|Old East Slavic|
|Era||7th or 8th century to the 13th or 14th century|
|Early Cyrillic alphabet|
Old East Slavic (traditionally also Old Russian)[a] was a language used by the East Slavs from the 7th or 8th century to the 13th or 14th century, until it diverged into the Russian and Ruthenian languages. Ruthenian eventually evolved into the Belarusian, Rusyn, and Ukrainian languages.
The term Old East Slavic is used in reference to the modern family of East Slavic languages. However, it is not universally applied. The language is also traditionally known as Old Russian; however, the term may be viewed as anachronistic, because the initial stages of the language which it denotes predate the dialectal divisions marking the nascent distinction between modern East Slavic languages, therefore a number of authors have proposed using Old East Slavic as a more appropriate term. Old Russian is also used to describe the written language in Russia until the 18th century, when it became Modern Russian, though the early stages of the language is often called Old East Slavic instead; the period after the common language of the East Slavs is sometimes distinguished as Middle Russian, or Great Russian.
Some scholars have also called the language Rusian, or simply Rus, although these are the least commonly used forms.
Ukrainian-American linguist George Shevelov used the term Common Russian or Common Eastern Slavic to refer to the hypothetical uniform language of the East Slavs.
American Slavist Alexander M. Schenker pointed out that modern terms for the medieval language of the East Slavs varied depending on the political context. He suggested using the neutral term East Slavic for that language.
The language was a descendant of the Proto-Slavic language and retained many of its features. It developed so-called pleophony (or polnoglasie 'full vocalisation'), which came to differentiate the newly evolving East Slavic from other Slavic dialects. For instance, Common Slavic *gȏrdъ 'settlement, town' was reflected as OESl. gorodъ, Common Slavic *melkò 'milk' > OESl. moloko, and Common Slavic *kòrva 'cow' > OESl korova. Other Slavic dialects differed by resolving the closed-syllable clusters *eRC and *aRC as liquid metathesis (South Slavic and West Slavic), or by no change at all (see the article on Slavic liquid metathesis and pleophony for a detailed account).
Since extant written records of the language are sparse, it is difficult to assess the level of its unity. In consideration of the number of tribes and clans that constituted Kievan Rus', it is probable that there were many dialects of Old East Slavonic. Therefore, today we may speak definitively only of the languages of surviving manuscripts, which, according to some interpretations, show regional divergence from the beginning of the historical records. By c. 1150, it had the weakest local variations among the four regional macrodialects of Common Slavic, c. 800 – c. 1000, which had just begun to differentiate into its branches.
With time, it evolved into several more diversified forms; following the fragmentation of Kievan Rus' after 1100, dialectal differentiation accelerated. The regional languages were distinguishable starting in the 12th or 13th century. Thus different variations evolved of the Russian language in the regions of Novgorod, Moscow, South Russia and meanwhile the Ukrainian language was also formed. Each of these languages preserves much of the Old East Slavic grammar and vocabulary. The Russian language in particular borrows more words from Church Slavonic than does Ukrainian.
However, findings by Russian linguist Andrey Zaliznyak suggest that, until the 14th or 15th century, major language differences were not between the regions occupied by modern Belarus, Russia and Ukraine, but rather between the north-west (around modern Velikiy Novgorod and Pskov) and the center (around modern Kyiv, Suzdal, Rostov, Moscow as well as Belarus) of the East Slavic territories. The Old Novgorodian dialect of that time differed from the central East Slavic dialects as well as from all other Slavic languages much more than in later centuries. According to Zaliznyak, the Russian language developed as a convergence of that dialect and the central ones, whereas Ukrainian and Belarusian were continuation of development of the central dialects of the East Slavs.
Also, Russian linguist Sergey Nikolaev, analysing historical development of Slavic dialects’ accent system, concluded that a number of other tribes in Kievan Rus' came from different Slavic branches and spoke distant Slavic dialects.[page needed]
Another Russian linguist, G. A. Khaburgaev, as well as a number of Ukrainian linguists (Stepan Smal-Stotsky, Ivan Ohienko, George Shevelov, Yevhen Tymchenko, Vsevolod Hantsov, Olena Kurylo), deny the existence of a common Old East Slavic language at any time in the past. According to them, the dialects of East Slavic tribes evolved gradually from the common Proto-Slavic language without any intermediate stages.
