I have not published any new posts for several years but the work on the comparative dictionary was continuing. Regrettably, my co-author and teacher Alexander Shaposhikov died last year. However, he has finished most of his part of work and also left many comments that allow me to continue with this project and lead it to the end. Currently, the dictionary is 90 per cent complete. It contains approximately 870 completed entries out of a total of 1000 planned. I hope to publish the dictionary by September 2023.

I publish an updated demonstration draft containing only a small number (16) of entries of the highest rating 5. It still lacks some essential parts in the Introduction section. The entries have not yet been correctly re-read and we are constantly updating the comments. Compared to the previous version we added and enhanced many entries and fixed some obvious errors. The formatting was optimised to reduce number of pages. The Introduction section has been restructured and expanded. The bibliographic style has been updated to ugost2008ns which, unfortunately, does not have a Cyrillic alphabetical sorting function. This should be fixed manually in the publication-ready version.

Any constructive criticism or feedback is welcome.

The new draft of the Russian-Sankrit dictionary is  now available at Academia.edu and ResearchGate.

I am sorry to dissapoint  some of my readers but  we are currently doing only the Russian version.  The main differences from the previous  draft:

  • A draft introduction has been added.
  • An outline draft  dictionary organisation chaper has been  added.
  • The dictionary  now includes all rating 5 words (242 entries),  however  entries with lower rating have beed removed from this dtaft.
  • Spelling and style mistakes have been corrected.

Your comments and observations are always welcome!


My latest piece of research has finally been published in the on-line version of Filologija journal. The paper analyses in detail a little-known article by Antun Mihanović   d090d0bdd182d183d0bd_d09cd0b8d185d0b0d0bdd0bed0b2d0b8d19bhighlighting his role as one of the pioneers of Slavonic comparative studies. Although the article was written under the influence of the German romantic nationalism, the ideological pointedness should not overshadow its significance as a remarkable, for the time, piece of comparative linguistic research.

You can access the paper at the journal’s site.

I hope that many of my followers would find it interesting. Your questions or comments are welcome!


Trubachev2On October 25, 2015  the draft of the Russian-Sanskrit Dictionary of Common and Cognate Words was for the first time presented to the public at the Commemorative meeting dedicated to the 85th anniversary of Academician O. N. Trubačёv organized by the Public International Fund of Slavonic Literature and Culture and Institute of Russian Language by the Russian Academy of Sciences.

In a 20 minute report  I briefly told about the background of creation of the dictionary and the principal technical aspects of the project.

First lists of similar in sound and meaning Sanskrit and Russian words appeared soon after the discovery of Sanskrit by European philologists but it so happened that the main focus of research in Russia was directed towards comparative analysis within Slavonic languages. This may explain the lack of works directly comparing Slavonic languages ​​with Sanskrit.

Of course, this does not mean that Sanskrit evidence has not been engaged at all in Russian etymological studies. All major Russian etymological dictionaries do contain links to Sanskrit, but often they are more a by-product of the Western Indo-European linguistics than  the result of a purposeful and large-scale comparison of Indo-Aryan and Slavic lexicons.


In my speech  I particularly stressed that the current situation in which the only comparative Sanskrit-Russian dictionary was published not in Russia but in India, and the most comprehensive, albeit having numerous inaccuracies and errors list of Sanskrit-Russian correspondence was made not by a linguist but by a historian and ethnographer Natalia Guseva, could not be considered as normal.

Although the first draft contains  about  500 entries and the total number of  collected matches is about 1800, at this stage, the main achievement of the project  is not the number of matches but the creation of a user-friendly working tool. The dictionary, initially started as a single Excel sheet, has been transferred into a specially designed  electronic database with an interface for entering various data.  Importantly, the database is able to compile a LaTeX  code for  producing a ready-to-print high resolution PDF version of the dictionary.

In the final part of the report a special attention was drawn to the importance of this work in addressing some issues relating to the ethnogenesis of the Slavs raised by O. N. Trubačёv: the time and place of formation of Proto-Slavonic dialects, relations between the Slavonic and Baltic languages, the problem of Iranian influence and the possibility of Slavonic-Indo-Aryan contacts.

The full video of the presentation can be accessed here.

The article in which I try to give an alternative etymology of the name of the Eastern-Slavonic god Xors (Hors)  has finally been published in Studia Mythologica Slavica.SMS

It is the result of several years of research and I consider it an important event in my academic work.

You can read it at my Academia.edu  page

The paper examines the traditional explanation of the Eastern-Slavonic deity Xors as an Iranian loan from the Persian xwaršēδ/xoršid ‘sun’ and advances an alternative etymology via the Indo-Aryan root hṛṣ-, Indo-European *ghers/*g’hers and its cognates in other Indo-European languages. Based on the linguistic and mythological comparative analysis Xors is interpreted not as an abstract ‘solar god’ but as a ‘sun fertility hero’ viewed as the development of the ancient archetype of the ‘dying and resurrecting god’ comparable in role to Dionysus. The paper closes with a brief outline of some new venues for research following out of the proposed re-interpretation of Xors.

