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  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

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

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:

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:


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

( 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

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”.

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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:

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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.

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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).

Out of many varieties of English, it is the British “received pronunciation”, mainly based on South England dialects, which has traditionally been  used as a standard for ESL teaching in Europe and in many other places around the world. Below I shall give a brief description of its basis of articulation. Note that I distinguish between ‘basis of articulation’ and ‘articulatory setting’. I have outlined this difference in this resume:

Basis of Articulation and Articulatory Setting in pronunciation teaching – Abstract of a Poster Presentation at the Leeds BAAP Colloquium, March 26-28, 2012 .

The peculiar tongue position of English has been described by some early phoneticians. John Wallis  noted that “the English […] push forward the whole of their pronunciation into the front part of the mouth, speaking with a wide mouth cavity” (Quoted from the translation of Kemp; 1972). To achieve the wide mouth cavity one has to either lower the jaw or retract the tongue from the teeth to create more space in the front.

Christopher Cooper (1685, 10-11) wrote that the English “speak their syllables and words distinctly and outwardly from the lips (cited by Laver (1978, 4)). English was often contrasted with German as not being guttural.

Wallis and Cooper only mentioned the tongue position indirectly. It was Henry Sweet who clearly described it as “broadened and flattened, and drawn back from the teeth (which it scarcely ever touches), and the forepart of it is hollowed out […]” Sweet (1890, 4). This was repeated on page 72 dealing with the `Organic Basis’: “In English we flatten and lower the tongue, hollow the front of it, and draw it back from the teeth.” This description was repeated later by Heffner (1952, 98) who described the BA of English as “relatively low and retracted, with the tongue surface quite broad”.

German phoneticians mentioned the same general tendency of the tongue position in English. So Viёtor (1887, 193) wrote: “[The English manner of articulation is different from the German in general by pulling back and widening of the tongue f…]”. Storm (1896, 32) quoted Sievers that in English “[the tongue must be pulled back slightly and broadened]”.

Prokosch (1920)  described the “preferred tongue position” (which he equalled to the basis of articulation) in English as: “[…] the tip of the tongue is apt to be withdrawn from the teeth and raised in the direction of the front palate, while the body of the tongue is comparatively inert, being neither raised nor lowered to any marked extent” (1920, 15).

According to Heffner (1952, 98) the English basis of articulation is “low and retracted, with the tongue surface quite broad”.

As we can see, generally the tongue was described as either “retracted” or “withdrawn from the teeth”. Modern empirical research largely confirms such impressionistic accounts. For example Gick et al. (2004) observed that “English has a narrower pharynx width [implying retraction], a higher tongue body, and a higher tongue tip”. The basic tongue profile for the English BA extracted from X-Ray pictures (Fig.1) clearly shows the ТВ (tongue body) system centre as slightly retracted and raised. The TBL (tongue blade) system is held at some distance from the lower teeth. The specific English basis of articulation is well seen in comparison with Russian having a more centralised basis.

Figure 1: Tongue profiles for English (adaptation of Hardcastle 1976) and Russian (adaptation of Panov 1967). The mid-vowel area is highlighted.

The tip of the tongue may be slightly raised forming a concave profile. The degree of the tip rising is subject to considerable dialectal variation. In some English and most American dialects the tip of the tongue is markedly raised giving the neutral vowel a specific [r] sound. Such rhotacism causes some additional backward displacement of the tongue root (Gick; 2002).

The basis of articulation of English has some important consequences. Its notable secondary feature was described in Honikman (1964) who defined it as the “tongue anchorage”:

Almost throughout English, the tongue is tethered laterally to the roof of the mouth by allowing the sides to rest along the inner surface of the upper lateral gums and teeth; the lateral rims of the tongue very seldom entirely leave this part of the roof of the mouth, whereas the tip constantly (or some other part of the dorsum, occasionally) moves up and down, periodically touching the central part of the roof, but generally not for very long at a time, before it comes away. Thus, one might regard the tethered part — in this case, the lateral contact — as the anchorage, and the untethered part as the free or operative part of the tongue-setting (Honikman; 1964, 76).

