap in their meanings: iměti 'to have'; imati 'to have, take'; jati 'to take, seize'. Adding to the confusion is the fact that two of the three verbs form the present tense in two distinct ways. Consider the following chart.

Infinitive   Meaning   1 Sg. Pres. I   2 Sg. Pres. I   1 Sg. Pres. II   2 Sg. Pres. II
iměti   have   imamĭ   imaši   iměju   iměješi
imati   have, take   jemlju   jemlješi   imaju   imaješi
jati   take, seize   imu   imeši        

The verb iměti 'to have' shows in the form imamĭ the hallmark of conjugation according to Class V, while the alternate form iměju shows the signs of the Class III conjugation with the thematic vowel preceded by the palatal glide. The verb imati 'to have, take' likewise shows the characteristics of Class III conjugation in both present conjugations, jemlju and imaju, though the latter adds a suffix to the basic root which is absent in the former. Finally jati forms its present, imu, etc., according to Class IA.

The explanation for the similarity in form and meaning lies in the fact that all three verbs, while separate within Old Russian, derive from the same Proto-Indo-European root: PIE *Hem- 'take', cf. Latin emere 'buy'. In Common Slavic the root became *ĭm-. In initial position the front jer developed a palatal on-glide, *jĭm-, and in early Slavic orthography the only available spelling was im-. To this were added various suffixes to derive secondary verbs iměti 'to have' and imati 'to have, take'. Adding the infinitive ending directly to the root resulted in the evolution CS *ĭm-ti > *ę-ti > *jęti > Old Russian jati, OCS jęti 'to take, seize'. Moreover the palatal glide which precedes the thematic vowel of Class III verb softens the *-m-, so that *jem-je-ši, showing full grade of the root, becomes jemlješi.

The following table provides a reference for distinguishing the forms of these closely related verbs.

'Have, Take'   imě-   ima-   im-
Meaning   have   have, take   take, seize
Present I            
1 Sg.   imamĭ   jemlju   imu
2   imaši   jemlješi   imeši
3   imatĭ   jemljetĭ   imetĭ
             
1 Du.   imavě   jemljevě   imevě
2   imata   jemljeta   imeta
3   imata   jemljeta   imeta
             
1 Pl.   imamŭ   jemljemŭ   imemŭ
2   imate   jemljete   imete
3   imutĭ   jemljutĭ   imutĭ
             
Present II            
1 Sg.   iměju   imaju   -
2   iměješi   imaješi   -
3   imějetĭ   imajetĭ   -
             
1 Du.   imějevě   imajevě   -
2   imějeta   imajeta   -
3   imějeta   imajeta   -
             
1 Pl.   imějemŭ   imajemŭ   -
2   imějete   imajete   -
3   imějutĭ   imajutĭ   -
             
Imperative            
1 Sg.   -   -   -
2   iměi   -   imi
3   iměi   -   imi
             
1 Du.   iměivě   -   iměvě
2   iměita   -   iměta
3   -   -   -
             
1 Pl.   iměimŭ   -   iměmŭ
2   iměite   -   iměte
3   -   -   -
             
Pres. Act. Part.            
Masc./Neut. N   ima   jemlja   (vŭz)-ĭma
Fem. N   imuči   jemljuči   (vŭz)-ĭmuči
             
Pres. Act. Part. II            
Masc./Neut. N   iměa   -   -
Fem. N   iměuči   -   -
             
Pres. Pass. Part.            
Masc. N   -   -   imomŭ
             
Imperfect I            
1 Sg.   imjaaxŭ   -   imjaaxŭ
2   imjaaše   -   imjaaše
3   imjaaše   -   imjaaše
             
1 Du.   imjaaxově   -   imjaaxově
2   imjaašeta   -   imjaašeta
3   imjaašeta   -   imjaašeta
             
1 Pl.   imjaaxomŭ   -   imjaaxomŭ
2   imjaašete   -   imjaašete
3   imjaaxu   -   imjaaxu
             
Imperfect II            
1 Sg.   iměaxŭ   -   -
2   iměaše   -   -
3   iměaše   -   -
             