The traditional explanation of Xors as a late Iranian loan from the Persian xwaršēδ/xoršid ‘(radiant) sun’, conceived in the era when the Historical Linguistics was in its infancy, has now become an anachronism. It is not viable linguistically and is also a methodological dead-end because declaring Xors as an abstract generic ‘solar god’ or the ‘god of the solar disc’ does not really explain anything. Slavonic mythology and pre-Christian religious cults directly continue the Indo-European and Proto-Indo-European traditions so we should view the character and nature of Slavonic deities not as detached ‘exotic’ entities or endless ‘borrowings’ from surrounding peoples but as local developments of the common ancient base-myths. The new etymology of Xors as a relic of the I-E *h(V)rs-, preserved to this day in toponyms in the Balkan and Circumpontic areas and  in numerous cognates in the principal I-E language branches, integrates Xors-Daž’bog into the mainstream of the pan-European and Eurasian mythology. It also helps to understand the intricate deep connection of the multitude of seemingly diverse Eurasian cults and myths which may all decent to the same fundamental Palaeolithic archetypes of the ‘Great Mother’, ‘Divine Marriage’ and the eternal ‘wheel’ of birth and dying repeated at all levels from plants, animals, humans to the seasonal and cosmic cycles.

Russian summary

Неиранское происхождение восточнославянского бога Хърса/Хорса.

Константин Л. Борисов

Несмотря на то, что в древнерусских исторических и религиозных источниках Хорс является вторым по частоте упоминаний после верховного языческого бога Перуна, о его роли в пантеоне древних славян практически ничего не известно. В этой статье делается попытка нового осмысления функции Хорса через метод сравнительного лингвистического и мифологического анализа.

В самых ранних исторических исследованиях Хорс описывался как славянский аналог греческого Бахуса (Дионисия), а также сравнивался с древнепрусским божеством плодородия Curcho. Однако, с середины девятнадцатого века прочно утвердилась теория об иранском происхождении имени Хорс, как прямого заимствования из персидского xwaršēδ/xoršid ‘солнце-царь’. На этом основании Хорс представляется как ‘солнечный бог’ или как некое абстрактное ‘божество солнечного диска’. Такая интерпретация Хорса и сегодня является общепризнанной среди историков. При этом игнорируются объективные сложности произведения имени ‘Хорс’ из иранского xoršid. Такая радикальная трансформация звучания не характерна для известных иранских заимствований в славянский. В частности, необъясним предполагаемый переход иранского š в s. Кроме того, слово xwaršēδ появилось в средне-иранском языке относительно поздно (не ранее IV в. до н. э), как сокращённый  вариант Авестийского hvarə хšаētəm ‘солнце сияющее, правящее’, и не является собственно теонимом. С последующим развитием  Зороастризма функции солярного бога Hvar перешли к переосмысленному Митре (Mihr), и само его имя стало уже использоваться как синоним солнца. В современных иранских языках xoršid также имеет значение ‘солнце’, но без какого-либо религиозного подтекста.

Наряду с лингвистическими есть и культурно-исторические препятствия иранского происхождения теонима ‘Хорс’. Несмотря на то, что образ солнца занимает важное место в славянском фольклоре, зачастую солнце представлялось как  ‘девица’. Однако главной проблемой в теории об иранском происхождении Хорса является вопрос о том, когда и при каких условиях славяне вообще могли заимство­­­вать солнечный культ и название солнечного бога у иранцев.

Изначальная проблематичность теории прямого заимствования из иранского заставляла многих исследователей искать альтернативные объяснения. В частности, были попытки использования фонетической близости восточнославянского ‘хорошо/хорош’. При этом, как правило, не подвергался сомнению постулат о солярной сущности Хорса и его иранском происхождении. Основная трудность на этом пути состоит в том, что отсутствует надёжная этимология самого слова ‘хорошо/хорош’ и его конкретный иранский источник. Возможность прямого родства с практически полностью фоно-семантически совпадающим древне-индийским hṛṣu ‘радостный, довольный’ не рассматривается a priori, ввиду якобы невозможности прямого контакта древних славян с индо-арийскими языками в силу их географической удалённости и установившимся предубеждением, что любые схождения сакральной и религиозной лексики славянского с индо-иранским следует рассматривать исключительно как заимствования из иранских языков посредством скифского.

Данная работа опирается на возможность сохранения в Северном Причерноморье этноса или языковых реликтов прото-индо-иранского языка, восходящего ко времени Ямной культуры (3600—2300 до н. э.), до его предполагаемого разделения на индо-иранскую и иранскую ветви. Отталкиваясь от кардинального значение корня hṛṣ в древне-индийском, как ‘ощетинивание, эрекция’, возводимому к праиндоевропейскому этимону *ghers(*ghers-) ‘ощетиниваться’, теоним ‘Хорс’ интерпретируется как божество плодородия, сочетающее функции ‘солнечного героя’ и ‘хтонического бога’, сравнимого по функции с греческим Дионисом и его аналогами в других европейских и восточных  культах.

