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Summary Details

Query:   Evolution of number in Slavonic languages
Author:  Benítez-Burraco Antonio
Submitter Email:  click here to access email
Linguistic LingField(s):   General Linguistics

Language Family:   Slavic Subgroup

Summary:   A few weeks ago (LINGUIST List: Vol-14-1560. Mon Jun 2 2003; Subject: 14.1560, Qs: Dual/Slavonic Langs) I posted a couple of questions on distinctive features of the grammatical number in Slavonic languages, and on the main consequences of the disappearance of dual in these languages. I would like first to summarize the kind help provided for some members of the list. Secondly, I would like to draft my own conclusions after some research on these topics.

So, first of all, many thanks to Klaus Abels, Natalia Rakhlin, Milkana Kalaydzhieva, R?my Viredaz, Greville G. Corbett, Daniel Collins, Gorazd Kert, Igor Zagar, Richard Laurent and Philipp Angermeyer!

Klaus Abels pointed to the emergence of a paucal in some Slavonic languages (as Russian or Serbo-Croatian) and provided to me a contact with Natalia Rakhlin, who kindly sent her paper on the active role of paucal in Russian morphology. For anyone interested in such topic, the abstract of her talk can be found in In her work, Natalia looked ?at the patterns of Case assignment in numeral phrases in Russian and concluded that with the numerals 'two', 'three', and 'four' in accusative and nominative contexts, we are still dealing with a number category distinct from plural (and also from singular). These numerals in acc and nom induce a case/number inflection on the noun that is morphologically identical to what was dual (with 'two)' and later became paucal (with 'two', 'three', and 'four') in Old Russian?. She argues that ?if we assume that Modern Russian has the paucal, this allows for a much simpler and elegant picture of case assignment and we don't need any additional mechanisms to capture all of the patterns. Of course, we would have to say that morphologically only nom/acc dual or rather paucal is preserved, and in other cases the inflection is the same in plural and paucal. This can probably be treated as syncretism?. For the paucal category in Serbian, which stems historically from the dual, there is a new and interesting article by Bojan Belic in Ohio State Working Papers in Slavic Studies, vol. 2 (2003), 1-22., as Prof. Collins pointed to me.

For the Slavonic dual, Prof. Collins also sent some interesting references. For the whole Slavonic group, A. Belic: ''O dvojini u slovenskim jezicima'' (Belgrade, 1932) and A. Dost?l ?Vyvoj dualu v slovanskych jazycich? (Prague 1954); for Russian, ''Istoricheskaia grammatika drevnerusskogo iazyka'', vol. 2: ''Dvoistvennoe chislo'', by O. F. Zholobov and V. B. Krys'ko (Moskva, Azbukovnik, 2001) and the doctoral dissertation by Dongsoo Jeon ''The Use of Dual Forms: Scribal Practices in a Morphosyntactic Actualization (Patterns in Selected Old Russian Gospel Manuscripts, 14th through 17th cc.)'' (Ohio State University, 2002).

He also added some references about the dual outside the Slavonic group: ''The Dual'' by William Diver in the Columbia University Working Papers in Linguistics 8 (1987): 100-114; ''The Dual Number in Indo-European: A Two-Stage Development'' (Los Angeles, 1980), by W. Pauw and ?A Typology of the Nominal Dual?, by A. Rukeyser in the UC Davis Working Papers in Linguistics 6 (1997) ( I should added that I full consulted the work by Rukeyser and found it extremely interesting.

R?my Viredaz sent some reflections about the motor mechanism for the evolution and the disappearance of dual. He pointed that ?the dual has disappeared in almost all Indo-European languages except for Celtic, Baltic and a few Slavonic languages. A similar evolution has occurred in Finno-Ugrian and Semitic languages?. He also cited the works by Meillet about the ?(social) causes for obsolescence of the dual number?: Meillet ?thinks that the dual number is preserved only in language communities that have a relatively backward stage of civilization, whatever that may mean?. The works by Meillet are:

Antoine MEILLET, L'emploi du duel chez Hom?re et l'?limination du duel,
in: M?moires de la Soci?t? de Linguistique de Paris XXII, 1920-22, p.

A. M., Introduction ? l'?tude comparative des langues indo-europ?ennes,
pages 424-425 in the last (Paris, 1938) edition (republished 1964, Univ. of
Alabama Press)

A. M., Le Slave commun, Paris 1924, revised edition 1934 by Andr? VAILLANT.

A. M. and Joseph VENDRYES, Trait? de grammaire compar?e des langues

Gorazd Kert sent to me his paper on the structure of the Slovenian declension system, which contains a lot of interesting information about the Slovenian morphology and the dual category in Slovenian (Igor Zagar also pointed that Slovenian still preserves dual)

Richard Laurent and Philipp Angermeyer sent to me some examples of ?irregular plurals? in Russian and Czech, respectively, that are in fact residues of an old dual. For Russian, the neuter [nom./] body-part nouns plecho 'shoulder,' koleno 'knee,' ukho 'ear,' and (archaic) oko 'eye' have the nom./acc. plurals plechi, koleni, ushi, ochi (instead of expected *plecha, *kolena, *ukha, *oka), with the last two showing palatalization of consonants before a front vowel. These body parts, of course, come in pairs. For Czech, ?dual forms were maintained for certain lexical items which refer to things that typically come in pairs (eyes, ears, hands, legs, etc.). For these words the ''plural'' was lost, and the dual form was maintained, but re-interpreted as an ''irregular'' plural. E.g. ruka 'hand' - ruce 'hands', not ruka which would be the expected plural in the feminine -a paradigm (asin jablko 'apple' - jablka 'apples')?.

Milkana Kalaydzhieva prepared just for me a comprehensive and exhaustive research on the Slavonic dual based Slovene, High Sorbian, Czech, Polish and Bulgarian morphological data. Thank you very much again, Milkana!

Finally Greville G. Corbett referred to his book on number: Corbett, Greville G. (2000). ?Number?. Cambridge University Press, particularly pages 268-271.

Finally, my own contribution. I have prepared a research paper on these topics, and I would be pleased to send it to anyone who is interested in it. Unfortunately, the paper is written in Spanish, and I have not yet translated it into English.

As there is quite a confusing and contradictory information about these topics I had in mind two different goals for my research: a comprehensive diachronic and synchronic characterization of the number in the Slavonic languages from a lexical point of view and a morphosyntactical analysis of the role of number agreement in the Slavonic languages.

For my first goal I focused on the evolution of the dual from Indoeuropean to modern Slavonic languages. There are very interesting data concerning Proto-Slavonic and Old Church Slavonic. I have also discussed the hypothetical emergence of a paucal, though I have interpreted this paucal as an old dual, as an independet paucal cannot propose for Slavonic languages (this value is always linked to numeral phrases). For my second goal, I based broadly on the huge work on agreement in Slavonic by Corbett. His framework is actually useful and I have summarized and discussed the agreement problems concerning number I have found in his papers. I have also compared them to other non-Slavonic languages. Moreover, I have full discussed the numeral phrase, which is quite problematic for the agreement. A serious characterization of the Slavonic numeral is needed.

I will be pleased to discuss with anyone my own conclusions on these topics.
Best regards,

Dr. Antonio Ben?tez Burraco
Department of Linguistics
University of Seville (Spain)
Personal address: C/ Los Galindos, 2
Personal e-mail:


LL Issue: 8.675
Date Posted: 07-May-1997
Original Query: Read original query


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