Academic journal article Journal of Slavic Linguistics

Cognitive Events in the Development of the Russian Suppletive Pair God-Let 'Year'

Academic journal article Journal of Slavic Linguistics

Cognitive Events in the Development of the Russian Suppletive Pair God-Let 'Year'

Article excerpt

Abstract: The semantic development of the suppletive pair god--let 'year' was due to a specific communicative deficiency that arose among speakers of Old Russian as a result of the adoption of Christianity in Rus' and to metonymical devices that were triggered in answer to the perceived expressive want. These devices were authorized by a general constraint of compatibility on the shift of meaning from source to target. Suppletion developed as a result of the incompatibility of some aspects of the newly polysemous god [??] band numerical quantification.

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A fundamental concept of recent work in cognitive semantics is that discrete words are understood to be composed of sequences of sounds that are associated with a meaning or semantic structure, which forms part of the totality of experience of the speaker or hearer (Lakoff 1987: 97-101, 175; Langacker 1990: 2-4, 149; Nehrlich and Clarke 1992: 130-131, Blank 1999: 173; Fauconnier and Turner 2002: 178-9). The contexts in which any given word may appear are virtually infinite, reducing static word definitions to partial listings of common usages. Words are constantly used in nontraditional ways (metaphor) and are easily understood, though the meaning associated with them may not be listed in any dictionary. This view has important consequences for understanding onomasiological ontogenesis. Over a period of about seven hundred years the semantic structures associated with Old Russian (OR) leto and god[??] were altered. Traditional accounts dealing with semantic shift as "generalization" and "specification" focus on changes in the set meanings of lexical items. They do not treat motivations for semantic shift, nor do they adequately characterize alterations in semantic structure. This article seeks to analyze the later evolution of the senses 'year' in Russian and to suggest plausible motivating factors for this process using concepts from cognitive semantics. Supporting data for this investigation come primarily from the Izbornik Svjatoslava 1076, Sreznevskij's Slovar' drevnerusskogo jazyka, Cejtlin et. al.'s Staroslavjanskij slovar', and Zaliznjak's Drevne-novgorodskij dialekt. Additional valuable data have been culled from a number of chrestomathies that make available to American researchers many works that are otherwise difficult to access.

In the view of cognitive semantics, speakers develop idealized models of objects, actions, and interactions of common and uncommon occurrences within the contexts of their own lives. Elements of these models interact (are experientially associated) with other elements of other idealized models, producing frames, essentially concepts connected by component attributes which may or may not be realized verbally and which may not be definable by a single set of critical attributes (Geeraerts 1999: 92). Frames themselves may be seen to interact with other frames resulting in categories to produce domains of meaning (Blank 1999: 173). Since meaning is an interconnected, if perhaps somewhat disjointed, totality, any specification of meaning by naming may have relevance to conceptually contiguous meaning. Accordingly, experiential context drives meaning and, therefore, as contexts change, meanings change, while the words that express new meaning either remain unchanged or may be altered, e.g., by means of suffixation. "Utterance meaning is not in the speech signal, but actively constructed by speakers in response to linguistic and nonlinguistic cues" (Coulson 2001: xii). Therefore "man, as a learning subject, a vehicle of cognition, plays a role in the formation of the meaning of linguistic units: man creates meaning, rather than receives it in a prepared state" (Boldyrev 2002: 18). (1) Given a certain breadth of usage and shared experience among speakers, including a shared sense of a specific communicative deficiency, semantic structures involving novel contexts may become associated with lexical items which are already accepted by the speakers of a given community, sometimes at the expense of antecedent meaning and sometimes simply in addition to it, resulting in polysemy. …

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