В заключительной части коротко описываются некоторые перспективы сравнительного мифологического анализа, которые открываются благодаря новой интерпретации образа Хорса как отражения древнего ‘дионисийского комплекcа’.

I made a modest contribution to  making the program about Swastika: Reclaiming the Swastika on BBC Radio 4 (to be broadcast at 11:00 on Friday 24 October – and on the BBC iPlayer for 30 days after broadcast). It has been prepared  by Mukti Jain Campion. I would like to recommend it to all my followers. Please also read the feature story by  Mukti Jain Campion on  BBC Magazine How the world loved the swastika – until Hitler stole it.

I have decided to upload a draft of my RUSSIAN – SANSKRIT DICTIONARY OF COMMON AND COGNATE WORDS which is the result of some eight years of work. This dictionary has been conceived as a practical reference book with the objective of providing factual material for researchers in the field of the Indo-European linguistics or anyone interested in etymology, semantics and the origin of the Indo-European, particularly, Slavonic languages. Compiling a dictionary is time-consuming and it is a mammoth task to do for a single person. The first draft published here is only a rough approximation. It contains only 488 entries, which is about a quarter of the planned volume, and still lacks some essential parts in the Introduction section. The entries have not yet been properly proof-read and I am constantly updating the comments.

 Index of entries

You may access the text at my page on Academia.edu

Although this work is titled ‘Dictionary’ it is neither a traditional Russian-Sanskrit dictionary nor a formal etymological dictionary, but rather a catalogue of various cognate, common or otherwise connected Russian and Sanskrit words, arranged is a systematic way with cross-references, explanatory notes, links to other Slavonic and Indo-European languages, indexes and other features aimed at making it a valuable and convenient reference book. The specific task called for employing both Cyrillic and Devanagarī scripts throughout the book because transliteration, however elaborate, cannot fully replace the native writing system. Since it is unlikely that every reader would be proficient in both scripts, each word is accompanied by a conventional transliteration.

In writing this book I endeavoured to go through all major works dedicated to this issue starting from the discovery of Sanskrit and its relation to the European languages in general, and particularly to Slavonic, covering the period from the 17th century up to the modern days. Each proposed cognate word has been carefully evaluated, checked through various dictionaries and, sometimes, re-linked or rejected. This method provided some eight hundred pairs that made the back-bone of the dictionary. The rest of the cognate pairs (about another thousand two hundred) are the result of many years of scrupulous research.

Many cognate pairs are obvious, some need more or less detailed explanations and might be difficult to apprehend without some basic knowledge of the principal linguistic concepts and terms. This is why the dictionary is prefaced by an Introduction containing some essential information about the Russian and Sanskrit languages and their phonetic and grammatical features with particular attention to the principal rules of sound correlation. This section is now in work and it is not included in this draft.

I would be grateful for any constructive criticism or comments. If you would like to support this project there are several ways of helping me with the work:

  •  report any spelling or other mistakes that you have noticed
  •  suggest any other cognate pairs
  • check the various cognates I mention in Slavonic and other languages if they happen to be in your native language

Going through some old Russian journals I came across an article by  Svetlana Žarnikova (Zharnikova)  “Kto my v ėtoj Evrope [Who are we in this Europe]”.  Nauka i žizn’, Issue No. 5, 1997.

Žarnikova is known as one of the Russian protagonists of the  controversial “Hyperborean theory” which develops the ideas of  Bal Gangadhar Tilak expressed in his famous book  The Arctic Home in the Vedas.  Leaving aside this questionable  theory I would like to quote a translation of this interesting passage from Žarnikova’s article:

In June 1993 we, a group of scientists and ethnologists from the Vologda region and our guests – a folklore group from India (West Bengali State), were travelling on a ship along the Sukhona [my comment: compare Skt. sukha सुख  ‘running swiftly or easily; agreeable, gentle, mild’ + the common adjective suffix –na]  river heading from Vologda to Velikiy Ustyug. […]

The motor ship was moving slowly along the beautiful northern river. We watched the flower-covered fields, century-old pine trees, country houses:  two-three storied countryside mansions, the striped steep river banks, the silent smoothness of  the water and admired the enchanting quietness of the northern ‘white nights’.

Together we marvelled at how much we had in common. We, the Russians, were surprised how our Indian guests could repeat after us the words of a popular Russian song practically without any accent. They, the Indians, were amazed how familiar the names of rivers and villages sounded to them. And then together we examined the embroideries made in the villages by which our ship was passing. It is difficult to describe the feeling that one experiences when the guests from a far-away country exclaimed interrupting each other pointing at the embroideries “This we have in Orissa, and this one he have in Rajasthan and this is similar to what they make in Bihar, that one – in Gujarat and this one – with us in Bengal”. We were very glad to feel the strong ties connecting us with our distant common ancestors through the millennia.

