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On the Problem of Subject Identity in the ‘Adverbial Participle + Main Clause’ Construction in Modern Russian

Fedor B. Albrekht


The article discusses the subject matching between the adverbial participle construction and the main clause in Russian. Russian  normative grammar requires the main clause and the adverbial participle construction within one utterance to express an action or a state of one and the same subject, as the Russian деепричастие (adverbial participle)= is typologically related to an implicit-subject converb. The adverbial participle has developed from a copredicative participle, and now it mostly expresses a subordinate action (or a subordinate state) of the  main clause's subject, which has the form of the nominative case. But, according to numerous real language examples, both oral and written, the grammatical subject (if any) in the main clause does not always coincide with the semantic subject of the whole situation. Besides, there are cases when the subjects of the main clause and the adverbial participle construction are different. There exists a wider sphere of semantic and pragmatic relations between participants of the main situation and of the subordinate situation, where the communicative subject, and not the formal one, plays the main role. Several main types of constructions are analysed, in which the semantic and communicative subject, while being the same for both situations, is not expressed by means of the nominative case in the main clause. First, the semantic subject may have the form of the dative case, and that is sometimes = omitted when the subject is clear from the context: Uvidev (see-ADVP.PST) zadaniia, mne (I-DAT) stalo boiazno ‘After seeing the tasks, I became frightened’, Sidia v netoplenoi kvartire, bylo holodno ‘While sitting in the unheated apartment, I (we, etc.) was (were) cold’. Second, there can occur passivisation of the main clause: Vsio eto bylo sdelano (PASS), pod’ezzhaia (approach-ADVP.PRES) k derevne ‘All of this was done (by the author of the sentence) when he was approaching the village’. Third, the semantic subject may be expressed by different possessive constructions: Zakanchivaia (finish-ADVP.PRES) stat’iu, u menia (I-GEN) slomalsia komp’iuter ‘While I was finishing an article, my computer broke down’. The fourth case is represented by the removal of the subject, which is implicit in the given situation: Potrativ (spend-ADVP.PST) vsio na vypivku, na edu ne ostalos ‘Having spent all his/her/our etc. money on booze, nothing was left for food’. In addition, two rare types of using the adverbial participle construction are analysed: 1) when the latter neither morphologically nor semantically relates to the subject of the main clause: Rebionok gladil sobaku, viliaia (wag-ADVP.PRES) hvostom ‘The child caressed the dog (which was) wagging its tail’; 2) when the construction relates to the grammatical object of the main clause: Pozdravliaiu vas, grazhdanin, sovramshi (lie-ADVP.PST) ‘My congratulations, comrade: you’ve just lied!’. While focusing on  Russian utterances, the paper also includes data from other Slavic (including ancient) and, in several cases, from Baltic languages. Comparison shows that the given phenomena are not specific to Russian. Besides, the comparative data helps us to avoid deducing some modern structural phenomena directly from older constructions. For example, there seems to be no reason to connect such structures as Rebionok gladil sobaku, viliaia (wag-ADVP.PRES) hvostom ‘The child caressed the dog (which was) wagging its tail’ directly to the absolute predicative use of participles in Old Russian. We come to the conclusion that the lack of formal and grammatical congruence (in other words, of categorial agreement) between the adverbial participle construction and the main clause is the reason why in modern Russian the adverbial participle construction is able to disconnect from the grammatical subject of the main clause. Therefore, the adverbial participle construction can now be used in any situation when the speaker has a communicative intention to designate a subordinate action and the subject of this action is clear from the context. 


DOI: 10.31168/2305-6754.2020.9.2.12


adverbial participle construction; implicit-subject converb; main statement; secondary utterance; subject (non-)identity in sentences with a copredicative structure; grammatical subject; semantic subject; communicative subject; context


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