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Book review

by Robert Woodhouse

The Pannonian slavic dialect of the common slavic proto-language: the view from Old Hungarian
Ronald O. Richards

Published by University of California, Los Angeles, 2003
ISBN 9780974265308

This important study represents the first serious attempt to evaluate the age and other properties of Slavic loans in Hungarian in the light of Hungarian diachronic phonology and thus to shed fresh light on the linguistic situation in the Pannonian borderland between West and South Slavic around the time of its conquest by the Hungarians at the end of the ninth century. The author’s avowed purpose in doing this is to extract new information regarding Slavic ethnogenesis.

Chapter One usefully canvasses the poor methodologies that have allegedly led to a scholarly crisis over the ethnic and linguistic composition of Slavic Pannonia. Chapter Two details the Hungarian phonological (and some other) criteria by which early loans from Slavic may be detected, together with some pitfalls associated with their employment. Additional information in the same vein for use in analysing the provenience of the loans is also presented. The consequent analyses form the core of Chapter Three. Conclusions are summarised and discussed at exhaustive length in Chapter Four. The book closes with a Selected Bibliography and an Index Verborum.

For the solution of questions regarding the linguistic composition of Pannonian Slavdom the book certainly provides a more rigorously sifted body of hard data than has hitherto been available. The contribution of this to the question of Slavic ethnogenesis is admittedly small and reduces to being consistent with a Slavic expansion centred on Pannonia that may have been due to Avar influence (p. 209). Given this, one cannot help feeling that in a study based primarily on matters of language the large amount of space devoted to the Avar question in Chapters One and Four seems disproportionate to the fact that no Avar linguistic data are presented, apart from some allusions to certain lexical matters aired by other scholars (see pp. 7, 21).

Some other critical remarks now follow.

Semantics is a notoriously difficult touchstone. Richards rightly casts doubt on the validity of his own semantic determinations though the inherent difficulties of the subject almost certainly outweigh the minor deficit of Richards’ being ‘a native speaker of no Slavic language’ (p. 177). One example of this will have to suffice: Richards (p. 156) may well be right to reject the originality of East Slavic ручка ‘vessel’ despite Russian dialect ручка ‘vessel for liquid’ (see Filin’s dialect dictionary, vyp. 35) and Old Ukrainian ручка ‘pot (of honey)’ (see the Ukrainian Academy’s 2-vol. dictionary of 1978) since the oldest attestations of the word in this meaning (in Sreznevskij) seem to involve uniformly ecclesiastical contexts; nevertheless a particle of doubt must always remain.

Richards’ fine-print table of corpus items assigned phonologically to Proto-Slavic dialects (p. 178) is somewhat unmanageable. With normal page orientation, a single column of the entire corpus can be printed down the page leaving room for fourteen columns carrying plus signs indicating source dialects.

From such a table it is immediately clear that Proto-Slovene is essential to account for *poročiti and *golǫmbь (the latter can also be Lekhitic, pace Richards, see below). Consequently Proto-Slovene plus either East Slavic or a combination of Proto-Slovak (to account for *męcь/mancs, p. 151) and Proto-Serbo-Croat will account for the entire corpus. The logical choice is obviously the latter, which establishes the minimum sensible grouping that accounts for the corpus. West Slavic cannot do it by itself since at least eight corpus items would then be left dangling. These conclusions are similar in spirit to if not identical with those of Richards.

Much of Chapter Two is rendered redundant by the rehash of relevant details, together with fresh examples, in the analyses in Chapter Three. Chapter Two could be usefully trimmed and the space thus freed assigned to some attempt at quantifying such pitfalls as ‘spontaneous’ nasalisation and vowel raising, thus giving the reader some basis, however slight, for judging how far the results of the study might be affected by these contrary Hungarian developments.

