Anders Sj~berg in memoriam


One of the last scholarly contributions - perhaps even the very last - that
my friend and erstwhile Stockholm fellow student, Anders Sj6berg, man-
aged to complete before his sudden, untimely death on 30 August, 1990,
was a paper published in the festschrift for L'ubomir 13urovi~ in which he
argued, against A. A. Zaliznjak (Sj6berg 1990, 425), "that it is possible to
explain the forms kOle and x ~ r i " - f o r regular Nsg cola (adj.) and sOr~
(subst.)- "against the background of the sound change laws of the
Novgorod-Pskov dialect." According to Sj6berg,
"Zaliznjak's claim that '....po-vidimomu, nevozmo~no predlo~it' kakoe-libo pravdopodobnoe
ob'jasnenie, krome prostej~ego; oni neposredstvenno soxranjajut praslavjanskij oblik, t.e. v nix
nikogda ne bylo vtoroj palatalizacii' is not convincing. Neither of these two words, nor the
appearance of the vx- forms of the pronoun yes' can be regarded as substantive proof for the
contention that the second regressive palatalization was not implemented in this dialect."

For another word form encountered in the birchbark material, (na)
gv~zd~k~ (Apl of gvOzd~ka, this one in the fragmentary document no. 8
found in Staraja Russa and dating from the first half of the 12th century),
also adduced by Zaliznjak in support of his view that the 2nd (regressive)
palatalization did not' operate in this dialect, Sj6berg remarks that "it is
necessary only to look at West Slavic, which even though it has retained
the second regressive palatalization never has palatalized the clusters kv-
and gv-" (Sj6berg 1990, 421; Zaliznjak 1986, 113 and 271, s.v.; on the
treatment of Common Slavic kv-, gv-, see, in particular, Birnbaum 1956).
Here it must be noted, however, that the editors of gramota no. 8 from
Staraja Russa, A. V. Arcixovskij and V. L. Janin (1978, 149), read the form
zv~zd~k~, i.e., with z-, not g-. Zaliznjak ( 1986, 112-113) is right in emendat-
ing the form to read with an initial g- (of which letter only the lower part
remains, however). To be sure, in this form it is not only the word-initial
gv- but also the desinential -k~ (with -~ analogically with the ending of the
"soft"-a stems for the expected "hard"-a stem ending -y) that is somewhat
problematic, even t h o u g h - or rather because- it is the rule in the
Novgorod birchbark texts. Rather than considering tlie retention of k, g, x
archaisms of the language of Old Novgorod (and presumably of a larger
linguistic region referred to comprehensively as that of the Novgorod-
Pskov dialect), Sj6berg sought to demonstrate that the cited forms, with

Russian Linguistics 15: 195-215, 1991.
© 1991 by Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.

reintroduced - not preserved - velars, can be explained as regional innova-
tions of that dialect area. More specifically, he pointed out that the phrase
v netja~e (found in birchbark letter no. 247, which also shows k(le/e') is not
to be-interpreted as the Lsg of an OR *netja~a (cf. the rare OCS lexeme
netq~a, m. 'a lazy person', SJS 21, 1971, 413, s.v.) but that it is the inflected
form of netjaga 'weakness, sickness': Lsg netjaz( and, with gokan'e (i.e., the
regional merger of hissing and hushing sibilants in the hushing variety),
netjag~ (with e and (interchangeable in the Novgorod dialect). As Zaliznjak
(1987, 119) notes: "V zapadnoj zone drevnenovgorodskogo dialekta po
krajnej mere v ~asti govorov/s'/,/z'/sovpali sootvetstvenno s/~'/, /~'/. V
berestjanyx gramotax 6ta 6erta to~e otra~aetsja, no sravnitel'no redko." The
confusion o f / z / ~ / ~ / a n d / s / ~ / ~ / p a r t i c u l a r l y in texts from medieval Pskov
was previously noted, for example, by F. P. Filin ( 1972, 267-272) who also
referred to earlier treatments of this phenomenon. If Sjrberg's interpretation
of v netja~e as representing w netjaz( (with 2nd palatalization and the effect
of gokan'e) is correct - so that we do not have to posit an unattested OR
*netja~a or operate with a rare OCS homonym with different meaning and
gender - also k~l- and x(r- would call for another explanation than one in
terms of the claimed non-implementation of the 2nd palatalization. Should
*k(l~, and *x(r~ in fact be archaic, exhibiting non-shifted anlaut, i.e. without
substitutive palatalization, this would seem to confirm a hypothesis ad-
vanced by S. M. Gluskina (1966 and 1968) who had suggested that roots
like k~-, k~v-, k~p- (for modern standard ce~-, cev-, cep-) are archaisms of
the Novgorod-Pskov dialect area which, being on the periphery of the
compact Slavic language territory, never underwent the 2nd regressive
palatalization of velars. Subsequently, Z. Stieber, essentially accepting
Gluskina's interpretation, extended it to include also the historically equally
peripheral Russian dialects east of Moscow (as reported in the pertinent
linguistic atlas). This idea seemed perfectly plausible, at least on the face of
it, also to me and I therefore at one point subscribed to the Gluskina-Stieber
hypothesis concerning the lack of forms showing the 2nd palatalization on
t h e - broadly speaking- northeastern periphery of Slavic (Stieber 1968;
Birnbaum 1978). It should be noted, though, that Filin (op. cit., 381) took
a skeptical attitude toward Gluskina's idea while dismissing Stieber's spatial
extension of it out of hand. Zaliznjak, when discussing the evidence of the
Novgorod birchbark documents (and related texts), has therefore been
careful to limit his own observations to the data examined by him (Zaliznjak
1986, 111-119, where the Russian linguist also argues for the greater
antiquity of the so-called 3rd, or progressive - Baudouin - palatalization in
relation to the 2nd regressive palatalization); cf. also Zaliznjak 1986, 166,
and Zaliznjak 1989, esp. 22-23.