It is not in my nature to take things for granted so I have done a little research into this area  and  here are some of the results.

Before starting with it, I think that it is appropriate to mention that the Russian for ’embroidery’  is  vyshivka вышивка where shiv  is the root  = Skt. siv  सिव् ‘to sew, sew on, darn, stitch’, the first element is the prefix  vy–  which is identical to Skt. prefix  vi–  वि .  Those who know Sanskrit will not need an interpreter to understand  the Rus. vyshivka,  especially if we write it down in Devanagari:  विषिव्क (viṣivka) since in Skt.  there is विषिव् (viṣiv) meaning `to sew or sew on in different places’. The last  bit –ka is a very productive common  Slavonic – Indo-Aryan  suffix  with a general meaning ‘similar to, like’.  So विषिव्क (viṣivka)  literally means ‘like sewing on in different places = embroidery’.

As the main source of information on Russian embroidery I took the academic  study by Boguslavskaja, I. J. Russkaja narodnaja vyšivka [Russian embroidery]. Moskva: Izdatel’stvo “Iskusstvo”,1972.

For Indian embroidery I had to search the internet and found the following sites:



First I give the embroidery patterns from Žarnikova’s article:


Left: stylised embroidery from the Vologda Region (19th cent.) and Indian embroidery of the same period (right).


Top: Embroidery theme from Northern Russia. Bottom: Indian embroidery theme.


 Vologda Region embroidery patterns (19th cent.)

Now let us compare some other embroideries from Russia and India:


Left: Woman’s head gear “kokoshnik“. The 18-th century. Vladimirskaya province (?). Gold needle work on dark-red velevet. Russian State Museum (Boguslavskaja 1975 fig. 105)  and (right)  “The embroidery technique used on Jayashree’s sari is called Kasuthi. It’s a technique that originated in the Hubli Dharwad region in North Karnataka around a thousand years ago, and is quite similar to blackwork.” (quoted from http://www.needlenthread.com/2009/02/beautiful-hand-embroidered-indian-sari.html.)

Compare also this typical old Russian embroidery with the same symmetrical motif an the identical ‘roof’ element:


Valance. The 19-th century. Pskovskaya province (?). Embroidered with double running stitch in red cotton threads on flaxen cloth. 262 X 21.3. Detail. Russian State Museum (Boguslavskaja 1975 fig. 17).

The top elements bear a striking resemblance to the  śrīvatsa श्रीवत्स / triratna त्रिरत्न symbol and are most probably historically related:


Note  the central pattern design made of a rhombus with an X-like cross and flowers in the middle. This is an ancient fertility symbol in which the rhombus represents the female reproductive organ, the X-like cross symbolises the male productive force and it is well known to Indians as  vajrākṛti वज्राकृति  ‘shaped like a thunderbolt or vajra, having transverse lines a cross-shaped symbol (formerly used in grammars to denote jihvāmūlīyas’ (Monier-Williams, M. A Sanskrit-English Dictionary: Etymological and Philologically Arranged With Special Reference to Cognate Indo-European Languages. Oxford University Press, 1899, p. 914).

Jihvāmūlīya was an ancient Vedic Sanskrit  letter for a velarised voiceless fricative [x] identical to modern Russian x. Interestingly, in writing  jihvāmūlīya  was exactly the same as the Russian letter: X (Müller, F. M. A Sanskrit Grammar for Beginners in Devanagari and Roman Letters Throughout. (Reprinted edition). New Dehli–Chennai: Asian Educational Services, 2004{[1870]}, p. 5). The flowers in the sections of the rhombus symbolised the new life.

The full significance of this  symbolic design is obvious from this wonderful ‘Mother Goddess’ statuette from the Cucuteni-Trypillian culture (approximately 4800 to 3000 BC). (Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:MotherGoddessFertility.JPG)

Importantly, this is not  some  “odd” design. It is persistent on may similar figurines found in the area.


Source: Бурдо, Н. Б. & Видейко, М. Ю.
«Погребенные дома» и ритуал сожжения поселений Кукутень-Триполья
Культурные взаимодействия. Динамика и смыслы. Сборник статей в честь 60-летия И. В. Манзуры, Stratum plus Journal, 2016, 175–191

Compare also  the swastika from a later period  placed into the female generative organ (Wilson, T. The Swastika. The Earliest Known Symbol, and Its Migration; with Observations on the Migration of Certain Industries in Prehistoric Times, Washington: Government Printing Office, 1896, p. 826) sw1

This ancient auspicious symbol was later split into two  Swastikas (so brutally and shamelessly desecrated by the Nazis!) pointing into opposite directions as the representation of the eternal cycle of life and death and the life-giving unity of the male and female elements:


The crossed rhomb symbol and swastika have been widely used  side by side  in russian embroidery. See the women’s dress on the left:



Next comes the traditional Kasuti embroidery with this characteristic cross-like design which is, in fact, a  variation of the above fertility symbol:

(http://birdsofoh.blogspot.co.uk/2011/01/kasuti-traditional-embroidery-from.html) See more wonderful Kasuti patterns here:


The same element is clearly seen in the centre and  flower-like elements in this Russian embroidery:


Valance. The 19-th century. Olonetskaya province. Embroidered with a double running stitch in a combination of red cotton threads and coloured wool on flaxen cloth. 18 6 X 3 7 . Russian State Museum (Boguslavskaja 1975 fig. 22).

