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Russ Linguist (2012) 36:193211

DOI 10.1007/s11185-012-9092-4

Semantic defocusing: semantically motivated syntax

of Russian SJA constructions
c -
Hyug Ahn

Published online: 25 April 2012

Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Abstract This paper aims to investigate the prototypical function of SJA and to classify SJA
constructions in Russian. These so-called reexive constructions express a semantic defocus, not intransitivity. By defocusing on a participant a dierent construal of a situation is
shown. This dierent construal often leads the focus towards the action of the verb. Semantic
defocusing is the prototype of SJA constructions in Russian. SJA constructions have diverse
meanings and the categorization of these meanings shows the relationships among the SJA
constructions. There are a number of elements that play a role in the realization of these
diverse meanings, such as verbal aspects, the lexical meaning of a verb, etc. However, the
subcategories of SJA constructions are related and the concept of semantic defocus plays an
important role in the network of SJA constructions.

- - . , .
. , .
. - ; . , ,
, . -

This work was supported by the Hankuk University of Foreign Studies Research Fund of 2011.
H. Ahn ()
Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, Language Research Institute, Seoul, Republic of Korea
e-mail: hyugahn@gmail.com


H. Ahn

1 Introduction
There used to be two types of the reexive pronounthe long and short forms in Common
Slavic (henceforth CS). CS s is a short form of the reexive pronoun seb in the accusative
case in Slavic (Isaenko 1960, 380). Ivanov mentions that the enclitic form s lost its independence and changed into a particle in the 15th century (Ivanov 1983, 297298).1 SJA in
contemporary standard Russian expresses not only the reexive meaning, but there are also
various situations that can be designated by SJA verbs (cf. Ahn 2006b). For example, sentence (1) does not mean that the nettle stings itself, but that it is characteristic for a nettle to

Krapiva etsja.2
A nettle stings.

The purpose of the current paper is to categorize SJA verbs from a semantic point of view
and to reveal the structure of SJA functions. The etymology of SJA forces us to call the
SJA verbs vozvratnye reexive (vedova et al. 1980, 617), but the semantic diversity of
SJA constructions prevents us from calling them reexive without reserve. The reexive
meaning, however, functions as the prototype of SJA, but it is necessary to explain other
non-reexive SJA constructions. The prototype of SJA expresses that the participant is being
defocused and the event is being highlighted to a dierent extent. Another important criterion
of SJA verb classication is meaning of case, since the reexive pronouns in CS were used
in various case forms and SJA is denitely related to the reexive pronouns.
On the quest for the semantics of SJA it is necessary to consider not only semantic characteristics of SJA verbs, but also syntactic constructions where the SJA verbs are used. To start
with, I will discuss the prototypicality of SJA. I will then move on to explain the classication
of SJA verbs using prototypes and case meaning in Russian.

2 Semantic defocus in SJA constructions

Russian linguistic tradition shows that the semantic function of SJA is often related to a sign
of grammatical intransitivity.3 However, Ahn (2006a) suggests that the speaker uses SJA
to express his / her focus on the action or state rather than on the patient or theme of the
action. This semantic perspective on SJA is very useful for explaining the following SJA

a Otec moet sebja.

Father is washing himself.
b. Otec moet ne sobaku, a sebja.
Father is washing not the dog, but himself.

1 CS and some of the contemporary Slavic languages such as Czech and Bulgarian have a separate form of

the short reexive pronoun in the dative case as well as in the accusative case (cf. Scatton 1993, 235237 and
Short 1993, 514517).
2 Unless otherwise indicated, all examples are mine.
3 Vinogradov (1972, 630) and Isaenko (1960, 374) specically mention intransitivity as the invariant meaning

of SJA. vedova et al. (1980) classied SJA verbs into the passive and intransitive meanings. Gerritsen (1990)
explains the meaning of SJA using the action and the participants as starting and terminal points of the action.
Israeli (1997) denes the meaning of SJA according to Kemmers (1993) notion of the meaning of the middle
voice as low elaboration of an event.

Defocusing in Russian reexives


c. Otec moetsja.
Father is washing himself.
These sentences can all be used to refer to an identical situation, however they are not semantically synonymous. The sentences reect that the speaker has a dierent focus. The
sentence (2a) shows a focus on the patient and this can be veried in the sentence (2b). The
corresponding SJA sentence (2c) means that the subject is involved in the action of washing. Despite the etymology of the reexive pronoun and SJA, their semantic functions are
Geniuiene (1987, 3753) shows the dierence between transitive and reexive constructions using the concept of diathesis, cf. Fig. 1:
Otec moet sobaku.
Human Animate

Otec moetsja.
Agent Patient

Fig. 1 Diathesis correspondences in non-SJA and SJA sentences4

The  in the gure designates diathesis. Diathesis is dened as a pattern of correspondences between the constituents of the RefS [referent structure] and the constituents of the
RolS [role structure] and SynS [syntactic structure] (Geniuiene 1987, 53).5 Ontological
features such as human, animate appear on the referent level, while agent, patient, and
other semantic roles6 are expressed on the semantic role level, and subject, object, and
other syntactic features are marked on the syntactic function level. This gure explains the
correspondence between transitive and reexive constructions well, but it does not explain
the semantic characteristics of the reexive construction briey mentioned after examples
(2a)(2c). Geniuienes diathesis analysis is useful for showing the dierent uses of a SJA
verb, cf. Fig. 2.
Malik moetsja mamoj.

