North Russian Nominative Singular Masculine of o-stem Desinence –e in a Teleological Perspective

Kyongjoon Kwon, Harvard University


Old North Russian (e.g., Novgorod, Pskov) nominative singular masculine o-stem ending is -e, contrasting with the regular reflex –ъ found elsewhere in Slavic. There are numerous attempts, phonological (Zaliznjak 1988), morphological (Sobolevskij 1888, Ivanov 1985) and sociolinguistic (Vermeer 1991, 1994), devoted to the origin of the abnormal ending, especially its origin.

Phonological analysis by Zaliznjak, Nikolaev, and Dybo (as reported in Zaliznjak 1988), assuming the intermediate stage of –ъ (< Proto Slavic *-os), cannot answer the problems of the restricted – either geographically (why only in North Russian?) or morphologically (why not in the neuter s-stem nouns, like *slovo-s ‘word’) - occurrences of the ending –e. A better interpretation can be found in a morphological analysis, such as Vermeer’s (1991, 1994), corroborated with the sociolinguistic and archeological facts.

However, the focus the morphological change should be not on the source of the analogy, but rather on its ultimate goal (telos). In a teleological perspective, the change is claimed to occur as follows; first Leskien’s problem – the unstable status of NSg of masculine of o- and jo-stems after the Common Slavic loss of word-final *-s – was presented as the stimulus of the change of *-o to another segment. A telos, toward which this change occurred, is the differentiation of nominative and accusative. Influenced by the Finnic (Nom ≠ Acc, but Nom = Voc), Old North Russian speakers found –e from vocative in the same paradigm, for this ending could meet both the requirements.

In this new interpretation we can view Old North Russian nominal inflection in connection with another conspicuous dialectal feature, namely, the nominative object construction, e.g., mne zemlja paxat’ ‘I must plow the land’. Historical data seems to indicate that the two linguistic phenomena show an inverse relationship: with few exceptions, only the nominal paradigms with NSg ending –e do not participate in the nominative objective construction. In addition, the language changes peculiar to North Russian can be understood in an integrative way, quite possibly associated with the development of the grammatical category of animacy, since all three linguistic features have much to do with semantic subject/object and consequently grammatical nominative/accusative distinction.




Ivanov, V. V. 1985.  "Otraženie Indoevropejskogo Casus Indefinitus v drevnenovgorodskom dialekte." Russian Linguistics 9: 327-334.

Sobolevskij, A. I. 1888.  Lekcii po istorii russkogo jazyka. Kiev.

Vermeer, Willem.  1991.  "The mysterious North Russian nominative singular ending -e and the problem of the reflex of Proto-Indo-European *-os in Slavic." Welt der Slaven 36: 271-295.

________. 1994.  "On explaining why the Early North Russian nominative singular in -e does not palatalize stem-final velars." Russian Linguistics 18: 145-157.

Zaliznjak, A. A. 1988.  "Drevnenovgorodskij dialect i problemy dialektnogo členenija pozdnego praslavjanskogo jazyka." Slavjanskoe jazykoznanie. X Meždunarodnyj s’’ezd slavistov, Sofija, sentjabr’ 1988g., Doklady sovetskoj delegacii, Eds. N. I. Tolstoj. Moscow: Nauka. Pp. 164-177.