Among the scholars who have directly challenged the Gluskina-Stieber
hypothesis J. I. Bj~rnflaten deserves special mention. In his view, the word
forms heretofore considered archaisms must, in actuality, be regarded as
regional innovations. This would apply both to the dialects east of Moscow
(discussed by Stieber) and to the Pskov dialect (analyzed previously by
Gluskina). Thus, Bj~rnflaten found that "in the Pskov area the conditions
are at hand for the operation of two successive changes which have
produced lexical items with velar like k e d i t ' < t e d i t ' < cedit', kedilka <
tedilka < cedilka, kevka < tevka < cevka, kep < tep < cep." The phonetic
shape of the anlaut consonant in these words is thus by him considered the
result of two dialectal sound shifts operating in chronological succession.
He therefore concludes that "the claim that these are archaisms providing
evidence for the nonimplementation of the second regressive palatalization
in uniform environments has to be rejected" (Bj~rnflaten 1988, 256-257).
Clearly, Bj~rnflaten essentially takes the same stance as did subsequently
The problems discussed here, and notably the alleged non-operation of
the 2nd palatalization, was taken up again by Bj~rnflaten in a more recent
publication, now, however, discussing the evidence of the Novgorod birch-
bark letters (and, in particular, volume 8 of the series of reports titled
Novgorodskie gramoty na bereste; Janin, Zaliznjak 1986) rather than,
specifically, that of the Pskov dialect and its implications for historical
dialectology (Bj~rnflaten 1990, 315-318). Thus, Bj~rnflaten, too, notes that
Jokan'e is attested in the birchbark material and that, according to Zalizn-
jak, this is a feature of the language of Old Novgorod that can be
identified with its western, i.e., Krivi6ian, component. Bj~rnflaten then
mentions the typically Pskovian sound shift g > x, or, with the previous
effect of ~okan'e, s > ~ > x, accounting for early recorded forms like
t~x~,nova (=tOsbnova), known from an llth/12th-century Novgorod
graffito, or M a k x i m k o (probably a diminutive formation derived from
M a k x i m b = Maksim~,) found in birchbark letter no. 496 (dating from the
mid-15th century); cf. Arcixovskij, Janin 1978, 88-90; Janin, Zaliznjak
1986, 283, s. vv. This leads him also to question the non-operation of the
so-called 3rd ~Baudouin) palatalization which supposedly was not imple-
mented only with respect to x (but presumably did operate as regards k
and g) since the only forms involved are all of the pronominal lexeme w x - ;
cf. further Savignac 1975). Explicitly Zaliznjak (1986, 118) stated: " V
dejstvitel'nosti po dannym berestjanyx gramot mo~no govorit' ob otsutstvii
tret'ej palatalizacii tol'ko dlja x; prakti6eski re6' idet o edinstvennom slove
'ves' '." This could of course be extended to the few instances where vO,)x-
occurs in Novgorod texts other than the birchbark documents. As for the

noun *x~rb (attested form: x~ri), Bjornflaten considers the possibility that
this might not even be a Slavic form but a loan from West (or Baltic)
Finnic, given its unique attestation in only one document and the fact that
all anthroponyms and toponyms mentioned in that particular text are in
fact Finnic; but cf. also Arcixovskij & Borkovskij 1958, 66-67 (with~
inserted tracing); Janin, Zaliznjak 1986, 304, s.v. Yet he also grants
t h e - perhaps greater- possibility that this is indeed an East Slavic form
(as Zaliznjak and also Sj6berg would have it). However, the x- in *x~rb
(generally meaning 'grayness' but in Old Russian otherwise recorded with
the very special meaning 'plant disease, parasite, heterophyte'; cf.
Sreznevskij 1903, 899, s.v., and here designating more specifically 'gray
fabric') can perhaps be explained as indicated above, that is, as resulting
from Jokan'e and the subsequent shift ~ > x - thus a dialectal innovation
and not an archaism. Otherwise, Bjornflaten also covers much the same
ground as Sj6berg, without citing him however, probably because the
latter's contribution was not yet known to him when writing his own
commentary on Zaliznjak's 1986 study. Thus he, too, discusses the phrase
v(~,) netja~e reaching the same conclusions as Sj6berg (i.e., < netjaz~, Nsg
More generally, Bjornflaten notes that Zaliznjak distinguishes broadly
between 'bytovye' and °nebytovye' birchbark documents, further subdivi-
ding them into a total of eight specific genre groups. According to
Zaliznjak only the 'nebytovye' gramoty display a high degree of saturation
with bookish elements. He further sees the particular significance of the
'bytovye' birchbark letters in their providing virtually the only evidence
of everyday writing in pre-Mongol Rus', the only other texts testifying to
this kind of ordinary language being two 12th-century documents, the
Mstislav gramota and the deed of Varlaam for the Xutyn Monastery. (In
subsequent work, Zaliznjak no longer singles out the Mstislav gramota and
also does not insist on the uniqueness of the Varlaam deed in this respect.)
Here it should be noted, however, that at least as far as the Mstislav
gramota of c. 1130 is concerned, it was shown by A. V. Isa~enko (1971)
that it by no means is a mere reflection of the East Slavic vernacular, but
that, on the contrary, it also contains a number of Church Slavonisms and,
in the last analysis, even Hellenisms; cf. also Worth 1975/1977. It is further
not at all certain that the Mstislav gramota, though pertaining to a
transaction in the Novgorod region, was actually written in the Volxov city
and not in Kiev; for details, see Shevelov 1987, esp. 165. Claiming that the
graphic rendition of the 'bytovye' birchbark documents by no means
reflects the illiterate or only semi-literate character of the people who
produced them but follows its own orthographic principle or tradition,

