On the distribution of infinitive and sentential complements in Russian and Upper Sorbian

Gary H. Toops, Wichita State University

This paper examines the distribution of infinitive and sentential complements of "will-extending" verbs (Brecht 1974) in Russian and Upper Sorbian.  Such verbs can be divided into two categories: performative (e.g., Russian [po]prosit' 'ask, request') and causative (Upper Sorbian nućić 'force').

The distribution of infinitive and sentential complements of will-extending verbs in Russian appears to be relatively fixed: sentential complements introduced by the complementizer čtoby generally occur with performatives, while infinitive complements generally occur with causatives.  Common to Slavic infinitive and sentential complements is the feature [-tense].

Nevertheless, it has become a commonplace of Slavic linguistics that the West Slavic languages somehow "prefer" sentential complements in a number of syntactic environments where Russian exhibits infinitives, cf.:

Ru.       Posle obeda stali my ugovarivat' xozjaina prometat' nam bank.     
USo.    Po wobjedźe počachmy hosćićela namołwjeć, zo by nam
            banku dźerža1.
              'After dinner we began [trying] to persuade our host to
              keep the bank for us.'

The West Slavic languages, moreover, appear more prone to vacillate between the two types of complements, even when governed by the same will-extending verb. While little has been written about these syntactic phenomena in Upper Sorbian (cf. Šewc-Schuster 1976), several reasons have been adduced to explain similar phenomena in Czech.  These include:

(a)        passive/active voice ambiguity of infinitives -

    Cz.   Nemohu nechat lidi střílet. =
            Nemohu připustit, aby lidé stříleli.
             'I cannot have people shooting.'
            Nemohu připustit, aby lidé byli stříleni.  (Koenitz 1973)
            'I cannot have people (being) shot.'

(b)        need to avoid clitic-object clustering, particularly when  the object of the matrix             verb and that of the infinitive are in the same case -

    Cz. *Dovolil jsem mu jí zavolat. ->
            Dovolil jsem mu, aby jí zavolal.  (Toops 1992)
            'I allowed him to call her.'

(c) variable determination of "clitic-second" position -

    Cz.   Včera jsem se s vámi byl ochoten domluvit. ~
            Včera jsem byl ochoten se s vámi domluvit. ~
            Včera jsem byl ochoten domluvit se s vámi.  (Uhlír^ová 1987)
            'Yesterday I was willing to come to an agreement with you.'
Using parallel Russian texts and their Upper Sorbian translations, the proposed paper will explore to what extent these and similar factors influence the distribution of sentential and infinitive complements in Upper Sorbian.  Anticipated findings include evidence that, under German influence, sentential complements in Upper Sorbian are increasingly likely to be expressed as infinitives; and to the extent that sentential complements do occur, they are increasingly likely to be expressed in the present indicative rather than the subjunctive mood.


Brecht, R. D.  1974.  "Tense and infinitive complements in Russian, Latin and English."  In Slavic Transformational Syntax.  Ann Arbor.
Koenitz, B.  1973.  "Genus verbi in Infinitivkonstruktionen der tschechischen Sprache der Gegenwart," Zeitschrift für Slawistik
   17 (1973):5, 636-46.
Šewc-Schuster, H.  1976.  Gramatika hornjoserbskeje rěče. 2: Syntaksa.  Budyšin.
Toops, G. H.  1992.  "Causativity in Czech: The verbs dá(va)t and nech(áv)at," Canadian Slavonic Papers 34 (1992):1-2, 39-56.
Uhlířová, L.  1987.  Knížka o slovosledu.  Praha.