Juhani Nuorluoto, Ed.: The Slavicization of the Russian North: Mechanisms and Chronology

By Orr, Robert | Journal of Slavic Linguistics, Spring 2012 | Go to article overview

Juhani Nuorluoto, Ed.: The Slavicization of the Russian North: Mechanisms and Chronology


Orr, Robert, Journal of Slavic Linguistics


Juhani Nuorluoto, ed. The Slavicization of the Russian north: Mechanisms and chronology. Helsinki: Helsinki University Press, 2006. [Slavica Helsingiensia, 27.]

The present work (here SRN) includes articles in English, German, and Russian dealing with aspects of the topic in the title: linguistics, history, and archaeology. Nowadays interdisciplinary compilations cover such a range of material that no single reviewer could do them justice, a problem acknowledged in the Preface; this review concentrates on the general, especially Slavic, linguistic material. Eventually archaeological and historical journals will carry their own reviews.

SRN includes a great deal of material on Slavic-Finnic linguistic contacts, and a smaller amount on Slavic-Scandinavian contacts, which many scholars see as providing a substratum and a superstratum respectively (for the former, see Veenker 1967, and for the latter, see Strumiriski 1996). The latter provide an interesting bridge to another part of Europe which has seen linguistic replacement similar to northern Russia, with some parallel developments worth citing: the Scottish Highlands.

Nearly every paper in SRN has something of interest to linguists; many are at the cutting edge of their respective fields. Many of the articles cross-reference one another. Sometimes one article will cite material that should have been cited in another as well. This is especially true of the Slavic palatalizations and their relative chronologies, which are discussed from various angles by several contributors (Helimski, Holzer, Koivulehto). There is no index of forms, and each article has its own set of references, which can make the various threads difficult to follow.

After a one-page preface, SRN starts off with a bang, with Arja Ahlqvist's pioneering "Ancient Lakes in the Former Finno-Ugrian Territories of Central Russia: An Experimental Onomastic Paleogeographical Study" (11-49), written in consultation with paleogeographers and paleobotanists. In length and scope it may be most significant in the book. It covers, even surpasses, the range of disciplines of the rest of the articles in the collection.

Ahlqvist's focus is certain toponyms in Central Russia, mainly the area where Merya used to be spoken. Citing known Finno-Ugric elements denoting rivers and lakes (12-13), she goes on to list six place names north of Moscow, denoting bogs (in places she uses 'mires' where 'bogs' might be more accurate) or meadows (Kromnica, (1) Vozerka, Iz'er, Osara, (2) Semigradovo, Sumer; 20-41), and cites all sorts of evidence, mainly neighboring toponyms, to support the thesis that they actually denote former lakes. The Russian form Belozerovo, calqued on Finno--Ugric forms, is also found (13). She points out that 03epo, o3epuo in Russian typically denote a much larger range of bodies of water than, e.g., English Take' (39), down to tiny ponds, possibly closer to the denotations and connotations of Scottish Gaelic loch, lochan. The last page (49) of the article is a map of the locations discussed. In contrast to most papers in SRN, Ahlqvist does not use Cyrillic at all (but see also Sitzmann below).

Recently there has been discussion of the use of preserved linguistic material in nonlinguistic contexts. Ahlqvist's wider point is well expressed in a seminal, albeit brief, article by Puhvel (2003), who concludes "Philology can capture what is poetic in the patrimony of vanished peoples and cultures, without the legerdemain of 'poetics', which tends to snuff out the poetry of its object." He cites one example from Hittite poetry, which he sees as evoking an "... image [of] sunset before ecological disaster denuded the forested green hillsides of Anatolia" (2003: 349). Philology in the broadest sense can also assist in reconstructing vanished landscapes and extinct life forms. Many examples can be cited from place names, oral traditions, etc., providing information, essential or supplementary, on vanished towns (Casely 2007), (3) extinct animals, e.

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