This pattern is also built around the ancient fertility theme: the two horses (each of them having their own  life-force or seeds of life, represented by the flower-like design) are united to produce a new life (the flower design in the middle) which grows  up in the form of the  śrīvatsa श्रीवत्स / triratna त्रिरत्न . This design represents the fundamental idea: “division of the divine nature between a ­­god and a goddess who, together with their child, form a natural trinity, glorifying and repeating on their divine plane the life of the human family” (Waites, M. C. “The Deities of the Sacred Axe”. American Journal of Archaeology, Archaeological Institute of America, 1923, 27, 25-56, p.34) . See more fertility related embroideries at  pinterest.com.

This is only a brief comparison on a limited material but it fully confirms  Žarnikova’s words  and looking at this wonderful affinity I too could share the feeling of “the strong ties connecting us with our distant common ancestors through the millennia”.

See other posts

I would like to demonstrate here the remarkable phonetic affinity between Sanskrit and Russian taking two dozen of unquestionable cognate pairs as examples.  It is well known that all Indo-European languages contain a greater or lesser number of common words but only Slavonic and, to a lesser degree, Baltic languages approximate Sanskrit to such an extent that in me instances the difference between certain Slavonic languages could be greater than between some Slavonic languages and Sanskrit.

Take the  word for `spindle’: Sanskrit  vartana, Russian vereteno, Bulgarian. vretе́no, Slovenian vreténo, Czech vřeteno, Polish wrzeciono, Upper Sorbian wrjećeno and Lower Sorbian rjeśeno.  The phonetic shape of cognates in other Indo-European languages differs considerably.

A good example is the word `alive’: Sanskrit jīva, Russian živ, Lithuanian gývas, Greek bíos, Latin vīvus,  Irish biu,   Gothic qius, Old High German quес, and English quick.

Transliteration notes

Sanskrit: ā, ī, ū – long sounds;  = ri (a short   similar to Rus. soft рь/r‘); c=chj similar to j in “jam”;  ṣ  similar to shś  a subtler sort of sh, closer to German /ch/  as in  ich.

Russian:  š  similar to sh; č = chž = like g in garage , the vowel y  is a sort of  ‘hard’  i  sounding somewhat similar to unstressed i   in Eng. it .  the  sign ‘ indicates softness and stands for a very short i . Vowels with  j are iotated so ju would be similar to Eng.  you and Skr. yu  etc.

Skt. Rus. Lith. Greek Latin Goth. OHG/Ger. Eng
bhrātṛ brat brólis phrátēr frāter brōþar Bruder brother
bhrū brov’ bruvis ophrus brāwa brow
vidhava vdova vidua widuwō Widuwō widow
vartana veretenò Wirtel spindle
viś ves’  viešė oikos vīcus weihs abode, village, home
vātṛ veter vėtra wind
vṛka volk vilkas lýkos lupus wulfs Wulfs wolf
dvār dver’ dùrys thýra forēs daúr turi door
dvaya dvoe dvejì twaddjē two of smb.
devṛ dever’ dieveris daḗr lēvir zeihhur husband’s brother
dina den’ dienà diēs day
dam, dama dom nãmas(?) dō̂ma domus house, home
janī žena gynḗ qino wife
jīva živ gývas bíos vīvus qius quес alive
jñāna znanie žinios gnōsis knowledge
kada kogda kada when
katara kotoryj kuris póteros uter ƕаþаr hwedar which
kumbha kub kýmbos cupa pitcher
laghu ljogok leñgvas elaphrós levis leihts lungar light
roci luč leukós lūх liuhaþ light, ray
madhu mjod medùs méthy metu honey
mūṣ myš’ mŷs mūs mûs mouse
mās mjaso mėsà mimz(?) meat

Note that we compare the attested languages and not hypothetical `reconstructions’ however, according to  Antoine Meillet:

“[..] Baltic and Slavic show the common trait of never having undergone in the course of their development any sudden systemic upheaval. […] there is no indication of a serious dislocation of any part of the linguistic system at any time. The sound structure has in general remained intact to the present.  […] Baltic and Slavic are consequently  the only languages in which certain modern word-forms resemble those reconstructed for Common Indo-European.” ( The Indo-European Dialects [Eng. translation of  Les dialectes indo-européens (1908)], University of Alabama Press, 1967, pp. 59-60).

See also my other posts:




See all posts

The Russian Tense system with its three formal Tenses: Past, Present and Future, may appear rather simple compared to Latin, Greek or German but this impression is deceptive. The specific feature of a Slavonic verb is its pervasive Aspect system. Nearly all Slavonic verbs exist in two forms which are traditionally defined as “imperfective” and “perfective”. The aspectual relations go beyond simple verbal forms and include the so-called verboids: participles, gerund, modal verbs and the infinitive.

