Little Words: Their History, Phonology, Syntax, Semantics, Pragmatics, and Acquisition

By Ronald P. Leow; Héctor Campos et al. | Go to book overview

2 From “Two” to “Both”
Historical Changes in the Syntax and Meaning of Oba in Slavic

AGNIESZKA LAZORCZYK AND ROUMYANA PANCHEVA

University of Southern California

WE MAKE THE NOVEL OBSERVATION that Old Church Slavonic (OCS) oba, the historical counterpart of the modern Slavic “both,” meant simply “two.” We propose an account of the syntactic reanalysis of oba and the accompanying change in its meaning and discuss the broader implications of our findings.


Old Church Slavonic

The grammatical descriptions of OCS (e.g., Huntley 1993; Lunt 2001) as well as dictionaries and glossaries consistently give the meaning of oba as “both.”1 This is probably so for two reasons: oba does mean “both” in the modern Slavic languages, and the meanings of “both” and “two” overlap and are difficult to distinguish in definite contexts that allow a distributive interpretation. Thus, whereas the contrast between The two girls sang together and *Both girls sang together shows that both is necessarily distributive, predicates that are not obligatorily collective can mask the semantic distinction between both and the two, for example, The two girls sang and Both girls sang.

OCS oba, however, could not have meant “both.” First, oba could be used to form complex numerals, as shown in (1).2 Clearly, the only semantic contribution oba can have in such cases is its cardinality of 2. It was no different than the other numerals from 1 to 9, which similarly participated in the formation of complex numerals, for example, četyre na desęte, “fourteen,” literally “four on ten,” and sedmb na desęte, “seventeen,” literally “seven on ten.”

Second oba could be used with collective predicates, as exemplified in (2), which is also an environment where both is prohibited.

-9-

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