LINGUIST List 10.416

Thu Mar 18 1999

Sum: Word Order in Russian

Editor for this issue: Karen Milligan <>


  1. Mathias Schulze, Sum: Word order in Russian

Message 1: Sum: Word order in Russian

Date: Wed, 17 Mar 1999 14:04:15 +0000
From: Mathias Schulze <>
Subject: Sum: Word order in Russian

In Linguist 10.287, I posted the following query:
Word order in Russian

"Many languages allow the scrambling of syntagmatic constituents within a
sentence, but in many of these languages, adjectival modifiers cannot be
separated from the noun phrase they modify. In a grammar book for learners
of Russian, I have come across these two examples:

T'azholaja dl'a nejo natshinalas' zhizn'.
(difficult for her started life)
Nev'erojatnyj podn'als'a shum.
(unbelievable rose noise)

a) Are these two sentences acceptable to Russian native-speakers?
b) Am I right in thinking that the two sentence-initial adjectives are
vindeed noun modifiers?
c) If these adjectives are noun modifiers what determines that they can be
separated from the modified phrase?
d) Are there other examples of this phenomenon in Russian?
e) Are there similar examples in other languages, e.g. are there languages
in which the determiner could be separated from the noun?"

I would like to thank the following colleagues for their informative replies:
Alexander Brock, Andrei Patrikeyev, Anna Kupsc, Asya Pereltsvaig, B.
Podolsky, Claus Rade, Elke Hentschel, Gisbert Fanselow, Grigori Sidorov,
Irina Sekerina, Joel Hoffman, John F. Bailyn, Krzysztof Adelt, Lukasz
Pielasa, Olga Shaumyan, Sergey Pakhomov, Steven Schaufele, Tatyana
Ovcharuk, Valery Solovyev, Viatscheslav Iatsko, Victor Pekar, Victoria

All but one agreed that the two examples I provided are grammatical and
often stressed the fact that the adjectives are discourse-marked.

The languages which show similar phenomena to the ones illustrated above
and which have been mentioned in the replies are: Slavonic languages
(Serbian, Ukranian, Polish), Latin, early Indo-European languages (Vedic
Sanskrit, Ancient Greek(?)), many Australian languages (Walpiri).

Some comments which struck me as interesting:

John F. Bailyn: "This kind of "left-branch" extraction is well-attested in
Russian and
the adjectives in question are certainly nominal modifiers. Examples
abound, both in spoken and written forms of the language."

Asya Pereltsvaig: "There is another construction in Russian, called Bare
Initial Genitive, in which it appears that the noun moves out of its phrase
leaving the
adjective behind (though it has been argued that the movement analysis
is actually not correct)."

Olga Shaumyan provides some more examples:
"Zhizn' u n'ego nastala t'azholaja.
S xoroshim ja vchera vstret'ils'a parn'em.
Ja s xoroshim vchera vstret'ils'a parn'em.
Ja vchera s xoroshim vstret'ils'a parn'em.
Sobaka zalajala chornaja. (this one is poetic-sounding)"

and one counter-example: 
"There's also a case like this:
Mal'en'k'aja V'era voshla v komnatu.
*V'era voshla v komnatu mal'en'kaja.
doesn't seem to be right"

For which Grigori Sidorov provides an explanation: "If the distance A-N is
becoming too long, the sentences sound unnatural."

Steven Schaufele: "The early IE languages are rather full of this kind of
thing. Among actually living languages, many of the Australian languages
indulge in
free word-order."

Viatscheslav Iatsko: "These adjectives are predicatives placed before
subjects-nouns zhizn' and shum for the sake of stylistic effect; the
purpose of the author is to show that the life was very difficult, and the
noise was very unbelievable. This is a case of inversion, the meaning of
which is that predicatives placed in the beginning of the
sentence make up its focus and take logical stress. The same constructions
with the same purpose are widely used in English, cf.: Tall and graceful she

A view which seems to be contradicted by the following evidence:

Anna Kupsc: "At least, their equivalents are OK in Polish, which is a quite
close Slavic language. In Polish, you can also split NP and PP by phrase
external elements, e.g:
Ewy czytales ksiazke
Eve's read-you book
`You have read Eve's book'

vNP `Ewy ksiazke' is split by the verb `czytales'. Separating a determiner
from a noun would be more difficult but it is not impossible, esp. if you
add a question word `czy' or some additional emphasis: 
(czy) Te czytales ksiazke
 Q this read-you book
 `Have you read this book?'"

This example was given by Joel Hoffman (Linguist 10.304):
"svaju on dumajet Sto ja videl maSinu
self's he thinks COMP I saw car
He thinks I saw my car"

... and commented upon by Valery Solovyev:
"The example in LINGUIST LIST 10.304 is not right. Words can't be moved
on the first place from the subordinate clause."

Some further references were given:

Austin, Peter and Joan Bresnan (1996) Non-configurationality in Australian
Aboriginal Languages, Natural Language and Linguistic Theory, 14, 215-268.

Bailyn, John (1995) A Configurational Apporoach to Russian 'Free' Word
Order (Cornell Dissertation)

Borsley & Rivero (1994) Clitic Auxiliaries and Incorporation in Polish
NLLT, vol.12 

Cavar, Damir & Gisbert Fanselow: Discontinuous constituents in Slavic and 
Germanic languages (manuscript sent to me)

Hoffman, Joel: Syntactic and Paratactic Word Order Effects, Univ. of
Maryland at College Park, 1996 (PhD dissertation)

Irina Sekerina, dissertation abstract (

Schaufele, Steven (1990) `Where's my NP? Non-transformational analyses of
Vedic pronominal fronting', Studies in the Linguistic Sciences 18.2:129-162.

Schaufele, Steven (1990) Free Word-Order Syntax: the Challenge from Vedic
Sanskrit to Contemporary Formal Syntactic Theory (UIUC dissertation)

spas'ibo, danke and thanks again to everybody - you have been very helpful.

Mathias Schulze

p.s. Yes, UMIST is in Manchester. It's one of the four universities here
and stands for University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology.
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