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University College London

The Genesis of the Serbo-Croatian Genitive Plural in -ā

Author(s): D. J. L. Johnson
Source: The Slavonic and East European Review, Vol. 50, No. 120 (Jul., 1972), pp. 333-358
Published by: the Modern Humanities Research Association and University College London,
School of Slavonic and East European Studies
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Volume L, Number 120?July 1972

The Genesis of the Serbo-Croatian

Genitive Plural in -a

Many theories have been advanced to explain the genesis of the

Serbo-Croatian genitive plural in -a, but though one or two seem to
have found some limited acceptance, none may be considered con
clusive. This article is intended as a critique of the two most plausible
views together with a suggestion of a new explanation. Opinion may
differ as to which views are most plausible but it would be impossible
here to embark on a detailed refutation of all. The views of A.
Karlgren1 and A. Belie2 are examined here, both of whom exp
-a as the result of morphological processes. A summary and cr
cism of other attempts at explanation prior to 1911 can be found
Karlgren's work. The more recent theories are outlined by G
Svane,3 who rejects all previous explanations. His criticism
primarily textual. The texts do not allow us to postulate reliably
existence at the period in question of the structures which the exp
tions take as their starting point. They are, therefore, invalid
reaches the pessimistic conclusion:

Es diirfte aus dem angefuhrten Material hervorgehen, dass man

einer Losung der Probleme noch weit entfernt ist, die sich an d
Genitiv pluralis auf-a im Serbokroatischen kniipfen. Die tiefste Ursac
hierfur ist, dass die ersten Spuren der neuen Endung so unsicher ube
liefert sind, wie es tatsachlich der Fall ist. . . Aile Versuche die n

D. J. L. Johnson is a Lecturer in Russian Language at the University of Birming

XA. Karlgren, 'Sur la formation du gen. plur. en serbe', Archives d'&udes Orient
III, Upsala, 1911.
2 A. Belie, 0 dvojini u slovenskim jezicima, Belgrade, 1932, pp. 124 ff. (hereafter
Dvojina); also Belie, Istorija srpskohrvatskog jezika, II, i, Belgrade, 1950, pp. 128 ff. (here
called Istorija).
3 G. O. Svane, Die Flexion in Hokavischen Texten aus dem ?eitraum 1350-1400. Aa
1958, P- 72>

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334 D- J- L- JOHNSON
Endung -a zu erklaren, miissen deshalb
Scheitern verurteilt angesehen werden (p.
This is a counsel of despair. If one insists th
of -a must be provable by the norms of th
is doomed to failure. The defective textual material makes it difficult
to resurrect the structure of synchronic segments of the language as a
whole and well-nigh impossible to reconstruct with clarity the system
of particular dialects. The texts are based on dialects which borrowed
the termination when it was already well established elsewhere. The
norms of the innovating dialect were clearly not those of the language
of the texts.
This does not mean, however, that it is neither possible nor
profitable to formulate a theory to explain the development of -a
even though there is no hope of proving beyond doubt its validity on
the material of the texts. To be acceptable, though, such a theory
must fulfil certain conditions. First, it must be based on a postulated
set of changes that are intrinsically likely. If -a is to be accounted
for morphologically, those changes must clearly be within the bounds
of the principles that delimit the possible types of analogical change.
Second, those changes must be seen as part of the developing system,
and any assumption about the structure of the innovating dialect
must not be in conflict with what is known about the general lines of
development of Serbo-Croat in the period in question. The postulated
structures should fit into the known pattern of variations. Third,
though the postulated structures may not be provable by the formal
norms of the texts it is clearly desirable that there should be some
clues to the existence of such structures in the irregular, variant forms
which must certainly in many cases reflect norms of other dialects. If
such criteria are applied to the theories of Belie and Karlgren, it be?
comes clear that their unacceptability is not simply a question of not
being provable in terms of the norms of the language of the texts.
Karlgren motivates the development of -a in the following way:
with the disappearance of final jers [i>, b], which originally marked
the genitive case in the plural (0-, u-, ^-declensions) the symmetry of
the paradigm was disturbed and the need was felt for the addition of
a new ending. This motivation clearly infringes the second criterion
for an acceptable theory. The loss of final jers in Serbo-Croat must
have taken place by the second half of the 1 ith century at the latest if
consequent changes associated with the loss were to have had time to
establish themselves in the language by the 12th century, when the
first texts appear. The first sporadic notations of -a occur in the
14th century. Making allowance for the inevitable time-lag before the
reflection of the new ending in the texts, it would thus seem that at
the very least estimation two hundred years elapsed between the loss

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of jers and the beginning of the development of -a in
plural. Or, to put it another way, the language happily to
ending in this case form for at least two hundred years w
veloping a new ending, and many dialects did so for c
longer. The loss of jers could, therefore, have had nothing
the motivation of the new ending. As regards the process
-a arose, Karlgren postulates that it developed in the f
declension paradigm under the influence of the masculine
sion. He assumes the existence of the following pattern of
the genitive and locative plurals:
Masc. jo-Declension Fem. a-Declension
Gen. pl. muz -1 zen -0
Loc. pl. muz -ih zen -ah

Since muzih/muzi, therefore by analogy z

Karlgren would also like to see some influence o
feminine z-stems on the development of -a altho
such parallel proportion as that exemplified by the
He expresses it thus?Tuisque dans les themes femin
eas se terminent par i, le gen. plur. se termine
veloppe pour les themes en a, ou quatre eas finissen
plur. en a.' Realising, however, that such an abstrac
to do with the way analogy really works in lang
abandons any further reference to the feminine z-
trates his further arguments on trying to make th
Jo-stems a convincing solution of the problem.
From the outset, Karlgren is making an assumpti
question in postulating the existence of the propor
masculine declension. Perhaps one can accept wit
existence of a genitive plural in -1 which derived f
sion, but which, with the passing of masculine /-de
the 0-declension, extended its use to the latter.4 Its
texts up to the end of the 15th century is infreque
a small class of nouns. The existence of -ih in the l
however, problematic, even though this was the te
stems in Common Slavonic and could have been inh
Croat from the earlier state. The ending -e
dominates in the texts up to the end of the 15th ce
occurs. The interpretation of -ih is difficult. In so
after soft stems, it is clearly due to Church Slav
other cases, its use after either hard or soft stem
dialect reflex of-eh [-bx].

