- Diachronic Slavonic syntax: Gradual changes in focus
This volume is symptomatic of a recent trend in grammar studies marked by a revived interest in diachronic research from a theoretical perspective. This trend has been visible in the initiative to arrange a forum for linguists working within language diachrony using a formal analytical framework (mostly generative), which came to be established as the Diachronic Generative Syntax Conference (with its 14th meeting in 2012). This kind of work has been supported by the creation and wide availability of numerous electronic resources such as historical corpora, large scale databases of manuscripts for the study of language history. While most recent research has focused on the history of Germanic and Romance languages, with few exceptions (e.g., the recent publication Development of language through the lens of formal linguistics, 2010) research on Slavic diachrony is still relatively limited, sporadic, and scattered. In this respect the current volume is a welcome resource for linguists interested in the development of Slavic languages. It is the result of the conference "Diachronic Syntax of the Slavonic Languages: Gradual changes in focus" held in Regensburg in late 2008 and contains many of the papers presented at that conference, duly reflecting the diversity of topics and ideas aired there.
The main organizing idea of the volume is the assumption that the processes that lead to major and observable changes in language are marked by smaller, gradual, and often subtle, transitions, which sometimes even point to conflicting trends. While the contributions all address various aspects of Slavic language history, they reflect a number of theoretical approaches, from formal (generative) to Construction Grammar, language typology, and grammaticalization theory. The book includes 17 papers covering Russian, Czech, and Polish, as well as the almost extinct Ruthenian and Lower Sorbian. Thematically, four of the papers report results and analyze data obtained from language corpora (Bartels, Eckhoff and Haug, Krasovitsky et al., and Rabus), [End Page 299] two address negation (Dočekal and Veselinova). Other papers look at the development of verbal categories such as gerunds (Bjørnflaten) and the perfect (Jung), properties and constituents of nominal expressions (Karlík for a specific category of adjectives and Fried for adnominal participial adjectives), and clause-level categories, such as modal adverbs (Hansen), the syntax of perfect auxiliaries (Migdalski), predicative possession (McAnallen), and reflexive constructions (Lazar). Some papers address more general aspects of diachronic change, such as the grammaticalization of nominal paradigms (Rappaport), the driving forces in the history of Slavic syntax (Večerka), and transitivity and syntactic structure (Grković-Major).
The papers that draw on corpus data all share a common theme: the ways in which data extracted from historical corpora may shed light on changes that have been under way or have become visible over shorter (from a diachronic perspective) segments of time (e.g., 50 to 100 years). In this respect, the paper by Krasovitsky, Baerman, Brown, Corbett, and Williams entitled "Morphosyntactic change in Russian: A corpus-based approach" is of particular interest for the topic of the volume. In this paper the authors trace gradual changes in predicate agreement in Russian over the past two centuries. The syntactic contexts included in the survey are base orders, where the subject phrase precedes the verb phrase, expletive (impersonal) structures, where oblique phrases occur in clause-initial position, and sentences where the predicate precedes the (logical) subject. In addition, the semantic nature of the referents is taken into consideration, and animate and inanimate phrases are reported separately in the statistical analyses. Based on data from a large corpus of literary works, the following intriguing generalizations emerge: a radical increase of plural agreement with conjoined NP subjects; a similar, even farther reaching, change for quantified expressions containing the lower numerals (dva 'two', tri 'three', and četyre 'four'), but a very different pattern in the case of nominal expressions quantified by higher numerals (such as pjat' 'five' and above and quantifiers such as neskol'ko 'several' and malo 'few'. These patterns can be explained by the nature of the quantity...