1 Du.   iměaxově   -   -
2   iměašeta   -   -
3   iměašeta   -   -
             
1 Pl.   iměaxomŭ   -   -
2   iměašete   -   -
3   iměaxu   -   -
             
New Aorist            
1 Sg.   iměxŭ   -   jaxŭ
2   imě   -   ja, jatŭ
3   imě   -   ja, jatŭ
             
1 Du.   iměxově   -   jaxově
2   iměsta   -   jasta
3   iměsta   -   jasta
             
1 Pl.   iměxomŭ   -   jaxomŭ
2   iměste   -   jaste
3   iměša   -   jaša
             
Past Act. Part.            
Masc./Neut. N   iměvŭ   imavŭ   imŭ, javŭ
Fem. N   iměvŭši   imavŭši   imŭši
             
Resultative Part.            
Masc. N   imělŭ   imalŭ   jalŭ
             
Past Pass. Part.            
Masc. N   iměnŭ   -   jatŭ
             
Infinitive   iměti   imati   jati
             
Supine   imětŭ   imatŭ   jatŭ
             
Verbal Noun   iměnĭje   imanĭje   jatĭje
49. Verb Use: Past

Contrary to the non-past paradigm, of which Old Russian exhibits only one formation, the past tense paradigm shows two distinct formations: the aorist and imperfect. As with the non-past, these formations are morphological categories. Each category employs a special set of verbal endings. These endings carry different information for the two different categories: though they both mark an action as happening in past time, and hence are past tenses, the depiction of the action's evolution over time differs between the two. We discuss these differences in more detail below.

49.1. The Aorist Tense

In Old Russian the morphology of the aorist tense provides a simple past tense. First and foremost, the aorist is a past tense, and therefore marks an event as having happened before the time frame of the utterance. But the aorist combines the notion of past time with a secondary connotation: use of the aorist marks that an event occurred, but it foregoes any implications as to whether the actual event involved a period of time over which it evolved, whether it was instantaneous, or any other connotation as to its temporal profile. This parallels the English simple past, as in the use of ate in I ate my dinner. In this phrase the verb does not point to the process by which the dinner was eaten; it does not elaborate as to whether the process took place over time or was nearly instantaneous. Within scholarly discussions one often finds the aorist described as marking events in "point-like" fashion; this in contrast to the imperfect, where there is some connotation of (perhaps line-like) extent in time. Consider the following examples of the aorist as a simple past.

  • i abie usŭpe, predavŭ dušju svoju vŭ rucě boga živa 'and immediately he passed away, having conferred his soul into the hands of the living God' (Boris & Gleb).
  • i načaša glagolati stojašče okrugŭ ego 'and they began to speak, standing around him' (Boris & Gleb). The aorist of načati 'to begin' focuses the narrative on the moment of inception of conversation, while the meaning of the infinitive glagolati 'to speak' adds the context of the ensuing discussion.
  • se kŭnjazja ubixomŭ rusĭskago 'Lo, we killed the Russian prince' (Olga's Revenge).

Because of this simple, point-like view of events, authors of Old Russian narrative texts often use the aorist to order a sequence of events: with proper adverbs and connectives, authors employ the aorist to denote which event happened first, second, etc. Consider the following examples of the aorist to narrate a sequence of events.

  • i pusti družinu svoju domovi, sŭ malŭmĭ že družiny vŭzvratisja, želaja bolĭša iměnija 'and he sent his retinue home, but he turned back with a small part of his retinue, desiring more possessions' (Death of Igor).
  • i vŭzŭva ja olĭga kŭ sobě, i reče imŭ 'and Olga summoned them before her, and said to them' (Olga's Revenge).

The point-like nature of the aorist, combined with the fact that it is a past tense, imply that the event denoted by the aorist has been completed before the time of the utterance, or before the time frame established by context. However in some instances of aorist usage, context would seem to dictate that the emphasis is on the present result of the completed action denoted by the aorist. In such instances the aorist seems to overlap in sense with the perfect, or when the context appears to be in past time, with the pluperfect. Consider the following examples in which the aorist seems to serve as perfect or pluperfect.

