On the development of the Perfect Participial Constructions in Northwest Russian

Hakyung Jung, Harvard University

The Early Rusian past tense originally consisted of the aorist, imperfect, perfect, and pluperfect, each of which was expressed by distinct syntactic or morphological means. While aspect developed as a grammatical category, the tense system underwent simplification, and as a result, in CSR, for example, there exists only one past tense, represented by the old perfect participle in -l-.

The readjustment of the verb system did not proceed identically across dialects. Unlike CSR, based on the Muscovite dialect, many Northwest Russian dialects (NWR) in the Novgorod and Pskov regions use historical short forms of past active participles to denote the perfect. In NWR, indeclinable past active participles (PAP) in -(v)ši derived from intransitive verbs are used as independent perfect predicates (e.g., On sil’no vypivši ‘He has drunk very much’, Kuz’mina 1993: 142). In this paper I will trace the development of this –(v)ši perfect construction in manuscripts from the NWR dialectal areas and investigate the motivation for the innovations resulting in the given construction. 

I first intend to explore how the -(v)ši perfect construction came into use in the given dialectal area. I maintain that its genesis as an independent preterite predicate should be understood as a corollary of two other developments: the establishment by the 15th century of the PAP short form as a verbal adverb dependent on the main clause, and the extension during the 13th–14th centuries of the function of the l-participle as the only preterite tense. I will examine as well the relationship among several PAP constructions with different degrees of independence. I will make use of chronicles and legal documents of various time periods from the Novgorod and Pskov regions as sources of textual evidence.

In my investigation on the historical development of the -(v)ši construction, I will pay attention to its complementary distribution with another NWR participial construction, namely, indeclinable short forms of the past passive participles in -no/-to derived from transitive verbs with a perfect or resultative meaning. These two constructions, which took separate paths of development under different motivation, have constituted a single grammatical category in the NWR dialect since the 17th century. In the existing literature they have been addressed only separately. I underscore the need to consider them together, since their complementary distribution across verb classes (intransitive/transitive) must provide the key to resolving questions of lexical restriction or extension.

I will also consider the given phenomenon in the larger context of a Baltic substratum, since neighboring Baltic languages maintain very similar constructions. A unified explanation of those constructions will allow a more systemic understanding of the phenomena and a typological evaluation of the relevant dialectal systems. Yet, lexical restriction unique to the NWR -(v)ši construction and the time of its productive use may also permit it to be viewed as the direct result of an independent phase of development in the NWR dialect.


Kuz’mina, I. B. 1993.  Sintaksis russkix govorov v lingvogeografičeskom aspekte. Moscow: Nauka.