4 Svane, op. cit. p. 72.

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336 D. J. L. JOHNSON
However, even if wc accept the existence of -i, -
paradigm, serious doubts arise as to the practical r
posed analogy. If j0-stem masculines were used
plural with the ending -1 they were almost certai
the ending -0 (zero). If they were capable of having
plural, it was also possible for them to take -e
phonological developments in the history of Serbo
ceased to be any phonetic necessity for the distinc
soft stem endings. This, together with the mixing
declension masculines, produced a situation where
characterised by a considerable latitude of free var
to case endings. So, for instance?

Masc, noun (sing.) Masc, noun (pl.)

Inst. -om/-em Dat. -om/-em
Loc. -e/-u/(-i) Inst. -i/-mi

It seems likely that this was a general Serbo-Croatian

teristic common to all dialects, and so too where Karlgren
lated -i, -ih was usual. Not only in the early period was a deg
free variation characteristic, it continued to be so, and, in par
in those dialects which created the innovations in the plur
digm, e.g. -ami/-am/-ama in the instrumental plural. To a
degree the modern language also exemplifies this feature
nozom, dinara/dinari, momu/mome, majki/majci). One m
therefore, suppose that side by side with -1, -ih, there figure
variation also -0, -eh. So we might have?

Gen. Pl. muz -1

Loc. Pl. muz -ih but also
Gen. Pl. muz -1 or muz or muz
Loc. Pl. muz -eh muz -ih muz -eh

The presence of even only one such variation w

relationship of-1, -ih destroying the feeling for th
identity in the two forms, which provides the who
supposed analogy. However, even if we accept the
existence inj'0-stems of the terminations -i, -ih, th
which they could have influenced the feminine ^-
from clear. On this level, the theory is an abstract
Two points of contact between two parts of the d
arbitrarily lifted out of the set of interlocking ve
relationships that form the system.

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Plural paradigm

Masc, jo Fem. a Masc. 0 Fem. i

Norn, muz -i zen -e
Acc. -e -e
Gen. -1 -0 -0 (or -ov) -1
Dat. -em -am
Inst. -i -ami
Loc. -ih -ah -eh -eh

No special relationship b
speakers were to see arbit
transfer them to another
analogy is not arbitrary,
elimination of a grammar
system (often rules apply
classes). It does not alter

Karlgren attempts to give the endings -i, -ih greater weight in

system by ascribing them not only to the masculine soft stems, b
the hard as well. His arguments are unsound. Clearly -ih woul
expected to develop in the ikavic dialect as the regular reflex of
hard stem -eh. But Karlgren tries to show that it was also charact
tic of the jekavic and ekavic dialects. For jekavic he quotes Jagic
the effect that e had a pronunciation close to i (a kind of ie)
therefore sees the old hard stem ending -eh as equivalent to -ih.
is unacceptable. Whatever the phonetic value of e, it was phonolo
ally distinct from i. With regard to ekavic, he attempts to demo
strate the probability of-ih in hard stems by enunciating as a gen
rule of stokavic morphological development the generalisation of
stem endings. He makes no attempt to account for this 'rule'.
true that with the merging of hard and soft stem paradigms
language, in many forms, discarded the hard stem ending,
generalised the soft. There is, however, no single principle at wo
here which would allow the certain prediction of a soft stem end
in an uncertain case. The development was due to a complex
morphological factors, one of which was certainly the influence of
pronominal paradigm. In the locative plural, although some p
nouns terminated in -ih, others terminated in -eh, so the matter
evenly balanced. The texts, as has been mentioned, give no in
tion of any generalisation of -ih, except in ikavic. There are also
signs of a generalisation of -i in the gen. pl. of hard stems in
dialects that created the innovation of -a though there are signs
some extension of-i in Dalmatian texts from the 15th century.

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338 D. J. L. JOHNSON
Yet even if we accept that -I, -ih was not co
stems it does not help us to see how this resulted
context of speech, in the development of -a. For
would need to postulate a situation in which a
grammar structure was occupied by a rule gov
ship of the locative to the genitive plural. The ru
to a locative plural termination in Vowel + h,
spond a genitive of that same vowel, long, min
If at the same time there was a subsidiary 'exc
effect that in ^-declension feminines, the relatio
to genitive pl. was Vah/0 it is easy to see that th
peripheral, and be eliminated in favour of th
difficult, though, to see how a general rule su
could arise unless there were a specially tight stru
the genitive and locative cases. For one case form
in terms of another is unusual. The closeness of th
two, and the similarity of the terminations, wou
guage with an inherently unstable situation. It s
that such a rule could be maintained without the
and entering a state of free variation.
What was the situation in Serbo-Croat at the p
There certainly were points of contact between
dual there was no formal distinction between the
of the dual as a separate category, but the con
forms with plural meaning, this lack of distinct
influenced the relationship of the two cases in t
no formal distinction between the two cases in th
adjectives and pronouns. There was some seman
the two cases, as, for instance, in adverbial time
other hand, the two cases were clearly distinguis
declension of all nouns except the {-stems, and th
part semantically distinct. Karlgren assumes the f
the two cases in the plural. He puts this forth as
porting argument for his theory. He does not, ho
sider it crucial for his case. There are rare examp
of the locative ending being used for the gen
KpaHHaHex).5 Examples of the use of locative for
become fairly frequent in Dalmatian texts fro
Karlgren quotes an early example of the use
genitive from Danicic.6 He fails, however,
Danicic's view, the rare examples of this are
scribal error, engendered by the identical adjectiv
5 F. Miklosich, Monumenta Serbica, Vienna, 1858, no. 38, p. 3
6 D. Danicic, Istorija oblika srpskoga iii hrvatskoga jezika, Belgr

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cases. Neither does he mention Daniele's opinion that the la
fusion of the two cases with ^-sterns was the consequence of
tion of the genitive plural in -a. He does not mention th
found not a single example of confusion in 14th-century te
that the confusion invariably occurs only with an adjective
That the confusion always takes the form of the use of the l
the genitive, and not vice versa, emphasises the role of the
here. Danicic found only two examples in the 16th century o
of genitive for locative.7 Thus, although there may have be
association of the genitive and locative cases in the plural, t
tionship fell far short of merger or free variation. Moreove
dialects the links between locative and dative proved d
That being so, there must be serious doubt whether there c
have existed in the language such a rule of grammar as
engendered the proposed analogy.
Nevertheless, if we allow for that possibility, we then com
face with the final, irreconcilable contradiction of Karlgren
If we postulate the existence of that structure which al
generate the new ending in -a, namely that the relationshi
the locative and genitive was governed by the general rule
but that the feminine ^-declension represented an exception
must conclude that the situation in the other declension

Masc. 0 (and u) 6h/?

