Slavic languages

Slavic languages
or Slavonic languages

Branch of the Indo-European language family spoken by more than 315 million people in central and eastern Europe and northern Asia.

The Slavic family is usually divided into three subgroups: West Slavic, comprising Polish, Slovak, Czech, and Sorbian; East Slavic, comprising Russian, Ukrainian, and Belarusian; and South Slavic, comprising Slovene, Serbo-Croatian, Bulgarian, and Macedonian. Polish belongs to the Lekhitic subgroup of West Slavic languages, which also includes Kashubian
now spoken in western Poland by fewer than 150,000 people and regarded in Poland as a Polish dialect
and several now-extinct languages. A distinctive feature of this subgroup is its preservation of the Proto-Slavic nasal vowels. Another remnant language is Sorbian, spoken by 60,000–70,000 people in eastern Germany. Western Lekhitic and Sorbian are all that remains of what was once a much greater Slavic speech area in central Europe; that area was gradually Germanized from about the 9th century. Among Indo-European languages, Slavic is closest to the family of Baltic languages.

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also called  Slavonic languages 
 group of Indo-European languages spoken in most of eastern Europe, much of the Balkans, parts of central Europe, and the northern part of Asia. The Slavic languages are most closely related to the languages of the Baltic group (Lithuanian, Latvian, and the now-extinct Old Prussian), but they share certain linguistic innovations with the other eastern Indo-European language groups (such as Indo-Iranian and Armenian) as well. From their homeland in east-central Europe (Poland or Ukraine), the Slavic languages have spread to the territory of the Balkans (Bulgarian, Macedonian, Slovene, Serbo-Croatian), central Europe (Czech and Slovak), eastern Europe (Belarusian, Ukrainian, Russian), and the northern parts of Asia (Russian). In addition, Russian is used as a second language by most inhabitants of the countries that were formerly part of the Soviet Union. Some of the Slavic languages have been used by writers of worldwide significance (e.g., Russian, Polish, Czech), and the Church Slavonic language (Old Church Slavonic language) remains in use in the services in the Eastern Orthodox church.

Languages of the family
 The Slavic language group is classified into three branches: the South Slavic branch, with two subgroups—Serbo-Croatian–Slovene and Bulgarian-Macedonian; the West Slavic branch, with three subgroups—Czech-Slovak, Sorbian, and Lekhitic (Polish and related tongues); and the East Slavic branch, comprising Russian, Ukrainian, and Belarusian.

      In the spoken Slavic dialects (as opposed to the sharply differentiated literary languages) the linguistic frontiers are not always apparent. There are transitional dialects that connect the different languages, with the exception of the area where the South Slavs are separated from the other Slavs by the non-Slavic Romanians, Hungarians, and German-speaking Austrians. Even in this latter domain, some vestiges of the old dialectal continuity (between Slovene and Serbo-Croatian, on the one hand, and Czech and Slovak, on the other) can be traced; similar remnants of the old links are seen in comparing Bulgarian and Russian dialects.

      Thus it should be noted that the traditional family tree of the Slavic group with three separate branches is not to be taken as the real model of historical development. It would be more realistic to represent the historical development as a process in which tendencies to differentiate and to reintegrate the dialects have been continuously at work, bringing about a remarkable degree of uniformity throughout the Slavic area.

      Still it would be an exaggeration to suppose that communication between any two Slavs is possible without any linguistic complications. The myriad differences between the dialects and languages in phonetics, grammar, and above all vocabulary may cause misunderstandings even in the simplest of conversations; and the difficulties are greater in the language of journalism, technical usage, and belles lettres, even in the case of closely connected languages. Thus, Russian zelënyj ‘green' is recognizable to all Slavs, but krasnyj ‘red' means ‘beautiful' in the other languages. Serbo-Croatian vrijedan means ‘hard-working,' but Russian vrednyj means ‘harmful.' Suknja is ‘skirt' in Serbo-Croatian, ‘coat' in Slovene. The month listopad is October in Croatian, November in Polish and Czech.

South Slavic
The Eastern subgroup: Bulgarian (Bulgarian language) and Macedonian
 Bulgarian is spoken by more than nine million people in Bulgaria and adjacent areas of other Balkan countries and Ukraine. There are two major groups of Bulgarian dialects: Eastern Bulgarian, which became the basis of the literary language in the middle of the 19th century, and Western Bulgarian, which influenced the literary language. Bulgarian texts prepared before the 16th century were written mostly in an archaic language that preserved some features of both Old Bulgarian or Old Church Slavonic (Old Church Slavonic language) (10th to 11th century) and Middle Bulgarian (beginning in the 12th century).

      Although the vocabulary and grammar of the early texts written in the Old Church Slavonic language include some Old Bulgarian features, the language was nevertheless based originally on a Macedonian (Macedonian language) dialect. Old Church Slavonic was the first Slavic language to be put down in written form. This was accomplished by SS. Cyril (Constantine) and Methodius, who translated the Bible into what later became known as Old Church Slavonic and invented a Slavic alphabet (Glagolitic). The modern Macedonian language is spoken by about two million people in the Balkan countries. It was the last major Slavic language to attain a standard literary form; during World War II its central dialects of Prilep and Veles were elevated to this status. The Central Macedonian dialect is closer to Bulgarian, while the Northern dialect shares some features with the Serbo-Croatian language.

