<. . .> THE SLAVIC LANGUAGES and dialects are related to other Indo-European (or Indo-Germanic) languages. Relationship here means only that all Indo-European languages are peculiar modifications of the same primordial linguistic material, reshaped and further developed by each Indo-European people. The present and past Indo-European languages and dialects are only separate descendants of a single, common proto-language which in the course of time evolved in various directions.
At the stage of the proto-language there already existed minute, at first individual, and then dialectical peculiarities that formed the basis of subsequent differentiation. The increase of these minute dialectal differences led in the end to the formation of separate dialect groups.
There is no reason, however, to assume that this differentiation followed an uninterrupted, ever more disparate development. The centrifugal process was at all times paralleled by a centripetal development. The latter led to ethnic leveling and assimilation by way of borrowing and mixing. However, many transitional dialects, which served as connecting links between various groups, have disappeared, whereas the languages or dialect groups which clearly differed from each other have survived. Of all the clearly differentiated and mutually interacting Indo-European language groups, the following have been preserved until now:
—major groups with a large number of speakers: Indie, Iranian, Romance, Germanic, and Slavic;
—minor groups with a small number of speakers: Armenian, Greek, Albanian, Celtic, and Baltic (i.e., Letto-Lithuanian).
From the geographic or topographic point of view, the Indie (or Indo-Aryan) and Iranian peoples are found almost exclusively in Asia; Armenians and Greeks, in Asia and Europe; the Celtic and Baltic peoples and the Albanians, almost exclusively in Europe (though some Celts have emigrated to America). The Romance and Germanic peoples are found primarily in Europe and America, but they are also scattered in other parts of the world.
The Slavs occupy a compact area in Europe and in northern Asia; recently they have formed colonies in America as well. They comprise the following distinct dialect groups:
In the East Slavic linguistic area are the Russians; i.e., Slavs who speak the various Russian dialects. The Russian dialect group is divided into two large subgroups: a northern or Great Russian-Byelorussian, and a southern or Ukrainian.
In the northwest, the Russian linguistic area borders immediately on the Polish (and Baltic) (linguistic) area, and in the south-west it is separated by the Roumanians from the Bulgarian linguistic area in the Balkan peninsula.
Northwest of the Bulgarians are the various Serbo-Croatian dialects.
Beyond them there is a mixed dialectal area, occupied by various Slavic tribes which go under the general name of Slovenes.
The South Slavic linguistic area extends to the north of Italy; some remnants of older Serbian and Bulgarian colonies continue to exist in southern Italy.
The Slovenes occupy the extreme portion of the South Slavic linguistic area, which is separated from the Northwest Slavic area by the Hungarians and Germans.
The southeastern part of the Northwest area is occupied by Slovaks, who border in the east on the Ukrainians, better known in these localities as Ruthenians or Rusnaks. The Slovaks are separated from the Polish linguistic area by the Carpathian Mountains.
West of the Slovaks are the people most closely related to them, the Czechs. The latter make up the Slavic population of Moravia, Bohemia, and of the small port of Silesia which is not occupied by Poles.
North of the Czechs, but separated from them by a broad belt of German inhabitants, are the Sorbians or Lusatian Wends, who form a Slavic island in Saxony and Brandenburg and who are divided into Upper and Lower Sorbians.
Some Slavic tribes, designated by the general name Polabians, were located earlier north of the Lusatian Wends. Assimilated by their immediate German neighbors and conquerors, they completely lost their ethnic identity. The Kashubians, who occupy the shores of the Baltic Sea near the mouth of the Vistula, may be viewed as a remnant of one of the Polabian tribes. The language of the Kashubians is at present very similar to that of their immediate Slavic neighbors, the Poles, and their dialect is usually treated as a dialect of Polish.
Finally, there are the Poles, the most numerous of the Northwestern Slavs in spite of the heavy losses which they suffered in the ethnic struggle with the Germans.
In most cases it is easy to determine the dialect boundaries between the above-mentioned Slavic peoples. Thus, there are no transitional dialects between the Poles and the Russians, the Serbs and the Bulgarians, the Poles and the Slovaks, the Poles and the Czechs, or even between the Great Russians and the Ukrainians.
The topographic boundaries between the various Slavic peoples can in most cases be drawn quite easily, but sometimes, as in the case of the Poles, this is not so simple. Eastward the Poles do not form a compact mass even within the borders of their own Polish kingdom, overlapping in the north with the Lithuanians and in the south with the Byelorussians and Ukrainians. But the Polish population reaches far east of this line. For in addition to the compact Polish settlements in certain parts of the Grodno and Vilno provinces, Poles are also scattered in the area occupied by the compact Russian population in the east.
