A Constrastive Survey of Aspectual Usage in Literary Upper Sorbian and Russian

Gary H. Toops, Wichita State University

The past several years have seen the publication of scholarly works contrasting aspect use in Russian literary texts and their translations into some West Slavic language, e.g., Stunov· 1993 with respect to Russian and Czech, Wįodarczyk 1997 with respect to Russian and Polish. However, similar contrastive studies of aspect use in Russian literary texts and their translations into Lower or Upper Sorbian have thus far been lacking.

One of the reasons for the lack of such a contrastive study is that very little Russian literature is ever translated into Lower or Upper Sorbian. To the extent that they read Russian literature in translation, the Sorbs, being all bilingual Sorbian/German since at least the end of World War II, read German, rather than Sorbian translations of Russian literary works. In 1958, however, the Domowina publishing house in Budysin (Bautzen) published a rare Upper Sorbian anthology of tales and short stories by A. S. Pushkin. The translations are particularly interesting from a linguistic standpoint, since the Sorbian translators were born and educated prior to 1945 and would therefore be expected to command a fully functional aspectual system, characterized by a fundamental opposition of perfective and imperfective verbs (according to Werner 1996 and Breu 2000, such an aspectual system is largely absent from the speech of post-1945 generations of Upper Sorbs).

Aspectual usage in the Russian and Upper Sorbian texts will be examined with reference to the following procedural contexts: a) iterative (habitual); b) general factual; c) performative (characterized by coincidence of an action with a corresponding speech event); d) historical present; and e) sequences of actions. Primary attention will be paid, however, to iterative contexts, since it is there that Upper Sorbian, like other West Slavic languages, exhibits complete aspectual competition; iterative/habitual actions in Russian, in contrast, are encoded almost exclusively by imperfective aspect forms. Preliminary comparisons of the Russian and Upper Sorbian texts reveal that in iterative contexts, the relative occurrence of Upper Sorbian imperfective verbs is high, with perfective verbs occurring together with imperfective verbs for the most part only when a) a given verb exists in Upper Sorbian as a perfectivum tantum, b) the imperfective and perfective members of an original aspectual pair have become lexically dissociated from one another, or c) a correlation between a verb's lexical aspect (aspectuality) and grammatical aspect exists (e.g., as between an achievement-type verb and the perfective aspect). The statement by Fasske/Michalk 1981 regarding literary Upper Sorbian's "preference" for imperfective verbs in iterative contexts is thereby corroborated (1981: 183), even if, as Toops 2001 has shown, in contemporary colloquial Upper Sorbian preference is given to perfective verbs in iterative contexts by a ratio of approximately 3:2.

Preliminary comparisons of iterative contexts in Russian and literary Upper Sorbian texts also reveal a very low occurrence of the Upper Sorbian iterative preterite. Its occurrence in Upper Sorbian translations is only slightly higher than that of "byvalo" constructions in the Russian originals, to which it usually corresponds. Elsewhere the iterative preterite appears to be confined to sentences introduced by temporal ("hydzh") or conditional ("hdy") subordinate clauses. It is hoped that the proposed paper will be an additional, albeit incipient, contribution to the contrastive studies of verbal aspect in Russian and the West Slavic languages thus far published by Stunov· 1993 and Wįodarczyk 1997.