The Western subgroup: Serbo-Croatian and Slovene
      The Western subgroup of South Slavic includes the dialects of Serbo-Croatian, among them those of the Prizren-Timok group, which are close to some North Macedonian and West Bulgarian dialects. The literary Serbo-Croatian language was formed in the first half of the 19th century on the basis of the Shtokavian dialects that extend over the greater part of Bosnian, Serbian, Croatian, and Montenegrin territory. These dialects are called Shtokavian because they use the form što (pronounced in English as shto) for the interrogative pronoun ‘what?'. They are distinguished from the Chakavian dialects of western Croatia, Istria, the coast of Dalmatia (where a literature in this dialect developed in the 15th century), and some islands in the Adriatic; in those areas ča (pronounced in English as cha) is the form for ‘what?'. A third main group of Serbo-Croatian dialects, spoken in northwestern Croatia, uses kaj rather than što or ča and is therefore called Kajkavian. In all, some 20 million people use Serbo-Croatian (the present-day Croatian, Bosnian, or Serbian standard languages).

      The Slovene language is spoken by more than 2.2 million persons in Slovenia and in the adjacent areas of Italy and Austria. It has some features in common with the Kajkavian dialects of Croatia and includes many dialects with great variations between them. In Slovene (particularly its Western and Northwestern dialects) some traces can be found of old links with the West Slavic languages (Czech and Slovak).

West Slavic
Polish (Polish language) and other Lekhitic languages
 To the West Slavic branch belong Polish and other Lekhitic languages (Kashubian and its archaic variant Slovincian), Upper and Lower Sorbian (also called Lusatian or Wendish), Czech, and Slovak. More than 40 million people speak Polish not only in Poland and other parts of eastern Europe (notably in what are now Lithuania, the Czech Republic, and Belarus) but in France, the United States, and Canada as well.

      The main Polish dialects are Great Polish (spoken in the northwest), Little Polish (spoken in the southeast), Silesian, and Mazovian. The last dialect shares some features with Kashubian. The remaining speakers of Kashubian live west of Gdańsk near the Baltic Sea. Slovincian—now extinct—belonged to the Northern group of Kashubian dialects, which is distinguished from a Southern group. Kashubian dialects (including Slovincian) are considered to be the remnants of a Pomeranian subgroup within the Lekhitic (Lekhitic languages) group. Lekhitic also included Polabian, which was spoken up to the 17th–18th century by the Slavic population of the Elbe (Labe) River region. (At that time a dictionary and some phrases in the language were written down.)

      The Polabian language bordered the Sorbian dialects, which are still spoken by inhabitants of Lusatia in eastern Germany. There are two literary languages: Upper Sorbian, used around Bautzen (Budyšin), and Lower Sorbian, used around Cottbus.

Czech-Slovak (Czech language)
      Czech is spoken by some 12 million people in the Czech Republic; its dialects are divided into Bohemian, Moravian, and Silesian groups. The literary language is based on the 16th-century form of the Central Bohemian dialect of Prague. The Slovak (Slovak language) literary language was formed on the basis of a Central Slovak dialect in the middle of the 19th century. Western Slovak dialects are similar to Moravian and differ from the Central and the Eastern dialects, which have features in common with Polish and Ukrainian. Some six million people speak Slovak; most live in Slovakia.

 Russian, Ukrainian, and Belarusian constitute the East Slavic language group. Russian is spoken as a native language by some 160 million people, including many inhabitants of countries that were part of the former Soviet Union. Its main dialects are a Northern Great Russian group, a Southern Great Russian group, and a transitional Central group, including the dialect of Moscow, on which the literary language is based.

      Ukrainian dialects are classified into Northern, Southeastern, Southwestern, and Carpathian groups (the last having features in common with Slovak); the literary language is based on the Kiev-Poltava dialect. More than 37 million people speak Ukrainian in Ukraine and neighbouring countries, and there are more than 350,000 Ukrainian speakers in Canada and the United States. Carpathian, also called Carpatho-Rusyn, has sometimes been considered a language apart. In 1995 a codified form of it (Rusyn) was presented in Slovakia, thus enabling the teaching of Rusyn in schools.

      Some seven million people speak Belarusian in Belarus. Its main dialectal groups are Southwestern Belarusian, some features of which may be explained by contact with Polish, and Northeastern Belarusian. The dialect of Minsk, which served as a basis for the literary language, lies near the border between these two groups.

Historical survey

      Each branch of Slavic originally developed from Proto-Slavic, the ancestral parent language of the group, which in turn developed from an earlier language that was also the antecedent of the Proto-Baltic (Baltic languages) language. Both Slavic and Baltic share with the eastern Indo-European languages (called satem languages) the same change of Indo-European palatal and ǵ sounds (consonants produced by bringing the blade, or front, of the tongue up to or toward the hard palate, as in English cue, argue) into spirants of the s and z type (for example, in Proto-Slavic *sŭto ‘hundred' has an s sound contrasting with the k sound in Latin centum). (An asterisk indicates a reconstructed rather than an attested form.) The Slavic and Baltic branches are characterized by several innovations, including the change of the old Indo-European syllabic r and l (which functioned as vowels) to ir or ur, il or ul; and similar patterns of stress in nouns and verbs.

