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A Case of Pragmaticalization in Russian: Micro-diachronic Analysis of the Particle ‘že’ in Questions

Olga E. Pekelis


Že is one of the most closely studied particles in Russian, but its use within interrogative sentences, although it is a separate type of use, has not been investigated in detail. In this paper, I deal with the semantic and syntactic properties of že as part of a constituent or a polar question in the 18th–19th centuries and in modern usage. Based on the Russian National Corpus data, it is demonstrated that, in modern texts, že can appear in questions in four different meanings, each of them pragmatically coloured, whereas in the 19th century and earlier, že could also have a pragmatically neutral meaning, close to a conjunctive one, which has today been lost. This diachronic development corresponds to a typologically widespread scenario and represents the process known as pragmaticalization. The proposed semantic analysis of že is further considered in the light of syntactic tendencies in the evolution of this particle. This analysis can explain the absence of že in the polar questions in modern Russian and its presence in such types of questions in the Russian language of the 18th–19th centuries. The assumption that že has lost its conjunctive-like meaning in interrogative sentences is consistent with the observation that the conjunctive že is the less frequent type of že in declarative sentences.


DOI: 10.31168/2305-6754.2020.9.1.12


pragmaticalization; history of Russian; corpus studies; constituent question; polar question; discourse particles


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