At any rate we can state that generally the Slavs do not form compact linguistic areas. The linguistic area occupied by the Poles, Byelorussians, and Ukrainians also has a strong admixture of Jews who speak a variety of a German dialect, and must be grouped ethno-linguistically with the Germans.
We may now ask the question: how did the differentiation and designation of these various linguistic groups come about? Was the distinction between the Slavs and other Indo-European peoples, and between the Slavs themselves, established scientifically? Were the linguistic traits of the Slavs established first, and of the separate Slavic groups later? This was patently not the case. The designation of a people and its difference from other peoples, as well as the difference between languages, were mostly established intuitively, on the basis of overall impressions. Originally no one appealed to scientific linguistic criteria in separating the Slavs from the Baits or the Poles from the Czechs. These questions were broached only later when scholars began to define linguistic differences and to work on the classification of languages.
This work was not at first confined to a simple scientific justification of generally accepted distinctions; it aimed at the discovery of new groupings and the establishment of the various degrees of relationship between the members of a given language family.
Until now, however, efforts in this direction have yielded insignificant results. The (scientifically) established distinctions have mostly been too negligible to serve as a basis for the genetic classification of languages. Under close scrutiny all the genealogical schemes, which have absorbed so much energy, appear to be inadequate.
Thus, for example, the Slavic languages form a separate language family within the Indo-European linguistic group. The question of whether this family is in some particularly close relation to another family of the same linguistic area remains at best uncertain. The classification of the Slavic languages themselves is not much clearer. The genealogical schemes suggested until now remain, at any rate, less scientific than the commonly accepted division of the individual Slavic languages or, rather, the individual Slavic dialect groups.
What is, however, quite clear is that there never existed an Italo-Celtic, Italo-Greek, or Germano-Balto-Slavic proto-language, just as there never existed a Southeast, Northwest, or South Slavic proto-language. The Slavs are ethnically no closer to the Germans than are the Greeks to the Romance peoples, and the Russians no closer to the Bulgarians than to the Poles. The posited proto-languages are fictions which never existed in reality.
The scholars have, furthermore, sought in vain to provide a genetic classification that would reconstruct the actual course of linguistic development. This, unfortunately, cannot be achieved with the means available to contemporary science. The solution of this problem is a matter for the future. But what is indisputable is that such a reconstruction cannot be based on the notion of a genealogical tree. The genealogy of languages is not as simple as the personal genealogy of the nobility. It is too complex, too confused.
The attempted genealogies of related languages lend themselves to the following objections.
Even a priori it is clear that the branching of languages is not as simple as is usually assumed (proto-language A splits into daughter languages B and C, and each of them again splits into several daughter languages—for example B into D, E and F and C into G, H, etc.). The actual situation is quite different. For at two distant points of a continuous linguistic area the same tendencies may arise quite independently, yielding similar, though genetically unrelated, results. Several variant dialects, B, C, D, etc., may, furthermore, develop in the same originally single linguistic area A. Later on, however, a part of C may develop, under certain conditions, into a vernacular differing not only from B and D, but also from the rest of C to a larger extent than the latter differs from B and D. No one will deny that the difference between Russian and the Russo-Chinese dialect of Kjaxta1 is greater than the difference between Russian and other Slavic languages. The difference between High German and Yiddish, a Judeo-German language which is related to High German, is greater than that between High German and the other German dialects or even the Germanic languages. Thus, it is impossible to ignore the enormous role of ethnic mixing, on the one hand, and of emigration and other forms of ethnic separation, on the other.
This being the case, we must abandon the supposedly precise genetic classification of languages and be content with a precise characterization of separate languages and language families including the periods of transition from older to more recent stages.
What is important, however, is to identify characteristic traits that are of general significance, that pervade the phonetic and morphological structure of language, and not disparate facts of a secondary nature or details which are mere surrogates of the general features.
Unfortunately, very little has so far been done in this area. Preliminary investigations do not yet permit us to form an idea of the general patterning of languages and to establish those features which occur in some languages but not in others.
Every language presents two sides: a phonetic and a psychological one. Every utterance can thus be dismembered and analyzed from a double viewpoint. A purely phonetic analysis yields ultimate, indivisible, linguistic units: the sounds of the language. An analysis from a psychological viewpoint deals, on the other hand, with the relationship of the psychological content of language with the psychological equivalent of sounds, i.e., with the sound images. We shall not dwell longer upon the question of what is psychological in the strict sense, leaving its solution to philosophers and physiologists. But what is a proper linguistic problem is the means by which the phonetic aspect of language is linked with its psychological content. Insofar as we deal with linguistic form, we can speak of morphology, or the study of forms in the broad sense of the word (including syntax); insofar as we study the psychological content, we can speak of semasiology, or the science of meaning.
