New perspectives on Slavic aspect

Project outline

The project 'New Perspectives on Slavic Verbal Aspect' concentrates on the functions of Slavic verbal aspect in Old Church Slavonic and Old Russian and their relation to the functions of Slavic verbal aspect in the modern Slavic languages.

Slavic languages use morphological means to differentiate imperfective verbs from their perfective partners. These morphological means are so omnipresent throughout the verbal system that one might say that verbal aspect is a dominant grammatical category in the Slavic verbal system.

This characteristic of Slavic languages has not gone unnoticed by linguists. Russian, as the most studied exponent of Slavic languages, is often used as an example of an "aspect language" and moreover, it is taken to be a good representative of verbal aspect in all Slavic languages.
Recently there has been a lot of activity on the research field of comparative Slavic verbal aspect. One of the most important conclusions from this research is that the functions of verbal aspect differ considerably among the Slavic languages. Another important conclusion is that Russian deviates strongly from other Slavic languages with respect to verbal aspect. It seems as if Russian verbal aspect is more grammaticalized than for example Czech.

This is exactly the point where this project comes into the picture. Because, if modern Slavic languages differ so greatly among each other, where does this variety originate from? To get as close as possible to Proto-Slavic, a language that is not attested, but that can be seen as the common ancestor of all Slavic languages, the oldest attested Slavic texts will have to be studied. For this purpose first and foremost Old Church Slavonic codices from the 10th and 11th centuries will be investigated with respect to their aspectual behavior. Second of all, a more recently discovered, though considerably smaller, corpus will be studied: the North West Russian corpus of birchbark documents from the 11th and later centuries. While the small size of this corpus rules out the possibility of reaching a comprehensive insight in verbal aspect of the underlying dialect, a comparison with the Old Church Slavonic corpus might shed light on early dialectal differences with respect to verbal aspect.

Studies concentrating on Old Russian have already shown that verbal aspect in the early days of Russian was much more entangled with lexical aspect and thus less grammaticalized. It is expected that verbal aspect in Old Church Slavonic as well, shows a close connection with lexical aspect and that it resembles in this respect more the Czech (or Western group of Slavic languages) than the Russian (or Eastern group) verbal aspect system.

Project members

Researchers involved in this project are prof.dr. Jos Schaeken, dr. Ronny Boogaart, dr. Jenny Doetjes, dr. Egbert Fortuin and prof.dr. Rint Sybesma.
Jaap Kamphuis is working on this project as a PhD-student.

Last Modified: 01-03-2012