LINGUIST List 14.1941

Wed Jul 16 2003

Sum: Evolution of number in Slavonic Languages

Editor for this issue: Karen Milligan <>


  1. Ben�tez-Burraco Antonio, Evolution of number in Slavonic languages

Message 1: Evolution of number in Slavonic languages

Date: Tue, 15 Jul 2003 14:56:04 +0000
From: Ben�tez-Burraco Antonio <>
Subject: Evolution of number in Slavonic languages

A few weeks ago (Linguist 14.1560) I posted a couple of questions on
distinctive features of the grammatical number in Slavonic languages,
and on the main consequences of the disappearance of dual in these
languages. I would like first to summarize the kind help provided for
some members of the list. Secondly, I would like to draft my own
conclusions after some research on these topics.

So, first of all, many thanks to Klaus Abels, Natalia Rakhlin, Milkana
Kalaydzhieva, R�my Viredaz, Greville G. Corbett, Daniel Collins,
Gorazd Kert, Igor Zagar, Richard Laurent and Philipp Angermeyer!

Klaus Abels pointed to the emergence of a paucal in some Slavonic
languages (as Russian or Serbo-Croatian) and provided to me a contact
with Natalia Rakhlin, who kindly sent her paper on the active role of
paucal in Russian morphology. For anyone interested in such topic, the
abstract of her talk can be found in In her work, Natalia
looked at the patterns of Case assignment in numeral phrases in
Russian and concluded that with the numerals 'two', 'three', and
'four' in accusative and nominative contexts, we are still dealing
with a number category distinct from plural (and also from
singular). These numerals in acc and nom induce a case/number
inflection on the noun that is morphologically identical to what was
dual (with 'two)' and later became paucal (with 'two', 'three', and
'four') in Old Russian. She argues that if we assume that Modern
Russian has the paucal, this allows for a much simpler and elegant
picture of case assignment and we don't need any additional mechanisms
to capture all of the patterns. Of course, we would have to say that
morphologically only nom/acc dual or rather paucal is preserved, and
in other cases the inflection is the same in plural and paucal. This
can probably be treated as syncretism. For the paucal category in
Serbian, which stems historically from the dual, there is a new and
interesting article by Bojan Belic in Ohio State Working Papers in
Slavic Studies, vol. 2 (2003), 1-22., as Prof. Collins pointed to me.

For the Slavonic dual, Prof. Collins also sent some interesting
references. For the whole Slavonic group, A. Belic: ''O dvojini u
slovenskim jezicima'' (Belgrade, 1932) and A. Dost�l Vyvoj dualu v
slovanskych jazycich (Prague 1954); for Russian, ''Istoricheskaia
grammatika drevnerusskogo iazyka'', vol. 2: ''Dvoistvennoe chislo'',
by O. F. Zholobov and V. B. Krys'ko (Moskva, Azbukovnik, 2001) and the
doctoral dissertation by Dongsoo Jeon ''The Use of Dual Forms: Scribal
Practices in a Morphosyntactic Actualization (Patterns in Selected Old
Russian Gospel Manuscripts, 14th through 17th cc.)'' (Ohio State
University, 2002).

He also added some references about the dual outside the Slavonic
group: ''The Dual'' by William Diver in the Columbia University
Working Papers in Linguistics 8 (1987): 100-114; ''The Dual Number in
Indo-European: A Two-Stage Development'' (Los Angeles, 1980), by
W. Pauw and A Typology of the Nominal Dual, by A. Rukeyser in the UC
Davis Working Papers in Linguistics 6 (1997)
I should add that I fully consulted the work by Rukeyser and found it
extremely interesting.