  • i povědaša olĭzě jako drevljane pridoša 'and they announced to Olga that the Derevlians had arrived' (Olga's Revenge).
  • i rěša drevljane pridoxomŭ kŭnjagyne 'and the Derevlians said, "We have arrived, princess"' (Olga's Revenge).
49.2. The Imperfect Tense

Like the aorist tense, the Old Russian imperfect tense is a morphological past tense. But in contrast to the aorist, which marks events without reference to their extent in time, a secondary connotation of the imperfect in Old Russian is that the action in question extended over a period of time. Thus the imperfect tense both places an action in past time and makes explicit reference to its extent in past time. This parallels English usage of the continuous past, as with the verb was eating in the sentence I was eating my dinner. Consider the following examples of the imperfect tense denoting a continuous, extended event.

  • da eliko slyšaxu slovesa ego, otŭ slĭzŭ ne možaaxu ni slovese rešči 'for as long as they were listening to his words, they were not able to utter a word' (Boris & Gleb).
  • nŭ sĭ kyi kŭnjažaše vŭ rodě svoemĭ 'but this Kyi was ruling among his own people' (Primary Chronicle).
  • imaxu danĭ varjazi izŭ zamorĭja na čjudi 'the Varangians were taking tribute from across the sea among the Chuds' (Invitation to the Varangians).

The imperfect also finds a use in denoting repeated past-time events. That is, some events by their nature or by context are of short duration. With such actions the imperfect may mark a period in past time in which the short-duration events recurred numerous (though usually an unspecified number of) times. This is akin to the use of the continuous past in English phrases like For years I was signing my name illegibly. Each particular signature was an action of short duration, and so the overall connotation of such an expression is that the speaker repeatedly signed his or her name illegibly. This also overlaps with English usage of the collocation used to to denote a past action which was customary over a period of time: I always used to sign my name illegibly. Consider the following examples of the Old Russian imperfect denoting repeated past events.

  • těmĭ glagolaxu na perevozŭ na kyevŭ 'for this (reason) they would say "to Kyi's Ferry"' (Primary Chronicle). Here it would be difficult to interpret the action as one continuous event over an extended period of time. The notion of uttering a specific phrase seems to demand that the imperfect be interpreted as representing an action that occurred on several distinct occasions over an extended period of time.
  • bojanŭ bo věščiji, ašče komu xotjaše pěsnĭ tvoriti, to rastekašetsja mysliju po drevu 'for wise Bojan, if he wanted to compose a song for someone, would flit around with his thought in the tree' (Igor Tale).

Finally we occasionally find that Old Russian uses the imperfect to mark a hypothetical situation, often contrary to fact. This may occur where Old Russian might otherwise employ the conditional-optative construction, as discussed in Section 27. As in that section, we see in Old Russian the tendency to replace irrealis moods by past indicatives. This parallels English, where for example the pluperfect finds use in contrafactual statements: If only I had called ahead.... Note the following example of the use of the imperfect for a hypothetical construction: ne lěpo li ny bjašetĭ, bratie, načati starymi slovesy trudnyxŭ pověstiji o polku igorevě, igorja svjatŭslaviča 'Would it not be fitting, brothers, to begin with the ancient words of the toilsome exploits concerning the Igorian troop, of Igor son of Svjatoslav?' (Igor Tale).

50. Verbal Aspect

In our discussion of the past tenses in Old Russian (Section 49) we only told half the story. When we said that the aorist and imperfect are past tenses, this is only half right. In fact they are morphological categories each of which combines two logically independent grammatical features: tense and aspect. Tense, as we have mentioned, is the grammatical feature which places events in time relative to the moment of utterance. With tense we make distinctions of present, past, and future. Tense places events relative to one another on a timeline. Aspect, by contrast, is a completely separate notion, which we will discuss briefly below.

