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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The classification of the Russian verbs; an examination of the traditional and structural linguistic approaches Ritchford, William


The purpose of the thesis is to compare the traditional and the modern structuralist approaches to the problem of classifying the Russian verbs. In the Introduction a brief historical outline of the treatment of the problem is given. Within the traditional school two main tendencies developed: classification by the present- and by the infinitive-stem. Within the framework of modern structural linguistics new approaches to the problem of classifying the Russian verb were attempted. These attempts culminated in the descriptive system of Roman Jakobson. Besides its main purpose: a comparison of the results of Jakobson with those of two of the newer representatives of the traditional school - Berneker and Unbegaun -, the thesis has as secondary purpose to explain and to a certain extent to criticize the work of Jakobson. In Chapter I the classification of Berneker which starts from the infinitive is presented and discussed; in spite of its doubtless pedagogical merit, the classification is found to contain flaws in its methodology: it is based on mixed criteria, it is not strictly synchronic, it is not exhaustive and it separates groups of verbs which linguistically belong together (as a result of preoccupancy with script). In Chapter II the classification of Unbegaun, which is based on the present tense form, is discussed. Unbegaun’s classificatory technique is found to be stricter than Berneker’s, but this very strictness accentuates the shortcomings of the system. Like Berneker's, Unbegaun's system is largely based on script, and in his case the consequences are more serious. Chapter III is devoted to a discussion of Jakobson’s approach. Jakobson has solved the problem on which all traditional classifications stranded - the matching of present- and infinitive-stems. His solution consists of the setting up of a (sometimes artificial) underlying stem-form, from which the alternations of the stem can be predicted on the basis of the simplest possible set of rules. The alternations of the stem are, in the main, described in terms of truncation (loss of a final stem phoneme). In view of this feature the basic stem-forms are subdivided into stem in vowel, stem in j, v, m, n, and stem in other consonants. The subdivision proves useful in the statement of the rules for softening and stress, for which Jakobson has been the first to state general rules. In the Conclusion it is demonstrated that, as opposed to the confusion of varied criteria of classification characteristic of the traditional school, the basis of Jakobson's system is simply the phonemic structure of the basic stem-form. Furthermore, Jakobson's systematizing technique differs basically from that of his predecessors. Whereas the latter carry out consecutive subdivisions of the material thus obtaining separate classes of verbs - set up on the basis of separate criteria, Jakobson’s descriptive system forms one closely-knit whole, where a minimum of distinctions is employed to the describe the behavior of a maximum of the total number of Russian verbs.

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