Richards is wrong to attach to every *c-item in the corpus (viz. nos. 4, 12, 13, 27, 28, 41 and 43) the mantra ‘Only Proto-Novgorodian, which had no /c/ phoneme […], can be ruled out for phonological reasons’ since the exclusion is promulgated (pp. 116 f.) as an executive decision intended to prevent Novgorodian cokan′е from defeating this particular dating criterion. The meaningless Novgorod figures on pp. 180–187 should also be deleted.

The three speculative essays early in Chapter Three, (1) describing a mechanism of loan transmission and (2 and 3) attempting to rebuff putatively threatening hypotheses (due chiefly to Lizanec and Xelimskij, respectively) about early contacts with East Slavs and the existence of a Slavic koine, should be cut or substantially modified and repositioned. The first seems quite irrelevant to the topic and also seems to me to be contradicted by the archaeological data presented on pp. 91 f. The other two one would expect to see dealt with in the light of the analysed evidence of the corpus.

The treatment of Lizanec’s (and others’) allegedly early East Slavic loans in Ancient (= pre-Old) Hungarian, in particular, could be made infinitely more convincing, first by overcoming the worrying discrepancy in the dating of one of the criteria for rejection, viz. the lenition of intervocalic ‘vocalic’ (read ‘voiceless’) stops since this is said to have occurred ‘very early in the process of Ancient Hungarian breaking from the Finno-Ugrian language entity’ (p. 100), i.e., presumably, shortly after 500 BC (p. 67), rather than after 500 AD as the argument requires. Secondly, by pinpointing the examples that offend against this criterion, assuming it is genuine, namely (I imagine) pap and görög (p. 101) < Slavic *popъ (I assume, rather than *papa) and *grьkъ (p. 70, cf. also pp. 69 and 72 on the fate of Old Hungarian γ), since szоmbat (< Slavic *s[ų]bota, for [ų] cf. pp. 118, 128 f., 131, 143, etc.) is excluded on the basis of Hungarian {-a} truncation (p. 78 f). Thirdly, by giving the correct reasons for excluding bоrоna (lack of vowel lowering, cf. p. 74, not possible derivation from ‘Common Slavic’ *brаnа, as on p. 97, which doesn’t overcome the problem – assuming of course that we do not support Albert Speirs’ [Proto-Indo-European laryngeals and ablaut, Amsterdam: Hakkert, 1984, pp. 210–222] contention that East Slavic bоrоna derives from earlier *burunā) and rоzs ‘rye’ (preserved cf. p. 52, not lack of vowel lowering, as on p. 99, since, but for ž, relevant Proto-Slavic forms could have been [early] *ruži > [later] *rъžь, not *rožь). And fourthly, by giving less room to equivocal tests such as the patchy lenition of Hungarian č (p. 99). Even if some of Lizanec’s material must thus be excluded, a distinction may still need to be made between showing that Lizanec hasn’t proved his case and actually proving him wrong.

The preliminary matters aired in the first three and part of the fourth ‘Commentary on the Corpus’ placed late in Chapter Three need to be covered before the analyses. The phonological grounds for assigning *golǫmbъ or *golǫmbь/galamb (p. 138) to Lekhitiс, including early date of Hungarian attestation with mid nasal vowel, are just as compelling as those for *lǫka/lanka (pp. 125 f.): the two should have been treated alike. A similar argument might allow sub-Carpathian Old Polish mediation to replace Richards’ uncomfortable Proto-Slavic *čǫbrъ (p. 137), since these dialects show early backing of *ę to ą/ǫ (Zenon Klemensiewicz, Historia języka polskiego, 1, Warsaw: PWN, 1985, p. 45), cf. Polish cząber ‘id.’, Serbo-Croat čúbar, etc.

The only misprints that caused a moment of perplexity are ‘Shevelev’ for Shevelov (p. 102), ‘intervocalic jer’ for intervocalic /j/ (p. 124) and ‘[Proto-Sorbian, and] Proto-Lusatian’ for Proto-Lekhitic (p. 192).

Despite these criticisms this is a very creditable pioneering effort. Judicious pruning of its less useful prolixities, could make it a still more valuable addition to the library.