Malik moetsja.
Agent Patient

Fig. 2 Diathesis of the passive and reexive SJA constructions

The diathesis gures of the SJA verbs provide useful information about the argument structure of SJA constructions, but it still seems dicult to detect the function of SJA from the
4 For more information about the methodology of the diagram see Geniuiene (1987, 54f.).
5 In Geniuiene (1987, 52), diathesis is dened dierently as a pattern of correspondences between units at

the syntactic level and units at the semantic level.

6 Geniuiene (1987, 3744) also postulates that the semantic roles are systematic and that they play an im-

portant role in the reexive constructions. Geniuiene tries to classify these roles using a simpler and more
generalized hyper-role. The concept of hyper-role is semi-syntactic rather than purely semantic and shares
features with Fillmores hyper-case (1977, 65), known as allo-case by Cook (1972).


H. Ahn

gures. Reexive SJA constructions signal that a participant exists who is carrying out more
than one role in a situation, and that this is a semantic feature of the prototypical reexive
SJA in Russian.
Focus on the action was suggested as the prototypical function of SJA in Ahn (2006a,
2006b) and this prototype is often reinterpreted as the intensive meaning especially in prexed SJA constructions (Ahn 2009). Janko-Trinickaja (1962, 245f.) explains that the Russian
reexive verb emphasises the independence of the event denoted by the verb from the actants
of the verb. In other words, in SJA verbs the performance of the event becomes highlighted,
rather than the participant(s) of the event, which is similar to the idea of focus on the action
in Ahn (2006a, 2006b, 2009). It is, however, necessary to think about the dierence between
SJA and intransitive constructions. For example, (3a) is a SJA construction of grooming
and (3b) is an intransitive construction. In both clauses (a and b) there is an agent who is
shaving and the dierence between them would be related to the direct object. In (3a) the
object is implied on a semantic level, while in (3b) it is not implied or only implied on a
contextual level.

a. Brat breetsja.
The brother is shaving.
b. Brat breet.
The brother is shaving.
c. Brat breet sebja.
The brother is shaving himself.
d. Brat breet (sebe) borodu.
The brother is shaving his beard.

For a typical grooming verb like britsja shave (oneself), it is known that the SJA verb cannot
be replaced by a non-SJA verb with a reexive pronoun as in (3c), but only by a construction
as in (3d) (Veyrenc 1980, 227f.). However, Google and the Russian National Corpus give
679 and 2 examples, respectively, of the substitution of breetsja with breet sebja as in (4).

On breet sebja prosto kak vsjakij elovek.

He shaves himself just like any other person does.
(http://www.sycok.narod.ru/25.html. Accessed 2012-03-27)

Another construction to consider is the passive SJA construction. A number of SJA verbs
are realized in dierent meanings. A SJA verb can be used in a passive meaning (5a) and a
reciprocal construction (5b).

a. Takie vystuplenija vstrealis odobritelno.

Those performances were encountered favorably.
b. Oni asto vstrealis.
They often met.

(Xrakovskij 1991, 149)

The one thing we have to notice is that SJA sentences with a passive meaning are often used
without an agent in the instrumental case. In many languages agentless passives by far outnumber those with an overt agent. For written English, the percentage of agentless passives
is said to be between 90 % and 70 % (cf. Svartvik 1966; Givn 1979 and Krauthamer 1981).
Dukov (1972) gives the gure 85 % for written Czech (cf. Siewierska 1988). The agent in
the instrumental case is often restricted to the third person, and this restriction attests that
SJA constructions with a passive meaning are not about highlighting the agent, but about
the action imposed on the object. The information about the agent may be retrieved from the
context. The frequency of agentless passive SJA gives an idea about the semantic function of

Defocusing in Russian reexives


SJA. The SJA here does not have the same function as in the reexive SJA constructions. Unlike the reexive construction, SJA carries the implication that there is an agent and that the
event is being highlighted. These two meaningsthe rst being the existence of a retrievable
participant, the second being a stronger focus on the action and not on the participantare
the common semantic denominator of SJA in reexive and passive constructions. Id like to
call these meanings semantic defocus. Defocus is a term in photography: it is an optic
aberration in which an image is simply out of focus (Zamudio-Fuentes et al. 2011, 81). For
example, the following two pictures (Fig. 3) were taken in the same setting with dierent