Masc, i eh/e (or ih/i)8
Neut. 0 eli/g
Fem. i eh/e (or ih/i)
Needless to say, there is absolutely no eviden
such endings as -e or -e in the genitive plural.
would also have expected to see the rule exemp
occurrence of -1 in the genitive plural. That
However, if we ignore these difficulties and as
had generalised ih/i (as Karlgren would have
also characteristic of the /-stems, and that the
the generation of-a was valid, then we find th
tion necessary for the generation of -a in a
makes the explanation of the subsequent spread
impossible. All classes but ^-declension femin
long vowel in the genitive plural in fulfilment
der the influence of which the peripheral rule
7 Ibid., p. 140.
8 Since /-declension nouns had been regularly marked by a
plural, one might suppose that in their case the rule was ex
them of the ending -ih in the locative in place of the regular

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340 D. J. L. JOHNSON
was eliminated. But if these other clas
this case the basis for the spreading of
the other hand, one admits the pre
masculines and neuters which would make the extension of -a to
them possible, then the general force of the grammar rule on whi
the postulated analogy is based is destroyed. If such endings we
present, and therefore such relationships between locative and gen
tive as eh/0 or ih/0, then there could be no such rule and therefore
It is possible to envisage that there may have been small groups of
words or individual words that provided exceptions to the general
rule, as did the nouns in -a. But, if the general rule was to be a rule of
sufficient generality to engender the analogy under discussion, these
groups or individuals must have occupied a position of very marginal
importance in the system. It is difficult to see how they could have
been a vehicle for the subsequent extension of -a.10
Thus Karlgren, in the elaboration of his theory, makes not one
assumption unsupported by textual evidence, but many. In the end,
there also remains the inescapable contradiction. If the grammar rule
that was alone capable of generating -a was to have the universality
essential for the process, it presupposes a structure that makes im?
possible the extension of-a. If we presuppose a structure under which
the extension of -a could take place, then there could have been no
rule of sufficiently general force to generate -a.
Belic's theory is preferable to Karlgren's in at least one respect. He
makes only one assumption that is not supported by textual evidence,
about the structure of the dialect that innovated -a. Unlike Karlgren,
who assumes the presence of structures that cannot be shown to have
existed elsewhere, either before or after, Belie postulates only that a
particular feature developed earlier in the dialect in question than it
is shown by texts to have done elsewhere.
Belic's argument is as follows. With the loss of the dual as a
separate category, the old terminations marking the dative and in?
strumental dual did not disappear but continued in use with plural
meaning side by side with the old plural endings,

9 If, as is likely, -a first developed in the feminine a-declension, there would have been a
transitional stage of free variation of the old and new ending, e.g., zen -0/zen -a. Since both
masculine and neuter o-declension nouns also had 0 ending in the genitive plural, the same
variation began to develop with them too, e.g. grad -0/grad -a.
10 Masculine nouns with genitive plural in -ov could have been such a group. It seems
that -ov was generalised as a suffix in free variation with non-suffixed forms at an early
date so that there was obtained a paradigm such as gradovi gradove gradov gradovom,
etc. In such cases, the relationship of loc. to gen. pl. would have been the same as for the
mass of o-declension nouns?eh/o. There may have been a small class of nouns, though,
that did not generalise -ov as a suffix, but retained it as a gen. pl. termination, e.g.,
dinari, dinarov, dinareh.

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e.g. in the feminine a-declension:
Dat. pl. -am, -ama
Inst. pl. -ami, -ama
This use engendered in both cases the appearance of a free
-am/-ama where the form -ama was analysed by the lingui
sciousness of the speakers into -am-j-a where -f-a repre
optional addition to the normal ending -am. Since the genit
was the only case of the plural to be monosyllabic (Belie
primarily a creation of disyllabic oxytonic <z-stems), this o
was transferred to it,

e.g. zen > zen-f-a

The motivation for this transfer is obscure and is not expl

fact that the genitive plural may have been monosylla
appear to be irrelevant. The argument seems to derive from
attempts to ascribe the development of -a to vague and
rhythmic necessities of Serbo-Croat.11 This optionally adde
of course, short. It received its length by analogy with the
of the i- declension genitive plural (kost, kosti). While belie
-a appeared first as a feminine ending which later sprea
genders, Belie does not exclude the theoretical possibility o
development in the masculine declension, although he co
The assumption that Belie makes about the dialect innova
that it developed the free variation -am/-ama earlier th
where attested. The earliest textual evidence of the existence of such
a variation dates from the end of the 15th century, yet the genitive
plural in -a is attested as early as the 14th century. Belie, however,
argues that the ending -am/-ama must have existed as early as the
13th because this variation gave rise to -a. Some pages later he argues
that it is possible to attribute -a to the existence of -am/-ama because
-am/-ama must 'as we have seen' have existed as early as the 13th
century. Svane rightly condemns Belie for this circular argument, but
his rejection of Belic's theory solely for this reason is insufficiently
founded. The suggestion that a dialect not reflected in the texts could
have developed -am/-ama somewhat earlier than others is not in itself
implausible. Very much more serious objections can be levelled at
Belic's attempted explanation. I would indeed challenge the very
validity of the basic analogical process at the root of Belic's theory,
namely the extension of the optional +a of -ama to the genitive
11 E.g., V. Jagic, 'Podmladjena vokalizacija u hrvatskom jeziku', in Rad JA ?17, IX,
12 Dvojina, p. 128. In his later lecture course he is less guarded, see Istorija, p. 83.

