A Diachronic Analysis of the Russian Verbal Adverb

Brian Stimmler, Princeton University

This paper will present a formal diachronic account of the development of the Russian verbal adverb (GP), also commonly referred to as “adverbial participle” or “gerund.” The GP developed from the Old Russian appositive participle (a term coined by Potebnja, Iz zapisok po russkoj grammatike, 1888) or vtorostepennoe skazuemoe, which was a short form active participle functioning as the predicate of a modifying subordinate clause. I will argue that GPs are bare VPs in Modern Russian, but that in Old Russian their predecessors were full clauses with a dedicated subject. I will show that the central event of the GP’s development was not the loss of the short form active participle’s agreement, but its reanalysis from a CP to a bare VP.

Rappaport (Grammatical Function and Syntactic Structure: The Adverbial Participle of Russian, 1984) proposes that “non-detached” (“neobosoblennye”) GPs are bare VPs adjoined to VP, and that “detached” (“obosoblennye”) GPs are full clauses with an obligatorily null subject, which are adjoined to the matrix S. Babby and Franks (The Syntax of Adverbial Participles in Russian Revisited, 1998), take a more conservative stance, stating that all GPs are bare VPs and the detached/non-detached distinction reduces simply to the position of adjunction with the matrix clause. Examples of detached and non-detached GPs are given in (1) and (2), with the GP highlighted.

(1) Pridja domoj, ja vstretil ego.

(2) On ušel prostivšis′.

Because detached GPs, like non-detached GPs, cannot occur with a complementizer, conjunction, or overt subject, I adopt the approach of Babby and Franks, adding that the distinct syntactic relations and semantic functions of these two GPs follow from their level of adjunction to the matrix clause.

Rappaport’s (1980, 1984) studies of the Modern Russian verbal adverb provide evidence for this hypothesis by outlining various criteria which distinguish detached GPs from non-detached GPs. He shows that detached GPs have fewer constraints on both their subject reference and their relative tense. Given that the non-detached GP did not appear until the seventeenth century, I suggest that Old Russian appositive participles were exclusively clausal modifiers adjoined at S. Thus, following from my hypothesis that syntactic and semantic distinctions are determined by the point of adjunction to the matrix clause, one may predict that Old Russian appositive participles were as free in subject and temporal reference as Modern Russian detached GPs. I will show in my paper that this is indeed the case. Furthermore, we will find that their semantic functions are identical. For example, here we see the Old Russian appositive participle functioning as manner (3), cause (4), and conditional (5) adverbials.

(3) Se udalixsja begaa i v″dvorixsja v″ pustyni.

(4) I bog prostit tja pokajanie tvoe videv.

(5) Jako ne vosxoščet čelovek jasti, slyšavše eja glasy.

Modern detached GPs, unlike non-detached GPs, have such semantic nuances. This grouping of the Old Russian appositive participle with the Modern Russian detached GP is to be expected if syntactic relations and semantic functions reduce to the modifier’s level of adjunction to the clause. Thus we can account for the detached/non-detached distinction without stipulating GPs with two separate structures, a clause and a bare VP.

Although descriptive grammars simply state that the appositive participle “shares” the subject with the matrix predicate, I propose that it is a full clause, or CP, as examples (6–8) illustrate.

(6) Pleskovici poixaša proč a miru ne dokončav″.

(7) Volodimir″ že celovav″ brata svoego i poide Pereslavlju.

(8) No vkupe vsi sobravšesja na zemlju egipetskuju vsi ustremišasja.

The clausal status of the appositive participle is evident in (6) and (7), where a conjunction separates the participle from the matrix predicate. The subject in (7) is adjacent to the participle, and not the matrix predicate. My study of the appositive participle construction has shown that the overt subject is overwhelmingly found in the initial clause, regardless of whether it is the matrix or subordinate clause. This suggests not that they are “sharing” a subject, but that the second subject is a null pro. Nominative absolute constructions such as (8) provide examples of two overt subjects, one predicated of the matrix predicate and the other of the appositive participle, which supports my claim that this participle is functioning as a full clause.