The Slavic Languages

By Dingley, John | Canadian Slavonic Papers, September-December 2008 | Go to article overview
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The Slavic Languages


Dingley, John, Canadian Slavonic Papers


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Roland Sussex and Paul Cubberley. The Slavic Languages. Cambridge Language Surveys. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006. xx, 638 pp. Map. Appendices. Bibliography. Index. $150, cloth.

This book, 7V/e Slavic Languages (hereafter SL), represents a massive undertaking. It has far loftier goals than the standard, language-by-language surveys of the Slavic languages (of which there are many), all the principal ones being mentioned in Si's bibliography (pp. 603-620). On p. 11, Sussex and Cubberley state this difference succinctly: "The present book differs from its predecessors in approaching Slavic from both a synchronic and a contrastive-typological point of view, following the model of the other books in this series." The "series" being referred to here is the Cambridge Language Surveys, and a full list of the languages which have so far been covered can be found on p. iv. Also on p. iv can be found the remit which Cambridge University Press imposes upon its audiors for this series: "This series offers general accounts of the major language families of the world, with volumes organized either on a purely genetic basis or on a geographical basis, whichever yields the most convenient and intelligible grouping in each case. Each volume compares and contrasts the typological features of the languages it deals widi. It also treats the relevant genetic relationships, historical development and sociolinguistic issues arising from their role and use in the world today." This remit then explains why SL does not treat the Slavic languages individually, each with its own discrete section, as is usually the case with surveys of language families.

So exactly how is SL organized? The answer to this question can be found on pp. 1 718.1 will summarize what Sussex and Cubberley say here. Chapters 1 and 2 deal with the historical development of the Slavic languages, which, the authors freely admit, is by and large on a language-by-language basis. The next nine chapters treat topics from a crosslanguage perspective. There are no surprises concerning which topics are covered - for example, phonology, morphology, word formation, dialectology, and, importantly, sociolinguistic issues. The book is rounded off with three appendices: Appendix A, dealing with terminology; B, dealing with transliteration and orthography; and C, dealing with pointers for the non-Slavist scholar. Then, last but not least, come the Bibliography (which is, understandably, slanted towards works written in English) and the Index. In all SL runs to an impressive 638 pages.

I find nodiing of substance to take issue with in chapter 1, "Linguistic Evolution," or chapter 2, "Socio-Historical Evolution." Of course, the points covered in ch. 1 are covered in far more detail elsewhere, but Sussex and Cubberley are not claiming to be exhaustive and have, on the whole, written a perfectly adequate summary of the main linguistic points, which (a) set the Slavic languages apart as one cohesive unit, and (b) separate the Slavic languages themselves into (give or take) three groups - east, south, and west. In ch. 2, Sussex and Cubberley handle deftly a number of thorny questions, among them the status of the languages in the former Yugoslavia, the status of Kashubian vis-à-vis Polish, the status of Lower Sorbian in relation to Upper Sorbian, and the role played by Church Slavonic in the formation of Contemporary Standard Russian. The stand that the authors take on these highly charged points will upset no fair-minded person.

Chapters 3 through 9 comprise the guts of Si. Now, let it be said up front that the bulk of the material presented in these chapters is accurate and uncontroversial, but there arise, nonetheless, many bones of contention in these seven chapters, once SL is subjected to close analysis. However (and I repeat), SL is fundamentally a survey and does not claim to be an exhaustive treatment of each and every topic in the development of the Slavic languages; therefore, it is perhaps unfair to trawl through the work with a fine-toothed comb looking for omissions, slight inaccuracies, and the like.

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