The Russian particle, хоть, is rarely treated in descriptive grammars, as it is generally considered very colloquial. Indeed, someone learning Russian could speak fluently an entire lifetime without using the particle. The fact that Russian speakers do use хоть frequently, however, leads one to suspect that the particle is serving more than a disposable or accidental semantic function. Хоть appears in a multitude of contexts, seemingly performing a variety of semantic functions, even contradictory ones. The particle, for instance, can denote what Terrence Wade calls “minimal expectation or requirement”:
Жители курорта утешают друг друга: «хоть газ есть».
‘The residents of the resort console each other: ‘At least there’s gas.' (example from corpus)
It can also have an exemplary meaning:
Взять хоть меня, к примеру.
‘Take, say, me, for example.’ (example from Wade)
It can emphasize the idea of ‘no matter how’:
Хоть как его убеждай – ни за что от своего не откажется.
‘No matter how you try to convince him – he’ll never change his mind.’ (example from Vasilyeva)
The particle is by no means limited to these few roles and can, in fact, seem to have contradictory meanings even within the same exchange:
- Пожалуйста, дайте мне хоть один карадаш.
- ‘Please, give me at least one pencil.’
- Да берите хоть все.
- ‘Sure, take even all of them.’ (example from Zel’dovich)
A.P. Vasilyeva, attempting to formulate an overall semantic meaning for хоть, gives a meaning of ‘proportional emphasis,’ and many authors note that хоть retains the concessive nature of the conjunction хотя, generally considered its source.
I agree with Vasilyeva that хоть has a unified semantic purpose, but propose that examining constructions headed by хоть, we shall see that speakers use the particle to highlight a situation or possible situation as a marginal case, for instance either in a set of positively evaluated situations, or in situations that a speaker sees as logically possible or likely. The negation of a possibility as marginal, therefore can serve to strongly exclude a situation or possibility from this sort of semantic context, as well. Taking a cognitive linguistics approach, and arguing that the speaker conceives of possible situations as a mental space in which a possible option may or may not fall, I will demonstrate that data gathered from a corpus supports the interpretation that хоть indicates a marginal but nonetheless included case in such a space, in a variety of interrelated semantic contexts. This framing is also compatible with set phrases in which the particle appears, like хоть убей and хоть отбавляй. This interpretation of the particle’s semantic function will also influence our understanding of the conjunctional use of хоть and therefore of хотя.
Vasilyeva, A.N. 2002. Particles in Colloquial Russian. Honolulu: University Press of the Pacific.
Wade, Terrence, 1992. A Comprehensive Russian Grammar. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Zel’dovich, G. M. 1991. Semanticheskoe vzaimodeistvie modusa predlozheniia i chastitsy xot’. Filologicheskie Nauki. 1: 112-117.