Fig. 3 Defocus7

The person who took these pictures decided wether to choose to focus on the foreground
or the background items in the picture. On the left, the background entity is blurred, but its
existence is perceived in the picture. The same mechanism works for SJA constructions. SJA
signals that there is a participant out of focus. The participant plays a role in the event of the
verb, but the speaker puts his focus on other elements, such as the event or other participant(s).
The reexive SJA construction defocuses on its direct object while highlighting the agent
and event. Passive SJA constructions often express an event that has aected a participant.
Semantic defocus is a conceptual prototype that captures characteristics of SJA constructions.
3 Categorization of SJA constructions
Categorization of SJA has been attempted in the previous research (cf. Isaenko 1960;
Vinogradov 1972; vedova et al. 1980; Gerritsen 1990; Israeli 1997) based on the lexical
meaning of SJA verbs. The lexical meaning of non-SJA verbs is important, but, as mentioned
above, it is necessary to consider other aspects such as syntactic construction, participant
structure, the etymology of SJA, and etc. Here classication will be attempted based on the
prototypical function of SJA which is semantic defocus. Diverse relationships to peripheral
groups in the classication will be suggested.
Another interesting idea is to make use of the Russian case system in the classication.
Considering the etymological origin of SJA, which is a short form of the reexive pronoun,
it is a plausible idea to employ the concept of case in the categorization of SJA meanings (for
7 There are instances where we have been unable to trace or contact the copyright holder. If notied the pub-

lisher will be pleased to rectify any errors or omissions at the earliest opportunity.


H. Ahn

instance, Czech and Bulgarian still maintain separate forms for the short reexive pronoun
in the accusative and dative cases, cf. fn. 1).
A complicated case system8 is one of the characteristics of most Slavic languages. Janda
(1993, 15) mentions that case functions as a marker for expressing the role assigned to participants in a situation that is being expressed by a predicate: [. . .] the following assumptions
are inherent in the cognitive framework:

case is always meaning-bearing

case meaning has a constant objective moment that can be subjectively applied
case meaning involves the organization of rather than the specication of information
case meaning is not essentially dierent from lexical meaning in structure.

However, it is not necessary to consider all the Russian cases to explain SJA categories. The
accusative and dative cases seem to be the only ones we need when we consider that the short
reexive pronoun in CS is only realized in the accusative and dative cases. The accusative
case is used to explain the reexive, middle and some reciprocal SJA constructions and the
dative case works as a common feature of the receiver, passive, consequential and some
impersonal SJA constructions.
The category of the accusative SJA includes the reexive SJA, the middle SJA and some
reciprocal SJA verbs, because those SJA constructions show similar diatheses on the semantic
role level, i.e. an agent performs an action aecting the same entity or a part of the entity.
The patient of the event is defocused, but exists on referential and semantic levels. Janda and
Clancy (2002, 53) describe the meaning of the accusative case as a destination of an action,
cf. Fig. 4.

Fig. 4 Image schema of the accusative case (taken from Janda and Clancy 2002, 53)9

The accusative case as a destination usually shows focus on the patient, but the direct object
is defocused in the reexive construction. Therefore the focus is changed by the action or
event referred to by the verb. The action moves along a path from the agent to the patient
(Janda and Clancy 2002, 64), for the speaker or conceptualizer, the event itself becomes
8 vedova et al. (1980, 479) denes case in the Russian Academy Grammar as follows: cases are polysemous,

each case has its own system of meanings, and some meanings are basic and central, whereas others are
semantically peripheral.
9 In the sense of Lako (1987), Croft and Cruse (2004, 44) state that [i]mage schemas are dened as schematic

versions of images. Images are representations of specic, embodied experiences (see Fillmore 1975, 123;
1977, 7374). Domains that give rise to images are described as embodied (Lako 1987, 267 [. . .]) or grounded
(Lako and Turner 1989, 113) [. . .]. Image schemas are not specic images, but are schematic. In other words,
the role of the participants in Fig. 4 is separated in a circle, but this separation appears to be dicult in real
sentences. They represent schematic patterns arising from imagistic domains, such as containers, paths, links,
forces, and balance that recur in a variety of embodied domains and structure our bodily experience (Lako
1987, 453) [. . .] and they structure our non-bodily experience as well, via metaphor (Lako 1987, 453 [. . .]).
This denition claries the seemingly contradictory description of image schemas [. . .]: image schemas are
abstract in one sense of that wordthey are schematicbut not abstract in another sense of that word
they are embodied (Croft and Cruse 2004, 44).

Defocusing in Russian reexives


more important than its participants. The dative case in Russian expresses the meaning of
the receiver, which can be metaphorically extended to an aected participant as an agent
receiving a metaphorical inuence from outside. The meaning of the receiver is the prototype
of the dative case (Janda and Clancy 2002, 84), cf. Fig. 5.