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342 D. J. L. JOHNSON
plural. The process of analogy cannot r
of unrelated phones or morphs: it r
structural norm from one part of the
tion lies in the psychological need for
each individual example must be sou
occupied in the language structure by
forms, and in the relationship of the in
The nature of the process itself presup
should have a structural identity with
The structure of the -am/-ama altern
starting point would have been repr
sciousness of the speakers as stem + ca
mark would structurally subdivide i
appendage that could be added at the

stem + (ending ? a)

Though optional vowel appendages of t

wide range of forms in Serbo-Croat, t
ing terminating in a vowel, so that
formula more accurately as:

stem + (_C ? a)
If one excludes the nominative and acc
was no possibility of the extension of
were marked by a vowel ending, then
the structure of the dative and instrumental cases could become
dominant in the plural paradigm, and therefore be extended by
analogy to the other cases, that is, the genitive and locative. Since the
structural element whose analogical transference is here in question
is the morph + a, it is clear that the structure of any recipient case
would have to exemplify the formula:

The genitive plural manifestly did not consist of such a structure an
therefore could not possibly have been the object of such an analog
The structure of the genitive plural was:

stem + 0 e.g. zen

In other words ? a which figured as an optional extension to the case

ending could not be transferred to the genitive where there was no
ending. It is impossible to conceive of an optional extension to zero,
as, for example:
stem + (0 ? a)

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A + a added to the old structure of the genitive plural w
evitably and simultaneously destroy that structure; a +a
zero eliminates the zero. What we would obtain is not a variant of
the old case mark, but a new ending of totally different quality. If
new form zena were created, and it were to exist side by side with th
old form, zen, the relationship between, the two would not be of th
same type as that between zenam/zenama, but of the same type
existed, for example, in Church Slavonic in the genitive singular of
the masculine declension:


One can, therefore, express this basic objection to Belic's theory in

the following terms. The whole raison d'etre of analogy is to create,
in certain passive recipient sectors of the system, forms having identi?
cal structure with certain active dominant sectors. The postulated
new form, zena, was not identical in structure with the active
'analogising' form, zenama. It can, therefore, not be explained in
terms of analogy.
There also arises here another objection of principle. If the
structure of the dative and instrumental cases was morphologically
dominant in the plural paradigm of the ^-declension, and this
structure was thought of as:

stem + (_C + a)
then the case most open to the play of analogical forces was clearly
the locative case which had the structure:

stem + (_C)
This is precisely the structure which one might have expected to de?
velop the morph ? a, that is to say by analogy with zenam/zenama,
zenah/zenaha. There is absolutely no evidence of such a form as
zenana having existed, and Belie certainly does not postulate one,
even though the locative plural in -ah was, according to all indica?
tions, very much a live one, well beyond the period of the develop?
ment of -a in the genitive plural. The absence of ? a in the locative
case implies that a more accurate description of the structure of the
dative-instrumental plural would be given by the formula:

stem + (_m ? a)
that is, ? a was felt to be applicable only to basic endings terminating
in the consonant m. This is another reason for thinking the extension
of ? a to the genitive case impossible.
Apart from this basic implausibility, Belic's theory has many other
weaknesses. It is difficult by its means to explain the length of the

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344 D- J- L- JOHNSON
new genitive plural in -a. If one accepts t
theory, then there existed such forms in
where 4- a was an optional appendage associa
speakers with the final ?a in the alterna
virtue of its origin ? a was short, atonic,
marker. How did it become long, capable of
dependent case marker ? Belie ascribes its le
the /-declension ending -I. But it is diffic
could be associated. -I was not only long; it
marker, never an appendage; it regularly
syllables and some disyllables (e.g. mod
bolesti).13 Clearly as long as ?a was an op
ated with the ? a of -am/-ama it could not
How did it lose this association and beco
marker ? Belie, it seems, was aware of the d
not state it explicitly. He is vague about t
the suggested developments. He does, how
portance to a hypothetical shift of stress in o
This was an analogy proceeding from the
Since zene
zenEm So also zena > zena


In his opinion this shift of stress established -a as an independent

case marker and freed it from association with ? a. It is difficult to
accept this reasoning. Atonic optional appendage ? a could no more
become the recipient of stress than it could of length. Only an inde?
pendent case-marking ending could bear stress, therefore the estab?
lishment of independent status must have preceded any possible
analogical shift of stress. The only obvious way in which ? a could
have become a case marker was by the loss of one half of the alterna?
tion, namely zen, thus leaving zena as the sole form in the genitive
plural. There are other objections to Belic's idea of a shift of stress
which he considers necessary not only to motivate the loss by -f- a of
association with ?a, but also to explain the modern form zena,
which implies an earlier state zena. The motivation of the shift is un?
clear. It could not be considered that a difference in accentuation
between the genitive plural and other plural cases was only a peri?
pheral feature in the grammar. Such distinctions were characteristic

13 Another point of difference between the two structures was that the stem vowel pre?
ceding -I showed phonemic opposition between long and short vowel, e.g., stvari,
\kti, the gen. pl. of ^-declensions did not oppose length to shortness in the stem.

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of many classes of noun, including some of the f-declen
norn. pl. radosti, gen. pl. radosti; dubr&ve, dubrav; sinovci,
jeleni, jSlen; glumci, glumac; novel, novae. On the other han
basically oxytonic feminine nouns retained stem stress in t
ative and accusative plural, e.g. strane, gore. Moreover, the d
of intensity between the stressed and pretonic syllable is at
in question likely to have been slight and the difference in t
of the stem vowel in such words as zena, as between the ge
other plural cases, was almost certainly a more marked
feature than the difference in stress position. It would be di
accept the idea of a purely analogical stress movement from
on to a case-marking termination, let alone on to an option
age at approximately the same period, when there was gest
beginning to develop, the general shift of stress by one sy
wards the beginning of the word, which became a characteri
of precisely those same dialects that produced the great inn
in the plural declensions including that of -a. It should be o
here that the advancement of the stress probably took plac
all from open final vowel on to a preceding long syllable, th
cisely in such forms as would have been created by Belic's s
shift (zena > zenii). However, even if we accept that by loss o
alternative the forms with +a had become the sole forms in the
genitive plural, and that therefore + a had become a case marking
ending (even perhaps bearing stress) it is still not easy to accept the
idea of the transference of length from -i, as length of termination was
not otherwise a regular mark of the genitive plural.
Accepting for the moment Belic's theory, the gen. pl. at this
period would have been represented by:
Masc. Neut. Fem. i Fem. a

On the periphery of the system, there

figured in a few feminine words the en
certainly short. Belie, without any fo
been long, but is, by implication, her
argument (-1 had the effect of lengthen
tions?evidence, -u; -u must have been lo
of lengthening, etc.). There may have ex
system one other long ending, i.e. -ov
tended very early as a suffix to other ca
possibly from odd exceptions, felt to be
not an ending, e.g. gr&dovi, norn, pl., g
may also have been characteristic of
nouns and odd feminines which fluct

