"Borrowing Verbs into Russian: a usage-Based Approach"

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“Borrowing Verbs into Russian: A Usage-Based Approach”

  • Laura A. Janda

  • UNC-Chapel Hill

  • janda@unc.edu, www.unc.edu/~lajanda

The problem

  • Nearly all Russian verbs are either Perfective (napisat’p ‘writep’) or Imperfective (pisat’i ‘writei’)

    • Except several hundred “Bi-aspectual” verbs (likvidirovat’p/i ‘liquidatep/i’)
  • Nearly all Bi-aspectual verbs are foreign borrowings

    • Scholars assume Bi-aspectual verbs = foreign borrowings
  • But

    • Nearly 40% of borrowed verbs are not Bi-aspectual
    • Bi-aspectual verbs behave differently from non-Bi-aspectual verbs


  • Empirical study confirms predictions of “cluster” model of Russian aspect

    • “Cluster” model has been suggested by Janda as alternative to traditional aspectual “pair” model
  • Study also suggests interaction between lexical semantics and grammatical aspect

    • Bi-aspectual verbs lack a Non-Completable (atelic) construal


1. Traditional assumptions about Russian aspect

  • (Prototypical situation, ignoring Bi-aspectuals)

  • A given verb is either Perfective (marked) or Imperfective (unmarked) in all tenses and forms

  • Simplex base verbs (usually Imperfective) are combined with prefixes and suffixes to create new Perfective and Imperfective verbs

A typical verb and some of its relatives (i.e., a “cluster”)

  • pisat’i ‘write’i

    • napisat’p ‘writep’
    • popisat’p ‘write for a whilep’
    • podpisat’p ‘signp’
      • podpisyvat’i ‘signi’
    • perepisat’p ‘revisep’
      • perepisyvat’i ‘revise’i

A typical verb and some of its relatives (i.e., a “cluster”)

  • pisat’i ‘write’i

    • napisat’p ‘writep’
    • popisat’p ‘write for a whilep’
    • podpisat’p ‘signp’
      • podpisyvat’i ‘signi’
    • perepisat’p ‘revisep’
      • perepisyvat’i ‘revise’i

A typical verb and some of its relatives (i.e., a “cluster”)

  • pisat’i ‘write’i

    • napisat’p ‘writep’
    • popisat’p ‘write for a whilep’
    • podpisat’p ‘signp’
      • podpisyvat’i ‘signi’
    • perepisat’p ‘revisep’
      • perepisyvat’i ‘revise’i

A typical verb and some of its relatives (i.e., a “cluster”)

  • pisat’i ‘write’i

    • napisat’p ‘writep’
    • popisat’p ‘write for a whilep’
    • podpisat’p ‘signp’
      • podpisyvat’i ‘signi’
    • perepisat’p ‘revisep’
      • perepisyvat’i ‘revise’i

A typical verb and some of its relatives (i.e., a “cluster”)

  • pisat’i ‘write’i

    • napisat’p ‘writep’
    • popisat’p ‘write for a whilep’
    • podpisat’p ‘signp’
      • podpisyvat’i ‘signi’
    • perepisat’p ‘revisep’
      • perepisyvat’i ‘revise’i

2. Traditional assumptions about Bi-aspectual verbs

  • Questionable issues:

    • All verbs with borrowed stems in Russian are Bi-aspectual (Avilova 1968)
    • Foreign Bi-aspectual verbs are predominantly scientific, technical or professional terms (but cf. Mučnik 1966)
    • Bi-aspectual verbs resist use of aspectual morphology because they are foreign (Mučnik 1966, Avilova 1968, Gladney 1982)
    • Scholars don’t agree on which verbs are Bi-aspectual (Mučnik 1966, Gladney 1982, Čertkova & Čang 1998, Jászay 1999)

2. Traditional assumptions about Bi-aspectual verbs

  • What we DO know

    • Borrowed verbs in Russian:
      • Have –ova- suffix, which gives verbal inflection but does not designate aspect
    • Bi-aspectual verbs
      • Over 90% are foreign borrowings
      • Can express both Perfective and Imperfective with the same morphological form (never ambiguous) (Isačenko 1960, Mučnik 1966, Avilova 1968, Galton 1976, Gladney 1982, Čertkova 1996, Jászay 1999, Zaliznjak & Šmelev 2000, but cf. Timberlake 2004)

2. Traditional assumptions about borrowed and Bi-aspectual verbs

  • What we DON’T know

    • Are there non-Bi-aspectual (Imperfective) borrowed verbs?
    • Do Imperfective borrowed verbs behave differently from Bi-aspectual borrowed verbs?
    • Do semantic factors motivate aspectual status of borrowed verbs?