Fig. 5 Image schema of the

dative case in Russian (taken
from Janda and Clancy 2002, 84)

The dative SJA signies that the subject is aected by an event, and this event can be either
positive or negative for the subject. In other words, the subject does something for his or her
own sake, or the subject is aected by the action but not in a positive way, cf. (6):

My oiblis.
We made a mistake.

The reciprocal SJA exemplies an interesting point regarding the use of case in the classication of SJA. A reciprocal SJA construction can either be accusative or dative depending
on the lexical meaning of the verb. For example, obnimatsja hug (each other) is a member of the accusative reciprocal SJA verbs, while perepisyvatsja write (to each other) and
sovetovatsja advise (each other) are members of the dative reciprocal SJA verbs.
3.1 The accusative SJA
The reexive SJA constructions, as explained above, are from semantic and etymological
perspectives prototypes. First of all, one group of verbs is the proper reexive or the reexive[s] par excellence (Israeli 1997, 52), cf. (7). The frequency of the substitution is, however,
relatively low, because the verb with the reexive pronoun sebja is only possible when there
is another object with the pronoun as in (8), i.e. the conversion of a SJA verb into a verb
phrase with the reexive pronoun sebja is not found frequently (Israeli 1997, 5258). The
conversion does not happen frequently, because of contextual complexity, however it does
happen when the context provides proper conditions. This productivity of conversion also
shows that the reexive SJA is the prototype.

Vy napadaete, my zaiaemsja.
You attack, we defend!
Accessed 2012-03-20)


My zaiaem i sebja, i druzej.

We are defending both ourselves and our friends.


H. Ahn

Frequency is, of course, an important feature of prototypicality, but in the case of SJA, the
productivity or closeness to the etymological origin also play a crucial role in judging the
category prototype.10
From the case perspective and considering the syntactic structure the reexive SJA is
accusative and therefore the proper name for it will be the accusative reexive SJA.
Another group of the accusative SJA is called the middle SJA constructions. The middle voice in Indo-European is historically related to the category of medium in Ancient
Greek and the medium category expresses a subjects interest in the action of the predicate
(Perelmuter 1984, 4).11 This is another argument for the current assertion that SJA expresses
the speakers focus on the action. The middle SJA constructions include three subcategories
distinguished by the dierent semantics of their constructions: they designate a subjects action when engaging a body (part), an emotion or a (non-translational) motion.
The rst subcategory of the middle SJA contains the SJA verbs describing actions engaging a body (part). This subcategory is semantically related to the reexive SJA verbs of body
care or actions relating to the body, but verbs of this subcategory of the middle SJA denote
an action facilitated by an object such as deratsja za perila hold on to the banister / rail,
stuknutsja ob ugol knock (bump) against the corner, udaritsja / uibitsja ob ugol hit, hurt
oneself, bruise oneself against the corner, teretsja o zabor rub against a fence etc.
The body part in this subcategory of SJA plays a dierent role than in the reexive SJA
used for describing body care. In other words, the SJA verbs of grooming or body care denote
action directed towards the body part, i.e. the body part plays the role of the patient of the
action, but the engaged body part in the middle SJA verbs does not appear as a patient,
although the body part is involved in the performance of the action. The deniteness of the
body part also seems dierent. The body parts in the examples with the reexive SJA appear
to be quite obviously identiable by the SJA constructions and the contexts, cf. (9a), (9b) and
(10a), (10b):

a. On ponuril golovu.
b. On ponurilsja.
He hung his head.

(10) a. On zamuril glaza.

b. On zamurilsja.
He closed his eyes tightly.
The SJA verb phrase stuknutsja ob ugol knock (bump) against the corner entails that the
body part of the subject is involved in the action of knocking, but the identity of the body part
is given by the context. The lexical meaning of SJA verbs gives us a clue to understanding
why SJA is used in many types of seemingly isolated SJA verbs.
The second subcategory of the middle meaning is comprised of SJA verbs denoting
changes in or states of emotion of the subject such as serditsja get angry, udivitsja be
surprised, radovatsja be happy, somnevatsja doubt, volnovatsja become agitated, etc.
10 The prototype approach presents the fact that some members of a category are judged better, or more

representative of the category than others. At the same time, the classical model can oer no account of
why category boundaries seem to be vague and variable (Croft and Cruse 2004, 77). It is dicult or almost
impossible to list all elements which are important in the decision of prototype. Croft and Cruse use the rating
of Goodness-Of-Exemplar (GOE) for judging prototypicality of the members of a category (Croft and Cruse
2004, 7478).
11 Schenker (1986, 31) claims that the marked reexive signals the interiorization of the subject in the ac-

tion or state expressed by the verb. However, Gerritsen (1990, 289) does not nd Schenkers classication
sucient to explain the semantics of the middle category.

