Exploring Emptiness 2.Small prefixes 3. Semantic profiles 4. Constructional profiles 5. Prefix variation 6. Aspectual triplets Русская версия

Why Russian aspectual prefixes aren’t empty: prefixes as verb classifiers

This website is created as a supplement to the book “Why Russian aspectual prefixes aren’t empty: prefixes as verb classifiers” by Laura Janda, Anna Endresen, Julia Kuznetsova, Olga Lyashevskaya, Anastasia Makarova, Tore Nesset, Svetlana Sokolova. This webpage contains additional data from the studies we describe, scripts for running statistical models and commentaries to them.

The book can be purchased at Slavica Publisher's website.

Aspectual prefixes

This book narrates recent breakthroughs in research on Russian aspect and formation of perfectives via prefixation of imperfective simplex verbs. Such formation is a prominent feature of the Russian aspectual system. 1,426 simplex verbs form perfectives using the following sixteen prefixes (listed in order of frequency): po-, s-, za-, o(b)-, na-, pro-, vy-, raz-, iz-, u-, v(o)z-, ot-, pri-, pere-, pod-, v-. Because some verbs use more than one prefix for this function, this yields 1,981 prefixed Natural Perfectives that share the lexical meaning of their simplex partners.

"Exploring Emptiness" database

Although information about which combinations of prefixes and simplex verbs form perfectives via prefixation has been available for as long as there have been dictionaries of Russian, it is well buried in scattered dictionary entries. In order to make this information accessible and manipulatable, we have developed the “Exploring Emptiness” database, an inventory of simplex imperfectives and their prefixed perfectives in Russian, which is publicly available.

The objective of this book

The objective of this book is to show that Russian verbal prefixes always express meaning, even when they are used to form the perfective partners of aspectual pairs. We argue that the prefixes in verbs like написать/na-pisat’ ‘write’ and украсть/u-krast’ ‘steal’ have a semantic purpose, even though the corresponding imperfective verbs писать/pisat’ ‘write’ and красть/krast’ ‘steal’ have the same lexical meanings.

Structure of the book

Chapter 1 presents the Russian aspectual system and the problem of the “purely aspectual prefixes” against the context of other uses of verbal prefixes and suffixes. Chapters 2 and 3 address the prefixes themselves and principled quantitative methods we have developed to probe their meanings. The prefixes are grouped according to the number of base verbs they combine with to form aspectual partners: the “small” prefixes perfectivize fewer than 150 base verbs, whereas the “big” prefixes combine with larger numbers of base verbs. We have designed two different methodologies to handle these two groups of prefixes: “radial category profiling” and “semantic profiling”. Chapter 2 (Small Prefixes) gives a few case studies of the radial category profiling methodology applied to “small” prefixes. Chapter 3 (Big Prefixes) applies the semantic profiling methodology to the “big” prefixes, where the data is too unwieldy to be handled by the radial category profiling method. The Chapter 4 (Prefixes and Syntax: Constructional Profiling) investigates the interaction of syntax and prefixation in more detail. The topic of Chapter 5 is Prefix Variation, which refers to the use of more than one prefix to form “purely aspectual” perfective partners for a given base verb. Whereas prefix variation shows us that a given imperfective base verb can have multiple perfective partner verbs, in Chapter 6 (Aspectual Triplets) we are confronted with the formation of secondary imperfectives from “purely aspectual” prefixed partner verbs. We conclude (Chapter 7) that the “purely aspectual prefixes” constitute a system of verbal classifiers akin to nominal classifiers found in many languages of the world. In other words, the verbal prefixes select verbs according to broad semantic traits, categorizing them the way nominal classifiers categorize nouns. On this website you will find materials for Chapters 2-6. See the menu above.