3. Janda’s “clusters” model and borrowed and Bi-aspectual verbs

  • An alternative to the “pair” model:

    • Clusters of aspectually related verbs
  • Metaphorical motivations for aspect in Russian

    • More than one type of Perfective
    • Completability (telicity) distinguishes among Perfectives: A COMPLETABLE ACTION IS TRAVEL TOWARD A DESTINATION
    • Bi-aspectual verbs tend to lack Non-Completable (atelic) construal

“Pair” vs. “cluster”

  • pisat’i ‘write’i

    • napisat’p ‘writep’
    • popisat’p ‘write for a whilep’
    • podpisat’p ‘signp’
      • podpisyvat’i ‘signi’
    • perepisat’p ‘revisep’
      • perepisyvat’i ‘revise’i

“Pair” vs. “cluster”

  • pisat’i ‘write’i

    • napisat’p ‘writep’ NATURAL (NP)
    • popisat’p ‘write for a whilep’COMPLEX ACT (CA)
    • podpisat’p ‘signp’ SPECIALIZED (SP)
      • podpisyvat’i ‘signi’
    • perepisat’p ‘revisep’ SPECIALIZED (SP)
      • perepisyvat’i ‘revise’i

Completable vs. Non-Completable

  • Unambiguously Completable

  • Sestra ideti v kino.

  • ‘My sister is goingi to the movie theater.’

  • Ambiguous

  • Sestra pišeti dissertaciju.

  • ‘My sister is writingi her dissertation.’

  • Sestra pišeti naučnuju fantastiku.

  • ‘My sister writesi science fiction.’

  • Unambiguously Non-Completable

  • Sestra rabotaeti v kabinete.

  • ‘My sister is working/worksi in her office.’

4. Empirical study

  • Hypothesis:

    • Bi-aspectual borrowed verbs are strongly Completable (telic), so they will be unlikely to form Complex Act Perfectives with po-
    • Imperfective borrowed verbs will be more likely to form Complex Act Perfectives with po-

4. Empirical study

  • Methodology:

    • Cull all foreign verbs from a single source
    • Sort Bi-aspectual vs. Imperfective
    • Collect data on frequency of unprefixed and po- prefixed (Complex Act Perfective) forms

4. Empirical study

  • 555 foreign verbs in Wheeler 1972/1992

    • 349 (63%) Bi-aspectual
    • 206 (37%) Imperfective

High-frequency Bi-aspectual borrowings with zero po- perfectives:

  • Covering a surface

    • gummirovat’p/i ‘coat with rubberp/i’, meblirovat’p/i ‘upholsterp/i’, metallizirovat’p/i ‘coat with metalp/i’, ornamentirovat’p/i ‘ornamentp/i’, plakirovat‘p/i ‘platep/i’, satinirovat’p/i ‘polishp/i’
  • Removal

    • demaskirovat’p/i ‘unmaskp/i’, deblokirovat’p/i ‘unblockp/i’, demilitarizirovat’p/i ‘demilitarizep/i’, demobilizirovat’p/i ‘demobilizep/i’, denacionalizirovat’p/i ‘privatizep/i’, dezertirovat’p/i ‘desertp/i’
  • Physical change of state

    • denaturirovat’p/i ‘denaturep/i’, gofrirovat’p/i ‘crimpp/i’, granulirovat’p/i ‘granulatep/i’, kristallizovat’sjap/i ‘crystallizep/i’, temperirovat’p/i ‘temperp/i’, vulkaniz(ir)ovat’p/i ‘vulcanizep/i’
  • Cultural/Linguistic change of state

    • anglizirovat’p/i ‘anglicizep/i’, evropeizirovat’p/i ‘europeanizep/i’, germanizirovat’p/i ‘germanifyp/i’, internacionalizirovat’p/i ‘internationalizep/i’, latinizirovat’p/i ‘latinizep/i’, dešifrirovat’p/i ‘decipherp/i’

High-frequency Bi-aspectual borrowings with zero po- perfectives:

  • Arrangement/Organization

    • decentralizovat’p/i ‘decentralizep/i’, dezorganizovat’p/i ‘disorganizep/i’, èšelonirovat’p/i ‘echelonp/i’, flankirovat’p/i ‘flankp/i’, frakcionirovat’p/i ‘fractionatep/i’, kollektivizirovat’p/i ‘collectivizep/i’
  • Budgetary arrangement

    • assignovat’p/i ‘allocatep/i’, debetovat’p/i ‘debitp/i’, kapitalizirovat’p/i ‘reinvestp/i’, monopolizirovat’p/i ‘monopolizep/i’
  • Proclamation

    • dekretirovat’p/i ‘decreep/i’, denonsirovat’p/i ‘denouncep/i’, dezavuairovat’p/i ‘disavowp/i’, indossirovat’p/i ‘endorsep/i’, inkriminirovat’p/i ‘incriminatep/i’, kanon(iz)irovat’p/i ‘canonizep/i’, ratificirovat’p/i ‘ratifyp/i’

5. Conclusions

  • Both Bi-aspectual and Imperfective borrowed verbs exist

  • Clusters model predicts that Bi-aspectual verbs will be unlikely to form Complex Act Perfectives with po- -- this hypothesis is confirmed

  • Foreign borrowings with Completable construals become Bi-aspectuals, other verbs become Imperfectives

  • Grammatical aspect is influenced by lexical semantics


  • The author would like to thank John Korba for collecting data and Chris Wiesen for assistance with statistical analysis. Thanks are also due to Tore Nesset and the reviewers for: Dagmar Divjak and Agata Kochanska, eds. Slavic Contributions to Cognitive Linguistics. Cognitive Linguistics Research. Berlin/New York: Mouton de Gruyter

Bibliography, p 1

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Bibliography, p 2

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Bibliography, p 3

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