Defocusing in Russian reexives


(11) a. Uslyav poslednie svodki s fronta, on volnuetsja.

After hearing the last reports from the front, he became agitated.
(RNC: N. Granina. Budennovskaja ataka. Vdovy legendarnyx sovetskix
polkovodcev vedut boi na podstupax k rodnomu domu.
Izvestija. 2002.07.28)
b. Esli [obestvo] tak volnuet sebja semejnoj dramoj, to est, ne stali li predatelstva
normoj izni?
If society itself can get so excited over a family drama, does that mean that betrayal has become the norm of life?
(J. Dinaburg. O strane Arestan.
Accessed 2012-03-20)
Example (11a) denotes a situation in which a man experiences a change in his emotional state.
The SJA verb in this example is not derived from the corresponding non-SJA verb volnovat
worry, because we cannot transform (11a) into a sentence on volnuet sebja. However, it is
possible to nd examples with the non-SJA verb and reexive pronoun, although Google only
came up with 5 examples of the phrase volnuet sebja and the Russian National Corpus does
not even have one example. The sentence (11b) from Google signals that the meaning of the
whole construction appears unrelated to the reexive meaning, but related to the meaning of
empathy as indicated in the English translation. Of course, low frequency cannot prove that
this sentence is not acceptable or grammatically wrong, but shows that it is realized when
the conditions such as the context and the speakers intension are met. The SJA verbs that
express that a subject is experiencing a certain emotional state or a change of emotion can be
considered as a metaphorical extension of the SJA verbs that mean action being imposed on
a body part. If we use a Lakoan formula (cf. Lako and Johnson 1980, 2532), EMOTION
IS A BODY (PART). Israeli classied verbs of emotion into a group of verbs of decausative
meaning, but she also mentioned that these SJA verbs can be in the same group as verbs of
actional decausative meaning (Israeli 1997, 66).
The third subcategory of the reexive SJA describes motion made by the subject, but the
motion is non-translational, i.e. the subject moves his / her body, changing his / her posture
without changing his / her location as in (12a).
(12) a. [Ja] povernulsja k devuke i uvidel ee glaza.
I turned to the girl and saw her eyes.
(RNC: V. Aksenov. Romantik Kitousov, akademik Velikij-Salazkin i
tainstvennaja Margarita. Literaturnaja gazeta. 1973).
b. Posle tragedii 11 sentjabrja dve strany povernulis drug k drugu [. . .].
After the tragedy on Sep. 11 the two countries turned to each other.
(RNC: M. Nikolaev. V poiskax kapitala. Veernjaja Moskva. 2002.02.07)
This example of non-translational motion (12a), (12b) shows an extension of meaning from
concrete motion (12a) to abstract motion by metaphor (12b). As in (12b), the two countries
are abstract entities incapable of performing the motion of turning, but the motion of turning
towards each other can be interpreted metaphorically as becoming friendly with one another.
The middle and reexive SJA constructions express a situation in which the subject of the
SJA verb performs an action and the patient of the action is related to the subject physically
or emotionally. However, the middle SJA constructions are located in the periphery of the
semantic network of SJA for the following reasons: 1) the lexical meaning of the middle SJA
verbs is limited; 2) the reexive SJA verbs are closer to the etymological origin of SJA than


H. Ahn

the middle SJA verbs; 3) the middle SJA constructions do not appear to be as productive as
the reexive SJA constructions.
The third accusative SJA category includes a subgroup of reciprocal SJA verbs. Isaenko
(1960, 382) classies reciprocal-reexive verbs into one group and Vinogradov (1972),
vedova et al. (1980), Gerritsen (1990), and Israeli (1997), among other linguists, have also
categorized reciprocal verbs into a group when classifying Russian reexive verbs. These
reciprocal SJA constructions have common characteristics: semantically, each participant in
a reciprocal SJA construction (a single entity on the referent level) carries more than one
semantic role and the performance of the action is the information that is being focused on,
cf. (13):
(13) [M]uiny i eniny, kotorye na protjaenii vsej eloveeskoj istorii borolis [. . .].
Men and women who have fought throughout the entire course of human history.
(RNC: Mitropolit Antonij (Blum). Rodestvo Boiej Materi. 1981)
In (13), the subjects are the agents of the ght, as well as, at the same time, being the patients
involved in the ght. The meaning of the sentence can be paraphrased using the adverbial
phrase drug druga each other as follows. The preposition protiv against is used for the
lexical meaning of the verb borotsja ght, cf. (14):
(14) Juna i Juri is SNSD budut borotsja drug protiv druga.
Juna and Juri of SNSD will ght each other.
drug_protiv_druga/2012-02-18-1346. Accessed 2012-03-20)
The reciprocal SJA verbs are dierent from the reexive SJA verbs in that the subject in the
reciprocal SJA sentence does not act on himself or for himself. However, as in (14), one participant (Juna) in the reciprocal construction ghts with the other (Juri), and that one (Juri)
ghts back against the rst-mentioned participant (Juna) at the same time. In other words,
the two participants in the reciprocal construction, A and B carry out the double functions
simultaneously, i.e. each participant functions as both agent and patient in one action encoded by a given verb. Double roles for single participants in reciprocal constructions can be
diagrammed as follows in Fig. 6.
Fig. 6 Image schema of
reciprocal semantics

