Scholarly article on topic 'The Interpretation of Ancient Indo-European Noun Declensions'

The Interpretation of Ancient Indo-European Noun Declensions Academic research paper on "Computer and information sciences"

Share paper
{"Indo-European declension" / "linguistic category" / "stem-building markers" / "animate class" / "active substantives" / "consonantal marker"}

Abstract of research paper on Computer and information sciences, author of scientific article — Tatiana Yu. Kazantseva

Abstract The features of the ancient Indo-European noun declensions, the role of consonantal nominal declensions as one of the formal criteria to single out animate/active substantives are discussed in this paper. The ancient Indo-European noun declension is, probably, connected with consonantal stem-building. Stem-building markers are assumed to refer to the class and active type relics preserved in the noun declension paradigm.

Academic research paper on topic "The Interpretation of Ancient Indo-European Noun Declensions"

Available online at


Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 200 (2015) 449 - 452


CULTURE, 27-30 October 2015

The Interpretation of Ancient Indo-European Noun Declensions

Tatiana Yu. Kazantsevaa*

aSeversk Technological Institute, National Research Nuclear University "MEPHI", 65, Kommunistichesky Prospect, Seversk, 636036, Russia


The features of the ancient Indo-European noun declensions, the role of consonantal nominal declensions as one of the formal criteria to single out animate/active substantives are discussed in this paper. The ancient Indo-European noun declension is, probably, connected with consonantal stem-building. Stem-building markers are assumed to refer to the class and active type relics preserved in the noun declension paradigm.

© 2015TheAuthors. Published by ElsevierLtd.This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (http://creativecommons.Org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/).

Peer-review under responsibility of National Research Tomsk State University.

Keywords: Indo-European declension; linguistic category; stem-building markers; animate class; active substantives; consonantal marker

1. Introduction

One of the features of ancient Indo-European noun declensions is that they were divided into the vowel and consonantal ones. Both classes had their formal features. There is also a point of view that the nominal declension originated from the substantives of an active, animated class (Tronski, 1967). The vowel declensions, in opposition to the consonantal ones, primarily concentrated inanimate nouns which in their past were supposed not to be declined at all since the declensions appeared first in the nouns with consonantal stems, i.e. in active class (Specht, 1947, Shantren, 1953; Barrow, 1976). The gender distinctions were built on already different principles in comparison with the pre-historic times. The indication for other principles may be found in the meaning of substantives referring to the consonantal declensions. It means that they were grouped in this declension on some other principles (Gukhman et al., 1977).

Thus, the substantive was characterized by some other categories. It is confirmed by a typological comparison

* Corresponding author. Tel.: +7-905-992-9322. E-mail address:

1877-0428 © 2015 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (

Peer-review under responsibility of National Research Tomsk State University. doi: 10.1016/j.sbspro.2015.08.094

with the active languages typology in which the noun was divided into animate and inanimate, or active and inactive. It has also been noted that the declension itself originally appeared in the substantives of the active class. It is a very important observation which will help to restore the most ancient correlation typical of the languages of the active structure with a poorly developed declension system. According to G. A. Klimov, only substantives of the active class possessed such declensions (Klimov, 1977). There is every reason to assume that the division of the Indo-European nouns was preceded by a two-class system, i.e. the opposition of animate, active substantives which had declensions to the inactive ones. T. G. Gamkrelidze and V. V. Ivanov shared G.A. Klimov's viewpoint and considered that the Pre-Indo-European period may be characterized by the active typology (Gamkrelidze & Ivanov, 1984). The languages of active typology (to which ancient Indo-European languages formerly belonged) are characterized by the opposition of the active, marked case to the inactive, unmarked one and only nouns of the active class could possess the declension (Klimov, 1977). The aim of the present paper is to show the main feature of the ancient Indo-European consonantal nominal declensions - the evolving of animate/active substantives.

2. Literature Review

2.1. Linguistic category

The category of animateness/inanimateness is characterized by a unity of meanings as well as formal features. Therefore, one should adhere to the definition of a linguistic category given by O.S. Akhmanova in the dictionary. The linguistic category means ... "the general properties of various classes and ranks of linguistic units that constitute these classes and receive a variety of linguistic expression" (Akhmanova, 1966).

M.M. Gukhman pointed to the relics preserved in nominal inflectional system, particularly nominal paradigms formation, in her work "Historical typology and the problem of diachronic constants" (Gukhman, 1981). Nouns grouping in "animate" and "inanimate" classes was characteristic of not only the class type language, but also the initial stage of the active languages type (Klimov, 1977).