Hypothetical origins
      Some scholars believe that, after the common Indo-European area had divided into different dialect zones (after approximately 3000 BC), a protodialect developed in the Baltic (Balto-Slavic languages) and Slavic areas that had many features peculiar to only these two branches of Indo-European. At the same time this protodialect was connected with certain western Indo-European protodialects called Old European that are identified as the source of a number of river names. The ancient Baltic and Slavic names of rivers (hydronyms), such as the Russian Oka, are of the same type as the hydronyms found in central Europe.

      The dialects of the Slavic protolanguage spoken near the Carpathian Mountains in the upper Vistula River area may have been part of the intermediate zone situated between the western Indo-European dialects (Germanic, Celtic, Italic, and so on) and the eastern Indo-European ones; in addition to Baltic and Slavic in the north, this intermediate zone included the ancient Indo-European languages of the Balkans (Illyrian, Thracian, Phrygian). The domain of the Proto-Balto-Slavic dialect may have been situated to the east of the Germanic and other Old European dialects, to the north of Ancient Balkanic, and to the west of Tocharian.

      The exact geographic borders of the Balto-Slavic domain appear impossible to determine, but they may well have been located in eastern Europe around present-day Lithuania and to the east and south of it. The later diffusion of Slavic languages southward into the Carpathian region may represent the spread of one of the dialects of this Old Baltic domain. The oldest Slavic protolanguage could be described as the result of further changes acting on the Baltic protolanguage (but not vice versa).

      Until the middle of the 1st millennium AD, the Slavs were known to other peoples as the inhabitants of the vast territories between the Dnieper and Vistula rivers. In the 6th century AD the Slavs expanded to the Elbe River and the Adriatic Sea and across the Danube River to the Peloponnese (southern Greece). In that period, according to the oldest Greek and Latin writings about the Slavs, they were already divided into several groups. The Slavic language, however, was uniform in its phonological and grammatical structure, with important dialectal variations occurring only in the vocabulary. The main phonological difference between the oldest pattern common to Baltic and Slavic and the later one that characterized Slavic alone was that in Slavic all syllables became open (i.e., a syllable could end only in a vowel). Thus, all consonants at the end of a syllable were lost. This led to a reshuffling of most of the inflectional endings.

      An important clue to the date of the dissolution of Slavic unity is the separate development in different Slavic dialects of the name of the emperor Charlemagne (742–814). This name must have entered into Slavic in the postulated form *korljĭ ‘Karl' before the dissolution took place. Subsequently the proper name became the generic term for ‘king.' The segment -or- in the postulated form appears differently in the modern Slavic languages—compare Bulgarian kral, Serbo-Croatian kralj, Slovene králj (i.e., South Slavic -ra-), Russian korol' (i.e., East Slavic -oro-), Czech král, Polish król.

The loss of reduced vowels
 The next period in Slavic linguistic history began with the loss of the “reduced” vowels ŭ and ĭ, called yers, that resulted from Indo-European short u and i; this loss caused a wide-ranging change in many words and forms. Although this process was common to all the Slavic dialects, which were still connected with each other at that period, it took place slowly and at different rates in different dialects, beginning in the 10th to the 12th century and expanding from the southwest to the northeast. With the loss of the yers, which gave different results in different dialectal groups (see table—>), the uniformity of the Slavic language area finally disappeared, and separate branches and languages emerged.

The early development of the Slavic languages
      The separate development of South Slavic was caused by a break in the links between the Balkan and the West Slavic groups that resulted from the settling of the Magyars in Hungary during the 10th century and from the Germanization of the Slavic regions of Bavaria and Austria. Some features common to Slovak and Slovene may have developed before the West-South break. The eastward expansion of dialects of Balkan Romanian (a Romance language) led to a break in the connection between the South and the East Slavic groups about the 11th–12th centuries. The history of the Balkan Slavs was closely connected with Byzantium, in contrast to that of the Lekhitic (Lekhitic languages) and Sorbian subgroups of the Western Slavs, which was connected with western European culture.

      An effort on the part of the Slavs to counteract the influence of the Western Christian church (which was associated with the German empire) was the motive behind the introduction of the Old Church Slavonic language into the liturgy in Great Moravia, the first Slavic national state. Founded in the 9th century, Great Moravia united different groups speaking West Slavic dialects. In 863 its prince, Rostislav, invited St. Cyril and his brother St. Methodius to create a national church with a language and writing of its own. Prior to that time some Christian texts in Moravia might have been translated into Slavic from Latin (and partly perhaps from Old High German); these have been preserved only in later copies.

      The disciples of Cyril and Methodius were soon forced to leave Moravia, and mostly they went south. The second period in the history of the Old Church Slavonic language (893–1081) occurred in the Bulgarian kingdoms of Symeon (893–927) and Peter (927–969) and in the kingdom of Samuel (997–1014), and it was connected with the literary activity of many Bulgarian scholars who translated numerous Greek texts into Slavic and also produced a small number of original works. In the writings of the period of Symeon and Peter, Western (Macedonian) features were replaced by Eastern (Bulgarian) ones.

      Both the Western and Eastern variants (recensions) of the Old Church Slavonic language are preserved in manuscripts of the 11th century, while the East Slavic (Russian) variant is reflected in the oldest dated Slavic manuscript, The Ostromir Gospel (1056–57), and in many later texts. The Moravian variant must be reconstructed on the basis of some later texts (such as the Kiev fragments from the beginning of the 11th century), which were written after the break with the Great Moravian tradition.

