Russian Word Formation
Fall, 1996

Instructor: George Fowler
Office: Ballantine 514
Hours: MW 10:00-11:30 am [tentative], or by appointment
Phone: office: BH 514
Email: gfowler@indiana.edu


One previous course in the structure of Russian (either R403 or L501) and graduate status in Slavic linguistics, or consent of instructor.


Seminar-style. Active participation and lively debate are required.


    1. Investigate the details of a linguistic description of Russian derivational morphology, with particular emphasis on morphophonemics.
    2. Consider the semantic potential of various word formation processes.
    3. Examine the ramifications of Russian word formation for general linguistic (generative) approaches to derivational morphology.
    4. Gain an idea of the potential and limitations of computers for linguistic research in areas related to derivational morphology.
    5. Although it is not an explicit goal for this course, it is a hoped-for fringe benefit that increased sensitivity to word-formation processes might enhance your passive Russian vocabulary.


    1. One brief paper based on data collected through computer searches of Zaliznjak (other sources by prior arrangement), 5 pages maximum, worth 33% of course grade.
    2. Two brief papers, 5 pages maximum, one on form and one on content, each worth 33% of course grade.
    3. Attendance, participation, and involvement, nominally valued at 0% but could affect borderline cases.

Several general lines of exploration suitable for papers are outlined below, and we will talk about this more in class. All students are encouraged to talk with me while casting about for something to write about.


Various articles and book/dissertation excerpts, to be distributed as a packet. Students will pay for these at the rate of $0.05/page (except for papers by the instructor, which will be provided free of charge). Students are expected already to own a copy of Charles Townsend's Russian Word Formation; if not, it is available in the IU Bookstore as a textbook for L501 and L403. Students will also receive about 100 pages of the instructor's handouts. Students will use the computerized version of A. A. Zaliznjak's Grammaticheskij slovar' russkogo jazyka (CZ); there are copies on the computers in BH 507, and anyone may make a copy for use during the course on his/her own computer. Reference to the printed volume may be important for the computer project; several copies are available from the instructor, in the Armstrong Library, and in the IU Library.

We will have one hands-on demonstration session with the CZ materials, to be scheduled shortly.


A. Introduction. (6 classes, 9/2-4; 9/9-11; 9/16-18)

    Derivation vs. inflection. Morphology vs. other modules of grammar. Practical survey of word-formation problems in Russian. Productivity. Alternative approaches to derivational morphology. Computer applications in the analysis of derivational morphology.

    Readings (read assigned papers in this order, and front-load your reading as far as possible): Charles Townsend, Russian Word Formation, 1-80; N. A. Lykova, "O granicax mezhdu slovoizmeneniem, formoobrazovaniem i slovoobrazovaniem v russkom jazyke"; Dean Worth, "Morfonologija slavjanskogo slovoobrazovanija", Stephen Anderson, "Where's Morphology?"

B. Formal Aspects of Russian Word Formation (16 classes)

    1. The status of jers. Nature of the cycle and principles of Lexical Phonology. (4 classes: 9/23-25; 9/30-10/2)

    Readings: David Pesetsky, "Russian Morphology and Lexical Theory" [extended excerpt]; "Morphology and Logical Form" [brief excerpt]; Paul Kiparsky, "Lexical Morphology and Phonology"; Dean S. Worth, "Vowel- Zero Alternations in Russian Derivation"; "On Cyclical Rules in Derivational Morphophonemics"

    2. Stress. Computer work with Zaliznjak on stress. (3 classes: 10/7-9; 10/14)

    Reading: Janis Melvold, Structure and Stress in the Phonology of Russian [Extended excerpt]

Assignment 1: Paper based on computer project due Monday 10/14.

    3. Truncation. (1 class: 10/16)

    Reading: Bill J. Darden, "Truncation and/or Transderivational Constraints in Russian Word Formation"

    4. Derived imperfectives. (1 class: 10/21)

    Reading: Michael Flier, "The Glide Shift in Russian"

    5. The status of morphological units (one suffix or two?; prefix vs. combining form; superimposition; use of zero in analysis). (4 classes: 10/23; 10/28-30; 11/4)

    Readings: E. I. Litnevskaja, "Aggljutinacija i fuzija na morfemnom shve v sovremennom russkom jazyke"; E. A. Grigorjan, "Principy klassifikacii suffiksoidov (na materiale slozhnyx sushchestvitel'nyx s kornjami glagolov dvizhenija v opornom komponente)"; Dean S. Worth, "O roli abstraktnyx edinic v russkoj morfonologii"; N. A. Janko-Trinickaja, "Mezhduslovnoe nalozhenie"; Dean S. Worth, "The Notion of 'Stem' in Russian Flexion and Derivation"; Edward Stankiewicz, "The Interdependence of Paradigmatic and Derivational Patterns"

    6. Word-internal syntax. (3 classes: 11/6; 11/11-13)

    Readings: George Fowler, "Word-Internal Case Assignment in Russian"; "Phrasal Input to Derivational Morphology in Slavic"; "A Syntactic Account of Derivational -sja in Russian"; "An Articulated Theory of Aspect and Prefixation in Russian"

Assignment 2: Paper on formal word formation due Monday 11/11.

