Changing semantic factors in case selection: Russian evidence from the last two century


We present a corpus-based study of variation in case assignment of the direct object of negated verbs in Russian over the past 200 years. Superficially the system of case forms available over this relatively short period has remained largely the same, but the way in which certain cases are used has been radically altered. This is particularly apparent in the treatment of the direct object of negated verbs. We argue that various semantic factors have been involved in bringing about this change, and that the role and significance of these factors has been changing over the period under investigation. This has implications for our understanding of the role of semantics in case assignment. 1. Genitive/accusative variation in Russian In modern Russian we observe variation in the case used to mark the direct object of a negated verb, either accusative (1a) or genitive (1b). (1a) O n ne kupil žurnal (1b) On ne kupil žurnal-a he not bought magazine[SG.ACC] he not bought magazine-SG.GEN ‘He didn't buy a/the magazine.’ ‘He didn't buy a/the magazine.’ The corresponding sentence without negation, as in (2), requires the accusative for the direct object, with no other choice possible: (2) O n kupil žurnal he bought magazine[SG.ACC] ‘He bought a/the magazine.’ In earlier periods, the distribution of the two cases with direct objects was clear-cut: the genitive marked the object of negated verbs, while the accusative marked the object of non-negated verbs. In other words, only constructions such as (2) and (1b) were allowed, while (1a) was ungrammatical. This started to change in the late seventeenth – early eighteenth centuries, when isolated instances of accusative objects governed by transitive verbs under negation appeared (Taubenberg 1958: 6; Borkovskij 1978: 327), though it was not until the early 19 century that a noticeable number of examples started to appear (Bulaxovskij 1954: 349-350). Even then the expansion of the accusative was rather slow. As our data from the early 19 century indicate (Figure 1), at that time only 11% of the constructions with a negated transitive verb had their direct object in the accusative case, while in the second half of the 19 century the frequency of the accusative in such constructions is only slightly higher (14%). In contrast, by the end of the 20 century the split between accusative and genitive use

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@inproceedings{Krasovitsky2008ChangingSF, title={Changing semantic factors in case selection: Russian evidence from the last two century}, author={Alexander Krasovitsky and Matthew Baerman and Dunstan Brown and Greville Corbett}, year={2008} }