      In some documents of the 10th and 11th centuries, the Bohemian variant (which shares some West Slavic peculiarities with Moravian) has been preserved. Several features are common to the Moravian and Bohemian varieties of the Old Church Slavonic language, to the Slovene (Pannonian) variant reflected in the Freising fragments (late 10th century), and to the Croatian Old Church Slavonic tradition that is attested from the 12th century, as well as to the Serbian tradition. All these variants of Old Church Slavonic have some peculiarities that are to be explained as the result of the interaction of the original system with that of a local dialect. In approximately AD 1000 all Slavic languages were so similar to one another that such interaction was possible.

      From these local variants of Old Church Slavonic that are preserved in the manuscripts of the 10th–12th centuries, one should distinguish the later local Church Slavonic languages (Russian, with its variants; Middle Bulgarian; Serbian, which in the 18th century was replaced in Serbia by the Russian variant; Croatian; and the Romanian variant of Church Slavonic, which was used as a literary and church language in Romania from the 14th to the 18th century). From the linguistic point of view, these later Church Slavonic literary languages differ from the earlier varieties chiefly in their systems of vowels; the early nasalized vowels were replaced by different later reflexes, and the reduced vowels (yers), with the exception of those followed by a syllable containing another yer, were generally lost. These changes in the sound pattern were accompanied by a number of culturally determined changes in vocabulary.

The emergence of the individual Slavic languages
      After the schism (1054, Schism of) between the Eastern (Orthodox) and Western (Roman) Christian (Christianity) churches in the 11th century and the beginning of the Crusades, the Church Slavonic language fell out of use in all West Slavic countries and in the western part of the Balkan Slavic region. The only exception was the renaissance of Croatian Church Slavonic in the 13th century. At the end of the same century, the first Czech (Czech literature) verses in the local dialect were written; they were the precursors of the rich poetic literature in the Old Czech language that appeared in the 14th century. The early Czech literary language was marked by the influence of Latin, which had replaced the Bohemian variety of Old Church Slavonic as a literary language.

      In the earliest period of its development, the Polish literary language was modeled on the Czech pattern. After the Christianization of Poland, Latin (and later German) loanwords entered the Polish language in their Czech form. The Czech influence is seen in the Polish literary language until the 16th century (the “Golden Age”), when Renaissance tendencies resulted in the creation of genuinely literary works more closely reflecting everyday speech. Later, the Polish literary language was enriched by cross-fertilization with Ukrainian and Belarusian.

      In the 16th century in Dalmatia, poets who were influenced by the Italian Renaissance (and who also wrote in Italian and Latin) created a rich poetic literature in Croatian. A Slovene translation of the Bible was published in 1575–84, and Kashubian and Sorbian religious texts were also produced during this period. The comparatively early rise of the West Slavic (and the westernmost South Slavic) languages as separate literary vehicles was related to a variety of religious and political factors that resulted in the decline of the western variants of the Church Slavonic language.

      In contrast, the continuing use of Bulgarian Church Slavonic and different variants of Russian Church Slavonic made it difficult to construct literary languages for Bulgarian and Russian that were based on everyday speech. Bulgarian texts were written in Bulgarian Church Slavonic until the 16th century. After that the so-called Damaskin religious literature developed, closer to the popular speech; its development, however, was hampered under Turkish rule. Most of the Old East Slavic (Old Russian) literary texts were written in a mixture of Russian Church Slavonic and the Old Russian vernacular language; only a few documents, particularly some parts of the chronicles (annals), are written entirely in Old Russian. The proportion of South Slavic (Church Slavonic) and East Slavic (Old Russian) elements in each text is different depending on its stylistic peculiarities.

      In the middle of the 17th century, the old Great Russian variant of the Church Slavonic language in the official Orthodox Church was replaced by a new variant taken from the southwestern East Slavic tradition, a form that incorporated some Ukrainian and Belarusian elements. This development was connected with a split in the Russian Orthodox church; the Old Believers, who split off from the main body of the church, continued to use the archaic Great Russian variant, while Patriarch Nikon's new variant, based on the southwestern tradition, was adopted by the official church and is used in it to this day. Because the Ukrainian tradition includes many West Slavic elements, this reform, which occurred after the incorporation of Ukraine into the Russian Empire, was a step in the direction of the Westernization of the Russian language that took place about 1700, when Tsar Peter I the Great began his attempts to reconstruct and Westernize the whole Russian way of life.

      In the 18th and 19th centuries, many waves of loanwords from different Western languages entered the Russian language. During an earlier period Russian sentence structures had been formed on Germanic and Latin patterns; the intensive French-Russian bilingualism of the Russian elite in the 18th and 19th centuries not only influenced syntax but also brought a shift in the range of meanings of Russian words as the elite came into contact with western European concepts. The great Russian literature of the 19th and early 20th centuries (from Aleksandr Pushkin [1799–1837] up until Leo Tolstoy's death in 1910) created a literary language close to everyday speech, especially to that of the villages. In the official style of Russian, however, Church Slavonic elements are still widespread, as can be seen even in general newspaper articles.

