Semantic and Syntactic Affects of the Verbal prefix -ot in Modern Russian: Focus on Finitives

Joan Chevalier, Brandeis University

Discussions of verbal prefixation in Russian approach the subgrouping of verbs labeled as "procedurals" in various ways. Isachenko and Avilova identify procedurals as a semantic subclass of verbs. According to Isachenko, verb "modifying" prefixes producing procedurals focus on one phase of the action, highlighting semantic features already inherent in the base. Recent research by Fowler and Yadroff and Dong focusing on the verbal prefix pro- (although they do not define pro- perduratives as procedurals) examines the syntactic features of arguments occurring with bivalent pro- perduratives. My study looks at both the semantic and syntactic affects of ot- prefixation, focusing on "finitives." As a point of departure I consider Isachenko's definition of finitives as procedurals that refer to the end phase of the action. The goal of my investigation is to clarify the semantic and syntactic features of finitives and to establish some of the factors that play a role in their derivation. In particular the study seeks to ascertain if, as Avilova and Durst-Andersen claim, procedurals, in this case finitives, are derived principally from activity and state bases.

This study is based on data culled from two Russian language dictionaries: Ozhegov and Ushakov and from textual examples obtained from modern literary texts. Vendler's semantic verb classes are used to divide verbs into aspectual semantic classes. Syntactically verbs are classified on the basis of valency with particular attention to valency shifts accompanying perfectivization with ot- prefixation. Preliminary results of the study indicate that the traditional definition of finitives can be narrowed. Ot- plus unaccusative bases (state or activity bases requiring nominative case NP undergoers, who typically are not participating by their own volition) produce verbs referring to states or activities that have ceased because the undergoers are no longer capable of engaging in the activity/state. Textual examples provide contextual evidence supporting claims about the importance of verb semantics in the derivation of procedurals. An examination of the behavior of perfective ot- verbs in context indicates that finitives formed from activity base verbs usually retain the aspectual semantics of the verbal base.