Oral Residue in the Referential System of Late Middle Russian Written Discourse

The proposed paper aims at the description and analysis of the referential system found in selected seventeenth-century texts from the evolutionary and typological perspectives. The corpus being examined consists of correspondence and interrogation transcripts concerning several conflicts that took place in the Solovki Monastery in the early period of the Church Schism.

In my analysis I proceed from the following theses:

(i) Vernacular Russian texts from the seventeenth century are characterized by a heavy oral residue. The notion of oral residue goes back to the works of Goody, Havelock, Ong, and others on pre-literate cultures and on cultures at the transitional stage from chirographic writing to print. In the proposed study it encompasses the phenomenon of unconscious application of oral strategies in writing.

(ii) The repertoire of language-specific oral strategies in a given historical period can be established on the basis of parallelism between the oral mode of speech and ontogenetic language processes. In particular, it is argued that the study of writing in the historical period of partial writing interiorization can benefit from examining typologically similar processes found in child writing acquisition and in the writing activity of semi-literate adults.

It is a well known fact that the inventory of referential options in (late) Middle Russian vernacular texts includes—among the “standard” anaphoric devices such as zero, pronominal, and nominal forms—devices that combine pronominal and nominal components, e.g., on starec Markel, tot d′jakon Gerasim. Traditionally, referring expressions of the type “pronoun+NP” were regarded as typical of administrative language and functionally interpreted as satisfying the need for clarity and unambiguous identification of the referents. It will be shown in the paper that these constructions are used in the examined texts independently of the disambiguation need. Rather, both composite constructions, specifically, on +NP and tot +NP, function as markers of referents’ discourse status: specifically, major thematic participants tend to be encoded by means of on +NP, whereas minor thematic participants are encoded by means of tot +NP.

Similar composite referential constructions are found in children’s speech, oral discourse and in writings of semi-literate adults. In the proposed study I will attempt to demonstrate that a comparative analysis of facts from seventeenth-century written discourse and from other typologically similar linguistic situations can shed light on the evolution of Russian referential system.