      The concept of a language that would unite all the Slavs has remained in the back of the Slavic consciousness, not as a real aim but rather as an important symbol. An early interesting attempt to unite different chronological and local Slavic strata was carried out by the 17th-century Croatian traveler Juraj Križanić (Križanić, Juraj). In modern literature one might cite the experiments at unification of Velimir Khlebnikov (Khlebnikov, Velimir Vladimirovich), a Russian Futurist poet, and of the Polish poet Julian Tuwim (Tuwim, Julian), who invented words based on Russian and other Slavic roots in some of his poems.

The modern Slavic languages
      Among the Slavic languages that attained their standard literary form at a later stage in Slavic history than those mentioned above is Ukrainian. It was used in some literary texts in the late 18th century and in turn influenced the language of Nikolay Gogol (Gogol, Nikolay), one of the greatest Russian writers of the 19th century. In the 19th century and especially in the first decades of the 20th century, a number of great poets wrote in Ukrainian, notably Taras Shevchenko (Shevchenko, Taras Hryhorovych) (1814–61) and Lesya Ukrainka (Ukrainka, Lesya) (1871–1913). The movement toward national liberation led to the introduction of many neologisms into the language, which persisted even after the advent of Russian pressure to bring the languages closer again. After World War I, the Belarusian language became a standard language in the Belorussian Soviet Socialist Republic (now Belarus).

      Since the breakup of the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia, all the Slavic languages have acquired the status of the main language of an independent state. Only the minor languages are exceptions: e.g., Kashubian is used officially only in some cultural performances, and Upper and Lower Sorbian are taught in local schools in eastern Germany. The extent of dialectal variation in the different languages ranges from a very great degree in Slovene to a much smaller degree in Polish and Russian. Radio and other mass media have been among the main influences leading to linguistic consolidation. Languages such as Polish, Czech, and Russian, which have served as a basis for great literatures, have become models for others that are only now being put to literary use (although for such languages as Kashubian and, to some degree, for Sorbian, the folk literature remains much more important as a model than individual literary works and translations of past centuries).

Linguistic characteristics

Common features.
      A number of features set off Slavic from other Indo-European subgroups. The Slavic languages are an unusually numerous yet close-knit subgroup. On the whole, Slavic auxiliary words tend to be unstressed and to be incorporated into a single phonetic group or phrase with an autonomous stressed word. inflection (i.e., the use of endings, prefixes, and vowel alternations) has persisted as the main method of differentiating grammatical meanings, although to a lesser degree in nouns than in verbs because many functions of the noun case endings may also be expressed by prepositions. Endings are largely fusional (e.g., -te means simultaneously ‘second person' and ‘plural'). Slavic more than other languages shows verb aspect overtly. The movable stress pattern common to most South and East Slavic languages has profoundly influenced their versification.

      Many linguistic devices found both in the oral tradition and in literary works of the different Slavic languages may be traced to common ancestral forms. An exuberant use of diminutives and metaphoric figures marks the Slavic oral tradition. It seems possible to reconstruct a common Proto-Slavic model of the universe as seen through language. The main feature of such a model is recurring binary (two-way) contrasts, as is evidenced by such key words as bogŭ ‘god' from ‘a portion allotted by the gods' and ne-bogŭ ‘not having its portion, having bad fortune.' Such pairing of opposites recalls the ancient Iranian dualistic view of the world, a view that evidently influenced the Slavs to a degree not yet fully appreciated.

      As compared with the common Indo-European scheme, the pre-Slavic cultural vocabulary seems somewhat simpler, evidently as a result of the loss of direct contact with the Southern civilizations that served as a pattern for pre-Indo-European culture. Later developments were caused largely by western European and Greek (particularly Byzantine Christian) influences and by contact with Asian and Middle Eastern cultures, which led to innovations in the vocabularies of the East Slavic and South Slavic languages. In some instances, whole series of terms for objects were borrowed into Russian and other East Slavic languages from eastern sources.

      All Slavic languages are synthetic (synthetic language), expressing grammatical meaning through the use of affixes (suffixes and, in verbal forms, also prefixes), vowel alternations partly inherited from Indo-European, and consonant alternations resulting from linguistic processes peculiar to Slavic alone. Although analytical methods of expressing grammatical meanings (through prepositions and other “empty” grammatical words) are present in older strata of the language, they are used to the exclusion of all other means only in the case system of Modern Bulgarian and Macedonian. The tendency toward analytic expression is noticeable in everyday Russian speech, but the drift of the Slavic languages in this direction (as in the development of the western European languages) has been held back by the stabilization of the language resulting from mass communication and education.

Phonological characteristics
      The systems of sounds in Slavic languages are rich in consonants, particularly in spirants (fricatives (fricative), like English s, z, sh) and affricates (affricate). This is especially true in comparison with the protolanguage and with other Indo-European languages. The affricates (which are consonant sounds like English ch, ts, begun as stops, with complete stoppage of the breath stream, and released as fricatives, with incomplete stoppage) have resulted historically from a succession of different processes of palatalization that have occurred in Slavic and are one of the most characteristic features of Slavic phonology.