Aspect denotes what many scholars term the shape of the action, or its temporal profile. To see these contrasts in practice, let us consider some examples from English. In particular we focus on events in the past tense: English distinguishes between certain aspects most clearly in the past tense, and by fixing the tense we can remove tense as a factor in our considerations of aspect. When we say I floated, we describe the past action of floating in a way that says nothing about the temporal extent of the process: we consider the event as a single point on the timeline. By contrast, when we say I was floating, we are also describing a past action; but this time the use of the past continuous form was floating makes specific reference to the fact that the event occurred over a period of time. We may imagine that, rather than identifying a point on the timeline, this identifies an interval of time. In fact this particular form does not make clear whether the action has ceased or not by the time of the utterance, whereas I floated makes clear that the event began and ended all prior to the moment of utterance. In the parlance of aspect, we say that I floated describes the event with perfective aspect, while I was floating describes the event with imperfective aspect. The morphology of English signals a change of aspect: the simple past expresses perfective aspect, while the continuous past expresses imperfective aspect. We may apply this morphology to any verb: I bought (the car) (perfective) vs. I was buying (the car) (imperfective). Note that in the phrase I was buying the car, it is unclear whether the purchase was actually concluded or not, while the phrase I bought the car makes it clear that ownership of the automobile did in fact change hands.

But aspect need not be signaled simply by morphology. Aspect can be a characteristic proper to the inherent meaning of a word, so-called lexical aspect. For example, English shoot is necessarily perfective lexically: by its very nature the verb describes an instantaneous action, where beginning and end of an individual instance of the action are so tightly bound as to be imagined almost as co-occurring. Being an English verb, however, we may conjugate it however we like: in the past tense we may say either I shot or I was shooting. The simple past I shot employs the morphologically perfective form that coincides with the lexical aspect of the verb to relate a single, past-time instance of the action. However the continuous past I was shooting mixes morphological imperfectivity with lexical perfectivity to arrive at a unique combination: I was shooting denotes a sequence of individually perfective actions, one shot after another over an extended period of time. Compare this to the English verb redden, which is not inherently perfective. We may use either past tense conjugation, either Her cheeks reddened or Her cheeks were reddening, with no special change of interpretation between the two different morphological aspects.

The Old Russian aorist and imperfect are both past tenses, but the distinction between the two is one of aspect: they parallel the English simple and continuous pasts, respectively. But as with the preceding examples, they can interact with the lexical aspect of roots to lead to more intricate interpretations. Moreover, Slavic in general, and Old Russian in particular, possessed means of modifying the actual lexical aspect of verbs via changes of suffixes and prefixes, thus allowing the possibility for any verb to have two associated lexical entries, one inherently perfective (like English shoot), the other inherently imperfective (like English redden). We discuss some of these modifications below.

50.1. Aspect Morphology

Old Russian displays numerous morphological features which allow the language to modify the aspect of a given verbal root. One method employs the addition of suffixes to the verbal root, and in this Old Russian displays a tendency common to many of the Indo-European languages. In the literature on Slavic languages scholars tend to call this process derivation, and typically the result is that the suffixed verb shows imperfective aspect where the original root shows perfective aspect. Another mechanism by which Old Russian modifies aspect, and one which grows into an ever more robust and pervasive system as we approach modern Russian, is that of prefixation. Typically the addition of a verbal prefix will result in a perfective verb where the root is originally imperfective. The following table displays different types of aspectual correspondences (Schenker, 1995).

Type   Imperfective Type   Perfective Type   Imperfective Example   Perfective Example   Meaning
Prefixal   Unprefixed   Prefixed   ljub-i-   vŭz-ljub-i-   love
Derived   Unprefixed derived   Unprefixed   pust'-a-j-   pust-i-   release
Combined   Prefixed derived   Prefixed   u-stup-a-j-   u-stup-i-   retreat

Discussions of perfectivity in the context of modern Russian often allude to the fact that a perfective action, inasmuch as it is viewed as a complete whole with beginning and end included, is incongruous with the notion of a continuous present tense: something that is ongoing at the time of utterance by definition has not finished, and so cannot be viewed as a completed whole. This provides a logical point of departure for a feature of modern Russian: perfective verbs conjugated in the present tense generally have future meaning.

Frequently scholars project this feature of modern Russian back to the period of Old Russian. While the texts often allow for such an interpretation, we nevertheless find notable exceptions to the equation between perfective presents and future meaning. Consider the following example (cf. Schmalstieg, 1995, p. 142; Miklosich, 1860, Section IV, p. 3): izŭ togožde lěsa tečetĭ Volga na vŭstokŭ, i vŭtečetĭ sedmiju desjatŭ žrělŭ vŭ more xvalisĭskoje 'From the same forest the Volga flows to the east, and it flows into the Caspian Sea with seventy mouths' (Primary Chronicle). Here in describing the geography of the region, a future interpretation would be the least likely for the verb vŭtečetĭ 'flows into'. However if we were simply to assume that the Old Russian system of verbal aspect functions equivalently to that of modern Russian, we would be forced to conclude that vŭtečetĭ is perfective by virtue of being prefixed; and since it is a prefixed verb in the present tense, it should as a result have future meaning. The example above makes clear that we must be more nuanced with our attempts to tease out the aspect of Old Russian verbs.

