The History of the Russian Semelfactive

The Development of a Radial Category



Cognitive linguistics, semelfactivity


This paper explores the history of suffixed semelfactive verbs in Russian, i.e., verbs like maxnut' 'wave once' with -nu- suffix. It is argued that the semelfactive aktionsart is best analyzed as a radial category organized around a prototype with four properties: uniformity, instantaneousness, non-resultativity, and single occurrence, which are defined and discussed in the article. This paper further demonstrates that there is a small group of verbs denoting bodily acts that meet these criteria in the Old Church Slavonic texts, thus suggesting the existence of an embryonic version of the semelfactive aktionsart in Common Slavic. Although the cue validity of -nu- as a marker of semelfactivity remains stable, in Old Russian -nu- with semelfactive meaning is shown to spread to auditory verbs, optical verbs, and verbs of physical movement, which are argued to constitute a radial category organized around prototypical bodily acts. This gradual expansion through the lexicon continues in Contemporary Standard Russian: in particular a number of semelfactive behavios verbs have emerged, although many of them are of low frequency.



How to Cite

Nesset, T. “The History of the Russian Semelfactive: The Development of a Radial Category”. Journal of Slavic Linguistics, vol. 21, no. 1, Apr. 2013, pp. 123-69,