2.2. The category of animateness/inanimateness

The grouping of nouns into "animate" and "inanimate" classes is indicative of a more ancient stage compared with the grouping of nouns in the active typology languages "according to a much more abstract activity ~ inactivity feature of substantives" (Klimov, 1977). However, a clear distinction between the noun class combination on the basis of animateness/inanimatenes and activity/inactivity is very difficult to draw, because these categories evolved gradually absorbing new substantive groups as if penetrating one another. M.M. Gukhman admits the existence of a ... "binary opposition of active and inactive classes, correlated to and partially overlapped by the noun opposition on the basis of animateness/inanimateness in the system of nouns" (Gukhman, 1981). Even in those languages where the gender category is preserved, one can observe very complex lacings of this category with the opposition expressing sex, personality - non-personality, animateness - inanimateness (Aksenov, 1984). T. G. Gamkrelidze and V. V. Ivanov show a combination of different features of the active nouns apart from animateness (Gamkrelidze & Ivanov, 1984). According to A.N. Savchenko, "the terms 'animateness' and 'inanimateness' are inaccurate for the Pre-Indo-European period, because many substantives denoting inanimate objects belonged to the active class as well" (Savchenko, 1967). Anyway, the terms animateness/inanimateness and active/inactive have their right to exist. However, the semantic bases of this division have been lost, but its formal features - stem-buildings markers - can be identified. Therefore, using this term, one can mean animate classes of substantives in a more comprehensive sense, i.e. substantives including activity.

A. Meillet characterized the following substantives as those belonging to the "animate" class: "In Indo-European everything that moves, everything that works, thus, falls under the concept of 'animate'" (Meillet, 1938). It's interesting to mention that "if you start thinking of the semi-civilized person, you can almost always explain why one or the other word refers to the 'animate' or 'inanimate' gender" (Meillet, 1938). The scientist also attributes ... "names denoting active forces" to the "animate" gender (Meillet, 1938). G. O. Curme adds to the "animate" gender description by mentioning the fact that the ancient Indo-Europeans personified a great number of inanimate things such as the sun, the moon, the earth, the sky, the sea, stars, bushes, plants, flowers, trees, rivers, winds, water, fire,

actions, processes, and so on. Animate substantives differed from inanimate ones in their form and animate nouns did not distinguish gender. Remnants of the ancient order were preserved in English by the interrogative pronouns 'who' and 'what' opposing animateness to inanimateness (Curme, 1931). One can see the same situation in Russian words (who/what). It is not quite clear what G.O. Curme means when he speaks about the difference between animate and inanimate nouns marked by their form, perhaps, different stems and some markers or different words, as in the case of interrogative pronouns 'who' and 'what'. Therefore, taking into account the noun groups denoting animate/active substantives it is important to regard their marking as one of the features that ancient people used to refer them to the animate class.

3. Discussion of Results

To analyze the field of animate/active nouns class it is necessary to mention that its use is vast, as O.A. Ossipova shows in her works (Ossipova, 1980; 1990; 2007; 2010), which does not contradict with the fact of what ancient Indo-Europeans considered as active substantives. T. G. Gamkrelidze and V. V. Ivanov believe that the ancient Indo-Europeans considered as animate not only living beings but also trees, plants and all growing vegetation. "In addition to the substantives with naturally active denotations the active class includes, obviously, such 'inanimate' things which are thought by native speakers as exponents of the active origin. These substantives attributed to the active class are mobile or invested with the ability to be active parts of the human body: arms, legs, eyes, teeth and others, as well as the names of personalized or actively conceivable natural phenomena, and abstract concepts: wind, thunder, lightning, autumn, water, river, fate, destiny, share, benefit and others." (Gamkrelidze & Ivanov, 1984). Nouns related to the animate/active class, as a rule, are included into the basic fund of the ancient Indo-European vocabulary. A. Meillet considers the following vocabulary groups (Meillet, 1938):

• names of kinship;

• names of animals and plants;

• names of some things (ax, vessel and metal names, etc.);

• parts of the body.

A more detailed noun grouping of the semantic Indo-Europeans vocabulary is given by T. G. Gamkrelidze and V. V. Ivanov (Gamkrelidze & Ivanov, 1984).

One of the most important evidence of the ancient way of thinking in respect of what the ancient considered animate or inanimate can be found in the Germanic declensions. Stem-buildings markers played a certain role in Germanic noun declensions, they were the most ancient noun class markers. It's natural to suppose that the noun groups in the consonantal and vowel declensions could have been a reflection of the nouns division class reconstruction on the basis of a more abstract feature - animateness/inanimateness. Substantives related to animate, active class, originally might have been distinguished by markedness (in our opinion, consonantal markers) that were opposed to the unmarked, inanimate ones. B. Comrie considered animateness as a universal conceptual category that existed regardless of its implementation in any particular language, and might be expressed not only by certain agents, but also denote its concentration (Comrie, 1989). As the consonantal declension appeared first, in that case, consonantal stem-building suffixes could have been used as animate/active markers (Ossipova, 1984; 1990; 2007; 2010; Kazantseva, 1998; 2008; 2009). But "actions" of this markedness had to be related to a very distant past, probably, to the Indo-European language community, because stem-buildings markers preserved in all branches of Indo-European languages. They were well expressed in the old Germanic languages, i.e. their use was inherited from the Old Germanic, which obviously existed as a unified dialect.

4. Conclusion

In that way it is possible to assume that consonantal stem-building markers in Germanic languages were used to single out animate/active class nouns, and two declension types (consonantal and vowel) participated in the binary opposition of the substantives on the basis of animateness~inanimateness. In the ancient Indo-European languages

the problem of the role of consonantal stem-building markers has not been exhausted. It is associated not only with the origin and use of stem-building suffixes, but with the origin of the first case markers. Therefore, it is necessary to study the material that preserved any traces of noun groupings according to certain stem types. It should be taken into account that the traces of an earlier Indo-European period can be found in the ancient Germanic languages (Gukhman, 1981; Desnitskaya, 1984). M. M. Gukhman assumes that Indo-European languages "experienced a deep typological displacement" (Gukhman, 1981).

To sum up, being formal exponents of different declension types, consonantal stem-building markers are of great importance to the exposure of their primary purpose. The variety of such suffixes can be connected with certain semantic groups. It is difficult to identify those semantic bases even in the ancient Indo-European languages. The existence of different consonantal markers should lead to the conclusion that this division into semantic groups was once a reality.


Akhmanova, O. S. (1966). Dictionary of linguistic terms. M: Soviet Encyclopedia.

Aksenov, A. T. (1984). On the problem of extra-linguistic motivation of gendergrammatical category. Problems of Linguistics. 1, 14-25. Barrow, T. (1976) Sanskrit. M.: Progress.

Comrie, B.(1989). Language Universals and Linguistic Typology. Chicago, Illinois. Curme, G. O. (1931). A Grammar oof the English Language: Syntax. (III. XV). N.Y.

Desnitskaya, A. V. (1984). Registered classification and the problem of Indo-European declension. Comparative linguistics and history of languages. L.: Science.

Gamkrelidze & Ivanov. (1984). Indo-European and Indo-Europeans. (Parts 1, 2). Tbilisi Univ. Gukhman, M. M. (1981). Historical typology and the problem of diachronic constants. M .: Nauka.

Gukhman, M. M. (Ed.), et al. (1977). Historical and typological morphology oof the Germanic languages. Phonomorphology. Paradigmatics. Name category. M .: Nauka.

Kazantseva, T. Yu. (1998). The role of nominal stems with consonants in the reflection of the Indo-European categories of

animateness/inanimateness. Vestnik of the TSPU. Humanities. Philology. 6, 37-39. Kazantseva, T. Yu. (2008). Comparative analysis of Gothic nominal stems with consonantal markers. Language and Culture. 4, 11-20. Kazantseva, T. Yu. (2009). The old Germanic nouns with consonantal stem-building markers as the formal criteria for abstraction of

animate/active substantives. Traditions and innovationws in Linguistics and linguistic education, 179-184. Klimov, G. A. (1977). Typology of active formation languages. M .: Nauka.

Meillet, A. (1938). Introduction to the comparative study of Indo-European languages. M, L .: Sotsekgiz.

Ossipova, O. A. (1980). The reflecting of the animateness/inanimateness category in the declension paradigm in ancient Germanic languages (on

the material of the Gothic language). Tomsk: State University Publ. Ossipova, O. A. (1984). Traces of class and active nouns formation in ancient Indo-European languages. Theoretical aspects of linguistic studies. Novosibirsk, 37-46.

Osipova, O. A. (1990). Functional variation of the old Germanic consonantal stem-building markers. World Languages. Problems of language variation, 153-171.

Osipova, O. A. (2007). Typology of old Germanic nominal declension from the point of Indo-European and Uralic languages. Tomsk: TSPU Publ.

Osipova, O. A. (2010). Selected Works. Indo-European and Uralic. Tomsk:Tomsk State Pedagogical University Publ.

Savchenko, A. N. (1967). Sentence ergative construction in Proto-Indo-European. Sentence ergative construction in different types of languages, 74-90.

Shantren, P. (1953). History of Greek morphology. M: Foreing Literature.

Specht, F. (1947). Der Ursprung der Indogermanischen Deklination. Gottingen: Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht.

Tronski, I. M. (1967). About donominative past of Indo-European languages. Sentence ergative construction in different types of languages, 9194.