Zaliznjak suggests that the Novgorod and Staraja Russa birchbark letters,
and particularly the 'bytovye' genres represented among them, provide a
new source for our knowledge of the Old Novgorod dialect. They thus
supplement previous insights gained from the extant 'nebytovye' texts of
this area comprising several subdialects (notably parchment documents, to
a lesser extent also Novgorod and Pskov chronicle texts and other
manuscript sources) as well as the data of the contemporary dialects with
which the birchbark evidence has to be compared and confronted. To be
sure, Bj~rnflaten finds it a bit "hard to follow him [Zaliznjak - H.B.] in
establishing 'bytovye' and 'nebytovye' or 'nekni~nye' BBLs [birchbark
letters] as a linguistic source of a new and different kind, differing from all
extant sources of Old East Slavic, all the more so as the conception of the
'nekni~nye' BBLs as a new-found and unique source constitutes the foun-
dation for a number of far-reaching conclusions that Zaliznjak draws..."
(Bj~rnflaten 1990, 320-21).
In addition to subsequently focusing on alleged instances of non-imple-
mentation of the 2nd (regressive) and 3rd (progressive) palatalization,
Bjornflaten also identifies the Nsg ending -e of the masculine o-stems as the
most conspicuous and, by the same token, controversial morphological
characteristic of the Old Novgorod dialect. However, while Bj~rnflaten
notes Zaliznjak's basic acceptance of Sobolevskij's hypothesis of the origi-
nal Nsg ending (-os > -8) here being replaced by the Vsg ending -e, he also
remarks that Zaliznjak's chronological interpretation of this process is at
variance with the standard view (represented, e.g., by Sobolevskij and
Kiparsky), namely, that this morphological substitution would have
reached its peak in the 1lth-12th centuries (without apparently any more
triggering the 1st palatalization of velars, cf. zam~ke in birchbark text no.
247, and lixe in text no. 162). For as testified to by T/Snnies Fenne's Low
German manual of Russian as spoken in Pskov, dating from 1607, the Nsg
ending -e was still in use several centuries later and can be assumed to have
been found in the Novgorod-Pskov area over several centuries. While Vja~.
Vs. Ivanov's surmise about this ending as an archaic reflex of the Indo-
European casus indefinitus (Ivanov 1985), still considered by Zaliznjak, can
now be dispensed with, Bj~rnflaten does not offer his own explanation for
this striking morphological irregularity. Instead, he merely points out that
Zaliznjak, assuming a number of archaisms in the early attested speech of
the people of medieval Novgorod and its environs (1 lth through early 13th
c.) and thus viewing the Old Novgorod dialect as directly descending from
a local variety of Common Slavic, considers the linguistic evolution in
Novgorod to have followed the generally convergent course which ulti-
mately resulted in the emergence of (Great) Russian as a largely uniform

language. However, if, as can be shown in a number of instances, some of
the specific characteristics of the Old Novgorod dialect, instead of being
archaisms, can be interpreted, on the contrary, as innovations, the linguis-
tic development reflected in the birchbark letters can rather be viewed as
divergent, at least in some instances. Or, in any event, if we do not insist
on the rather problematic distinction 'bytovye' vs. 'nebytovye' birchbark
documents, we can discern a move from specifically (Church) Slavonic
toward a more pronounced East Slavic, or rather Vladimir-Suzdal' and,
later, Muscovite - i.e., northeastern - type of language while, by the same
token, certain Novogorod-Pskovian- i.e., northwestern- features were
retained, as, incidentally, was noted also by D. S. Worth in some of his
studies on the subject (Worth 1984; 1986; 1990). Yet it should be pointed
out that Worth's studies are concerned primarily with fixed, formulaic
expressions encountered in the birchbark texts. Still, Bjarnflaten's objection
to Zaliznjak's claim of a generally convergent development of the language
in medieval Novgorod misses, I think, the point of recognizing the general
evolutionary trend which was toward unification and greater uniformity,
no doubt.
Many of Bj~rnflaten's and Sjrberg's critical remarks concerning Zaliz-
njak's interpretation of the language of the Novgorod birchbark texts make
perfectly good sense. Yet certain objections can also be raised with regard
to some points in Bj~rnflaten's own line of reasoning. (In what follows I
am indebted to Willem Vermeer for his comments on Bjarnflaten's review
article made available to me.) Thus, generally, Bj~rnflaten does not seem to
sufficiently differentiate between sporadic vs. systematic phenomena. For
example, gokan'e (as opposed to cokan'e) cannot really be considered a
widespread characteristic of the language of the birchbark letters, given
that this phenomenon is primarily encountered in the Pskov region, thus
reflecting the Pskov dialect in the narrow sense. Of course, it is conceivable
that occasionally a speaker of the Pskov dialect (or some of its varieties)
may in fact have written a birchbark document which subsequently found
its way to Novgorod (or to Staraja Russa) - but this cannot be assumed
without further qualification and was hardly the rule. Incidentally, this is a
criticism that can be directed not only at Bj~rnflaten's kind of reasoning,
but it is also pertinent to Zaliznjak's line of argument. The Russian linguist
also equates, to my mind all too easily, the "western" (allegedly Krivi~ian)
variety of the language of medieval Novgorod with the speech of the
citizens of Novgorod at large, the bulk of whom, however, most likely was
made up of members of the tribe of the (II'men'-)Slovrne. In other words,
the assumption of the existence of some sort of urban argot, or koine (as
Zaliznjak refers to it), in which the two tribal components mixed freely, is

