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In Search of the Trigger: Literary and Non-literary Texts as Examples of Different Aspects of Russian Referential Evolution

Evgeniya V. Budennaya


The article deals with the diachronic path of Russian pronoun expansion, which affected the period of the 11th–17th centuries: paki li Øpro soromit Øpro sebe svobodna > jesli on osramit — ona svobodna ‘if he rapes [the slave], she is freed’ (the treaty of 1191–1192 between Novgorod, Gotland, and the German Cities, and its modern translation). The initial trigger of this phenomenon is often attributed to the realm of the third person since the third-person auxiliary was lost first and the third-person subject pronoun massively expanded earlier than the first- and second-person subject pronouns. Nevertheless, one cannot argue that the latter was caused by the former, since the new subject pronouns did not only replace the old auxiliary forms but were also detected in finite verbal clauses where no auxiliaries were ever used. To explore what exactly caused the expansion of pronouns and how this expansion took place in different types of clauses, a diachronic analysis of finite clauses with reduced subject reference was conducted, with a special focus on the type of the predicate. Within the analysis, the referential data of three different Old Russian registers—informal, official and literary—were examined and compared to each other.

The results support the hypothesis of copula drop as a trigger for the expansion of pronouns and demonstrate that several intermediate stages of this process can be detected in official and literary texts, where the course of evolution was slower. Thus, only official texts allow us to discover the earlier stage of new referential pronouns substituting former verbal copulas, and only in literary works can we find the transitional elliptical pattern without pronouns or copulas, which existed before the new pronominal pattern.


DOI: 10.31168/2305-6754.2020.9.2.11


subject pronoun; verbal copula; third person; Old Russian; diachrony


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