From Quantity to Number: The Russian Paucal Numerals in the Novgorod Birch Bark Letters
This article investigates the emergence of the cardinal numerals dva ‘two’, tri ‘three’, and četyre ‘four’ in nominal phrases in the Novgorod dialect during the 11th–15th centuries. An innovative approach presented here brings together three productive lines of inquiry—corpus analysis, historical linguistics, and diachronic generative syntax. A corpus analysis was conducted to identify 301 tokens of numeral-containing NPs and to trace the patterns of their diachronic development. The cardinal numerals 2, 3, 4 are shown to evolve from the adjectival “number” words through the process of grammaticalization, more specifically, numeralization. After the loss of dual number, the lower adjectival “number” words for 2, 3, and 4 turned into the cardinal numerals, as their lexically encoded numerosity became functionally encoded countability. The diachrony of the cardinal numerals in the Old Novgorod dialect has shown that the cognitive concepts of cardinality, individuality, and countability are inextricably connected. These concepts are grammatically encoded and subject to diachronic change. This study has demonstrated that a change in grammatical number (loss of the dual) led to the restructuring of countability and the rise of cardinal numerals.
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