The most useful characterization of languages would be in terms of their common morphological and semasiological features. The current state of our science hardly permits such a characterization of the Indo-European languages or of the Slavic languages either. Such a characterization is, at any rate, far more difficult than a characterization of phonetic features and of their historical development.
The latter type of characterization of individual languages opens to us several different approaches.
First, the state of a phonetic system can be characterized descriptively and statically. This characterization is in terms of phonetic statics. It includes a description of those organs of speech (e.g., the larynx, nasal cavity, tongue) which participate in the production of the sounds of a given language.
Second, we may investigate phonetic dynamics, i.e., the causes and conditions under which sounds emerge at any given moment, under what conditions they are pronounced more or less energetically, when they play an active role and when a passive one, and so forth. The accumulation of a long series of such dynamic moments permits us to deal with a third kind of phonetic characterization of languages: namely, the characterization of the historical process of phonetic evolution. This approach attempts to establish two actually given periods in the development of a language, and to determine the direction of change of the various categories of sounds and of the sound system as a whole. This, then, is a characterization of language in terms of its development, of the paths taken by the sound system of a language in its transition from an earlier to a later stage.
I shall not dwell at greater length on the application of these principles to the characterization of the Slavic languages as opposed to other Indo-European languages or the various Slavic dialects. But in order to show approximately how such a characterization might look, I will adduce the following example.
In the transition from the proto-Indo-European (proto-Indo-Germanic) to the proto-Slavic period, there occurred a general forward movement of the speech organs, from the larynx toward the tip of the tongue. It involved, among others, the loss of aspirates, the forward shift of the two original series of the so-called “guttural” consonants, etc. The orignal aspirates became simple voiced consonants and coalesced with the corresponding old ones. Thus, one of the phonetic distinctions connected with the activity of the larynx was lost. The two series of velars, which are usually referred to as “gutturals,” shifted forward, so that the entire back series became fronted and the old series of fronted gutturals changed into the consonants z or similar dental consonants. If we were to turn to the history of the Slavic languages of a later period, we could detect a continuing development along the same lines.
Although such a development is not exclusive to the Slavic languages, it nevertheless proceeded in these languages most consistently and in a peculiar fashion.
Such general conclusions concerning the phonetic development of individual groups of languages are by no means negligible, and have an import not only for linguistics but also for anthropology.
The transition period from proto-Indo-European to proto-Slavic was marked, in addition, by the change of all closed syllables into open ones, that was generally caused by the elimination of consonants at the end of syllables. This was also accompanied by a loss of certain consonantal elements that were replaced by zero. Conversely, the transition from proto-Slavic to the modern Slavic languages was characterized in the first place by the loss of some vocalic elements and in the second place by the loss of some consonantal elements.
The above examples for the characterization of languages are taken from the history of their phonetic development, whereas a static characterization of the phonetic system would point out, for example, the relatively large role of the larynx in the production of sounds in Serbo-Croatian, its minor role in Russian, and its minimal role in Polish and Czech. The role of the nasal cavity is, at the same time, somewhat greater in Polish than in the other Slavic languages.
The strong influence of stress on the character of Russian vowels in contrast to its passive role in Polish and in Czech is an example of a characterization pertaining to the field of phonetic dynamics.
In addition, one must consider the various chronological layers, or strata, of phonetic processes. If some strata are shared by two or several related dialect groups, then one can unhesitatingly acknowledge the close genetic relationship of these dialect groups as opposed to other dialects. Thus, for example, there can be no doubt that Ukrainian and Byelorussian belong to the same Common Russian dialect group in contradistinction to all other Slavic dialect groups. Thus, only the Russian group (which includes Great Russian, Byelorussian, and Ukrainian) has the disyllabic sequences -oro, -olo in such words as boroda, golova, which are in the other Slavic languages matched by monosyllabic sequences: brada, glava; broda, głova, or borda, etc. This trait, like other typically Common Russian traits, shows that the entire Russian dialect group was for a certain period of time subject to a common development which differed from that of the other Slavic dialects.
So far we have been primarily concerned with those phenomena of Slavic linguistic development that were of a natural and spontaneous character. Side by side with these, there were developments of an artificial or, more precisely, cultural character that led to the formation of the Slavic literary languages.
The road to them has always been through writing. Every written language, even if it be insignificant, can be viewed as a source of the entire cultural-linguistic life (of a nation). There are a good number of more or less significant written languages among the Slavs. Each Slavic people which considers itself independent has developed a written language of its own. Not all of these written languages have become literary languages in the broad sense of the word; for example, one can hardly speak of the existence of a Kashubian literature. Other minor Slavic literatures include LusatianWendish (Upper and Lower Lusatian), Slovak, Bulgarian, Slovenian, and Ukrainian. In no way can they be considered on a par with the great literatures of the Serbs, Croats, Czechs, Poles, and especially Russians (Great Russians). The internal importance, range of ideas, sphere of influence, depth and breadth, and geographic spread of these respective literatures are incommensurable.