These forms are usually defined as: “perfective” and “imperfective” although the native term glagoly soveršennogo/nesoveršennogo vida is actually translated as ‘verbs of completed (accomplished)/non-completed (non-accomplished) aspect’. Since, historically, the Aspect category has been largely modelled on Slavonic material, this literal translation should be kept in mind because it gives some insight into the nature of this grammatical phenomena.

One of the traditional definitions of such opposition typical of native grammarians may be:

Perfective verbs denote a completed action, the carrying of the action through to its completion (in the past or future)[…]. Some perfective verbs do not only express the completion of the action, but also the fact that it is single in its occurrence, is semelfactive. Imperfective verbs show that the action is in progress, but do not specify whether it is completed, whether there is any result […]. Imperfective verbs….. show that the action was either prolonged or repeated several times. (Pulkina and Zakhaya-Nekrasova, 1988, 198)

This definition is specific to Aspect as it is understood in Slavonic. The more general and widely quoted notion of Aspect in the “broad sense” is that of Comrie:

Aspects are different ways of viewing the internal temporal constituency of a situation. […] Aspect is not concerned with relating the time of the situation to any time-point, but rather with the internal temporal constituency of the one situation; one could state the difference as one between situation-internal time (aspect) and situation-external time (tense). (Comrie, 1976, 3-5)

Russian verbs are conjugated for number (singular and plural), gender (masculine, neuter, feminine), person (first, second, third) and tense (present, past, future). The verboids: participles and gerunds are declined as adjectives. Schematically this may be presented as:


The simplest form of a verb contains a root, a thematic vowel (except for a few athematic verbs) and a grammatical ending:


Such verbs are defined as simplex. Most of simplex verbs are imperfective but some may be perfective. The Aspect in Slavonic is not expressed by a single morphological device (Timberlake, 2004, 93). Instead there are several ways of making a verb perfective/imperfective.

Most Russian verbs may take a prefix and/or a suffix and become complex. Usually, a complex verb has one prefix and/or one suffix but sometimes two or more prefixes may be added consecutively. Prefixes and suffixes should be distinguished from grammatical inflectional endings. Russian verbs exist as a number of paradigmatic forms distinguished by the grammatical endings: piš-u ‘(I) write’, pisa-l ‘(I/you/he) wrote’, pisat’ ‘to wtite’ etc. but some verbs may occasionally have a zero ending, which is also grammatical: pas-ti[-INF] – pas-Ø [-PST.1,2,3SG.M] ‘to herd – herded’ .

In the IE languages the root with a thematic vowel is usually referred to as a “stem”. Verbs having a thematic vowel are defined thematic as opposed to athematic. The complex verb prepodavat’ [INF] ‘to teach’ will have the following structure:


Figure 1: Structure of the verb prepodavat’

In most of the cases adding a prefix to a verb renders it perfective:


Ivan čital knigu.

Ivan[N.SING.M] read[IPF-PST.3SG.M] book[ACC.SG.F]

“Ivan read a book”

Ivan pročita-l knigu.

Ivan[N.SING.M] [PREF-]read[PF-PST.3SG.M] book[ACC.SG.F]

“Ivan (has) read the book”

However, this process is far from being automatic. Russian verbal prefixes could be divided into three groups: purely perfectivising, superlexical and lexical (Richardson, 2007, 52), although some researchers like Isačenko (1962) object to the existence of purely prefectivising suffixes. The reason is that these are, primarily, derivational instruments always changing the semantic meaning of a verb to some extent. Each prefix is a morpheme having its own meaning. If the meaning is very broad and unspecific its impact on the verb’s semantics is minimal but it is still present.

The best example here is the prefix po– which may be remotely connected with a preposition po ‘on, upon’ but, attached to verbs, it adds some general ingressive or delimitative meaning. Because of its abstractness it is often considered a purely perfectivizing prefix (Comrie, 1976, 59). This is a dubious assertion because there is a clear semantic difference between e.g. spat’ ‘to sleep’ (in the general sense) and pospat’ ‘to take a nap’ (to sleep for a brief period).

Other prefixes like pere- ‘across, over’, ob– ‘around, pro- trough’ etc. with a very transparent lexical meaning  affect the semantics of the verb to a greater extent besides changing their aspectual characteristics to PF. For example, the verb pročital ‘read’ in (1) has a very clear meaning ‘(has) read through’. Therefore, while one can argue whether there are any purely perfectivizing prefixes it would be too simplistic to assert that “[t]he prefix changes the aspect of the verb but it does not change its meaning” as it was done by Levine (1999, 240).

Another complication is the existence of perfective or imperfective tantum verbs. For example preobrazovat’ ‘to transform’ is IPF despite having a prefix. Finally, there is a number of biaspectual verbs which can be viewed either as perfective or imperfective depending on situation (Gladney, 1982):


On obeščal.