based on the view that the city population from the outset - and, in any
event, from the beginning of recorded history - included both Slov6ne and
Krivi~i. Yet there is only scant evidence to suggest this at least for the
earliest period, even if some scholars have expressed the view that of the
original three settlements - Slavno, Nerev, and Ljudin - the last one (and,
somewhat later, also the subsequently incorporated Zagorod'e district, or
Zagorodskij konec) possibly had a Krivi~ian base. For further discussion
see, of recent contributions, esp. Nikolaev 1988/89, treating in some detail
the Pskov-Smolensk characteristics of the dialect of the ancient Krivi~i.
Generally, on the problem of the early Slavic population of Novgorod, see,
e.g., Birnbaum 1981, 27-34; on the alleged Novgorod koine, cf. esp.
Zaliznjak 1988b. Perhaps, though, Zaliznjak's reasoning here is in part
circular: having identified certain Pskovian characteristics in some birch-
bark documents, he assumes that a Krivi~ian ethnic group must have been
part of the Novgorodian city population from the date of the emergence of
the North Russian metropolis as a unified urban center. It is another
matter that in the course of its medieval history Novgorod in all likelihood
absorbed elements which could be identified as Krivi~ian in origin. In this
connection it should also be noted that it was the (II'men'-) Slovene who
originally settled in purely Finnic territory while the Krivi6i of Pskov,
Izborsk, Polock, and Smolensk initially at least conquered regions previ-
ously populated primarily by Baltic tribes.
Further, needless to say, the distinction between archaism and innova-
tion is crucial in historical dialectology. Thus the fact that the language of
medieval Novgorod shared certain features (isoglosses) with northern West
Slavic (Lekhitic) loses in significance if we recall that we are dealing here
with preserved archaisms (retentions) and not with common innovations.
The more dubious isoglosses said by Zaliznjak to link the Old Novgorod
dialect with South Slavic, notably Slovenian, are at best of the same nature
and do not in fact allow us to consider the Novgorodian variety of East
Slavic some sort o f - preserved - Late Common Slavic dialect. (On some
alleged dialectal archaisms and their significance for chronological conclu-
sions - among them also some features of the Old Novgorod dialect - see
Birnbaum 1971, 37-62, and 1972, where the Novgorodian traits were still
considered potential archaisms by me, to be sure.)
The phenomena of northwestern East Slavic, or the Old Novgorod
dialect in the broader sense, discussed here were also dealt with by Willem
Vermeer, particularly in two essays- one primarily phonological (but
taking into account also morphological leveling and redistribution; Ver-
meer 1986), the other essentially morphological (but considering phono-
logical factors as well; Vermeer 1991). In the first of these studies,

Vermeer discusses, in this order, "palatalization and retention of velars in
North Russian"; "three awkward apects of the facts to be explained" (viz.,
the exp!anation of the fact that in North Russian the 3rd palatalization
seems to have affected the three velars, k, g, x, to a varying degree; the
suggestion that only in North Russian the results of the 2nd and 3rd
palatalizations seem to differ; and the view that the 2nd palatalization
would not have been implemented in the Novgorod dialect); "the chronol-
ogy of the monophthongization of diphthongs"; and "the later fate of the
new palatal consonants". According to Vermeer, a striking peculiarity of
the. North Russian consonant system is that two Common Slavic innova-
t i o n s - the monophthongization of diphthongs and the 2nd (regressive)
and 3rd (progressive) palatalizations - reached the Novgorod-Pskov area
in the reverse order as compared to elsewhere in Slavic, implying that the
isogloss bundle separating North Russian (or more specifically, northwest
East Slavic) from the rest of East Slavic continues an o l d - though
certainly not the only e a r l y - internal Slavic dialectal distinction. Conse-
quently, he establishes a reordered chronology of phonological develop-
ments for this region: 1. shared early developments up to the rise of 6, 5, L .
as a result of the 1st palatalization; 2. the rise of k, ~, ~, in palatal contexts
as a result of the 2nd/3rd palatalization (viewed by Vermeer, following
Vaillant 1950, 55 and others, as one single process); 3a. the monophthon-
gization of diphthongs; 3b. the restoration o f g and x in alternating
paradigms; 3c. the leveling of k and ? in alternating paradigms; and 4. the
rise of cokan'e (i.e., the merger of 6 and c). While the details of this
reordering of the Common Slavic and in part post-Common Slavic pro-
cesses cannot be evaluated here, it should be noted that Vermeer assumes
that the monophthongization of diphthongs (i.e., the emergence of ~2 and
-i2) was delayed in North Russian due to the effect of the Finnic substra-
tum in the area. It is worth pointing out, though, that this suggests that the
monophthongization of diphthongs, in order even to be susceptible to any
delay due to the Finnic substratum, must have been among the last sound
shifts of Late Common Slavic, a view not necessarily shared by many
scholars; cf. Shevelov 1965, 285-293, esp. 288-289, and 633, dating it to
the 6th-7th centuries; or Lamprecht 1987, 43-45, esp. 45, placing it in the
second half of the 6th century. In a more recent work, Shevelov (1979, 55,
fn. 2) has suggested that "it [the monophthongization - H.B.] was followed
right away or very soon by the second palatalization of velars (implement-
ing the principle of intrasyllabic harmony)". Even if, in terms of absolute
chronology, Shevelov has not changed his dating of the Late Common
Slavic monophthongization of diphthongs, the fact that he explicitly con-
siders the two sound shifts immediately or closely following each other

renders Vermeer's explanation of the lack of the later palatalization of
velars as due to a reversed order in time at the periphery of the Slavic
linguistic territory somewhat more plausible in terms of relative chronol-
ogy. Here it should be recalled that the advancing Slavs probably did not
make contact with the Finnic-speaking population in the Lake II'men'
region until sometime in the 8th-9th centuries. On the various phases of
the Slavic advance toward the north (and northeast) see Udolph 1981, esp.
323 and 332-333 (making reference also to pertinent findings of the
historian C. Goehrke; for an assessment, see Birnbaum 1990).
Even though we know that certain Late Common Slavic sound shifts had
a tendency to spread over several centuries, moving from south to north
(cf., in particular, the jer shift in full operation in the Old Church Slavonic
textual material but reaching North Russian only by the 12th or even early
13th century), and may take into account the occasional "freezing" effect
of the Finnic substratum (cf. V. Kiparsky's so-called refrigerator theory), it
must be said that Vermeer's hypothesis, while conceivably correct, is - to
put it in his own words - "not supported by any facts other than the ones
it is designed to account for" (Vermeer 1991, 272, commenting on the
hypothesis concerning the Nsg ending -e advanced by Zaliznjak, Dybo, and
Consequently, Vermeer considers the absence of the effects of the 2nd
palatalization not an archaism, characteristic of a peripheral segment of the
Slavic linguistic territory, but the accidental result of two otherwise general
Slavic innovations reaching the Novgorod area in the reverse order. In light
of the sound shifts c/~ > k, s/~ > x, and z/~ > g (7), noted by Bjornflaten
(and others before him, though in a less systemic, comprehensive way), it
is questionable, nonetheless, whether Vermeer's in itself ingenious explana-
tion needs to be resorted to. But even if this is not the case, much of his
pertinent reasoning stands well up to close scrutiny, testifying to his fine
grasp of the insights and accomplishments of diachronic dialectology as
demonstrated also in numerous studies on South Slavic, especially Kajka-
vian and (~akavian dialectology by the same scholar (Vermeer 1982 and
subsequent studies).
There can be at least some doubt that Vermeer's explanation of the only
apparent non-implementation of the 2nd and 3rd palatalization of velars in
the Novgorod-Pskov dialectal area is preferable to other explanations,
especially those offered by Sj6berg and Bj~rnflaten; to be sure, their
interpretations also suffer from some shortcomings. However, I find Ver-
meer's recent interpretation of the Nsg ending -e convincing. It constitutes
a further improvement over that proposed more than a century ago by
Sobolevskij (1888, 137) and supersedes previous attempts at an explanation,