Every written language can, in addition, become a common language, a language of communication for all the members of a speech community, or for all those who identify themselves with a given nation, so that it becomes a model, an ideal norm, for all more or less educated people.
Depending on circumstances, this language may penetrate into the various spheres of social life. It may become the language of the school, church, and so forth, transcending, finally, the national boundaries to become a language of international communication, a world language.
So far no Slavic written language has risen to the level of an international language that would encompass at least all the Slavs. What the future will bring we cannot tell. It is known, however, that the Latin written language, which at one time was dominant in almost all of Europe, is steadily losing both in sphere of influence and in importance. It is also known that French, which is so widespread today, did not emerge until the ninth century, that New High German is of recent origin, and that the third world language, English, is fairly young. Will some world language also emerge among the Slavs in a few centuries? Who can tell? It is possible but not inevitable. Each language is entitled to be used for this purpose, but whether it has the strength required for it is another matter. “Every tongue shall glorify the Lord,” wrote the Apostle Paul (Romans, XIV, 11). And if every tongue is eligible for communication between man and God, then it is so much the more eligible for communication among people.
It cannot be denied that there is no common Slavic written language and no common Slavic literature. There is only a Russian, Polish, Czech, Serbian, or Slovenian written language. For that matter there is no common Germanic, but only an English, German, Dutch, Swedish, Norwegian, or Danish written language. Nor is there any common Romance written language, but only French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and Roumanian. Latin was once the literary representative of the Romance linguistic world, but neither the Germans nor the Slavs developed such a literary vehicle.
I will not go into the external description of the Slavic written languages (for example, into the question of their alphabets and religious affiliation) or into the question of their internal classification and their use outside of literature (e.g., in the schools, church, administration, and government). I shall only touch upon a linguistic question which is of a major interest to any Slavist—the question of Old Church Slavonic. Its ethnic origin remains even now a matter of dispute. Most likely it originated in the Balkan peninsula, for among the living Slavic languages it comes closest to Bulgarian. At first this language was used by the Slavs for missionary purposes, for the translation of the Scriptures and other ecclesiastical literature. At a more recent date it was used in the Orthodox Slavic countries (in Russia, Serbia, and Bulgaria) in a form that was markedly changed under the influence of local dialects, and in secular literature as well. It exerted a significant influence on the Russian literary language. The study of this ancient church language is also very important for a correct understanding of the structure of the other Slavic languages. However, one must not overrate its importance; one must never forget that the study of modern languages, which are still alive and accessible to observation, is far more instructive and variegated than the study of a language which has ceased to exist and which is accessible only through its writing. This statement may seem strange to some people, but the naturalist will grasp its meaning immediately: he knows that firm results in paleontology can be attained only if a solid foundation is first laid in the fields of zoology and botany.
I see, gentlemen, that I have not met the demands of my task with the resources at my disposal. I wanted to give you a survey of the Slavic languages, but you have received only a very approximate picture of this linguistic world. Not everyone has the gift of saying a great deal in a few words. Alas, I am not so fortunate. Perhaps I shall succeed in the future in acquainting you more closely with the Slavic languages and their history and in presenting a general picture of the Slavic dialects.
Thus we shall obtain the factual material which should enable us to draw conclusions of a general linguistic character and to establish general laws of language in all its variety. Bulgarian will afford us an example of transition from the so-called “synthetic” to the so-called “analytic” state of language. We shall see how dialectal differentiation proceeds differently in various areas. We shall find the almost unique linguistic phenomena of minimal dialectal diversity in the immense Great Russian linguistic area, as well as profound dialectal diversity in the tiny Slovenian area—a diversity due to a number of historical, geographical, and other causes. The mutual borrowings among Slavs, and those from other peoples, will confront us with cultural-historical problems. The RussoChinese dialect of Kjaxta, in which the Russian linguistic material has been adapted to Chinese content, will provide us with an example of a mixed language resulting from contact of neighboring peoples. Finally, we shall tackle the question of the effect of social contradictions upon the distribution of languages.
The Slavic linguistic world is extensive enough to allow us to study all those general linguistic questions which I have raised, as well as those which I have not raised.
We shall, besides, not forget that the Slavic languages do not form a closed linguistic group but that they must, on the contrary, always be studied in relation to other, cognate and noncognate, languages. (. . .)
1. Kjaxta is a town in Russia south of Lake Baikal and on the border with Outer Mongolia. In the eighteenth and most of the nineteenth century (before the opening of the Suez Canal) it was an important center for trade with China. Therefore there were many speakers of both Russian and Chinese living in the city, and a local dialect (Kjaxtinskij), based on Russian but containing many elements of Chinese, developed (cf. note 39, p. 77).