Following the end of the "Tatar yoke", the territory of former Kievan Rus' was divided between the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the Grand Duchy of Moscow, and two separate literary traditions emerged in these states, Ruthenian in the west and medieval Russian in the east.
The political unification of the region into the state called Kievan Rus', from which modern Belarus, Russia and Ukraine trace their origins, occurred approximately a century before the adoption of Christianity in 988 and the establishment of the South Slavic Old Church Slavonic as the liturgical and literary language. Documentation of the Old East Slavic language of this period is scanty, making it difficult at best fully to determine the relationship between the literary language and its spoken dialects.
There are references in Byzantine sources to pre-Christian Slavs in European Russia using some form of writing. Despite some suggestive archaeological finds and a corroboration by the tenth-century monk Chernorizets Hrabar that ancient Slavs wrote in "strokes and incisions", the exact nature of this system is unknown.
Although the Glagolitic alphabet was briefly introduced, as witnessed by church inscriptions in Novgorod, it was soon entirely superseded by Cyrillic. The samples of birch-bark writing excavated in Novgorod have provided crucial information about the pure tenth-century vernacular in North-West Russia, almost entirely free of Church Slavonic influence. It is also known that borrowings and calques from Byzantine Greek began to enter the vernacular at this time, and that simultaneously the literary language in its turn began to be modified towards Eastern Slavic.
The following excerpts illustrate two of the most famous literary monuments.
NOTE: The spelling of the original excerpt has been partly modernized. The translations are best attempts at being literal, not literary.
Further information: Primary Chronicle
c. 1110, from the Laurentian Codex, 1377:
|Original||Се повѣсти времѧньных лѣт ‧ ѿкꙋдꙋ єсть пошла рꙋскаꙗ земѧ ‧ кто въ києвѣ нача первѣє кнѧжит ‧ и ѿкꙋдꙋ рꙋскаꙗ землѧ стала єсть |~|
|Russian||Вот повести минувших лет, откуда пошла русскaя земля, кто в Киеве начал первым княжить, и откуда русская земля стала быть.|
|Ukrainian||Це повісті минулих літ, звідки пішла Руська земля, хто в Києві почав перший княжити, і звідки Руська земля стала бути.|
|Belarusian||Вось аповесці мінулых гадоў: адкуль пайшла руская зямля, хто ў Кіеве першым пачаў княжыць, і адкуль руская зямля паўстала.|
|Rusyn||Сись повість минулых ріків, витки пушла Руська земля, хто у Кієве почал первым князити, і витки Руська земля постава є.|
|English||These are the narratives of bygone years regarding the origin of the land of Rus', the first princes of Kiev, and from what source the land of Rus' had its beginning.|
In this usage example of the language, the fall of the yers is in progress or arguably complete: several words end with a consonant, e.g. кнѧжит "to rule" < кънѧжити (modern Uk княжити, R княжить, B княжыць). South Slavic features include времѧньнъıх "bygone" (modern R минувших, Uk минулих, B мінулых). Correct use of perfect and aorist: єсть пошла "is/has come" (modern B пайшла, R пошла, Uk пішла), нача "began" (modern Uk почав, B пачаў, R начал) as a development of the old perfect. Note the style of punctuation.