notably those by Ivanov and Dybo-Nikolaev (tentatively adhered to
also by Zaliznjak and therefore now usually referred to as the Zaliznjak-
Dybo-Nikolaev hypothesis).
Vermeer's pertinent reasoning can be summarized as follows. Neither
Ivanov's explanation of the North Russian Nsg in -e as an archaism
reflecting a special Proto-Indo-European desinence nor the Zaliznjak-
Dybo-Nikolaev hypothesis, assuming that PIE *-os yielded a unique
shwa-like segment which merged with (weak) -~ everywhere in Slavic
except in northern East Slavic ("North Russian") where it is reflected as
-e, are satisfactory. Of the older theories concerning the Common Slavic
reflex of PIE -os, the one advanced by Leskien to the effect that PIE -os
regularly yielded -o, while PIE -om, -6os, and -6om have the phonetically
regular reflexes -~,, -e, and -b, respectively, is the most plausible. To
understand the morphological pressures that resulted in the attested case
ending distributions, and notably North Russian -e vs. -*, elsewhere in
Slavic in the Nsg of the erstwhile masculine -o stems, the Nsg, Vsg and
Asg of masculine and neuter -o and -jo stems as well as the same case
endings of the masculine -u and -i stems have all to be considered. For
the Proto-Indo-European period we can therefore reconstruct this set of

Nsg Vsg Asg

msc. -o stems -os -e -om
ntr. -o stems -ore = Nsg -om
msc. -(o stems -i.os -i.e -i.om
ntr. -6o stems -i.om = Nsg -i.om
msc. -u stems -us -eu. -urn
msc. -i stems -is -ei. -im

Still in pre-Slavic times the pronomial ending -od (CS -o) replaced -orn in
oxytone neuters, while barytones showed the regular sound shift -om > - ~
but subsequently were reinterpreted as masculines. For common Slavic,
specifically Late Common Slavic, we can therefore reconstruct the follow-
ing set of case endings:
Nsg Vsg Asg

msc. -o stems *-o -e -~
ntr. -o stems -o = Nsg -o
msc. -jo stems *-'e *-'e -'b
ntr. -jo stems -'e = Nsg -'e
msc. -u stems -*, *-'u -~
msc. -i stems -t, -i -~,

The four asterisked forms are n o t - or only indirectly- attested and
therefore call for a comment. Of these, Nsgm -o is probably preserved in
such name forms as R Sadko, SCr Milog ( < *milos-jbs; cf. Lith. mielg~sis)
or, for that matter, OCS ko-~bdo (along with regular k~-~do; cf. Lith. kds)
'each, every' (R ka~dyj, etc. is a neologism). The attested Nsgm -~, NR
(Novg.) -e thus calls for a special explanation (see below). The regular
reflex of the -jo stem Nsgm -'e is not found anywhere, but was replaced by
-'~ in analogy with the regular Asgrn in -'~ and influenced also by the Nsgm
of the -i stems (in -b). Name forms such as SCr Dimitrije can be considered
as preserving the regular old ending. The Vsgrn of the -jo stems is -'u (after
original palatal -u) rather than *-'e, introduced from the -u stems ( < PIE
-et/); however, the old ending is pertinent to NR (Novg.) -e in the Nsgm.
In the -u stems the old Vsgm in -'u ( < P I E -et/) was replaced by -u (i.e.,
without palatalization of the preceding consonant unless, of course, one
reconstructs PIE -o~/rather than -et~ for this desinence).
Leskien's explanation of -~ in the Nsgm of the -o stems assumes
replacement of the nominative by the accusative (where -~ is the normal
reflex of *-om) enhanced by the regular reflex -~ in the Nsgrn of the -u
stems. The NR (Novg.) ending -e in the Nsgrn arose both as a result of the
analogy with the -jo stems, where both the Nsg and the Vsg originally
ended in -'e (NVsgrn *kon'e as opposed to the distinction Nsgm *orbo vs.
Vsgm *orbe, or perhaps rather *(trb6 vs. *rrbe), whereas in most of Slavic
the Vsgrn *kon'e was replaced by kon'u (cf. above). In the Russian (East
Slavic) north the replacement of the Nsgm -o(s) by the Vsgrn ending -e was
prompted by the Finnic substratum where, despite an otherwise rich and
differentiated case system, no formal distinction between nominative and
vocative existed. The original Finnic-speaking local population, now su-
perficially Slavicized, did not easily perceive the (syntactic) difference
between Nsg *robo (or *r(tbr) and Vsg *robe (or *rrbe), especially as the
parallel -jo stem form (*kon'e) functioned as both nominative and vocative.
This situation thus prevailed after the word-final -s had been dropped but
prior tb the elimination of the -jo stem Vsg in -'e. The fact that the Vsgm
of the -o stems basically remained intact throughout Slavic everywhere
whereas in the -jo stems it was replaced by the Vsg ending of the -u stems,
suggests that -o and -jo stems by that time were perceived as essentially
separate inflectional paradigms. Once North Russian - or, more precisely,
northern East Slavic - evolving superimposed on a Finnic substratum, had
taken on its own dialectal character, it rejoined the rest of Slavic (i.e. Late
Common Slavic) by sharing some of its innovations.
It was presumably now, therefore, that this northern dialect followed
Slavic at large in replacing the old Nsgm of the -jo stems (-'e) by -'~ while,

in contrast to the rest of Slavic, preserving the Nsgrn ending of the -o stems
as -e, since the original shape of this ending (-o) here never had been
substituted by -8, with -o preserved - as elsewhere in Slavic - in personal
name forms (type Sadko) where gender considerations did not enter or only
played a secondary role. Thus the new system obtaining in the Novgorod
birchbark documents was as follows:

Nsg Asg

msc. -o stems -e -~
ntr. -o stems -o -o
msc. -jo stems -'~ -'b
ntr. -jo stems -'e -'e
msc. -u stems -~ -b
msc. -i stems -b -b

Or, taking into account the transforma, tion of the Proto-Indo-European
(and Early Proto-Slavic) declensional stem class system into a (Late
Common) Slavic gender system and with proper consideration of morpho-
phonemic alternations in synchronic terms, perhaps rather:

Nsg Asg

msc. h a r d stems -'o -~/0 (before a n d after
the fall o f the
word-final jer
msc. soft stems -o/-0 -~/-0 (where softening
was a u t o m a t i c
with historically
soft stems)
ntr. stems -o -o

Also, still in synchronic terms, some isolated items show certain irregulari-
ties: historical -u stems (syn~, pol~, solod~, potentially further dar~, med~,
rjad~,, and a few others) as well as some Church Slavonisms, notably bogs,
show the - a / - 0 ending rather than the indigenous -'o in the Nsg, while this
latter ending is attested in a few name forms in -ij and -c/?- as well as in
the lexeme knjaz' (i.e. graphically knjaze).
This, in essence, is the - to my mind, quite convincing - line of reason-
ing offered by Vermeer to explain the enigmatic Nsgm ending -e attested in
texts from medieval Novgorod, an explanation presupposing two sociolin-
guistically very different stages in and around the Volxov city - an earlier
one marked by Finnic-Slavic bilingualism (with in part poor adaptation

and changeover from Finnic to Slavic) and a later one, when the local
population already was generally monolingual, i.e. Slavic-speaking, its
language habits, however, displaying the bilingual dilemma of their imme-
diate ancestors.
The above observations and tentative suggestions seem to confirm, in
methodological terms, A. A. Zaliznjak's claim that the linguistic evidence
culled from the Novgorod birchbark texts, along with the data of the
present-day Novgorod dialect, provides us with important insights regard-
ing some specifics of the language of Old Novgorod and its environs. And,
even though not all of Zaliznjak's interpretations and surmises can neces-
sarily always be accepted, or can be accommodated only with certain
qualifications, there can be no doubt that the Russian linguist has con-
tributed most significantly to our understanding of the speech that once
resounded in the streets and quarters of the medieval city on the Volxov
and which was imperfectly captured in the numerous incisions made on
scraps of birch bark unearthed during the past four decades. Yet, his
findings not only can, and ought to, be supplemented by relevant observa-
tions offered in recent years by other Soviet scholars such as V. A. Dybo,
S. L. Nikolaev, and E. A. Xelimskij, but they also need to be scrutinized in
the light of observations and hypotheses proffered by other - Western -
linguists, J. I. Bjornflaten, D. S. Worth, W. R. Vermeer, and my late friend
and colleague, A. Sj6berg, among them.
As for myself, even prior to writing on the history, pre-history, and
cultural history of the North Russian urban center during the medieval
period (cf. Birnbaum 1977; 1981; 1984; 1985; 1989; 1991), I too, several
decades ago, had at least a general, if as yet vague, sense that the language
of early Novgorod and its region somehow must be considered apart and
in some respects different from that of the rest of Old Rus'. At that time I
undertook to begin to examine some of the linguistic evidence from
Novgorod available in Sweden, specifically in the Royal Library (Kungl.
Biblioteket) and the Swedish National Archives (Riksarkivet) in Stockholm
(Birnbaum 1959; 1961; 1964). My preliminary studies were subsequently
carried on and further elaborated in some detail by A. Sj6berg and some of
his students (see esp. Sj6berg 1976; 1977; 1980; 1986). And even when,
occasionally, Sj6berg advanced some less compelling hypotheses, like that
of the alleged identity of the Novgorodian scribe Upyr'Lixoj (Lixyj) with
the Swedish rune-carver Ofeigr Upir (Sj6berg 1982; cf. also Poppe 1986,
321-322), his observations and ideas are always worth considering. In this
context I would submit that, in addition to the evidence dating from
medieval times, data from a more recent period also deserves to be
considered here. This applies, among other things, to the documents and

other texts constituting part of the Novgorodian archival materials and
reflecting the brief Swedish occupation of the North Russian city in the
early 17th century, captured and brought back to Sweden, and now housed
in the Swedish National Archives. From roughly the same period dates also
the famous Vremennik of Ivan Timofeev, a Novgorodian scribe and
chronicler, on several occasions treated by Sjrberg. I therefore feel that to
obtain as complete a picture as possible of the peculiarities of the language
of medieval Novgorod and the Novgorod dialect, all kinds of available
evidence should be taken into account. To be sure, the birchbark t e x t s -
contemporaneous with other medieval sources stemming from Novgorod
or its immediate vicinity, these latter sources, however, less closely reflect-
ing the spoken language- and the data of today's dialect, recorded by
modern techniques, clearly are the two most significant types of such
In conclusion, a few general, albeit tentative, considerations pertaining to
the language of medieval Novgorod and the surrounding area may be added
here. While I do not share the view of some of my Russian colleagues that
the speech of the Volxov metropolis and adjacent districts can be viewed as
constituting, in effect, a separate, archaic Late Common Slavic dialect,
preserved, as it were, and linked with other parts of the increasingly
disintegrating Early Slavic Linguistic territory - or what once had been at
least a relatively homogeneous language a r e a - by a well-defined set of
specific isoglosses, I do hold the view that the language of Old Novgorod
(with environs) formed an identifiable separate entity within the Early East
Slavic ("Old Russian", "Rusian") linguistic community. But I do not think
that the II'men'-Slovrne, who, in my opinion, made up the bulk of the
original Slavic population of Novgorod or, in any event, of two of its earliest
three boroughs, or "ends" (koncy), Slavno and Nerev - whereas the precise
ethnic composition of the earliest Slavic arrivals in the third original
township, Ljudin, is perhaps less clear - can be traced back directly and in
their entirety to West Slavic, or more specifically, Lekhitic (Baltic Slavic),
origins. (Incidentally, Ljudin, subsequently also known as Gonrarskij
konec, or Potters' End, probably echoes an early Finnic toponym; cf.
Birnbaum 1981, 113, n. 41.) By the same token, I would acknowledge that
in the process of their formation and ultimate crystallization some of the
early East Slavic tribes- the Slovrne, the Kriviri, and perhaps also the
Radimiri and Vjatiri (cf. A. A. ~axmatov's relevant thinking) - may well
have absorbed elements migrating not necessarily all from the south, that
is from the mid-Dnieper region and territories west thereof (roughly
Volynia-Galicia; cf. Udolph 1981), but in part at least also from the Slavic
west, i.e., areas settled by what subsequently became the subbranch of the