He[N. 3SG.M] promise[PF -PAST.3SGM]

“He (has) promised”

On často obeščal.

he[N. 3SG.M] often[IND] promise[IPF -PAST.3SGM]

“He often promised”

Prefixation is by far the most common way of perfectivisation. According to Forsyth (1972), simplex/complex verbal pairs account for more than 80 percent of all perfective/imperfective oppositions so this way of perfectivisation is sometimes called as primary perfectivisation. This view on prefixes as the principal Aspect forming elements is contested by some scholars. To understand this we should analyse the alternative ways of changing Aspect in Russian by means of certain suffixes.

Many simplex verbs can be made perfective by adding a suffix -nu- to the root. This is sometimes referred to as the secondary perfectivisation:


On prygal

he[N. 3SG.M] jump[IPF-PST.3SG.M]

“He jumped (He was jumping)”

On prygnul

he[N. 3SG.M] jump[-PF(SUFF)-PST.3SG.M]

“He (has) jumped”

Alternatively, the combination of the thematic vowel –i/y– and a suffix –va– renders any simplex or complex perfective verb imperfective by adding a dimension of habituality or continuity.


Ona procitala knigu

she[N. 3SG.F] [PF(PREF)-]read[-PST.3SG.F] book[ACC.SG.F]

“She (has) read the book”

Ona procityvala mnogo knig

She[N.3SG.F] [(PREF)-]read[-IPF(SUFF)-PST.3SG] many[IND] book[G.PL.F]

“She (usually) read many books”

The role of prefixes and suffixes in changing the aspectual state is a matter of dispute. For instance Maslov (2004, 110-118) believed that the “carrier” aspectual properties was the verbal “aspectual base” which he defined as “a part of a verbal word remaining after dis-joining of all morphological affixes apart from the imperfectivizing suffixes” (ibid, p. 113).

While most researchers agree that all verbal prefixes change the semantic meaning of a verb and argue mostly on the extent of such change, there is a wide-spread belief that suffixes are purely grammatical markers:

Suffixation leads to secondary imperfectivization of the verb (regardless of the type of verb stem) and the change is mainly grammatical: from perfective to imperfective aspect. (Schmiedtová and Flecken, 2008)

Smith (1983, 5) even refers to such suffixes as “view-point morphemes”. This idea comes out of the formal approach of the structuralist feature theory according to which prefixes and suffixes are treated as abstract perfective/imperfective markers rather than morphemes having any meaning. In the following paragraphs I shall try to demonstrate that the Slavonic “aspectual suffixes” are not purely grammatical markers but derivational morphemes (semems), comparable to prefixes in their function of altering verbal semantics.

In the case of suffixes, the inherent semantic meaning is not as obvious as that of the majority of prefixes since it is somewhat more general and abstract, but this does not mean that suffixes are void of any meaning.

Let us consider the common perfectivizing suffix -nu- which gives a verb a distinctive semelfactive (momentary or punctiliar action) aspect. The word nu in Russian is an interjection meaning ‘come on!’. It is particularly used as a command ‘Go!’, ‘Move!’ to start a horse moving. It is sometimes used in colloquial speech with an infinitive as a predicative in the meaning to start doing something:


A on nu bezat’

And[IND] he[N.3SG.M] start[PF(PRED] run[-INF]

“And he started to run”

The morphosememe {nu} may be identified in the root nud of the Rus. verb nudit’ ‘to force, compel’ which is, in fact, a compound root consisting of the morphosememe {nu} ‘impulse’ and {d} which is a part of the ancient roots *da ‘give’ or *dhe `make, produce’. This compound root may be literally translated as `to give/make (da/dhe) an impuse (nu)’. The antiquity of this compound root is confirmed by the Sanskrit nud – nudati ‘push, thrust, impel’ (Monier-Williams, 1963, 562,2). It is also directly cognate with the Old English nu ‘now’ (Harper, 2001-2010).

Adding the morphosememe {nu} as a suffix changes the semantics of a verb by giving it an aspect of sudden or impulsive movement incompatible with the notion of imperfectivity, thus rendering this verb perfective. It also explains why this suffix can be added mainly to verbs of motion but not to verbs denoting processes like citat’ ‘to read’ or states: stoyat’ ‘to stay’.

The semantics of the other common suffix –va– is not as easy to unlock without recurring again to Sanskrit where va means 1) ‘air, wind’, 2) ‘water, ocean’ 3) ‘going’. There is also a verb vāti ‘to blow ‘(as the wind) (ibid p. 910). In all instances the principal conceptual meaning of {va} is that of movement. It is quite logical that adding the morphosememe {va} ‘movement’ as a suffix makes a verb to acquire an aspect of a continuous, repetitive or habitual action incompatible with perfectivity and making it imperfective: cita-t’[IPF-INF] ‘to read’ but city-va-t’[-IPF(SUFF)-INF] ‘to read (occasionally, from time to time)’. It is also predictable that adding -va- to a perfective verb would also render its meaning incompatible with perfectivity so procitat’[PREF-]read[PF-INF] ‘to read (through, to the end)’ would become pro-city-va-t’[PREF-]read[-IPF(SUFF)-INF] ‘to read (time and time again etc.)’.