      Palatalization is the process whereby the pronunciation of an originally nonpalatal sound is changed to a palatal sound by touching the hard palate with the tongue; it is also the process whereby a nonpalatal sound is modified by simultaneously moving the tongue up to or toward the hard palate. Originally, palatalization was connected with the adaptation of a consonant to the following vowel within a syllable, specifically, with the adaptation of a consonant to a following front vowel. This adaptation gave rise to “soft” (palatalized) syllables, composed of palatalized consonants followed by front vowels. The j sound, as y in English year (from older nonsyllabic Indo-European i), tended to palatalize the preceding consonant either by merging with it or by giving rise to consonant groups such as b from bj (by). As palatalized stop consonants (for instance k', g', t', d') became increasingly differentiated from the corresponding nonpalatalized series (k, g, t, d), the palatalized stops tended to develop further into affricates (with the subsequent development of voiced affricates into spirants). Thus, palatalized k' before the ancient front vowels developed into the affricate č (as ch in English church), and palatalized g' in the same environment changed to (as j in judge), which became the spirant sound ž (as z in azure) in all Slavic languages.

 Before front vowels resulting from ancient diphthongs, palatalized k' changed to a ts sound, written as c (e.g., Old Church Slavonic cěna ‘price,' Serbo-Croatian cijèna, Russian cena, cognate to Lithuanian káina), and g' changed to a dz sound, which later changed to z (Old Church Slavonic [d]zelo ‘very,' Old Czech zielo, Belarusian dialect do zěla, cognate to Lithuanian gaila). The sounds t' (from tj) and d' (from dj) changed into different stops, affricates, and spirants in the separate Slavic languages (see table—>).

      These processes of assibilation of the palatalized velar (k', g') and dental (t', d') sounds happened repeatedly in the history of the individual Slavic languages. Palatalization (softness) as a distinctive feature of most consonant sounds has been preserved in East Slavic; for example, in Modern Russian palatalized (or soft) t', d', s', z' contrast with nonpalatalized (or hard) t, d, s, z. (The contrast between the palatalized k' and the hard k is just now in the process of development.) Some West Slavic languages also have this contrast of palatalized and nonpalatalized consonants, while others do not. Czech, Slovak (Slovak language), and Serbo-Croatian, which have the usual three sets of labial, dental, and velar consonants inherited from the protolanguage, have developed a special, additional series of palatal stops. In all the Slavic languages, voiced stop and fricative consonants (pronounced with vibrating vocal cords) contrast with voiceless consonants (pronounced without vibrating vocal cords).

  The tendency to increase the number of different spirants (nonstops) is connected with the processes of palatalization. In Ukrainian (Ukrainian language) and the Southern Russian dialects and in Belarusian (Belarusian language), Czech, Slovak, Upper Sorbian, and some Slovene dialects there also developed a voiced velar spirant sound, forming a pair with the voiceless velar spirant x of the Proto-Slavic language. The nasal vowels (vowel) ę and ǫ that had developed in Proto-Slavic from older combinations of vowels with nasal consonants (still retained in Baltic) have been preserved only in some Lekhitic languages and in some South Slavic dialects, especially those of Slovene (see table—>). The vowel systems are especially rich in those Slavic languages that have preserved prosodic differences in pitch (tone) and quantity (length versus shortness)—Serbo-Croatian, Slovene, and Northern Kashubian. The reshaping of the Slavic vowel systems is in large measure a result of the loss of the yers, which had different effects in different dialects (see table—>).

stress accents
      Differences in vowel quantity have also been preserved in Czech and Slovak, in which new long vowels developed as a result of contraction. A fixed stress accent is found in the West Slavic languages as well as Macedonian, in contrast to Proto-Slavic, Serbo-Croatian, Slovene, Bulgarian, and the East Slavic languages. In Czech and Slovak, as well as in Sorbian and Southern Kashubian, stress is fixed on the first syllable of the word, but in Polish, Eastern Slovak, and Southern Macedonian, it falls on the next to the last syllable of the word, while in Western and standard Macedonian it falls on the third syllable from the end. The Slavic languages with a nonfixed placement of stress reflect the Proto-Slavic (and Indo-European) distinction between two types of noun and verb paradigms: (1) the paradigm with movable stress in which the stress (indicated here by ′) falls on the root in some forms and on the inflectional ending in others (e.g., ‘head' in Russian is golová in the nominative case and gólovu in the accusative; these forms derive from Proto-Slavic *golvá, *gólvǫ) and (2) the paradigm in which the stress is fixed on the stem (e.g., ‘willow' in Russian is íva in the nominative case, ívu in the accusative, from *íva, *ívǫ).

Grammatical characteristics
      Most Slavic languages reflect the old Proto-Slavic pattern of seven case forms (nominative, genitive, dative, accusative, locative, instrumental, vocative), which occurred in both the singular and the plural. There was also a dual number, meaning two persons or things. In the dual, the cases that were semantically close to each other were represented by a single form (nominative-accusative-vocative, instrumental-dative, genitive-locative). The dual is preserved today only in the westernmost area (i.e., in Slovene and Sorbian). The trend toward the modern, more analytical type of construction using prepositions and away from the synthetic type using case endings exclusively (as in Proto-Slavic and the archaic Slavic languages) is evident in the gradual elimination of the use of the locative forms without prepositions. The end result of this development is seen in Bulgarian and Macedonian, in which noun declension has almost completely disappeared and has been replaced by syntactic combinations using prepositions (na kniga ‘of a book, to a book'). In Serbo-Croatian and in the western part of the West Slavic area (Sorbian and Czech), the same tendency to lose some of the distinctions between cases is observed, but to a lesser degree. In the other West Slavic languages and in East Slavic, on the other hand, the old system of declension by case endings has been preserved in spite of the large number of loanwords and other neologisms that have no case distinctions at all (e.g., borrowed Russian nouns like kino ‘cinema,' or acronyms ending in a vowel like Rayono ‘district education department').

