Dual Forms in Old Russian Gospel Texts of the Muscovite Period

Dongsoo Jeon, Ohio State University

The category of number in Old Russian (OR) distinguished singular, dual, and plural, whereas in modern Russian it distinguishes only singular and plural. However, it has been noticed that the dual was unstable from the very beginning. Even in the extant manuscripts of earliest texts, it is not difficult to find examples of inconsistent use of the dual forms.

The actual history of the obsolescence of the dual in OR has been studied by many scholars like Sobolevskij, Šaxmatov, Jakubinskij, Kuznetsov, Xaburgaev, and others. The main focus of the most historical grammar and reports written by them centers on the morphological change of the dual in different parts of speech and its eventual replacement by the plural. The most extensive research so far on the topic in question was done by Jordanskij, who wrote his renowned monograph Istorija dvojstvennogo čisla v russkom jazyke. In his account for the history of the dual, however, Jordanskij selected examples in a disturbingly unprincipled way from a wide range of diverse texts. Admittedly, the dual disappeared much earlier in the vernacular and literary texts close to it, such as legal and business documents, than in religious texts. Some scholars like Remneva recently identified the varying degree of deterioration of the dual in different genres. In fact, Remneva, in her books on the dual as one of the grammatical norms in OR, distinguished at least two different types of written texts, namely, those of business and everyday affairs (pamjatniki delovoj i bytovoj pis′mennosti), and those of literary-Slavonic literature (pamjatniki knižno-slavjanskoj pis′mennosti). With the question of exact classification of literary texts aside, it seems more likely that the account for the actual history of the dual should differ according to the nature of the texts. In this light, Remneva’s study renders more reasonable explanation on the topic under discussion. Nevertheless, even in the religious texts, the use of dual forms vary in different genres, such as, saints’ lives, prayers, Bible texts, etc. Here arises a question of the use of dual forms in more clearly-defined individual genres.

In this paper, an attempt will be made to account in a more systematic way for the use of dual forms in the Bible, the Gospel texts in particular, from the forteenth to the seventeenth centuries. In doing so, many possible factors will be considered: not only morphological as in previous scholarship but also syntactic, semantic, lexical, and possibly even para-linguistic ones. With no dictionary and grammar books available (at least until Smotritskij wrote his Church Slavonic grammar in the first half of the seventeenth century), it is believed that the Bible played the role of the most reliable reference for scribes and editors of literary texts. Considering the fact that the category of the dual disappeared from the living language very early, and yet the dual forms existed in religious texts until very late (in fact, even the current Russian Church Slavonic Bible contains dual forms), the scribes, who had to deal with dual forms, must have turned to the Bible for guidance. Therefore, the use of dual forms in the Bible will be examined to establish the grammatical norm of the given period. For this purpose, only three Gospel texts will be used: the Čudovskij spisok Novogo Zaveta, the Gennadij Bible, and the first printed edition of the so-called Moscow Bible of 1663. Since these texts are major revision or new translation of the Bible texts rather than simple copies of earlier versions, it is believed that they contain consistent treatment of the dual within each text. Even though this study will be an attempt to describe synchronically the use of dual forms at different times, comparison of the same context from different time period will shed light on the inherent difficulty in dealing with dual forms in general.