Some verbs seem to show more reliably a particular aspectual value, such as dati 'to give', which is generally deemed perfective. Moreover, some suffixes seem to derive perfective verbs from imperfective roots. One of the more consistent of these suffixes is -nu- (cf. OCS -nǫ-). Stems with this nasal suffix generally appear to be perfective, as the following example suggests (Ostromir Gospel, Matthew 24.29, cf. Sreznevskij, 1893, vol. 2, p.282; Matthews, 1960, p.204).

Chapter   Ostromir Gospel   Greek Text   English Translation
Matthew 24.29a   slŭnĭce mrĭknetĭ   ho he:lios skotisthe:setai   the sun shall be darkened
Matthew 24.29b   i luna ne dastĭ světa   kai he: sele:ne: ou do:sei to pheggos aute:s   and the moon shall give no light

Here we see that the present tense forms of both dati 'to give' and mrĭknuti 'to become dark' both translate future tense forms in the Greek. As mentioned in our discussion of the non-past (Section 45), this could merely result from the fact that Old Russian has no simple morphological future, and the present tense forms could function as a future in the same way as the English continuous present in, e.g., I am leaving tomorrow. However other similar examples, as well as lexical pairing with derived imperfective forms, suggest that instances of the -nu- suffix do in fact correspond generally to perfective verbs.

Some of the suffixes found in Old Russian for deriving imperfective verbs from perfective ones likely extend back into the Common Slavic period. Chief among these suffixes was -a-j-. This could be added to a perfective stem to result in an imperfective stem. When preceded by an intervocalic -j-, the -j- was often replaced by the labial glide -v- before adding the -a-j- suffix. In the instance of verbs from the -i- class, before the -a-j- suffix the -i- became the glide -j- and generally triggered j-palatalization of the preceding consonant. With verbs exhibiting the -nu- suffix, the -nu- suffix itself generally dropped before addition of -a-j-. Moreover the suffix -ov-a- seems also to have been used to derive imperfectives from perfectives. The following chart shows various examples of derivation via the suffixes -a-j- and -ov-a- in the instance of different original root formations (Schenker, 1995).

Stem Type   Suffix   Perfective   Imperfective   Meaning
Consonant   -a-j-   pad-   pad-a-j-   fall
        sěd-   sěd-a-j-   sit
        po-greb-   po-grěb-a-j   bury
                 
Sonant   -a-j-   na-čĭn-   na-čin-a-j-   begin
        vŭz-ĭm-   vŭz-im-a-j-   take up
                 
Semivocalic   -v-a-j-   u-my-j-   u-my-v-a-j-   wash
        po-zna-j-   po-zna-v-a-j-   recognize
        po-ži-j-   po-ži-v-a-j-   live
                 
-i-   -a-j-   po-gruz-i-   po-gruž-a-j-   immerse
        u-krěp-i-   u-krěpl'-a-j-   strengthen
        vŭ-pros-i-   vŭ-praš-a-j-   ask
    -ov-a-   po-sob-i-   po-sob-ov-a-   help
        jĭz-věst-i-   jĭz-věst-ov-a-   announce
        kup-i-   kup-ov-a-   buy
                 
-nu-   -a-j-   jĭz-čez-nu-   jĭz-čaz-a-j-   disappear
        u-gas-nu-   u-gas-a-j-   extinguish
        u-to[p]-nu-   u-tap-a-j-   drown
        kos-nu-   kas-a-j-   touch
                 
-a-   -a-j-   na-kaz-a-   na-kaz-a-j-   instruct
        po-maz-a-   po-maz-a-j-   anoint
        sŭ-zĭd-a-   sŭ-zid-a-j-   build
                 