3.2 The dative SJA

The dative SJA shows the semantic characteristics of focused events and participants aected
by these events. The rst group can be called receiver SJA verbs because the subject-agent
carries another semantic role as a receiver of the result or eect of the action. In other words,
the subject-agent performs an action and simultaneously the subject-agent is aected by the
action, cf. (15). Etymologically the existence of the dative case form of the CS short reexive
pronoun might be the reason why Russian SJA verbs denote this kind of situation.

Defocusing in Russian reexives


(15) Ivan stroitsja. V pervom e tae doma budut it ego roditeli.

Ivan is building a house for himself. His parents will occupy the rst oor.
(Gerritsen 1990, 87)
In example (15) Ivan is building something (a house in this context) and Ivan is carrying
out the action for himself or for his own sake. If the receiver SJA incorporates meanings
associated with the dative case, it should be possible to paraphrase SJA verbs using the dative
case form of the reexive pronoun, cf. (16a) and (16b):
(16) a. Kak e ty v dorogu ide, a tabakom ne zapassja?
How can it be that you go on a trip without stocking up on tobacco?
(Evgeneva 1981, 554)
b. [. . .], a tabaka ne zapas sebe (dlja sebja)?
without stocking up on tobacco for yourself?
As shown in (16b), the SJA verb can be paraphrased using the long form of the dative reexive pronoun sebe or the prepositional phrase dlja with the genitive reexive pronoun sebja
(vedova et al. 1980, 618). The dierence between (15) and (16a), (16b) lies in the fact that
the rst verb stroitsja build something for oneself does not allow an object / patient that is
being built to be stated explicitly, while the second verb zapastis stock up does allow the
explicit expression of the semantic object or thing that has been stocked up for ones own benet in the instrumental case. The explicit expression of the object in the construction might
be explained by the inferable possibility of an object, i.e. anything stackable can be the object
of the verb zapastis stock up, while the object of stroitsja build is more limited than that
of zapastis. Vinogradov (1972, 498) denes these kinds of verbs as actions performed for
the subject, or in the subjects interests. Russian has conventionalized this use in verbs such
as stroitsja build (ones home), zapastis provide / stock up for oneself, prositsja ask for
something for oneself, etc. which are called benefactive verbs.
The receiver SJA constructions occur relatively less frequently in Russian than in other
Slavic languages. For example, Czech has the verb koupit si buy something for oneself as
in example (17). The Czech dative reexive particle si exhibits surprisingly high frequency
and semantic range, particularly in the spoken language (Janda 1993, 97).12
(17) Chystte si koupit star automobil v bazaru?
Are you planning to buy a used car at the bazar?
(http://www.mimibazar.cz/vtip.php?id=22661. Accessed 2012-03-20)
The corresponding verb in Russian, kupitsja buy (an idea) does not mean that a person
buys something for himself or herself. And so, the person in the following construction does
not accept or believe what he / she was told. This SJA verb undergoes semantic shift.
(18) Ja ne kupljus tak legko, kak moj bednyj Genrix.
I am not as gullible as my poor Genrix.
(RNC: V. Pelevin. Muzyka so stolba. 1991)
Here the subject in the rst person form says that he / she is not as gullible as Genrix is, but the
meaning of the SJA verb can be paraphrased as buy an idea for oneself from another person
using an ontological metaphor like IDEA IS A THING. The subject in the nominative case
12 Colloquial Czech shows very interesting behavior regarding the reexive clitic SE / SI. For more informa-

tion, cf. Townsend (1990, 107f.).