Noun forms
      The declension of pronouns has been preserved in all Slavic languages. Old combinations of adjectives with pronouns gave rise to the definite forms of adjectives (e.g., feminine dobra-ja ‘good-the'). These forms still contrast with the indefinite forms in South Slavic, but in the other languages the indefinite forms either have been gradually lost or else have been preserved only to serve a special function, that of predicate after ‘to be.' In Bulgarian and Macedonian, as well as in some northern East Slavic dialects, an article is used, placed after a noun or adjective (e.g., in Bulgarian and Macedonian, kniga-ta ‘book-the,' dobra-ta kniga ‘good-the book'). The three main genders are masculine, feminine, and neuter. Most Slavic languages distinguish animate and inanimate masculine noun forms; some (e.g., Polish) also have personal and nonpersonal masculine forms.

Verb tenses
      In the modern Slavic languages the verb is inflected to show present and past tenses. In the early history of the individual languages, however, a distinction was made between two past tenses, the aorist and the imperfect (the aorist denotes the occurrence of an action without reference to its completion, repetition, or duration; the imperfect is a verb tense designating a continuing state or an uncompleted action, especially in the past); this distinction is still preserved in modern South Slavic (with the exception of Slovene (Slovene language)). Slavic has almost no traces of the Indo-European old perfect tense but, from combinations of a participle (verb + suffix l + masculine, feminine, or neuter endings) and forms of ‘to be,' created new perfect (and pluperfect) tenses. Thus, from *dati ‘to give' there is a form *dalŭ jesmǐ ‘I have given' for a male speaker, *dala jesmǐ for a female. Later these perfect forms came to be used as past tense forms in different Slavic languages. Slavic verbs usually come in pairs, one of which expresses the perfective (completed) and the other the imperfective (uncompleted) aspects of the same verb—e.g., Russian dat' ‘to give' (i.e., ‘to complete the process of giving'), davat' ‘to be in the process of giving.'

      The present tense form of a perfective verb may be used to express future meaning in East and West Slavic. Imperfective verbs need an auxiliary to make their future tense. South Slavic future tenses use an auxiliary (mostly from ‘want') in both aspects. The eastern South Slavic languages, Bulgarian and Macedonian, have lost the infinitive form of the verb through the influence of non-Slavic Balkan languages, and they have developed verb forms to differentiate between an action witnessed by the speaker and one not witnessed (hence only reported).

      A striking feature of Slavic syntax is the widespread use of possessive adjectives (e.g., Russian Bož'ja milost' ‘divine mercy') instead of the genitive case of the noun (milost' Boga ‘the mercy of God'). Word order in the Slavic languages is characterized by a gradual shift of the verb from the beginning to the middle of the sentence (subject–verb–object). Other important features of Slavic syntax are related to this medial positioning of the verb and the consequent occurrence of the verb before the object. For example, modifiers and prepositions are usually placed before nouns; today they follow nouns only in some set phrases like Church Slavonic Boga radi ‘for God's sake,' with radi ‘for the sake of' following the noun Boga ‘God.'

      Originally the verb occupied the initial position, which throws light on the origin of the reflexive verbal forms; these may be traced to the Proto-Slavic combination of the verb with a reflexive pronoun that occurred immediately after the verb and was pronounced as one accentual unit with the verb.

      The rules for the shift of the stress in syntactic combinations with enclitics (an enclitic is a word treated in pronunciation as part of the preceding word) were identical for verbs and nouns. Depending on the accentuation of the verb or noun, the stress could be shifted either to the enclitic (as in Bulgarian esen-és ‘last autumn') or to the proclitic, or preceding unstressed word (as u in Serbo-Croatian uˋˋ jesēn ‘in the autumn').

      The original vocabulary of general terms common to Baltic and Slavic is still retained in most of the Slavic languages. In prehistoric times Proto-Slavic borrowed a number of important social and religious terms from Iranian (e.g., bogŭ ‘god,' mirŭ ‘peace'). Later, special terms were borrowed by East Slavic and South Slavic from eastern languages (especially Turkish) as a result of the political domination of the Tatars in Russia and of the Turks in the Balkans. After the Renaissance, loanwords were taken from classical and western European languages (especially German and French) into all the Slavic languages. Church Slavonic in its different variants remained the main source of innovations in vocabulary in East Slavic and in some South Slavic languages.

      The Slavic languages make extensive use of prefixes and suffixes (affix) to derive new words and thereby enrich the vocabulary—e.g., Russian čern-yj ‘black,' čern-i-t' ‘to blacken,' o-čern-i-t' ‘to slander.' Several prefixes may be combined to modify the meaning of a verb (e.g., Bulgarian iz-po-raz-boleja se, in which the added prefixes intensify the meaning ‘for many people to fall ill'). Many derivational suffixes are common to most Slavic languages—e.g., the very productive suffix -stvo (as in Russian khristian-stvo ‘Christianity,' Ukrainian pobratym-stvo ‘fraternity,' Polish głup-stwo ‘foolishness, trifle,' Macedonian golem-stvo ‘high status, arrogance').