C. Content: Semantics and Function

    1. Verb Formation: Prefixation and invariant semantics. (3 classes: 11/18-20; 11/25)

    Readings: Michael Flier, "Remarks on Russian Verbal Prefixation"; "Syntagmatic Constraints on the Russian Prefix pere-"; "The Scope of Prefixal Delimitation in Russian"; Laura Janda "The Meanings of Russian Verbal Prefixes: Semantics and Grammar"

    2. Noun Formation: Diminutive suffixation and discursive semantics. (3 classes: 12/2-4; 12/9)

    Readings: Anna Wierzbicka, Semantics, Culture, and Cognition: Universal Human Concepts in Culture-Specific Configurations. [Extended excerpts: 47-59, 66-75, 188-91, 166-74, ch. 7 (225-307), ch. 12 (395-441)]

D. Conclusion: Other directions in the linguistic study of Russian word formation. (1 class: 12/11)

Assignment 3: Paper on semantics of word formation due Thursday 12/19.


Bear in mind that these are limited, 5-page papers. Of course, some topics can be handled in more or less detail, from this kind of brief paper up to a whole book. Nonetheless, you will be better served if you make sure you pick a very finite topic. There are many, many possibilities; this survey might help you get your mind in gear at the very beginning. I will insist that you come talk with me before settling on a topic for each paper. There might be ways to relate all three papers if you are heavily interested in one particular word formation phenomenon; this would need to be discussed in detail.

What is a computer good for? It can find all examples of something specific, but it cannot contribute intellectually the resolution of any problem. The key to finding a computer topic is to identify a question whose resolution would be aided by identifying all examples of some finite phenomenon (a particular type of stress, sequence of sounds, etc.). Let me give you a couple of examples. 1) Suppose you notice that many nouns in -nik also correspond to adjectives in -nyj (e.g., rasputnik 'libertine' ~ rasputnyj 'debauched, dissolute'); moreover, alongside -nik you find personal nouns in -ik (frontovik 'soldier at the front', starik 'old man', etc.), as well as nouns in -shchik and -chik. The question is, could you segment -nik into -n(yj) + -ik? You could use the computer to find and compare all the relevant examples. You then have to analyze them to see what, if anything, you can determine from the data.

2) The nominal suffix -ota occurs in words with three distinct types of stress: stress on the root (pAxota 'plowing'; this stress is unusual), stress on the first syllable of the suffix (dremOta 'drowsiness'), and stress on the desinence (teplotA 'warmth'); the last two are both quite common (there are even a couple of minimal pairs). You could identify all examples of each stress type, along with related words, and attempt to figure out what, if any, morphological characteristics of the "motivating" words or roots might be correlated with the stress distinction.

A number of topics should suggest themselves from our readings in this course, as well as in-class discussions. Stress is always a major topic; you could look for unusual stress patterns in word formation and attempt to explain them. You could look for undiscussed examples which either obey or violate Pesetsky's level-ordering generalizations or his analysis of jers. You could argue a position on the issue of homophony in word formation; for example, the suffix -ka derives diminutives (tetka), more or less unmarked female equivalents to masculine nouns (studentka), and deverbal process/result nouns (proverka). One suffix, two, or three? You could investigate this on the formal level, attempting to find a principled basis for resolving that issue (similarities or differences in the formal properties of words formed with this or other suffixes). You could look at hardening in verbal suffixation (zabrosit' -> zabrosat'), and classify the types of verbs in which it can/must occur, looking always for pertinent generalizations. You could compare parallel processes in Russian and another Slavic language, relating the differences to other distinctions in the respective grammatical structures.


. You could attempt to extend Flier's or Janda's semantic methodology to some other verbal prefix(es) (this is not as easy as it might sound); or you could contrast it with another type of approach to the same prefixes. You could extend Wierzbicka's methodology to some completely different kind of phenomenon, beyond the limited realm discussed in the excerpts from her book. (In this case, you should look at some of her other work on semantics apart from word formation.) You could examine the semantics of relational vs. qualitative adjectives, and attempt to explain borderline cases. You could pick one suffix and examine its semantic range, with a view toward deciding if there is a semantic invariant or not.