Short term morphosyntactic change

Benson (1954) - STMC bibliography


Benson, M. 1954. The Development of Predicate Adjective Usage in Russian Literary Prose from Pushkin on. PhD dissertation, University of Pennsylvania. Ann Arbor, Michigan: University Microfilms.


This dissertation addresses the use and variation of three types of predicate nominals: short form adjectives, long form nominative adjectives and long form instrumental adjectives:

(1)  On   byl  sčastliv
  he was   happy [SHORT FORM]
  ‘He was happy.’
(2)  On  byl  sčastliv-yj
  he was   happy-NOM.LONG FORM
  ‘He was happy.’
(3)  On   byl  sčastliv-ym
  he was  happy-INS.LONG FORM
  ‘He was happy.’

The dissertation consists of four chapters. Chapter 1 is an introduction, which concerns the genesis and development of short form and long form adjectives (in the author’s terminology, “nominal” and “pronominal” respectively) in Proto-Slavonic, Old Church Slavonic and Old Russian, and discusses these two adjective forms in other Indo-European languages and the use of such adjectives in contemporary Slavonic languages other than Russian.  

The three following chapters are dedicated to short form predicate adjectives (“Predicate Adjectives in the Nominal Form”), long form predicate adjectives (“Predicate Adjectives in the Pronominal Form”) and long form instrumental (“Predicate Adjectives in the Instrumental Case”).  

Each chapter begins with a brief historical overview, semantic and stylistic characteristics of usage and proceeds to the analysis of the conditions relevant for the choice of a particular form. In each chapter consideration is given to the type of the verb. The use of short forms is analysed separately with the copula byt´ (‘to be’) and with semi-copular verbs, such as kazat ´sja ‘seem’ , stanovit´sja ‘become’ , okayzvat´sja ‘turn out’ , ostavat´sja ‘remain’ , delat´sja ‘become’ . The use of long forms (nominative and instrumental ) is considered with three types of verb: copula, semi-copular and full verbs (“verbs of independent predication”).

Other factors include: particular pronouns as objects (vs ё ‘all’, eto ‘this’, to ‘that’, verbs in the imperative, lack of a short form, fixed expressions (chapter 1), “expressions of ownership” (volosy u nego byli dlinnye ‘he had long hair’), superlative forms with samyj ‘most’ (chapter 2), predicate complements (chapter 3).

On the basis of statistics from three periods, (i) the Classical period (1820 – 1870), (ii) the middle period (1880 – 1917), and (iii) the Soviet period (1917 – 1952), the author concludes that short forms declined in use from 81% in the Classical period to 63% in the middle period and to 59% in the Soviet period. He point to the fact that in contemporary Russian the relatively high frequency of short forms is due to a small number of adjectives frozen in this form. If examples with such adjectives are omitted in the Classical period, the frequency of short forms still exceeds that of the other two forms in total. This would not hold for the Soviet period, where short forms are much less frequent.

At the same time two other forms show a continual rise in frequency: long form nominative adjectives increase from 12% in the Classical period to 28% in the Soviet period, while instrumental long forms show an increase from 7% to 13% for the same period. The book concludes with three lists of conditions favouring each of the three predicate forms.

Texts investigated

Fiction from 1820 to 1952. The corpus consists of three parts.

Classical period 1820 – 1870

  • Puškin A. S. complete prose (1828-1836)
  • Lermontov M.Ju. Geroj našego vremeni, (1841)
  • Gogol´ N.V. Taras Bul´ba (1841), Mёrtvye duši (1842)
  • Dostojevskij F.M. Bednye ljudi (1845)
  • Gercen A.I. Kto vinovat? (1846)
  • Gončarov I.A. Oblomov (1959)
  • Turgenev I.A. Nakanune (1860), Otcy i deti (1862)
  • Tolstoj L.N. Sevastopol´ v mae (1855), Junost´ (1856), Kazaki (1862), Anna Karenina (1877) 

Middle period 1880 – 1917

  • Saltzkov-Ščedrin M.E. Gospoda Golovlevy (1880)
  • Garšin V.M. Krasnyj cvetok ( 1883)
  • Mamin-Sibirjak D.N. Xleb (1901)
  • Bunin I.A. Derevnja (1911)
  • Kuprin A.I. Molox (1896)

Soviet period 1917 – 1952

  • Furmanov D. Čapaev (1923)
  • Serafimovič A. Železnyj potok (1924)
  • Gladkov N. Cement (1925)
  • Šoloxov M. Podnjataja celina (1932)
  • Ostrovskij N. Kak zakaljalas´ stal´ (1934)
  • Tolstoj A.N. Xleb (1937), Xmuroe utro (1941)
  • Érenburg I. Padenie Pariža, (1942)
  • Simonov K. Dni i noči (1945)
  • Fadeev A. Molodaja gvardija (1951)


Calculations were made for each part of the corpus, separately for constructions with the copula byt’ and for semi-copula verbs. No further classification of instances was made. Percentages are not accompanied by raw numbers.

Which data from the source were used

Statistics from the source are presented in the database in their entirety.

Project members

Prof Greville G. Corbett
Dr Matthew Baerman
Dr Dunstan Brown
Dr Alexander Krasovitsky
Dr Alison Long

Period of award:

September 2004 - May 2008


Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) - RG/AN4375/APN18306