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346 D. J. L. JOHNSON
/-declension, but it was far from dominant in
genitive plural.
As we have seen, the only way for ? a to have los
as optional appendage and to have become an
marker was through the suppression of the altern
had partaken, that is, the loss of genitive forms
This must have preceded any eventual lengthening
therefore must have affected baritones and oxy
zen; lipa/lip > zena; lipa). If this had happened, a
of Karlgren's theory, any foundation for the subs
to other genders was destroyed. This, perhaps, is n
blow to Belic's theory, since, although he is of t
developed first with feminines, and then spread t
does not exclude the possibility of a simultaneou
ment among masculines:
Dat. pl. zubom/zuboma
therefore by analogy

Gen. pl. zub/zuba

He does not, however, consider it probable. Hav
process for feminines, he says: Tt could be said tha
for masculine nouns too. As far as theory is conce
contradict that, but in reality it is difficult to sup
cause in their case it is impossible to establish the ex
forms side by side with the plural forms in the sa
feminines.'14 This testimony of the texts is not at a
looks at the situation created in the feminine plur
and instrumental) by the loss of the dual category
seen that the establishment of the alternation -am/
was a simple, single-stage development:
Plural Dual
Dat. -am -ama
Inst, -ami -ama

Nothing new had to be created. Only the fin

and at once the alternation was there. The situ
was considerably more complex:
Plural Dual
Dat. -om/-em -oma/-ema
Inst. -i/-mi -oma/-ema/-ma
14 Dvojina, p. 128. Belie* understates the objection. Danicic found examples of-oma
in a set phrase?ao BHexa BHeKOMa cf. M, p. 106: Danicic (op. cit., p. 96).

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The alternation -om/-em etc. was not originally a free variation
the choice of ending was phonologically determined by the ha
or softness of the preceding consonant. This situation was earl
scured in Serbo-Croat (a) by the transference of masculine i-st
the 0-declension (e.g. gost, gostem); (b) by the hardening of so
palatal consonants. Although in most dialects the factor of
logical determination was never entirely removed, there was n
theless created a substantial area of free variation. The frontier
between the area of determination and free variation was fixed
complex detailed rules that were subject to frequent shifting (
KHe3eM, khc3om; npnjaTejLeM, npnjaTejbOM; 3aKOHOM, 3aKOHeM.)15
Given this situation it is easy to understand that there would b
considerable resistance to the imposition of a further set of free va
tions upon those already existing. There is a good motivation for
dropping of-oma with the loss of the dual category. The situation
the instrumental was even more complex. The alternation -i/-mi w
not phonologically determined, since -mi derived from the i-
^-declensions. Insofar as there were any rules determining cho
they could only have been governed by lexical factors. Such rules
difficult to maintain so there was naturally much mixing (e
KpajibMH, BHHorpaAMH, Tpi>3MH; KpajiH, rpa^H, Tpb3H). The exten
to the instrumental of the ending -om, and the establishment wit
the continuation of old dual endings of a possible further three se
of free variation would place an intolerable burden on grammatica

e.g. to variation -i/-mi

the variations -om/-oma
-om/-em, -oma/-ema

Such a situation could never have existed in reality, and many of

these possible variations must have disappeared very quickly with
the loss of the dual as a separate category. There may of course well
have been some dialect variation in the extent of variation accepted.
The evidence for the continued existence of-om and -oma is virtually
non-existent.16 On the other hand, -i was a vigorous ending that
showed no sign of disappearance. Even if the alternation -om/-oma
had marginally established itself in the instrumental case, the pre?
sence of the dominant -i termination would have prevented the
establishment of the simple alternating relationship of the feminines,
substituting for it a compound relationship that must inevitably have
15 Ibid., pp. 92 ff.
16 Danicic found only two examples of-om and those are from the late 16th century
(op. cit. p. 96).

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348 D. J. L. JOHNSON
reduced any analogical force the alternation m
The texts also show very few examples of the m
instrumental cases on the basis of the old plural
mixing of the two cases begins only on the basis
-im/-ima. In contrast, there are very numerous e
ing of the two cases in the feminine on the basi
-am/-ami. Though the interpretation of the
difficult, this seems to imply a resistance on the
such mixing. Since the motive force behind the
that the two cases were not distinguished in the
of masculines to it is another indication that the a
was never a dominant feature of the masculi
therefore, extremely unlikely that there cou
structure in the masculine paradigm that could h
accordance with Belic's theory. The chronolo
theory also gives cause for serious doubt. It invo
of a fairly lengthy sequence of changes.

1. Loss of dual and use of -ama as plural.

2. Mixing of dative and instrumental plurals.
3. Loss of-ami and establishment of regular alte
4. Growth of feeling that -a of ama was optiona
5. Extension of ? a to genitive plural.
6. Loss of one element of the alternation in gen
as a regular termination.
7. Shift of stress on to -a in oxytonic nouns (to
8. Development of length -a.
9. Extension of -a to other genders.
io. Extension of-a for all genders from innovating dialect to other
dialects and its reflection in the texts.

One might well ask how many generations passed in the course of
this ten-point development ? Even if some of the changes may have
followed quite quickly upon the preceding change, it means that the
first stage must surely have been taking place very early in the de?
velopment of Serbo-Croat. It is inconceivable that the whole process
could be squeezed into the span of a single generation as is implied by
Belie (although the texts do not show 1. until the 15th century, he
assumes it to have taken place in the 13th-14th centuries, i.e. shortly
before or at the same time as -a is already appearing in texts). Neither
could one postulate, in order to help matters, that the development
of length was a later one. Early spellings of the gen. pl. as -bb show
17 Danicic has only one example before 16th century (op. cit. p. 96).

