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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Russian conjugation McFadden, Kenneth Dallas


In his article "Russian Conjugation" (Word IV, 1948) Prof. Roman Jakobson presented an alternative analysis of the Russian conjugation based on the principle of the 'full-stem' and the "pivotal feature" of all Slavic conjugation, truncation, i.e. the loss of the final phoneme of a (verbal) stem or of the initial phoneme of the desinence. By confining this strictly synchronic formal analysis of present-day Standard Russian to simple verbs (with unprefixed one-root stems) and to the purely-verbal categories (the finite forms and the infinitive), adequate coverage of all principles and problems, including many illustrations, was possible in just a little more than 9 pages and the final section, listing only 41 exceptions, though somewhat oversimplified, gave striking proof of the superiority of the principles tested and a hint of the use that might be made of them in teaching Russian. With these two impressions in mind (i.e. the system's apparent superiority and its possible usefulness in the class), a further examination has been made here which involves the extension of the analysis to include those verb forms purposely excluded by Jakobson (i.e. the compound and semiverbal forms) in an attempt to demonstrate the extent of its validity and, at the same time, to investigate the practicality of its adoption in teaching Russian. It would, after all, be to the credit of the full-stem system of analyzing the Russian conjugation if it were possible, without too much complication, to predict the behavior of a verb's gerunds, participles and prefixed finite forms on the basis of its full-stem. In any case, the teacher of Russian requires some demonstration of the system's performance when it is applied to these additional forms as students are apt to want to do. A consistent effort has been made to preserve the essence of the full-stem, as conceived by Jakobson, as a sort of formula or 'key' to the grammatical forms. No new types of full-stem have been introduced, but two basic additions to the general principles do appear. One of these, the principle of the two-full-stem or multi-full-stem verb, is instrumental in reducing the number of exceptions admitted by Jakobson and is the result of the logical extension of Jakobson's basic principle to the position that any verbal form must realise a full-stem, even if it means proposing two or more full-stems to account for all the forms of certain verbs. A second major addition involves one of the most important 'significant features’ of the full-stem, namely the accent type. This is a direct result of the inclusion of semiverbal and prefixed forms. In order to explain the different stress preferences in these forms in otherwise identical full-stems, e.g. the nonsyllabic unaccented V'J_ (twist) and L'J__ (pour) with Masc. Pret. and short Masc. Past Pass. Part. na+v'í_l-#, na+v'í_t-# and ná+l'i__l-#, na+l'i_t-# (preferred to na+l'í_l-#, na+1'i_t-#) respectively, the principle of 'degrees of unaccentedness' within full-stem types has been introduced (i.e. V' J__ unacc., L' ˋJ_ maximally unacc.). In an attempt to improve the already established principles of describing the accent types of various full-stems, more emphasis has been placed on the feature of columnarity of stress pattern as the primary criterion for accentedness. This topic is of particular concern among the monosyllabic broadly-closed full-stems, which Jakobson divides into accented and unaccented varieties, but which may alternatively be considered two different varieties of accented full-stems whose "columnar" stress patterns contrast with those of the unaccented items among the other types of non-polysyllabics. With only a few changes in the detail of the system as conceived by Jakobson, the additions named above have been successfully adapted to the full-stem idea. This has however been achieved only at the expense of the clarity, precision and brevity of the exposition. Though the validity of the system has only become ever more apparent as the more complex data regularly submitted to formulization, the full complexity of the problem as it exists without any artificial limitations has made the preservation of the system's original virtues impossible even though, as will be seen, the number of verbs that need be strictly termed exceptional can be effectively reduced, even from Jakobson's low total of 41. The system's attractiveness from the pedagogical point of view is, however, seriously affected "by this increased complexity".

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