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Stem initial alternation in Russian third person pronouns: variation in grammar

P. 95-103.

The paper discusses the present stage of the evolution of the initial [n]/[j] stem alternation in Russian third person pronouns. After providing a short overview of the origins of the forms, I focus on their category status, discuss Zalizniak’s ‘adpositionality’ in some detail, and then proceed to considering the cases where the ‘n’-forms are induced by a distant ‘controller’. I will show that the fact that the ‘n’-forms are essentially variants is better accounted for by the notion of ‘trigger’ of a morphological variant. To my eyes, this open ways to a better understanding of the observed evidence than that using the conventional notion of morphosyntactic controller, on the one hand—and certainly than explaining them in (morpho)phonological terms. In the end, I will briefly argue that, in a sense, the evolution of the alternation is similar to degrammaticalization, showing a movement from a morphophonologically conditioned external sandhi to a morphosyntactic category similar to government.