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that at the time of its earliest appearance it was already lon
the first stage in the development was a very early one, it is
surprising that it should not find its way into the texts until
after the first appearance of -a.
The theory for the explanation of-a which I should like t
involves making an assumption about the innovating dial
not supported by unambiguous textual evidence. It is b
chronological assumption consisting of postulating for the d
question the earlier existence of a structure that later becam
elsewhere. It is a morphological explanation accounting
generation of -a by analogy. It does not, however, I trust, i
basic theoretical principles about how analogy works. Only
cal processes of the commonest type are involved. Neither is
assumption entirely without positive textual indications.
The assumption concerns the feminine z-declension. Th
paradigm inherited by Serbo-Croat at the beginning of i
was as follows:
N kosti
A kosti
G kosti
D kostem
I kostmi
L kosteh

Serbo-Croat seems to have generalised the old consonan

sion endings in the dative and locative at the expense of t
^'-declension endings, -im, -ih < -hMb9 -bXb. The latter, th
have been preserved in one or two dialects.18 The forms -em
however, the norm of the texts up to the end of the 15th
From then on, newer forms begin to make their appearan
creasing frequency (-im, -ima, -ih). My hypothesis is th
dialects that subsequently generated -a there had been
this paradigm as early as the beginning of the 13th ce
suggestion is that the dative, instrumental and locative for
-em > -im, -mi >-imi, -eh > -ih, so giving:

18 Belie* derives cakavic kostan, kostah from kostim, kostih. He also postulates such
forms in his explanation of Montenegrin dialect gen. and loc. pl. -Ih: (Istorija, p. 80).

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350 D. J. L. JOHNSON

At the same time one may suppose t

dative and instrumental changed in
kostima. This set of changes was unifo
alogy, and consisted of the extension o
dominated the endings in both singula
where it was absent. The only oblique c
apart from the three in question, that
-i was the instrumental sing, form -ju
consonantal form of i, and the alterna
gular in -i is recorded very early.19 Th
not far to seek. The masculine i-stems
0-stems. The old z-stem endings cont
into variation with the 0-stem ending
ing, old f-stem nouns taking 0-stem te
the dative, instrumental and locative p

Dat. -om/-em
Inst. -i/-mi21
Loc. -eh/-eh (-ih)
It will be seen that in the dative case the i-stem termination -em re?
inforced and was absorbed into the already existing alternation
-om/-em that had originated in the different terminations for the
hard and soft 0-stems. In this alternation the ending -em became
tightly associated with a characteristically masculine and neuter end?
ing. The dominance of this association is illustrated by the develop?
ment by analogy of a locative form in -oh in accordance with the
Dat. -om/-em
Loc. -oh/-eh22

The tight association between -om/-em which resulted in old

masculine z-stems taking sometimes the ending -om instead of -em
could have had a disturbing effect on the feminine e-stems. The re?
gular ending here was -em, but -em was figuring more and more as
simply an alternate form of -om. Such a trend would certainly have
tended to produce -om in feminines too if it had gone unchecked. At
the time of the shift of z-stem masculines into the o-declension the

19 M., p. 47, noMohH (1254); P- 64, o6jiacTH (1293).

20 Examples of mixing occur commonly in the 13th century. E.g. BJiacTejiH, BJiacrejiMH;
BJiacTenoM, BJiacTeneM (13th c.); rpaaoBeM, 3aKOHeM (14th c.). See Danicid, op. cit.,
PP- 37, 69, 74.
21 The ending -mi also derived from the w-declension -umi [-t?mh].
22 E.g. hhokoxb, Tpbroxb, cejioxb. See Danicic, op. cit., p. 130.

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trend of development in the language was clearly towa

ferentiation of masculine and feminine genders into sepa
sions. The tendency of such a characteristic masculine end
to spread to the feminines would have contradicted this t
action against the possible penetration into the feminine
what were felt to be masculine endings could easily hav
off the analogical change of-em > -im, etc. One might expe
pace of mixing of the z-declension masculines with the 0-
was different in different areas. In some areas there would have been
less range of free variation, a better retention by the old z-stems of
their original endings and therefore correspondingly less threat to
the feminine paradigm. There would have been less motivation for
a change, and the old endings could have been preserved. On the
other hand, where the assimilation of z-stem masculines into the 0-
declension proceeded rapidly, there would inevitably have been a
period of considerable mixing with free variation of termination be?
coming a feature of most, if not all, of the case forms. In those cir?
cumstances, it is difficult to see how the feminine z-stems could have
avoided being caught up in this process unless they underwent some
change to underline their distinction from masculines. In only two
cases had there earlier been a distinction between the two genders, in
the instrumental singular and nominative plural (gostem, kostju;
gostje, kosti.) Of these, the nominative plural distinction was at once
obscured by the passing of masculines into the 0-declension, where
they began to take the termination -i (gosti).
These suggested feminine z-stem developments represent then the
commonest type of analogical change, and for them there existed a
clear motivation in certain structural developments of the early period.
Such a development would have been possible. But is there any
evidence that would allow us, despite the normal usage of the texts,
to conclude that the feminine z-stems had indeed generalised the
vowel i in the three cases in question earlier than the end of the 15th
century? Up till then the old endings dominate the texts: -em Dat. dual _ma

Inst. pl. -mi Inst.
Loc. pl. -eh
From the beginning of the 16th century, however, the new dativ
instrumental ending -im/-ima, paralleling exactly the ^-decle
ending -am/-ama appears and becomes used with increasing
gularity. In the locative, the form -ih is also used from the
period, though the texts show more conservatism here. It is clear
the old set of endings might possibly have generated a new set -
-ema (which nowhere occurs) but not the alternation -im/-ima.

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352 D. J. L. JOHNSON

the generation of -im/-ima it is essent

ence of terminations based on the vowe
Dat. pl. -im Dat. dual -ima
Inst. pl. -imi Inst, dual -ima
With the loss of the dual as a separate category, the new alternati
-im/-ima for both cases would be established by the same simple pr
cess as for ^-declension feminines. Strong signs of the weakening of
dual appear from the end of the 14th century. It seems, therefor
that one would be justified in concluding that the endings -im, -im
-ima, and, no doubt, also therefore -ih, were in existence before t
time. If the loss of the dual had taken place when z-stems still retai
their old endings, it is difficult to see what developments might ha
arisen out of the use in free variation of the old plural and old du
terminations, i.e. -em/-ma; -mi/-ma. There was certainly no simp
path to the assimilation of these alternations into alternations of
type, -am/-ama or -im/-ima. As has been mentioned, there is
evidence of any such development as -em/-ema which, in any c
would seem an unlikely product of the base set of alternations. Th
most likely type of simplification would seem to be the dropping
the old dual half of the alternations, and the establishing of the for
-em, -mi in the dative and instrumental plural, especially as th
were no common nouns of this declension which, by virtue of the
meaning, were more likely to be used in the dual than in the plur
and whose dual form continued in use, but became reassessed
plurals.23 This seems to have been the course of development at le
in those dialects that are reflected in the texts.
The fact that -im/-ima is by the end of the 15th century alread
appearing in texts reflecting dialects other than the innovating on
again points towards the early part of the 15th century, and
period of the loss of the dual as the time of its genesis, and theref
to the likelihood of -im/-ima being an internal product of proces
within the z-declension. Belie, however, implies that -im/-ima
z-declension feminines is secondary.24 He suggests it is due to the i
fluence of either (a) masculine nouns or (b) the two nouns oci, usi
will take the second point first. From the very beginning of the h
tory of Serbo-Croat, the dual forms oci, usi had been closely assoc
ated with the dual forms of the z-declension,
i-declension dual oko, dual
Norn. Acc. kosti oci
Gen. Loc. kostju ociju
Dat. Inst. kostma ocima
23 One might suppose that nouns such as ruka, noga, that w
dual helped to perpetuate the ending -ama in the a-declensio
24 Istorija p. 65.