Western Slavs, notably, on the southern shores of the Baltic. However, I
would be inclined to assume that a major influx of these (northern)
Western Slavs into the Novgorod area did not occur prior to a secondary
migration of the Baltic Slavs into ethnically Baltic and East-Slavic settled
regions as a consequence of the conquest of the previously Slavic-held
territories on the Baltic by the German Saxons and the ensuing forced
conversion of the Slavs remaining in these territories during the 12th
century, i.e., after the Christianization of the Baltic Slavs in 1128 (cf.
Birnbaum 1981, 28-29). Without a doubt the Slavic tribe (or tribal groups)
arriving and settling in the basin of Lake II'men' - usually simply referred
to as Slovene (i.e., Slavs)- encountered here an indigenous Finnic or,
more precisely, Baltic Finnic or West Finnic, population. At least some of
the peculiarities of the Old Novgorod dialect can, and in fact must, be
explained in terms of the gradual adjustment and adaptation of the
newly-arrived Slavs to local Finnic linguistic habits and characteristics, or
rather, and perhaps more significantly, in terms of the initially incomplete
and only superficial Slavicization of the indigenous, original population
(for some details, cf. above).
The situation is essentially different, yet comparable, when it comes to
the tribe of the Krivi~i, largely settled south of the neighboring Slovene,
these latter stretching the farthest into non-Slavic territory. Here, the
primary linguistic substratum was not Finnic but Baltic, and while this too
was an alien, foreign element, the Baltic component, as regards syntax and
lexicon if nothing else, was probably easier to adapt to and, consequently,
was partly absorbed by the recently arrived Slavic settlers. It is uncertain
whether the underlying primary form of the ethnonym Krivi~i (PIE kr~#lO-,
CS kriw,, with rising pitch) has a Baltic origin. It is a fact, however, that the
word stem is found in Baltic as a designation for Russia and Russians (cf.
Lith. kri~vai 'Russians', Latv. krievs 'Russian', Krlevija 'Russia'). I am
therefore also not convinced that the Slovene of the II'men' basin merely
formed the northernmost segment of the larger tribal group of the Krivi~i
or that this ethnonym necessarily would originally have meant 'borderland
people, frontiersmen', as Z. Gotob (1986) has argued against G. A.
Xaburgaev (1979, 108-119). It seems far from clear whether we actually
can posit the coming into being of an early urban koine in Novgorod,
based on the blending and rapid integration of two Slavic ethnic elements -
that of the Slovene and the Kriviri (the latter perhaps first occupying the
Ljudin district of Novgorod, though, as indicated, its precursor too un-
doubtedly originally had a Finnic-speaking population) - as Zaliznjak (but
apparently only with some qualifications also Nikolaev) would have us
believe (cf. Zaliznjak 1988b; Nikolaev 1988/89). In fact, I see one of the

methodological shortcomings of Zaliznjak's (as well as of Sj6berg's and
Bj~rnflaten's) argument in the non-distinction between Novgorodian and
Pskovian linguistic features, or in other words, between the speech charac-
teristics of the Slovrne and those of the Kriviri.
Though the interpretation of the phonology and morphology of the
language of Old Novgorod is as yet in part quite controversial (cf. the
above discussed views concerning the claimed non-implementation or
reversal, i.e., secondary cancellation, of the outcome of the 2nd/3rd palatal-
ization of velars and regarding the Nsg ending in -e of the historical -o
stems), it can be said that the pertinent phonological and morphological
data as such are fairly well known. The same applies only to a much lesser
degree to the lexicon peculiar to the speech of medieval Novgorod; and, in
particular, to the onomastic (topo- and hydronymic, and even more so
anthroponymic) material which is still insufficiently known and studied.
Thus, for example, the generally thorough but now obsolete investigation
of Novgorodian personal n a m e s - some, it would seem, indeed of West
Slavic origin- undertaken many years ago by the Swedish slavist A.
Baecklund (1959) has remained unfinished and would deserve both to be
updated and supplemented with additional, especially birchbark, data.
The situation is equally unsatisfactory when it comes to syntax. Here, to
be sure, some attempts have been made to explain certain peculiar con-
structions of North (or Northwest) Russian, such as those of the type voda
pit', zemlja paxat', ryba lovit', as due to a Finnic substratum (for refer-
ences, see Birnbaum 1990, 11); but other, system-inherent, structurally
motivated explanations, well thought out, yet, to my mind, less convincing,
have also been proposed (see, e.g., Timberlake 1974; cf. also Birnbaum &
Merrill 1983, 46). Several of Zaliznjak's studies- and notably Zaliznjak
1986 ( 1 5 1 - 1 6 4 ) - c o n t a i n important observations on the syntax of the
Novgorod birchbark letters as well; and when I visited him in Moscow in
the summer of 1990, he told me he had collected much pertinent data as yet
unpublished. Still, no comprehensive study of the morphosyntax (i.e.,
specifically, a functional analysis of the grammatical categories and of the
use of individual word forms) and the syntagmatics (or description and
interpretation of phrase, clause, and sentence structure) of the early
Novgorod material, raising new crucial questions and applying modem
methods, is so far available. This, therefore, is a sorely felt gap much in
need of being filled.
In some instances, however, the evidence of the birchbark texts does
indeed allow us to reach new, or more definite, conclusions. An example is
the extremely rare use of the imperfect and the aorist - the latter, more-
over, sometimes combined with a form of the copula verb, thus being a

