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Russian verbal aspect and nomina actionis

Abstract/Résumé: In contemporary Russian nomina actionis have significant semantic and functional limitations. According to the largest academic dictionary of the Russian language, in the latter there are about 33 000 verbs, whereas verbal nouns are only 5500. In West Slavic languages nomina actionis are much more regular, and basically keep making up aspectual pairs. In the old Russian of X-XIII centuries nomina actionis were very common. During XIV-XVII centuries their range had been expanded, together with the development of aspectual verbal forms; there had appeared many new paired verbal nouns (such as podvyazanie – podvyazyvanie 'tying') differing in aspectual semantics. But within the next two centuries a significant amount of verbal nouns disappeared, which led to loss of pairing and limited their functionality. Why did these nouns so massively disappear in Russian and why are they much more preserved in Polish, Czech and other West Slavic languages? The missing nouns were derived mostly from perfective verbs. According to recent comparative studies, the grammatical content of perfective aspect in West and East Slavic languages is not identical: in the first subgroup the basic meaning of perfective aspect is a simple concept of totality, while in the second — the concept of temporal definiteness. Despite the common history of the formation of Slavic aspect, the semantic space of perfective aspect in West Slavic languages is wider than in East Slavic. The seme of totality may not prevent the formation of nomina actionis, while the seme of temporal definiteness seems to be incompatible with the temporally stable nature of nouns. A solid analysis of productivity of Russian verbs in relation to verbal nouns shows that the only semantic feature which flatly would not coincide with the noun form, prevents the transposition of a verb into a noun, or is being lost in the course of nominalization — is the presence of a quantitative-temporal limit of the action denoted in the verb's semantics. This is also confirmed by our preliminary analysis of the material of Ukrainian and Polish languages; it may be spoken of an interlingual tendency. Namely this trend had led to the disappearance of a great many of Russian nomina actionis. In the course of development of Russian verbal aspect the content of the aspect category had been changing. The latter was (and maybe still is) semantically movable: in Russian perfective aspect the semantics of temporal definiteness was consistently intensifying, occupying gradually a dominant position. The above mentioned noticeable changes in the system of Russian (wider — East Slavic) nomina actionis may be seen as a side effect of this process.