R�my Viredaz sent some reflections about the motor mechanism for the
evolution and the disappearance of dual. He pointed that the dual has
disappeared in almost all Indo-European languages except for Celtic,
Baltic and a few Slavonic languages. A similar evolution has occurred
in Finno-Ugrian and Semitic languages. He also cited the works by
Meillet about the (social) causes for obsolescence of the dual number:
Meillet thinks that the dual number is preserved only in language
communities that have a relatively backward stage of civilization,
whatever that may mean. The works by Meillet are:

Antoine MEILLET, L'emploi du duel chez Hom�re et l'�limination du
duel, in: M�moires de la Soci�t� de Linguistique de Paris XXII,
1920-22, p. 145-164.

A. M., Introduction � l'�tude comparative des langues
indo-europ�ennes, pages 424-425 in the last (Paris, 1938) edition
(republished 1964, Univ. of Alabama Press)

A. M., Le Slave commun, Paris 1924, revised edition 1934 by Andr�

A. M. and Joseph VENDRYES, Trait� de grammaire compar�e des langues

Gorazd Kert sent to me his paper on the structure of the Slovenian
declension system, which contains a lot of interesting information
about the Slovenian morphology and the dual category in Slovenian
(Igor Zagar also pointed that Slovenian still preserves dual)

Richard Laurent and Philipp Angermeyer sent to me some examples of
irregular plurals in Russian and Czech, respectively, that are in fact
residues of an old dual. For Russian, the neuter [nom./]
body-part nouns plecho 'shoulder,' koleno 'knee,' ukho 'ear,' and
(archaic) oko 'eye' have the nom./acc. plurals plechi, koleni, ushi,
ochi (instead of expected *plecha, *kolena, *ukha, *oka), with the
last two showing palatalization of consonants before a front
vowel. These body parts, of course, come in pairs. For Czech, dual
forms were maintained for certain lexical items which refer to things
that typically come in pairs (eyes, ears, hands, legs, etc.). For
these words the ''plural'' was lost, and the dual form was maintained,
but re-interpreted as an ''irregular'' plural. E.g. ruka 'hand' - ruce
'hands', not ruka which would be the expected plural in the feminine
-a paradigm (asin jablko 'apple' - jablka 'apples'). Best,

Milkana Kalaydzhieva prepared just for me a comprehensive and
exhaustive research on the Slavonic dual based Slovene, High Sorbian,
Czech, Polish and Bulgarian morphological data. Thank you very much
again, Milkana!

Finally Greville G. Corbett referred to his book on number: Corbett,
Greville G. (2000). Number. Cambridge University Press, particularly
pages 268-271.

Finally, my own contribution. I have prepared a research paper on
these topics, and I would be pleased to send it to anyone who is
interested in it. Unfortunately, the paper is written in Spanish, and
I have not yet translated it into English.

As there is quite a confusing and contradictory information about
these topics I had in mind two different goals for my research: a
comprehensive diachronic and synchronic characterization of the number
in the Slavonic languages from a lexical point of view and a
morphosyntactical analysis of the role of number agreement in the
Slavonic languages.

For my first goal I focused on the evolution of the dual from
Indoeuropean to modern Slavonic languages. There are very interesting
data concerning Proto-Slavonic and Old Church Slavonic. I have also
discussed the hypothetical emergence of a paucal, though I have
interpreted this paucal as an old dual, as an independet paucal cannot
propose for Slavonic languages (this value is always linked to numeral
phrases). For my second goal, I based broadly on the huge work on
agreement in Slavonic by Corbett. His framework is actually useful and
I have summarized and discussed the agreement problems concerning
number I have found in his papers. I have also compared them to other
non-Slavonic languages. Moreover, I have full discussed the numeral
phrase, which is quite problematic for the agreement. A serious
characterization of the Slavonic numeral is needed.

I will be pleased to discuss with anyone my own conclusions on these
topics. Best regards,

Dr. Antonio Ben�tez Burraco
Department of Linguistics
University of Seville (Spain)
Personal address: C/ Los Galindos, 2
Personal e-mail:


Language-Family: Slavic Subgroup; Code: IEL
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