Short term morphosyntactic change

Gustavsson (1976) - STMC bibliography


Gustavsson, Sven. 1976. Predicate adjectives with the copula byt’ in Modern Russian. Stockholm: Almqwist & Wiksell International.


This book is concerned with the variation in the form of predicate adjectives with the copula byt ´ (‘to be’) in contemporary Russian, as in (1), (2) and (3):

(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 choice of predicate form is analysed on the basis of a large body of examples extracted from contemporary journalism and fiction texts.The author also uses the corpus to draw conclusions about vernacular speech by analyzing passages of direct speech in the fiction materials. The book consists of the introduction and seven chapters.

The author classifies adjectives into four types (chapter 1):

  1. adjectives that have short form, long form nominative and long form instrumental;
  2. adjectives that have long form nominative and long form instrumental;
  3. adjectives that have short form and long form instrumental;
  4. adjectives that have short form only.

The five following chapters are dedicated to factors that condition the choice of the three forms.

In chapter 2 Gustavsson analyzes the impact of style on the choice of the adjective form. He arrives at the conclusion that although the adjective in a particular form may have a stylistic value and may be preferred in a given style, there are many instances when it is the construction which requires a particular form and which has a stylistic flavour, and this may account for the high frequency of an adjective form in a particular style.

Proceeding to grammatical factors (chapter 3), the author considers the role of predicate context and analyzes the following factors: the form of the copula, presence of adjuncts or other components related to the predicate, complex predicates (when a predicate is combined with other predicates of the same subject). The analysis reveals that the form of the copula and the presence/absence of a noun or infinitive governed by the predicate adjective have a significant effect on morphosyntactic choices, while other factors are irrelevant or difficult to establish due to the low number of occurrences.

Chapter 4 is dedicated to the influence of the subject on the choice of the predicate adjective form. The author analyzes clauses with subjects of different word-classes (nouns and adjectives), different lexico-semantic classes of nouns and and establishes a correspondence between the type of the subject and the choice of the adjective form. He shows in particular that pronouns (vsё ‘all’, èto ‘this’, to ‘that’), favour the short form or long form instrumental adjective; the same is true for inanimate and more specifically, abstract nouns. Concrete and particularly animate nouns show a stronger preference for long form nominative adjectives. At the same time, Gustavsson points to the fact that the reason for some of these contrasts may be stylistic, as abstract nouns, for example, occur more often in indirect speech, which in general favours short form or long form instrumental adjectives more than does direct speech.

Chapter 5 examines the role of the sentence context in the competition of the three predicate forms. The following factors are considered: set expressions, relation of the predicated property to a particular time period or to a particular place, possessive constructions with u + genitive (volosy u nego byli dlinnye ‘he had long hair’ (literally ‘hair at him were long’)), differences between interrrogative, exclamatory, and declarative sentences and between various types of subordinate clauses. The author shows that the relation to time is an important factor: time-related properties favour the instrumental form much more that permanent or non-time-related properties.

In chapter 6 Gustavsson analyzes the impact of word order on the form of the predicate adjective. Separating different types, he shows that inversion favour short forms more than neutral word order, because these forms are more expressive, while the prevalence of such forms in typically bookish constructions is due to their stylistic value. Long forms on the contrary are more frequent if the word order is characteristic of colloquial speech.

Chapter 7 summarizes the conclusions made after each section in the book. It also formulates targets for further research. The author argues that a larger corpus is required i) to provide data on individual contextual factors, which do not occur frequently, ii) to investigate the impact of various combinations of factors, and iii) to investigate the behaviour of individual lexemes, which may have contextually motivated behaviour or be purely idiosyncratic.

Texts investigated

The corpus consists of 10,000 examples from works of fiction and newspapers (the earliest work is dated 1964, the latest – 1971).


Statistics are derived separately for each of the four types of adjectives. The calculation was done twice: first all the instances where a given form occurred were calculated, then examples in which the form in question was obligatory were eliminated and the calculation was redone. Percentages are accompanied by raw numbers.

Which data from the source were used

The most relevant statistics from the source are included in the database.

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