Figure 2: EPG mapping of the lateral contact surfaces for /e/ (left) and a 3-dimensional tongue shape showing the grooving (right) (Stone and Lundberg; 1996)

Physiologically, such locking of the lateral parts of the dorsum to upper molars is quite natural for the specific English basis of articulation. The tongue being a hydrostatic body any contraction needed to withdraw the tip from the teeth would be compensated by the increase of the height of the tongue body which would push the rear part of the dorsum to upper molars creating the characteristic “anchorage”.

The secondary feature, directly relating to this anchorage, is the so-called “grooving” which is well attested in English. Stone et al. (1988) measured the continuous lateral contact with the upper molars throughout the production of all English vowels (Fig.2), particularly, the middle and front ones. The 3-D tongue images clearly show the groove, particularly, for [e] (Stone and Lundberg; 1996). Grooving has a functional explanation. The retracted and raised English BA causes the specific lateral anchorage. The groove in the central part of the dorsum is needed to allow the air to pass during phonation. It should be noted that this anchorage also creates an additional constriction of the air passage requiring some extra expiratory effort. It also changes the resonating properties of the oral cavity and consequently the formants qualities of vowels.

The basis of articulation of a language has its specific acoustic representation. As noted by Delattre (1969, 2), English typically centres its articulation on the neutral vowel /ə/ which has also been singled out as the principal hesitation vowel in English (Schourup; 1981). Candea et al. (2005) reported that English hesitation vowel is in the area of low-central vowels (between [ə] and [ʌ] ). It generally corresponds to the tongue shape of the neutral position as shown in Fig.3.

Fig.3 The neutral position according to Laver (1980; 1994)

Due to considerable dialectal variations it is difficult to pinpoint a specific value so for the linguo-didactic purposes it would be convenient to consider [ə] as the acoustic instantiation of the English basis of articulation. There are teachers who intuitively feel the connection between the neutral vowel and the basis of articulation. This is an interesting account of schwa by a Japanese teacher of English:

[Schwa] is the most elusive, selfless and yielding vowel of all. Teaching schwa is almost like teaching “nothingness.” Schwa is in the path from the previous segment to the next segment without having its own identity […] acquiring schwa means the acquisition of the co-articulatory pattern of English, and it seems to greatly improve the level of pronunciation [my emphasis](Kondo, 2001, Quoted by Gilbert, 2008).

Learning to assume and maintain the basis of articulation described above during speech and in pauses may help to naturally and systemically improve pronunciation.

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Further reading


Candea, M., Vasilescu, I. and Adda-Decker, M. (2005). Inter- and intra-language acoustic analysis of autonomous fillers, Proceedings of DiSS’05, Disfluency in Spontaneous Speech Workshop.

Cooper, C. (1685). Grammatica Linguae Anglicanae, London: B. Tooke (Reprinted by the Scolar [sic] Press Limited in 1968).

Delattre, P. (1969). The general phonetic characteristics of languages, final report, Technical report, US Department of Health, Education and Wellfare. ERIC: ED051725.

Gick, В. (2002). An x-ray investigation of pharyngeal constriction in American English schwa, Phonetica 59(1): 38-48.

Gilbert, J. B. Teaching Pronunciation Using the Prosody Pyramid Cambridge University Press, 2008

Hardcastle, W. (1976). Physiology of Speech Production, London: Academic Press.

Heffner, R. M. S. (1952). General Phonetics, Madison: The University of Visconsin.

Honikman, B. (1964). Articulatory Settings, in P. M. N. S. . L. T. D. Abercrombie, D.B. Fry (ed.), In Honour of Daniel Jones, London: Longmans, pp. 73-84.