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The likelihood that oci exerted some influence on the dual z-declen?
sion forms is strong, but the probabilities are that any such influence
would have made itself felt before the loss of the dual as a separate
category, not afterwards. When the dual forms of the z-declension
were still alive the closely similar forms of oci could well have in?
fluenced them in the direction kostju>kostiju, kostma > kostima,
thus reinforcing the other factors leading to a generalisation of i vowel
in both the plural and dual of the dative and instrumental, and in the
locative plural. The resultant identity of form, ocima, kostima, could
then have allowed the words oci and usi which were usual in dual
forms, to play a role in the preservation of the dual form as
alternate plural, kostim/kostima. If there had been no such develop
ment, the link between the z-declension and oci which existed only i
the dual would have been broken with the loss of that category. Th
z-declension nouns would in all probability have lost their old du
forms, as indeed happened in other dialects25 and the forms ocima,
etc. would have become isolated as irregular plurals. As such, th
could hardly have subsequently caused the development of -im/-im
in the mass of i declension nouns. If the now plural paradigm of oc
had exerted such an unlikely influence, one wonders why it should
have been limited to the dative and instrumental, and not also have
been felt in the genitive ? The question also arises?why should such
a development have taken place in some areas but not in other
Belic's other suggestion that the z-declension's -im/-ima arose unde
the influence of the masculine paradigm is also extremely improbabl
The processes by which the old set of possible masculine termination
in dative and instrumental could have generated independentl
-im/-ima would have been complex. They would have required t
synchronic existence in a single case form of at least seven differe
endings in free or partially free variation (that is not counting the
endings -mi, -ma which could possibly be assumed to be lost an
which were not essential to the process). These endings would ha
embodied three totally different types of alternation:

1. -om/-oma
-em/-ema ? a
2. -om/-em/-im vowel alternations
3. -i/-im ? m
There is, in my opinion, no likelihood of
tions really existing in speech. In any case

25 Examples in the texts such as bolestma are isolat

and modern dialect forms such as rijecma are to be ex
of the extending ending -ima in dialect areas that had

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354 D- J- L- JOHNSON
himself elsewhere expressed doubt abo
Apart from the above general considerations pointing to the
existence of z-declension forms -im, -imi, -ih prior to the appearance
of the new endings -im, -ima, there are some textual indications.

i. KopncTHMH (1465). Inst, pl., M., no. 403, p. 494.

2. HacrHMH (1421). Inst, pl., M., no. 280, p. 317.
3. MOJiHTBHXb (14th cent.). Loc. pl., on a stone inscription from the
church of St Demetrius, Old Serbia. See Lj. Stojanovic, 'Stari srpski
zapisi i natpisi5, in %bornik za istoriju, jezik i knjizevnost srpskog naroda,
Belgrade, 1965 I, p. 40.

Molitva was an old zz-stem deverbative. This type of noun seems to

have passed quite early to the 0-stems in most Slavonic dialects.
The word is recorded in Old Church Slavonic texts only in 0-stem
form.27 In the stokavic texts it appears regularly as an 0-stem, though
the world kletva which was of the same type and in Old Church
Slavonic texts is also recorded only as an 0-stem shows hesitation
between the z- and 0-declension (see below). In early cakavic texts
the word appears as an z-declension feminine although it is only
attested in the nominative and accusative singular, molitav.28 In
most Slovene dialects the words of this type adhered at least
in the singular to the z-declension (molitev, kletev, resitev). The
paradigm of other old w-stems in the Old Church Slavonic texts
showed together with the survival of some old consonant stem
endings, a division between the z- and 0-stems with z-stem termina?
tions in the singular and nominative and accusative plurals
and 0-stem endings in the other plural cases. In the Serbo-
Croatian texts at least up to the end of the 14th century, the declen?
sion of these nouns was characterised in the singular by a vacillation
between z- and 0-stem terminations, e.g. acc. sing., jno6aBb (M.,
p. 232), Jno6bBy (M., p. 217); gen. sing., jioy6Be (M., p. 3), jho6i>bh
(M., p. 20); inst, sing., jiy6aB&K> (M., p. 274), jiioGbomb (M., p. 261).
Examples in the plural are sparse but instances such as kletvi in the
nominative and accusative are a fairly clear indication of the exis?
tence at least in those cases of vacillation, e.g.

aa coy Bee kjictbh Ha hcmb nane (M., p. 222);

Aa hh y6nK) BHine nncaHe kjictbh29

26 Dvojina, p. 128.
27 R. Aitzetmueller and L. Sadnik, Handworterbuch zu den altkirchenslavischen Texten, The
Hague, 1955.
28 Rjecnik hrvatskoga iii srpskoga jezika JA2JJ, VI, p. 912.
29 Quoted from Danicic, Rjehiik iz knjizevnih starina srpskih, Belgrade, 1863, p. 447. He
gives an incorrect reference for this sentence.

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The form of the words in agreement with kletvi makes it h
likely that it represents a Serbianisation of an Old Church
0-stem termination as in ?npbBbie kjictbh aflaMOBH (M
The form molitvih is evidence both of the existence in som
an z-declension ending -ih, and also of the extension to the
the vacillation between z- and 0-stems. The existence of molit
by side with molitvah is a strong indication of the existenc
forms as crkvih side by side with crkvah.

4. 6ojiapHMH. 3 times.

