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Article

Historical development of labile verbs in modern Russian

Linguistics. 2015. Vol. 53. No. 3. P. 611-647.

The article deals with the phenomenon of lability (ambitransitivity), in other words, the ability of a verb to be either transitive or intransitive. I analyze the historical development of verbs which are currently labile in modern Russian. The main group of Russian labile verbs contains verbs of motion. On the basis of corpus and dictionary data, I conclude that the behaviour of the lexemes under analysis is far from being uniform. However, interestingly, for most of them, e.g., lit' 'flow', gonjat' 'urge, drive', and kružit' 'roll', the proportion of the intransitive use grows throughout the period under analysis, though for the verb kapat'/kapnut' 'drip', in contrast, the transitive use becomes more and more frequent.

In the cases when the intransitive use becomes more frequent, the semantic change matches the statistical one. In the beginning, verbs of this subtype were only used intransitively in a restricted type of contexts (e.g., for gonjat', hunting contexts represent this restricted class), where the intransitive use might be a result of object omission. Later on, the semantic range of the intransitive use became wider and the lability was no longer semantically related to object omission. I conclude that the semantic change of the uses of labile verbs often go together with semantic changes. Importantly, the borderline between A- and P-lability is not as strict as it is put sometimes: P-lability (the causative/non-causative alternation) can in some cases be traced back to A-lability (object omission).