H. Ahn

is the agent of the action of buying. The patient of the action is lexically limited to an idea
and this entailment has caused the verb to undergo a semantic shift in Russian.
The second dative SJA is the passive SJA verbs. As mentioned above, passive SJA constructions also mean focus on an event by defocusing the agent. The concept of the agent
could be retrieved from the context in most cases.
(19) Okno moetsja raboimi.
The window is being washed by workers.
Example (19) seems a typical passive sentence with SJA, but the RNC which consists of 300
million words gives just one example of mytsja wash with an animate compliment in the
instrumental case, cf. (20):
(20) Alea prixodil s utra, [. . .] i jutilsja na lavke u bani, poka mylis xozjajikami rotnye.
Alesha came here in the morning, [. . .] and took shelter in the bathhouse, while
company commanders were being washed by the mistresses.
(RNC: O. Pavlov. Karagandinskie devjatiny, ili Povest poslednix dnej.
Oktjabr. 2001)
The information about the agent can be retrieved from the context. However, it is dicult
to measure the frequency of passive SJA constructions, because most SJA verbs are used
for more than one meaning. Among 5279 transitive verbs in Uakovs (2000) dictionary,
4717 verbs have synthetic passive forms, i.e. SJA forms. 2241 reexive verbs contain passive meanings as well as other meanings, and the ambiguity of these verbs is solved only in
context (Zelenov 1963; Xrakovskij 1991, 149). The SJA verbs of the passive meaning are not
semantically similar to the reexive SJA, because the passive SJA constructions maintain two
separate roles on the reference level (cf. Figs. 1 and 2 of the present paper and Geniuiene
1987), while the reexive SJA implies the distinction only on a semantic level. There might
be, nonetheless, an explanation as to why both constructions employ the same clitic. The
prototypical semantic function of SJAfocus on the action and defocus on the participant
is also realized in the passive SJA, but the details are dierent from the reexive SJA. It is,
however, possible to say that both constructions are related semantically and structurally.
The third subcategory of the dative SJA expresses an elevated intensity of the action and
a participant being aected by the action or event of the verb.
(21) erez pjat minut Medvedev stual v okoko zakrytogo cvetonogo kioska, vymanivaja na razgovor uboricu s mokroj vabroj v ruke, a ee erez sem minut stualsja
v nomer 608 gostinicy Mediterranean, izvestnyj emu ranee po telefonnoj versii kak
Five minutes later Medvedev was knocking at the window of the closed orist kiosk,
luring a maid with a wet mop into a conversation, and another seven minutes later he
was knocking at room 608 of the hotel Mediterranean, which was already known
to him from the telephone as six-zero-eight.
(RNC: D. Karalis. Roman s geroinej. Zvezda. 2001)
As we see in (21), the action of knocking is expressed by two verbsstuat and stuatsja.
The agent doing the knocking, Medvedev, was knocking at the window of the orist without
any intensive meaning, but the second knocking at the hotel room is dierent, because
Medvedev, the knocker, knows that the person he is looking for is in that room or at least is
staying in that room. The knocking on the door of that room is dierent from the knocking
on the window of the orist because the rst knocking is just checking whether the orist is
open, whereas the second knocking means that the knocker has the intention to go into the

Defocusing in Russian reexives


room to meet somebody who is already there. The term intensive can be interpreted in two
ways here. At rst, the speaker is observing the action of knocking being carried out more
intensively than usual. Secondly, the speaker knows that the agent of knocking has a strong
intention to get into the place.
Another subcategory of the intensive SJA is comprised of so-called prexed SJA verbs.13
vedova et al. (1980, 384391) gives a list of prexed SJA verbs: the prexes v-, vz-, vy-, do-,
za-, iz-, na-, o-, ob-, ot-, pod-, pri-, pro-, raz-, s-, and u-, are used with SJA. Example (22)
is an example of the prexed SJA verb vsluatsja listen attentively or carefully (to); strain
ones ears to hear.
(22) Ja stal umyvatsja i vdrug vslualsja v kakoe-to odnoobraznoe, tixoe, naraspev, tene
[. . .].
I started washing and suddenly became engrossed in listening to a monotonous,
quiet, sing-song reading.
(RNC: S. T. Aksakov. Detskie gody Bagrova-vnuka, sluaie prodoleniem
semejnoj xroniki. 1858)
Semantically, the intensive SJA is similar to the passive SJAthe focus lies on an action or
event. However, the intensive SJA does not undergo a change in syntactic structure, i.e. an
agent in the intensive SJA remains in the same position of the sentence as in the corresponding non-SJA construction. However, the intensiveness is not the same as the one which the
passive SJA expresses. The intensive performance causes a new dierent meaning implied
in the given SJA verb. Gerritsen (1990, 8898) classied a group called the consequential
reexive SJA verbs. The consequential SJA describes a situation in which a speaker or a
subject of a sentence emphasizes the result of an action. Verbs of grasping or holding make
up the rst subcategory of the consequential SJA. The second subcategory is composed of
some prexed SJA verbs, such as dodatsja wait until, zasiivatsja sit for a long time, etc.
Here is an example of the prexed SJA verbodumatsja come to ones senses, be capable
of thinking logically, cf. (23):
(23) Junyj xokkeist emodanov mnogo vozomnil o sebe i brosil uebu. Zatem odumalsja.
The young hockey player Chemodanov had too high an opinion of himself and quit
studying. Then he came back to his senses. (RNC: S. Dovlatov. Zapovednik. 1983)
This SJA verb expresses an outcome that has been brought about as a result of thinking. The
agent in this example, the young hockey player, found out his real status as a result of serious
deliberation. The consequence of the action of thinking is expressed by the prex o- and the
clitic SJA. The positive result of the action is not always expressed by both a prex and SJA,
it totally depends on the lexical meaning of the verb. Example (24) shows that the result may
not be desirable to the agent:
(24) Tolko sdelal povorot, ponjal srazu, to prositalsja, potomu to vperedi stojala
maina GAI.
As soon as I turned, I understood at once that I was wrong, because there was a
Kio. Illjuzija bez illjuzij. 19951999)
police car in front of me.
(RNC: I. E.
The SJA verb prositatsja make a mistake in (counting), be wrong is derived from the verb
sitat count, consider: the action of counting is continued for a certain period of time, in