Figure 2: Graphic representation of the concept of Aspect in Russian

The above shows that the specific feature of the Slavonic Aspect is the inseparable unity of the Lexical Aspect (Aktionsart) with the Grammatical Aspect. In other words, Aspect is grammaticalised through derivational affixes which do not serve as mere “view-point markers” but modify the lexical meaning of a verb in such a way that it becomes perceived as perfective or imperfective. This interrelation may be presented graphically as shown on Fig.2.

According to Dahl (1985, 69), perfective/imperfective aspectual relations occur, in various disguises, in some 45 language out of the 60 language sampled for analysis. However, Dahl specifically noted that there were no other similar systems of “Slavonic Aspect” in any part of the world (1985, 87). Forsyth formulated this specific character of Slavonic Aspect as:

The essential difference, however, is that only the Slavonic languages have systematized the expression of aspect at the morphological level in the opposition of two sets of verb forms. This consistent semantic opposition of forms constitutes the Category of Aspect in Slavonic languages, and it is quite distinct from the sporadic expression of what can be called ‘aspect in the wide sense’ in other languages. (Forsyth, 1972, 494)

The distinct nature and complexity of Slavonic Aspect is in the intricate interaction of verbal semantics and morphology within the general temporal framework. Its unique character has led to a debate of whether this system was the primordial state of the IE (Indo-European) proto-language (see e.g. Bartalotta, A. “Root lexical features and inflectional marking of tense in Proto-Indo-European”, Journal of Linguistics, 2009, 45, 505–532) or a particular innovation specific to Slavonic languages.  Notably, similar aspectual features: morphological expression and aspectual pairs are found not only in Lithuanian and Latvian, which are closely related to Slavonic, but also in Ossetic and the ancient Iranian languages like Sogdian (Abaev, 1969) albeit in a reduced degree. The opinions here are divided and this controversial issue deserves a special research.

See other posts


Abaev,V. I., “Isoglosse Scito-Europee”, in Studia Classica et Orientalia Antonio Pagliaro Oblata vol. 1, (Roma, 1969), pp. 21–61.

Adger, David, Core Syntax: A Minimalist Approach (Core Linguists) (Oxford, London: Oxford University Press, 2002).

Comrie, Bernard, Aspect. An Introduction to the Study of Verbal Aspect and Related Problems (Cambridge University Press, 1976).

Dahl, Osten, Tense and Aspect Systems (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1985).

Dickey, Stephen M., “Aspectual Pairs, Goal Orientation and PO- Delimitatives in Russian”, Glossos 7 (2006).

Forsyth, James, A grammar of Aspect: usage and meaning in the Russian verb. (Cambridge University Press, 1970).

Forsyth, James, “The Nature and Development of the Aspectual Opposition in the Russian Verb”, The Slavonic and East European Review 50, 121 (1972), pp. pp. 493-506.

Gladney, Frank Y., “Biaspectual Verbs and the Syntax of Aspect in Russian”, The Slavic and East European Journal 26, 2 (1982), pp. pp. 202-215.

Harper, Douglas., “Online Etymological Dictionary” (2001-2010).

Isačenko, Aleksandr V., Die russische Sprache der Gegenwart. T. 1. Formenlehre (Halle: Niemeyer., 1962).

Kamynina, A.A., Sovremennyj Russkij Jazuk. Morfologija (Contemporary Russian Language. Morphology) (Moscow: Moscow State University Publishing, 1999).

James S. Levine, Russian Grammar (McGraw-Hill, 1999).

Maslov, Ju. S., Izbrannyje trudy. Aspektologija i obšěee jazykoznanije (Selected Works. Aspectology and General Linguistics) (Jazyki Slavjanskoj Kul’tury, 2004).

Mlynarczyk, Anna, “Aspectual Pairing in Polish” (2004).

Monier-Williams, A Sanskrit-English Dictionary: Etymologically and Philologically Arranged with Special Reference to Cognate Indo-European Languages. 1899 Edition (Revised) edition (26 Mar 1963) (Clarendon Press, 1963).

Pulkina and Zakhaya-Nekrasova, Russian. A Practical Grammar with Exercises (Moscow: Russky Yazyk, 1988).

Richardson, Kyle, Case and Aspect in Slavic (Oxford University Press, 2007).

Schmiedtová and Monique Flecken, “Cognitive Approaches to Pedagogical Grammar. A Volume in Honour of René Dirven”, Berlin, New York : Mouton de Gruyter (2008), 357–384.

Smith, Carlota S., “A Theory of Aspectual Choice”, Language 59, 3 (1983), pp. pp. 479-501.

Timberlake, Alan, A Reference Grammar of Russian (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004).

Blog Stats


Follow me at Academia.edu

%d bloggers like this: