A long birth
The development of gender-specific paucal constructions in Russian
This article investigates the diachronic development of Russian numeral constructions consisting of a paucal numeral (dva “two”, tri “three”, četyre “four”) followed by an adjective and a noun. Based on statistical analysis of more than 6,000 corpus examples, it is shown that a split took place in the second half of the twentieth century when feminine nouns developed a different agreement pattern from that of masculine and neuter nouns. This split is argued to represent the final step in a long “birth process” of gender-specific paucal constructions that started with the loss of the dual in the Middle Ages. It is suggested that we are witnessing a cascading effect, whereby the feminine pattern develops when the pattern for masculine and neuter nouns is approaching stabilization. The article furthermore includes a discussion of the hypothesis that “S-curves” represent a template for language change. While the documented changes resemble S-curves, the proposed analysis also addresses some general problems with testing the S-curve hypothesis empirically.
Keywords: Russian, numerals, paucal, gender, S-curves
Published online: 03 August 2020
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