Getting to the Heart of Anger Among The Slavs and The Baltic Finns: A Case for a Contact-Induced Innovation

James Weller, Ohio State University

Nearly every Slavic language has morphologically identical ‘heart-anger’ lexemes. The most telling feature of these words is the uniformity of root and affixes. The root used in these words derives from *sĭrd–, the old primary noun for ‘heart’, not the originally diminutive form *sĭrdĭko. The rare and unproductive adjectival suffix –it is used in the adjective ‘angry’—OCS srŭditŭ, Polish sierdzity—and most of the verbs expressing anger use the i-theme—Bulgarian sărdia se, Russian serdit′sja, et al. In addition, two factors assist in determining an approximate date for this phenomenon: the primary denominal adjective for ‘heart’ and the Russian verb serčat′. The former bears the direct reflex of the fifth–sixth centuries CE first palatalization of velars (e.g., R serdéčnyj), indicating that *sĭrdĭko must have replaced *sĭrdĭ as the primary noun for ‘heart’ prior to this sound change. Any ‘heart-anger’ lexemes derived from the younger stem also bear the direct reflex of velar palatalization, e.g., R serčat′ ‘to be angry’ and possibly the SCr srčiti (se) ‘ibid.’ This early date accounts for the morphological uniformity found in the Slavic languages.

Slavic-Finnic linguistic contacts are believed to have begun in the late eighth century CE. By the twelfth century, western Baltic Finns were part of the Swedish realm, the eastern were subjects of Novgorod. Speakers of Baltic Finnic (BF) languages also view the heart as the seat of anger, but the data present variation. First of all, the data are found only along the periphery of Slavic-Finnic contacts: Southeastern Estonian, Northern and Southern Karelian, Eastern Finnish, and two dialects of Central Vepsian. They are not found in Livonian, Central and Western Estonian, Western and Southwestern Finnish, the Central Karelian dialects of Olonetsian and Ludic, and most of Vepsian. I have approached the BF data from three perspectives: 1) Derivational morphology; 2) historical migrations; and 3) comparison with other Finno-Ugric (FU) languages. From BF derivational morphology three developments are detectable. In Eastern Estonian, speakers derived a denominal transitive verb sũdandada ‘to anger’ (< *sydän ‘heart’) from which they derived a reflexive verb, sũdanduda ‘to be angry’. In contrast, Karelian speakers first produced the reflexive verb sydäntyä ‘to be angry’, from which they derived the causative verb sydännyttää ‘to anger.’ Two questions immediately arise: Why do the data appear only in the border of Slavic-Finnic contacts, and why do they lack morphological uniformity? Historical information sheds some light on this matter as it pertains to the Karelian data, particularly the verbal derivatives.

The Ladoga Karelians underwent three relevant migrations. The westernmost Karelians migrated westwards into what is now eastern Finland giving rise to the Savo dialects of Finnish. These Karelians completed their linguistic separation from the main body of Karelians by the eleventh century CE. Ladoga Karelians also settled the southern regions of the Ladoga Isthmus giving rise to the ethnicity known as the Ingrians, by the thirteenth century. In the seventeenth century Sweden wrested the province of Korela from Russia, after which many Karelians left to settle in northern Russian Karelia and Tver, near Moscow. These last migrations gave rise to the Northern and Southern Karelian dialects. Several linguistic developments coincide with these dates. The Savo Finns (orig. Karelians) who separated by the eleventh century have only the reflexive verb sydäntyä ‘to be angry’, and apart from other secondary intransitive derivatives, no transitive verb. The Ingrians have both the reflexive verb and its derived causative, *sydännyttää ‘to anger’. Likewise, the Korela Karelians who departed for Northern Karelia and Tver in the seventeenth century have both the reflexive and derived causative verbs. From these data it is clear that the Karelians had derived a reflexive verb by the eleventh century, but the causative came later, perhaps as early as the thirteenth century, but certainly no later than the seventeenth.

In order to determine whether there existed an ancient FU ‘heart-anger’ concept, I decided to compare the BF data with those of other FU languages. What I found was that only Mansi (M) has relevant data, a fact which has led some Finno-Ugrists to claim that an ancient FU ‘heart-anger’ concept was preserved peripherally (in the Baltic area and east of the Urals). This claim does not withstand morphological and historical scrutiny. First of all, M and Khanty (Kh) separated during the early first millennium CE. While it is true that the Mansi view the heart as the seat of anger, they also secondarily view the heart as the seat of courage. The Khanty, however, view the heart exclusively as the seat of courage. Historical migrations and events make it possible to place a rough date on the M ‘heart-anger’ concept—it could have arisen in M no later than the sixteenth century CE when the southern dialects were permanently severed from the northern dialects. Thus, in southern M, šømėnj means first ‘anger’ then ‘brave’ (<šøm ‘heart’), as it does elsewhere in M. In every Kh dialect, including the southern dialects, səmənj means ‘brave, courageous’ (< səm ‘heart’). Another expression for anger, M nar/nur ‘anger’ ~ Kh ńer ‘ibid.’, dates to the Ob-Ugrian (OU) period and is reflected in both languages. Given the concurrence in one meaning (‘courage’) and the preservation of other OU expressions for anger, it seems that the Mansi innovated after the dissolution of OU, but no later than the sixteenth century.

Based on the evidence, I conclude that contact with the Slavs was responsible for the adoption of the ‘heart-anger’ concept in three different places along the border of Slavic-Finnic contacts. This innovation probably began in the tenth century when the cultures of the Baltic Finns and the Russians were clearly merging. It then continued to follow Russian models in Korela Karelian and its offshoots, Northern and Southern Karelian. The ‘heart-anger’ concept was probably once more widespread in Eastern Estonian, but it diminished leaving traces in various dialects. It was weakest in Vepsian where it is unknown save in two central dialects. However, the case of the ‘heart-anger’ innovation demonstrates that Slavic-Finnic linguistic contacts had indeed become quite intense as early as the dawn of the second millennium CE.