Further information: The Tale of Igor's Campaign
Слово о пълку Игоревѣ. c. 1200, from the Pskov manuscript, fifteenth cent.
|Original||Не лѣпо ли ны бяшетъ братїє, начяти старыми словесы трудныхъ повѣстїй о пълку Игоревѣ, Игоря Святъславлича? Начати же ся тъй пѣсни по былинамъ сего времени, а не по замышленїю Бояню. Боянъ бо вѣщїй, аще кому хотяше пѣснь творити, то растѣкашется мыслію по древу, сѣрымъ вълкомъ по земли, шизымъ орломъ подъ облакы.|
|Transliteration||Ne lěpo li ny bjašetŭ bratije, načjati starymi slovesy trudnyxŭ pověstij o pŭlku Igorevě, Igorja Svjatŭslaviča? Načati že sia tŭj pěsni po bylinamŭ sego vremeni, a ne po zamyšleniju Bojanju. Bojanŭ bo věščij, ašče komu xotjaše pěsnĭ tvoriti, to rastěkašetsja mysliju po drevu, sěrymŭ vŭlkomŭ po zemli, šizymŭ orlomŭ podŭ oblaky.|
|Russian||Не подобало ли бы нам, о братьей, начать старыми словами боевое повестьей о полку Игореве, об Игоре Святославиче? И начать к пути по-правдивому того времени, а не по замыслами Бояна. Ибо Боян вещий, ещё он хотел посвятить кому-то растекается мыслью по дереву, как серым волком великом по землей, сизым орлом под облаками|
|Ukrainian||Не личило б нам, о браттїм, почати старими словами бойове повістю о похід Ігорів, про Ігоря Святославича? І розпочати шлях по-правдивому того часу, а не по задумами Бояна. Бо Боян віщий, ще він хотів присвятити комусь розтікається думкою по дереву, як сірим вовком великим по землї, сизим орлом під хмарами|
|Belarusian||Не належала б нам, о братей, пачаць старымі словамі баявое аповесцю о паход Ігаравы, пра Ігара Святаславіча? І пачаць да шляху па-праўдзіваму таго часу, а не па задумах Баяна. Бо Баян прарочы, яшчэ ён хацеў прысвяціць камусьці расцякаецца думкаю па дрэве, як шэрым ваўком вялікім па зямлёй, шызым арлом пад аблокамі|
|Rusyn||Не подобало ли бы нам, о браття, зачати старыми словами боёве повістью о поход Іґорїв, про Іґоря Святославиче? І разначати путью по-правдивому тоґо часу, а не по замыслами Бояна. Бо Боян віщый, щи он хотїв придїлити комусь ростїкати ся мыслью по древу, як сїрым вовком велькым по землї, сивым орлом под хмарами|
|English||Would it not be meet, o brothers, for us to begin with the old words the martial telling of the host of Igor, of Igor Sviatoslavlich? And to begin in the way of the true tales of this time, and not in the way of Bojan's inventions. For the wise Bojan, if he wished to devote to someone [his] song, would fly like a squirrel in the trees, like a grey wolf over land, like a bluish eagle beneath the clouds.|
Illustrates the sung epics, with typical use of metaphor and simile.
It has been suggested that the phrase растекаться мыслью по древу (to run in thought upon/over wood), which has become proverbial in modern Russian with the meaning "to speak ornately, at length, excessively," is a misreading of an original мысію (akin to мышь "mouse") from "run like a squirrel/mouse on a tree"; however, the reading мыслью is present in both the manuscript copy of 1790 and the first edition of 1800, and in all subsequent scholarly editions.
Main article: Old East Slavic literature
The Old East Slavic language developed a certain literature of its own, though much of it (in hand with those of the Slavic languages that were, after all, written down) was influenced as regards style and vocabulary by religious texts written in Church Slavonic. Surviving literary monuments include the legal code Justice of the Rus (Руська правда /rusʲka pravda/), a corpus of hagiography and homily, the epic Song of Igor (Слово о полку игореве /slovo o polku iɡorʲevʲe/) and the earliest surviving manuscript of the Primary Chronicle (Повесть временных лет /povʲestʲ vrʲemʲennix lʲet/) – the Laurentian codex (Лаврентьевский список /lavrʲentʲjevskij spʲisok/) of 1377.
The earliest dated specimen of Old East Slavic (or, rather, of Church Slavonic with pronounced East Slavic interference) must be considered the written Sermon on Law and Grace (Slovo o zakone i blagodati) by Hilarion, metropolitan of Kiev. In this work there is a panegyric on Prince Vladimir of Kiev, the hero of so much of East Slavic popular poetry. It is rivalled by another panegyric on Vladimir, written a decade later by Yakov the Monk.