hybrid between aorist and perfect- which suggests that the simple past
tense forms were used only very sparingly and in stylistically marked
contexts in the spoken language and that the perfect (-! participle with or
without copula) prevailed as the normal past tense form; cf. Zaliznjak 1986,
Finally, a few words regarding the general trends characteristic of the
language of medieval Novgorod. While the linguistic evolution in
Novgorod is marked by a number of particular traits and, by and large,
was more resistant to the eventual integration with, and uniformation in,
the Great Russian standard (literary) language, it too was subject to this
force of convergence, although the response and adaptation here were
somewhat more slow and incomplete. In terms of innovation vs. retention
(archaisms), the language of Novgorod had its share of both. It cannot,
therefore, be characterized as either primarily innovative (though some
specific innovations were noted above) or as predominantly conservative
(though a number of archaisms can in fact be found here as well). If
anything, the East Slavic language of medieval Novgorod was character-
ized in its earliest phase, at any rate, by some very specific difficulties (and
phenomena resulting from it) owing to its gradual adaptation to a number
of phonological, grammatical, and lexical features of the indigenous Finnic
population conquered and assimilated by the Slavic arrivals in the area.

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University o f California, Los Angeles


Only after this article had been submitted to the editors did I have an
opportunity to discuss some of the issues treated here with Dr. Viktor M.
~ivov, another leading expert in the field and author of a thorough review
of the Janin-Zaliznjak volume (l/oprosy jazykoznanija 1988/4, 145-156),
during his recent stay at UCLA. Among the things Dr. ~ivov drew my
attention to is the note by A. I. Sobolevskij in Russk(ifilologireskij vestnik
75/1 (1916), 139-140 ( " D v a slova o pskovskom govore"), where he had
more to say on the Nsgrn ending -e (continuing the old Vsgm). Further, he
pointed out that, while in one sense it is indeed important not simply to
identify or equate the Novgorod and Pskov dialects of the past - whether
they should necessarily be associated with such problematic ethnic entities
as the Krivi~i and the Slovrne is another, less certain matter - it is just as
necessary to realize that, due to integrative and convergent developments in
the area as a whole, it is not always possible neatly to distinguish between
one and the other, and that in some respects the Pskov dialect may in fact
have retained certain previously shared features of the Novgorod-Pskov
dialect complex which subsequently underwent a further change in the
Novgorod region alone and cannot, therefore, be found there in their
original form. It is thus virtually impossible, ~ivov felt, to attempt to
disentangle, in the absence of other indications, some of the specific
characteristics of the Novgorod and Pskov dialects, separately or as a
whole. And, finally, while ~ivov is inclined, along with many other
scholars, to accept an earlier relative date of the progressive ("third")
palatalization in relation to the later regressive ("second") palatalization
and also seems not disinclined to consider, as do some other specialists
nowadays, at least the beginnings (k > k', etc.) of the progressive velar shift
as preceding even the earlier regressive ("first") palatalization - a view I
cannot share, that is, in phonemic t e r m s - he pointed out that if the
processes of monophthongization and later ("second/third") palatalization

of velars did in fact reach the East Slavic north in reversed order (as
Vermeer has proposed), we would have expected occasional forms like
*snO~o/*snOz~, (<*snoigu-) along with snOg~, or at least *sn~a/*snOza (if
the high back vowel ~ otherwise would have prevented the implementation
of the progressive palatalization, which, of course, is not the case). To this,
and in support of Vermeer's line of argument, I would now add: (1) Since
the regressive ("second") and progressive ("third") palatalizations yielded
an identical outcome in Slavic- except in North Russian (cf. sub 2
below) - b o t h palatalizations probably took place at the same time and
can in fact be considered one single process triggered, to be sure, in two
different phonetic environments. (2) In North Russian the regressive ("sec-
ond") palatalization did not take place whereas the progressive palataliza-
tion - in effect the same sound shift only differently conditioned - affected
the three velars to a different extent. Though this seems to contradict the
claim just made (sub 1), it can find a natural explanation. (3) The
explanation is as follows: The combined later regressive and progressive
palatalization took place in North Russian at a time when the monoph-
thongization of diphthongs had not yet reached the NovgorodoPskov area.
Hence, the palatalization operated in North Russian in a different palatal
environment than elsewhere in Slavic, to wit: (a) in those instances tradi-
tionally referred to as the third or progressive (Baudouin) palatalization,
e.g., Gsg *otbka > otb~a, etc.; (b) it did not operate in the instances
traditionally referred to as the second (regressive) palatalization, e.g.,
*koil~ (>k~l~ > *~'~l~, as elsewhere in Slavic), etc.; (c) it did operate
(progressively) when preceded by i, which constituted the second compo-
nent of a diphthong, e.g., Gsg *snoiga > *snoi(a > *sn~ga (but Asg sn~g~
due to the following high back vowel; cf. Vermeer 1986, 508-509). (4)
After the palatalization, the new consonants *~, *~, *A were rather infre-
quent; the latter two were actually so marginal that g and x were restored
in alternating paradigms (e.g., *sn~(a > snOga; cf. 3c above). The sounds k
and k were leveled in alternating paradigms in the same way as elsewhere
in Slavic. - Vermeer's hypothesis thus not only brings the North Russian
outcome of *k, *g, *x, in palatal environment in agreement with what was
stated sub (1) above, but it also explains the different results of the
progressive palatalization in North Russian. I therefore see considerable
merit in Vermeer's argument even if I am not fully convinced by his
assumption of the reversed chronology of monophthongization and
palatalization on the northeastern periphery of the compact Slavic linguis-
tic territory.