      The archaic type of derivation by compounding, inherited from Indo-European, was particularly productive in Church Slavonic under the stimulus of Greek. Compounding remains one of the methods of creating new terms, especially technical terms (e.g., Russian vodokhranilishche ‘reservoir' from voda ‘water' and khranilishche ‘depository'), but is far less important than affixation. Some Slavic languages typically derive new words by means of a condensed suffixing (e.g., Czech železnice ‘railroad,' from železo ‘iron' combined with a noun-forming suffix; hledisko ‘point of view,' from hled ‘look' combined with a noun-forming suffix), while others tend to use combinations of words (e.g., Russian železnaja doroga ‘iron road' combined with an adjective-forming suffix on the first word; točka zrenija ‘point of viewing').

Writing systems
 The first writing system used for Slavic was the Glagolitic (Glagolitic alphabet) system invented by St. Cyril. Quite original in pattern, it reflected accurately the sound system of the Macedonian dialect. Some forms of its letters can be traced to several different alphabets, mainly Greek and Semitic ones. Glagolitic was widely used in the first three centuries of Slavic literature but was gradually replaced by the Cyrillic alphabet, created in the 10th century and still used to write all the East Slavic languages, Bulgarian (Bulgarian language), Macedonian (Macedonian language), and Serbian (Serbo-Croatian language). Several languages (Serbian in the 19th century, Russian and Bulgarian in the 20th) have undergone reforms, dropping superfluous letters from the Cyrillic alphabet.

      Other Slavic languages use the Latin (roman (Latin alphabet)) alphabet. To render the distinctive sounds of a Slavic language, Latin letters are combined or diacritic signs are used (e.g., Polish sz for the sh sound in ship, Czech (Czech language) č for the ch sound in church). An orthographic system devised by the Czech religious reformer Jan Hus (Hus, Jan) (c. 1370–1415) was adopted into different West Slavic systems of writing, including Czech, Slovak, and Sorbian (Sorbian languages). Polish (Polish language) spelling was patterned after the pre-Hus Czech spelling of the 14th century. Most of the Slavic writing systems are constructed to symbolize the distinctive sounds of the language or to render the same morphemes by the same groups of letters despite differences in pronunciation in various forms. Modern Russian (Russian language) spelling reflects a morpheme-based principle. (See also alphabet.)

Vyacheslav Vsevolodovich Ivanov Wayles Browne

Additional Reading
Bernard Comrie and Greville G. Corbett (eds.), The Slavonic Languages (1993), describes each language according to a set plan, adding historical sections. An older reference is R.G.A. De Bray, Guide to the Slavonic Languages, 3rd ed., rev. and expanded, 3 vol. (1980). Roman Jakobson, Slavic Languages, 2nd ed. (1955, reprinted 1963), is a masterful, brief structural sketch. Alexander M. Schenker, The Dawn of Slavic (1996), combines introductions to the early literature and history of the Slavs (with extracts from source texts) and a Proto-Slavic grammar. The classic introduction to Proto-Slavic (common Slavic) from the viewpoint of Indo-European is A. Meillet, Le Slave commun, 2nd ed. rev. and enlarged with A. Vaillant (1934, reprinted 1965). George Y. Shevelov, A Prehistory of Slavic (1964), treats phonology in detail. Charles E. Townsend and Laura A. Janda, Common and Comparative Slavic: Phonology and Inflection (1996); and Terence R. Carlton, Introduction to the Phonological History of the Slavic Languages (1991), are textbooks that also trace post-Common Slavic developments. Henrik Birnbaum, Common Slavic: Progress and Problems in Its Reconstruction (1975); and Henrik Birnbaum and Peter T. Merrill, Recent Advances in the Reconstruction of Common Slavic (1971–1982) (1985), list and comment on the extensive scholarly literature. Karel Horálek, An Introduction to the Study of the Slavonic Languages, trans. and amended by Peter Herrity, 2 vol. (1992; originally published in Czech, 2nd enlarged ed., 1962), treats many topics including the rise of standard languages; this latter subject is particularly addressed in Alexander M. Schenker, Edward Stankiewicz, and Micaela S. Iovine (eds.), The Slavic Literary Languages (1980). Hypotheses on the homeland and migrations of the pre-Slavs are discussed in the light of linguistic evidence—i.e., vocabulary and names—in Zbigniew Gołąb, The Origins of the Slavs: A Linguist's View (1992); while Marija Gimbutas, The Slavs (1971), provides an archaeological survey and discusses religious and social vocabulary. There is no complete Slavic etymological dictionary, though several have been begun—e.g., O.N. Trubachev (ed.), Etimologicheskiĭ slovar' slavianskikh iazykov (1974– ); other useful dictionaries are Max Vasmer, Russisches etymologisches Wörterbuch, 3 vol. (1950–58); or, for Old Church Slavonic vocabulary, Linda Sadnik and Rudolf Aitzetmüller, Handwörterbuch zu den altkirchenslavischen Texten (1955, reissued 1989). František Kopečný, Základní všeslovanská slovní zásoba (1981), lists 2,000 words that occur in every Slavic language. Slavic material has been important in the development of general linguistics; Morris Halle (ed.), Roman Jakobson: What He Taught Us (1983), illustrates structural approaches; and Steven Franks, Parameters of Slavic Morphosyntax (1994), focuses on generative methods.Vyacheslav Vsevolodovich Ivanov Wayles Browne

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Universalium. 2010.

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