-ě-   -a-j-   po-mĭn-ě-   po-min-a-j-   remember
        vŭz-zĭr-ě-   vŭz-zir-a-j-   look up
        svĭt-ě-   svit-a-j-   grow light
50.2. Further Refinements

As we have seen above, the concepts of tense and aspect are logically distinct: tense speaks to the relative placement of actions on a timeline, while aspect describes its shape or extent along the timeline. But while these two concepts may be logically isolated, we must confront the fact that they do not appear in isolation in Old Russian or any other of the Slavic languages. Senn (1949) states:

    In Russian and Polish, aspect distinctions are not more essential than tense distinctions. The two systems belong together and are interlaced.

The same applies to Old Russian, perhaps even more so because of the difficulty in understanding just how one might concretely assign a given aspectual value to a particular instance of a particular verb when no native speaker remains who may verify the assertion.

Bermel (1995) in particular points out that an approach to identifying Old Russian verbal aspect that relies too heavily on morphological characteristics will inevitably be plagued with difficulties. In particular he emphasizes the interplay of morphology with the lexical aspect displayed by the verbal roots themselves. The following chart provides the categories of lexical aspect outlined by Bermel (1995).

Lexical Aspect   Subtype   Description   Example   Meaning
Telic       goal-oriented activity   umirati   die
            napisati   write
            skazati   say
                 
Atelic       no explicit goal        
    Stative   state   stojati   stand
            deržati   hold
    Actions   action   plakati   cry
                 
Punctual       can be reduced to a single moment   viděti   see
            prositi   ask
            strěliti   fire a shot
                 
Non-Punctual       cannot be reduced to a single moment   pisati   write
            iskati   search

The above list of lexical aspects is by no means exhaustive. But it certainly isolates some of the major issues: does the action bring about a particular result? (Telic.) Does it denote a state or action with no discernable result? (Atelic.) And so forth. As we have seen above with the English example I was shooting, the interpretation of the phrase as a whole results from a unique mixture of lexical and morphological aspect. The context as a whole, therefore, must guide our understanding of both lexical and morphological aspect in Old Russian:

    Context can also influence how an act is perceived, and it is crucial to understanding O[ld]R[ussian] aspect. Instead of classifying OR forms directly as having "perfective" and "imperfective" meanings, a more fruitful approach is to describe the underlying contextual meanings reflected in the forms, and then to decide how and when these meanings map onto an OR aspectual paradigm (Bermel, 1995).

In particular, we should seek whether certain forms of purported aspectual pairs of verbs tend to appear more frequently in certain contexts and with certain interpretations. By isolating such tendencies we may hope to ascertain information on the underlying aspectual distinction. Bermel (1995) provides an example of such methodology in the context of the Primary Chronicle. In particular, he illustrates the proposed opposition between a presumably root-perfective pasti 'to fall' and its derived imperfective partner padati 'to fall', as well as that between the presumably perfective postaviti 'to place, appoint, build' and its derived imperfective partner postavlati, with the same meaning. Consider the following examples from the Laurentian Codex cited in Bermel (1995).

  • jakože prorokŭ glagolaaše padete pred vragy vašimi 'As the prophet said: you will fall before your enemies'.
  • postavlju unošju knęzę imŭ 'I will appoint a youth as prince over them'.
  • posem že bystŭ zvězdamŭ tečenĭe s večera do zautrĭja jako mněti vsemŭ jako padajutĭ zvězdy 'After that there was a hail of stars from evening until morning, so as for everyone to think that the stars were falling'.
  • ne vědyi jako Bogŭ daetĭ vlastĭ emuže xoščetĭ, postavlęetŭ bo cesarę i knęzę Vyšnii, emuže xoščetĭ dastĭ '... not knowing that God gives power to whomever he wants, for the Highest One appoints as kings and princes whomever he wants to give (it) to'.

This illustrates the procedure by which one can correlate interpretation with aspectual value, given enough context to establish the correctness of the interpretation. In particular we find above that the interpretations support the assignment of perfective aspect to pasti and imperfective to padati, and similarly for postaviti and postavlati, respectively. But the procedure must include enough data to establish a pattern: the interpretation and form must coincide regularly before any aspectual value can be determined with relative accuracy.