- Russian: A linguistic introduction by Paul Cubberley
Despite its title, Cubberley’s latest work is less a ‘linguistic introduction’ than a linguistic summary. Trained Russists and Slavists will no doubt hesitate to recommend C’s work as a guide to other linguists interested in Russian or even as a textbook for students beginning their (presumably, graduate-level) study of Russian and Slavic linguistics. It will most likely be regarded by those who have already completed graduate-level study of Russian rather as a digest of the basic linguistic (including historical, comparative, and sociolinguistic) features of Russian, a reference work to be consulted when one feels the need to remind oneself, or check one’s understanding, of some feature of the Russian language.
The book is divided into seven chapters: ‘History of the language’ (12–52), ‘Phonology’ (53–101), ‘Morphology’ (102–75), ‘Syntax’ (176–254), ‘Word-formation and lexicology’ (255–312), ‘Dialects’ (313–31), and ‘Sociolinguistics’ (332–62). It includes lists of maps and tables, lists of abbreviations and symbols, a bibliography, a list of references and suggestions for further reading, and an index. C’s work is not innovative: on the whole C provides conventional diachronic and synchronic descriptions of Russian historical and contemporary grammar that are traditionally included in North American (and presumably, also Australian) graduate-school programs in Russian and Slavic linguistics. Along these lines, few besides those already familiar with the historical development of the contemporary Russian literary language and the pivotal role generally credited to Russian writer-poet A. S. Pushkin will readily appreciate C’s pithy summation that ‘[w]ithout the work of the eighteenth century, both writers and grammarians, he [Pushkin] would not have been able to do what he did, and had he not done what he did, it would have been done soon enough by someone else; his significance is that he came when he did and did what he did. So the credit is deserved’ (47). C’s occasional departure from a traditional approach to Russian and Slavic linguistics may actually be due to error, as, for example, when C (25) includes ‘Sorbian’ among the Lekhitic languages (conventionally, one of three subdivisions [together with Sorbian and Czech-Slovak] of the West Slavic languages that includes Polish, Kashubian, Slovincian, Polabian, and Pomeranian).
Despite its overall attractiveness and legibility, the book often takes on a cluttered appearance. This is due to C’s insistence on citing almost all Russian forms both in italicized Cyrillic and in (usually syllabified) Roman transliteration or morphophonemic transcription. The complexity of such citation has surely contributed to a number of typographical errors, for example, italicized Cyrillic d in place of b, Roman b in place of the Russian soft sign, Roman k in place of Cyrillic k, or Greek ϕ in place of ∅ (zero morpheme).
Apart from the occasional error of omission (as when C forgets about the Russian number četýrnadcat’ ‘fourteen’ in asserting that ‘in the teens the stress is on the central element -na- “on” in all except “eleven” ’ ), C provides a summary of current knowledge about the history and structure of Russian that is largely accurate. The least accurate part of his work is the section on syntax, particularly where he discusses ‘formal versus logical subject’ (185ff.). There C betrays some confusion stemming possibly from a conflation of the Russian terms podležaščee ‘(grammatical or syntactic) subject’ and sub"ekt, an old term for ‘agent’ (superseded by agens; likewise, dopolnenie ‘object’ vs. ob"ekt ‘patient’ for newer paciens); he might also have benefited from a familiarity with the semantic notions of experiencer, recipient, and beneficiary.