Short term morphosyntactic change: Variation in Russian 1801-2000

Russian is a language with a rich and relatively stable system of inflectional morphology. Yet while the system of forms has changed relatively little, the use of these forms has undergone a remarkable degree of change over a short time period. Changes include distribution of cases, of gender and number values, and of the competing inflectional forms of adjectives. These changes are dramatic when taken individually; however they do not form an obvious single picture, and there is no tendency to eliminate these morphosyntactic choices. What does seem to unite these phenomena is the set of grammatical factors conditioning them, which are not language specific, but involve quite general linguistic properties, such as animacy and word order. We therefore ask: How does morphosyntactic change occur even when the morphological system remains stable? What are the grammatical factors conditioning the selection of morphological variables? To give a detailed account of morphosyntactic shifts, we monitor the morphosyntactic variation within ten 20-year time slots between 1801 and 2000, using a database of evidence gathered from many sources, and original statistics derived from a corpus of 19th-20th century Russian texts. The variation and the spread of innovations are evaluated on the basis of relative frequencies of competing forms and with respect to a range of conditioning factors.

Principal investigator
Professor Greville Corbett
Principal project staff
Professor Greville Corbett, Dr Dunstan Brown, Dr Matthew Baerman
Start date
Wednesday, September 1, 2004
Completion date
Thursday, May 1, 2008
Source material
The language investigated, Russian, is one for which there is an appropriate foundation of textual materials, and of some basic research.

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