The Reference System and Conjunction Usage in Early Russian Legal Texts

Renee Perelmutter, University of California, Berkeley

My paper explores the concept of interpretation regimes as it applies to several versions and manuscript editions of the Russkaia Pravda (RP), the first Russian legal code attributed to Prince Yaroslav and his sons (second half of 11th century). Benveniste (1966) first postulated the existence of two different interpretation regimes, dialogue and narrative, which are distinguished mainly in terms of their reference construction. Zhivov (in progress) proposes that additional interpretation regimes can exist in a given language, such as, for example, the religious/ritualistic and the legal systems of interpretation. A contemporary user of the legal system acquires the interpretation regime as a syntactic and referential framework, within which he can interpret lexical data.

The RP interpretation regime relies heavily on such features as clause parallelism of different types, frequent use of ellipsis, variation in conjunctions used for clause combining, and complicated pronominal reference. While clearly accessible to the contemporary interpreter, this regime often seems baffling to modern scholars; witness, for instance, Kaiser (1980), who aptly summarizes the scholars’ frustration with RP: “the regulations … are couched in the most laconic grammatical structures which bread endless debates over origins and meanings”. Specifically, some confusion is due to the fact that the RP conjunctions such as аще, аже, аче, and оже, as well as their combinations with ли such as оже ли, are often assumed to have equal meanings and to exist in free variation within the text.

My analysis shows that the variation of conjunctions within a given manuscript is employed in order to organize the legal articles or clauses into larger blocks of text. The resulting cohesive structure is achieved primarily by means of conjunctions, but also by ellipses and repetition or parallelism of lexical elements. The articles are not arranged according to a linear principle where one sentence logically follows another; on the contrary, almost every NP and syntactic structure in a certain article is connected to NPs and syntactic structures in other articles within the larger cohesive block. In my paper I demonstrate that this organization is not random: a deliberate use of conjunctions provides a tiered structure of textual reference.

Once we understand the syntactic organization of RP, the text itself becomes more accessible for the scholars of the Medieval Russian legal system.