Alan Timberlake. A Reference Grammar of Russian

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Alan Timberlake. A Reference Grammar of Russian. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 2004. pp. 510.

Not since the 1947 publication of Vinogradov's classic Russkij jazyk has there been such a monumental work describing the intricacies of the Russian language and its grammar written by a single author. A Reference Grammar of Russian (henceforth Grammar) systematizes research in the area of the Russian language over the past fifty years.

Considering the wealth of information, it is difficult to do justice to the Grammar. Its main contribution is the systematic approach to the Russian language and to its individual areas, be it the sound system or stress pattern or the analysis of arguments. The Grammar takes a non-dogmatic and non-prescriptive approach and often weighs tendencies rather than presenting clear-cut dichotomies. On several occasions it presents a sensible and highly enlightening reanalysis of the Jakobsonian case system and one-stem verbal system. On a number of occasions Timberlake offers historical insights to help the reader understand anomalies, which I consider a very valuable element, not common for reference grammars.

The many examples, even though without attribution, are authentic with very few exceptions: (1) [*] [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.], [*][TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.], [*] [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] (all 197), and two dealing with time expressions: [*] [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]? instead of B [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]? and [*][TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]? 'what time is it?' instead of [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]? (both 432). Example ([4.125]) is given as "from a novel of 1925" (203); in fact that example happened to be from a 1993 edition of Suetonius, [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] (Moscow: Nauka) translated by M. L. Gasparov. In one instance the source could have been provided as a sheer courtesy to the less informed reader, instead of "A no less famous example from an earlier time" (231, fn. 61). In some cases attribution would have been helpful when the accuracy of an example is in doubt, for example, [5.235] ... [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] '... neither Papa nor Laura.' [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] being highly uncommon, it is likely that the name is [??]epa, the diminutive from Ba[??]epu[??], but checking the original would resolve the doubt.

Chapter 1. Russian

The concise history of the writing system, which is not commonly part of reference grammars, is quite illuminating. There is also a good analysis of transliteration systems and an excellent analysis of the positives and negatives of various web resources.

There are only a few things that could be added or changed. First, the other languages that use the Cyrillic alphabet are listed as Ukrainian, Serbian and Bulgarian. Among the Slavic languages Belorusian and Macedonian could have been added, as well as mention of the large number of non-Slavic languages on former Soviet territory.

Second, the year of Charlemagne's death is given as 917 A.D. (11). According to the encyclopedia Larousse, he died in 814 A. D.

Third, in Table 1.3 (12) and then throughout the Grammar the italic for letter [??]/[??], is given as g, while it should be [??]. Interestingly, on page 421, [??] appears once. This is the letter that is listed as italic in the entry [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] in Russkij jazyk. Enciklopedia (17) and that can be found in any Russian dictionary as part of the grammatical notations. (2)

Fourth, the discussion of the use of the letter <> could include instances where its presence disambiguates homographs:

1. a. [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]. 'They all found out.' (3)

b. [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]. 'They found out everything.'

There are even instances of a total change of meaning depending on whether [??]ce or [??]ce is used:

2. …