Other eleventh-century writers are Theodosius, a monk of the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra, who wrote on the Latin faith and some Pouchenia or Instructions, and Luka Zhidiata, bishop of Novgorod, who has left a curious Discourse to the Brethren. From the writings of Theodosius we see that many pagan habits were still in vogue among the people. He finds fault with them for allowing these to continue, and also for their drunkenness; nor do the monks escape his censures. Zhidiata writes in a more vernacular style than many of his contemporaries; he eschews the declamatory tone of the Byzantine authors. And here may be mentioned the many lives of the saints and the Fathers to be found in early East Slavic literature, starting with the two Lives of Sts Boris and Gleb, written in the late eleventh century and attributed to Jacob the Monk and to Nestor the Chronicler.
With the so-called Primary Chronicle, also attributed to Nestor, begins the long series of the Russian annalists. There is a regular catena of these chronicles, extending with only two breaks to the seventeenth century. Besides the work attributed to Nestor the Chronicler, there are the chronicles of Novgorod, Kiev, Volhynia and many others. Every town of any importance could boast of its annalists, Pskov and Suzdal among others.
In the twelfth century we have the sermons of bishop Cyril of Turov, which are attempts to imitate in Old East Slavic the florid Byzantine style. In his sermon on Holy Week, Christianity is represented under the form of spring, Paganism and Judaism under that of winter, and evil thoughts are spoken of as boisterous winds.
There are also the works of early travellers, as the igumen Daniel, who visited the Holy Land at the end of the eleventh and beginning of the twelfth century. A later traveller was Afanasiy Nikitin, a merchant of Tver, who visited India in 1470. He has left a record of his adventures, which has been translated into English and published for the Hakluyt Society.
A curious monument of old Slavonic times is the Pouchenie (Instruction), written by Vladimir Monomakh for the benefit of his sons. This composition is generally found inserted in the Chronicle of Nestor; it gives a fine picture of the daily life of a Slavonic prince. The Paterik of the Kievan Caves Monastery is a typical medieval collection of stories from the life of monks, featuring devils, angels, ghosts, and miraculous resurrections.
Lay of Igor's Campaign narrates the expedition of Igor Svyatoslavich, prince of Novhorod-Siverskyi against the Cumans. It is neither epic nor a poem but is written in rhythmic prose. An interesting aspect of the text is its mix of Christianity and ancient Slavic religion. Igor's wife Yaroslavna famously invokes natural forces from the walls of Putyvl. Christian motifs present along with depersonalised pagan gods in the form of artistic images. Another aspect, which sets the book apart from contemporary Western epics, are its numerous and vivid descriptions of nature, and the role which nature plays in human lives. Of the whole bulk of the Old East Slavic literature, the Lay is the only work familiar to every educated Russian or Ukrainian. Its brooding flow of images, murky metaphors, and ever changing rhythm have not been successfully rendered into English yet. Indeed, the meanings of many words found in it have not been satisfactorily explained by scholars.
The Zadonshchina is a sort of prose poem much in the style of the Tale of Igor's Campaign, and the resemblance of the latter to this piece furnishes an additional proof of its genuineness. This account of the battle of Kulikovo, which was gained by Dmitri Donskoi over the Mongols in 1380, has come down in three important versions.
The early laws of Rus’ present many features of interest, such as the Russkaya Pravda of Yaroslav the Wise, which is preserved in the chronicle of Novgorod; the date is between 1018 and 1072.
The earliest attempts to compile a comprehensive lexicon of Old East Slavic were undertaken by Alexander Vostokov and Izmail Sreznevsky in the nineteenth century. Sreznevsky's Materials for the Dictionary of the Old Russian Language on the Basis of Written Records (1893–1903), though incomplete, remained a standard reference until the appearance of a 24-volume academic dictionary in 1975–99.
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See also: List of Slavic studies journals