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Observations on the dative absolute in the Laurentian Chronicle

Наблюдения над дательным самостоятельным в Лаврентьевской летописи

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The paper examines the attestations of the non-etymological ending -ovi (vs. the etymological -u) in the subject noun of the dative absolute represented by proper personal masculine *o-stem nouns of foreign origin. The idea that -ovi tends to mark a possessor is tested on the data collected for this study from the Laurentian Chronicle. The dative absolute is particularly conducive to the investigation of the subject, because it may contain other nouns in the dative, in various syntactic functions and semantic roles. A seemingly logical initial supposition that, in light of the availability of two variant endings and the association of -ovi with a possessor, the subject of the absolute construction may be predisposed towards the ending -u is not corroborated by the data. The explanation for the prevalence of -ovi in the subject of the dative absolute is proposed in terms of the semantic and morphosyntactic contiguity between the agent, the receiver, and the possessor. The nouns in which -ovi is productive occupy the top of the agent / possessor hierarchy. It is concluded that morphosyntactic variation does reflect the semantic roles of the constituents of the dative absolute but in a less direct way than was initially postulated.


В статье рассматривается употребление неэтимологического окончания -ovi (в сопоставлении с этимологическим -u) в подлежащих оборота дательный самостоятельный, выраженных заимствованными личными существительными мужского рода с основой на *-o. Идея о том, что окончание -ovi указывает на владельца, подвергается проверке на материале Лаврентьевской летописи, собранном в ходе данного исследования. Дательный самостоятельный является конструкцией, особенно показательной для исследования подлежащего, поскольку в нем могут содержаться и другие существительные в дательном падеже, в разных синтаксических функциях и с разными семантическими значениями. На первый взгляд логическое предположение, что, при наличии двух чередующихся окончаний, и при том, что -ovi связано со значением владельца,—подлежащее дательного самостоятельного, возможно, будет чаще употребляться с -u, не находит подтверждения из данных текста. Преобладание окончания -ovi в подлежащем дательного самостоятельного объясняется на основе семантической и морфо-синтаксической сопоставимости агенса, получателя и владельца. Существительные, в которых встречается -ovi, занимают верх иерархической шкалы агенса/владельца. Таким образом, следует заключить, что морфо-синтаксическая вариантность действительно отражает семантические роли членов дательного самостоятельного, но не настолько прямым образом, как сначала предполагалось.

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  1. Eselevič (1964, pp. 253–254) provides statistics for other early East Slavic manuscripts.

  2. Arguments against such interpretation of the form domoj have also been expressed. Karskij (1962a, pp. 30–34) disagrees, but Pravdin (1956, p. 13) disagrees with Karskij.

  3. See Lenard (1962) for the summary of the views on the genesis of this construction. See also Corin (1995) for a comprehensive survey of previous research on the dative absolute stating the problems where consensus is lacking.

  4. Istrina (1923, p. 213) points out that in the First Novgorod Chronicle some main clauses are subordinate to the dative absolute.

  5. The first chapter of Lenard’s (1962) study goes over the main problems related to the dative absolute based on the literature on the subject up to that date.

  6. See Worth (1994, p. 29) for reservations regarding the standard definition of the dative absolute which he calls “neither entirely accurate nor entirely adequate”.

  7. Thorough argumentation and textual evidence against this idea can be found in Belorussov (1899).

  8. It has been observed that basically no passive participles appear in the dative absolute (Istrina 1923, p. 211; Borkovskij 1978, p. 418).

  9. Istrina (1923, p. 215) mentions that some datives in the dative absolute preserve their ‘dependence’ on the finite clause predicate. Recall also Andersen’s (1970) idea of dative of subordination.

  10. It should be noted that there aren’t many prepositions used with dative in Slavic, ‘to, towards’ being the only one originally (Gallis 1963, p. 120). Prepositional usage is not of central importance to the topic of this paper, so it will be left out of the discussion.

  11. For the inventory of various usages of the dative in OCS see Mrázek (1963).

  12. In contrast, corresponding feminine nouns are most commonly used with the accusative case and the preposition ‘into’; this is also how the masculine ones eventually come to be used.

  13. Karskij (1962b, p. 55) reports that the prepositionless dative of direction is a norm with place names in the Laurentian Chronicle; the preposition k ‘to, towards; in the direction of’ comes into usage gradually (more frequent attestations in other chronicles), and becomes typical by the 15th c., see also Bratishenko (2009).

  14. In West Slavic -ovi has spread greatly, becoming predominant, including in inanimate nouns, in Polish, while the South Slavic languages that preserve declension lost this ending completely (Filin 1971, p. 287).

  15. Compare Langacker (2008, p. 393) who notes that, when indirect objects co-occur with direct objects, the most prototypical usage is with verbs of giving.

  16. The noun mirъ, of course, does refer to the inhabitants of the world as well as; so in that sense, it borders on animacy. Notably, Vaillant (1958, p. 124) asserts that inanimate nouns of the *-stem declension have the dative in -u, not -ovi. He explains the new -ovi ending in the form domovi ‘homewards’, instead of the older -u as in domu, as personification meaning ‘to the people of the house’. Another inanimate dative in -ovi (manastyrevi ‘monastery’) may be due to the same factor.

  17. For some reason, there is a noticeably high incidence of negative constructions among them.

  18. On the basis of the distinction between Figure and Ground, Wallace (1982, p. 218) lists several hierarchies that have been proposed to explain the nature of linguistic categories in grammar and discourse. For example, the subject is most often correlated with the nominative case. The concepts of Figure and Ground are used to describe the differential distribution of attention, one of the major schematic systems of language (Talmy 2000, p. 311). Talmy speaks of Figure and Ground as ‘cognitive anchoring’: “the concept that needs anchoring” and “the concept that does the anchoring” respectively. Langacker (2008, p. 70, p. 365) uses the terms ‘trajector’ and ‘landmark’ to capture the same asymmetry, “a matter of focal prominence […] in a profiled relationship”.

  19. In her analysis of the syntax in the First Novgorod Chronicle, Istrina (1923, p. 212) calls the dative absolute ‘in form a combination of a modified with a modifier’—a noun phrase.

  20. Corin (1995, p. 273, fn 25) refers to the examples with long-form participles as rare. Istrina (1923, pp. 211–212) in her analysis of the Novgorod Chronicle repeatedly observes that the participle in the dative absolute is short-form.

  21. It is worth noting in this connection that Potebnja’s (1958, p. 329), in his discussion of the varying degree of the dative absolute independence from the predicate of the main clause, defines a truly independent type, where the predicate of the main clause either does not govern dative or, if it does, such dative is not a counterpart of the nominative subject of this predicate, and is completely different from the dative absolute.


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Correspondence to Elena Bratishenko.

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I would like to thank the anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments and suggestions, as well as for alerting me to Lenard’s 1962 MA dissertation. Any remaining errors and omissions are my sole responsibility.

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Bratishenko, E. Observations on the dative absolute in the Laurentian Chronicle . Russ Linguist 39, 255–273 (2015).

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