Kemp, J. A. (1972). John Wallis: Grammar of English Language with an Introductory Treatise on Speech, London: Longman.

Kondo, Y, “Prosody-based approach to English pronunciation teaching”, Tsuda Review 46 (2001), pp. 165–190.

Laver, J. (1978). The Concept of Articulatory Settings: An Historical Survey, Historiographia Linguistica 5(1/2): 1-14.

Panov, M. (1967). Русская фонетика (Russian Phonetics), Moscow: Prosvescenije.

Prokosch, E. (1920). Elementary Russian grammar, Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Pres.

Schourup, L. (1981). The Basis of Articulation, Ohio State University Working Papers in Linguistics 25: 1-13.

Stone, M. and Lundberg, A. (1996). Three-dimensional tongue surface shapes of English consonants and vowels, Journal of The Acoustical Society of America 99(6): 3728-3737.

Stone, M., Shawker, Т. H., Talbot, T. L. and Rich, A. H. (1988). Cross-sectional tongue shape during the production of vowels, The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 83(4): 1586-1596.

Storm, J. (1896). Englische Philologie (1896), О. R. Reisland.

Sweet, H. (1890). A Primer of Phonetics, Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Viёtor, W. (1887). Elemente der Phonetik und Orthoepie des Deutschen, Englisch en und Französischen, Heilbrom: Verlag von Gebr, Henninger.

Some time ago I published a post “Weer Rajendra Rishi on the affinity of Russian and Sanskrit” which quickly became very popular especially with our Indian brothers. One of the quotes from Dr. Rishi’s book related to the “the melodiousness of the rhythm of the Russian folklore and the Sanskrit verse”:

“That the melodiousness of the rhythm of the Russian folklore and the Sanskrit verse synchronises with each other is confirmed by a news item published in the Soviet Land (No. 2 of January 1968) published by the Information Services of the Embassy of the USSR in India, New Delhi. It is stated that the style of the verse of Russian folk legends and Puskin’s tales is closer to the rhythm of Sanskrit verse. Professor Smirnov (1892— 1967), the reputed Sanskritologist of the Soviet Union has translated Mahābhārata into Russian in this type of verse. Professor Smirnov had with him a recording of an extract from the Mahābhārata read in Sanskrit original by Professor Nirmal Chandra Maitra of India to the accompaniment of Indian instruments. When after playing the recording of the Sanskrit version, Professor Smirnov read his Russian translation, the enchanting melody of the rhythm was found to be very much like that of the Sanskrit original as read by Professor Nirmal Chandra Maitra and sounded in unison.”(p.16)

Reading it I recalled a poem by Valery Brjuosov (Valery Bryusov) which rhymes very well with Dr. Rishi’s words. I have translated the poem into English for you.

Не надо обманчивых грёз,
Не надо красивых утопий:
Но Рок поднимает вопрос,
Мы кто в этой старой Европе?


No need for deceptive reveries,
No need for delightful Utopias:
But Fate is calling for a quest
– Who are we in this Old Europe?


Случайные гости? Орда,
Пришедшая с Камы и с Оби,
Что яростью дышит всегда,
Все губит в бессмысленной злобе?


Fortuitous guests? A horde,
Arrived from rivers Ob and Kama,
That always with abhorrence breathes
Destroying all in senseless hatred?


Иль мы – тот великий народ,
Чье имя не будет забыто,
Чья речь и поныне поёт
Созвучно с напевом санскрита.Валерий Брюсов, 1914
Or are we that great folk,
Whose name will never be forgotten,
Whose speech until this day does sing
In tune with melodies of Sanskrit.Valerij Brjusov, 1914


Photo of Valerij Brjusov from Wikipedia
Mikhail Vrubel. Portrait of Valery Bryusov. 1906. Charcoal, red crayon, chalk on paper 104*70 Tretyakov Gallery. This is the last painting by Vrubel, he became blind when working on it {PD-art}}

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