(a) cb mohmh 6ojiapHMH, M., no. 35, p. 28 (1240)

(b) cb 6ojiapHMH, M., no. 37, p. 30 (1243)
(c) cb mohmh 6ojiapHMH, M., no. 39, p. 32 (1249)

The word bolare was an old masculine consonant stem, but

ing used here is irregular. It occurs in those very few early
only to disappear and then be taken up again very much
coming quite common in the 17th century. There is cer
continuity here. The later ending -imi arose under the imp
advancing -im/-ima in those areas where the old instrumen
mination -mi was well preserved. Danicic30 and after him L
characterise the ending -imi as an amalgam of the two regu
ings in the 13th century, namely -i and -mi. This must be r
highly unlikely. Although in the course of its history, Serbo
been marked by a relatively high degree of free variation in
tions, there is no example of two endings in free variation b
together to form a new ending.32 Such a procedure would b
ceivable unless one or other of the endings had for some re
come weak and insufficiently expressive. There is abso
evidence of this happening here. The endings -i and -mi con
individual use for centuries. The existence of-i, -mi in free
would engender the feeling that the case was marked by

= (?m)i

This would provide no basis for the development of -imi. It is clear

too that there could be no question here of scribal errors under the
influence of the accompanying adjectival ending.
One must therefore conclude that although -imi was not a

30 Istorija . . ., p. ii8.
31 Leskien, Grammatik der serbo-kroatischen Sprache, Heidelberg, 1914, p. 438.
32 The Slavonian dialect forms such as klupija do not represent such an amalgam. They
are due to the superimposing of advancing -a on to an earlier state when the gen. pl. was
marked both by -0 and -i.

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356 D. J. L. JOHNSON
masculine ending it could for a limited period in som
to mark the instrumental plural of the class of n
only plausible explanation of this fact is that -imi w
of the feminine z-declension. The evidence suggests
of mixing of the old masculine z-stems and 0-stems
proceeded faster in the singular than in the plur
spread to the plural, nouns of the type bolare would
better position to resist change than others, since th
stems in singular and plural, and had always been
adherence to two different paradigms. Retaining
firmly their specifically z-declension type in the pl
could well have been sporadically affected by ne
within the feminine z-declension.
The number of these textual indications may seem small, but if
one bears in mind that there are in all the texts up to the end of the
15th century no more than a handful of examples of the dative, in?
strumental and locative plurals of z-declension feminines (and some
of those are in texts of Church Slavonic style) then these few ex?
amples assume relatively greater significance.
If by the middle of the 13th century some dialect had developed
a plural paradigm where all the oblique cases were characterised by
the same initial vowel in the termination, and where the genitive was
marked by that vowel alone and long, then an extension of this
pattern to the other feminine declension would generate -a:

kosti zen + a
kostim zenam
kostimi zenami
kostih zenah

This development could have taken place suff

this new ending to spread to neuters and ma
reflected in the texts by the middle of the 14
The split in the old z-declension express
language to polarise the declensional system
neuter type on the one hand and a feminin
would have been precisely at such a time that
between the two feminine declensions wou
This link was expressed in real speech by t
classes and some individual nouns between th
these nouns that could have been the real bea
which -a was created, though their presen
essential to the process. Examples of the vacill
given above, Here are some for criky. They ar

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Norn. sing. upbKbBb npbKBa
pp. 99, 191 pp. 197, 416
Acc. sing. itpbKbBb i^pbKBy
pp. io, 17 pp. 87, 417
Gen. sing. npbKBH upbKBe
pp. 13, 116 pp. io, 14
Inst. Sing. UpbKBlK) UpbKBOMb
p. 195 pp. 134, in

Further examples of the z-decl

Norn. sing. KjieTbBb A
Inst. sing. KJieTBbio A
Acc. sing. KjieTbBb A
Examples of vacillation are far
of the group, but there is no g
longer retention of z-declen
Slavonic influence. There is no contextual evidence of this and it can
be accounted for simply by the fact that this word is by far the com?
monest of the group. Moreover, vacillation in the words molitva and
kletva cannot possibly be due to OCS influence. The word kletva
appears in OCS only in 0-stem form whereas the modern Montene?
grin dialect preserves an z-declension form kletav.33 The word obrva
occurs in z-declension form in Dalmatian literature (Stulic, Marulic,
Lucie)?obrv. The old ljuby is preserved in the modern language in
both 0- and z-declension form, though there has been a semantic split,
ljuba, ljubav. It seems highly likely that other members of the group
also passed through a stage of vacillation before finally extablishing
their adherence to the 0-declension (cf. modern Serbo-Croat,
svekrva, jetrva, mrkva, bradva, bukva, smokva, lokva).34 The texts
indicate that the period of vacillation was prolonged, lasting at least
into the 14th century. If this is so, then it is unlikely that the vacilla?
tion could have been rigorously confined to the singular especially in
areas where there was dialect mixing. The textual evidence for the
plural forms is scanty, but the form molitvih (see above) is some
justification for postulating the existence at least for a period and in
some places of a free variation of z- and 0-declension terminations in
the plural of these nouns as in the singular.
N. kletvi kletve
A. kletvi kletve
G. kletvi kletiv

33 Vuk Karadzic, Rjecnik, s.v.

34 Modern zrvan side by side with zrvna is a re-for
native and accusative plural zrvni.

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358 D. J. L. JOHNSON
D. kletvim kletvam
I. kletvimi kletvami
L. kletvih kletvah

By analogy with the alternation kletvim/kl

ment of a parallel alternation kletvi/kletiva
natural. The old zz-stems were not the only
the z- and 0-declensions. The words mati, k
(e.g., gen. sing, kcere, Af., p. 211; gen. pl. c
stokavic shows a shift from z-declension to 0-declension in some other
words, e.g. pesma< pesni; or vacillation, e.g., gusle, gusli; jasli, jasle.
In cakavic the mixing of the z#- and 0-declensions was more vigorous.
It took the form of the extension to the z-stems of the plural endings
-am, -ami, -ah. Examples are numerous in Dalmatian literature
(rican, stvarama, sladostam, sladosta).35 Belie attributes this to the
retention in cakavic of the old endings, -Im, -ih, etc., but this is very
uncertain since -am, -ah occur in dialects where i>e. It is quite
possible that for a period some dialects of stokavic developed a greater
degree of mixing than is evidenced by the texts or by the modern
state of the language.
35 For examples see Danicic^ op. cit. pp. 101, 128.

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