13 Ahn (2009) has analyzed the semantics of the intensiveness in the SJA circumx in Russian.


H. Ahn

which the agent repeatedly makes mistakes whilst counting. The action of counting repeatedly leads to an undesirable resulta mistake. The consequence of the action being communicated by the verb obviously has to be expressed by a prexed SJA verb. This is because
the prex pro- makes the verb perfective and the perfective aspect expresses the meaning
of accomplished action. The meaning of consequence that is implied by the consequential
SJA is dierent from the meaning of accomplished action of the perfective aspect, because
the consequential SJA entails that the repeated performance of an action results in another
action, whereas the perfective aspect does not imply connected actions.
The meanings of intensiveness and consequence are sometimes dicult to dierentiate
like in the case of prositatsja. The semantic shift in the lexical meaning of these consequential SJA verbs is a major feature of this category, but the shift does not happen to all the
SJA verbs.
Another subcategory of consequential meaning is comprised of SJA verbs derived from
nouns and adjectives such as petuitsja get on ones high horse, xolmitsja have a quality
of a hump, uglitsja get a feature of coal, tolpitsja get crowded, etc.
The consequential SJA and intensive SJA are dicult to dierentiate in some SJA verbs,
especially some prexed SJA verbs, cf. (25):
(25) I vot za den tak vybegaesja, to i nogi polopajutsja, potreskajutsja.
And so you have run so much for one day that your feet are exhausted and are starting
to crack.
(http://magazines.russ.ru/oz/2002/7/2002_07_51.html. Accessed 2012-03-20)
The SJA verb in (25), vybegatsja exhaust oneself after a long run, has both the semantic
components intensiveness and focus on the consequence of something. However, the meaning
of the consequential SJA can be seen separately from the meaning of the intensive SJA in
cases such as those in the examples (23) and (24). The consequence of an action is being
focused on with SJA and sometimes undergoes a semantic shift.
Another interesting subcategory of SJA verbs is called the qualitative SJA. The qualitative
SJA expresses the quality of the subject. There are two subcategories of the qualitative SJA
active and passive qualities. The passive quality describes a quality that the subject of the SJA
verb has. Here the subject is the patient of the action meant by the SJA verb. For example,
the stick in example (26) is the patient of the verb sgibat bend.
(26) Palka ne sgibaetsja.
The stick does not bend.
This SJA construction can be used as an agentless passive in certain situations. If the speaker
is watching a specic person (agent) trying to bend a stick, but the stick remains in the same
state, the sentence above would be an agentless passive. When the speaker of the sentence
does not actually see the act of the stick being bent and the speaker is talking about a very
sturdy stick, the sentence has a qualitative meaning. The passive SJA denotes a situation in
process, and the qualitative SJA describes an entitys feature. The meaning of qualitative SJA
is also realized for an agent of action. Example (27) shows a feature of a certain nettle.
(27) Krapiva etsja.
A nettle stings.
The subject of this SJA is an agent performing the action of stinging. The performance is
not an actual performance; the sentence is about the characteristics of performing the action habitually or repeatedly. This active qualitative SJA shares semantic characteristics and
grammatical featuresverbal aspect and tensewith the passive qualitative SJA.

Defocusing in Russian reexives


The qualitative SJA can be paraphrased with an expression of a generic agent or patient,
but the synonymy is not perfect here. Dierent interpretations for each sentence can be given
by the context in which the sentences are used. Here are more examples of the verb kusat(sja)
tend to bite with dierent contextual information.
(28) a. Esli sobaka kusaet elovekato e to ne novost. Vot esli elovek kusaet sobaku
e to novost.
If a dog bites a personit is not news. But if a person bites a dogit is news.
(http://masagutov.ru/article/226-15.html. Accessed 2012-03-20)
b. Sluaetsja, to iz-za nevnimatelnosti ili oibki odnogo iz xendlerov, razgorjaennaja sobaka kusaet eloveka. Esli Vy i drugoj xendler rabotaete pravilno, to opasnost popast v takuju situaciju ravna nulju.
An excited dog could bite a person, due to carelessness or mistakes by the handler.
If you and the other handler were to work properly, the danger of that kind of
situation would equal zero.
(pitbullworld.org/view.php?f=guliakov-sc. Accessed 2012-03-22)
c. Nelzja dopuskat, toby sobaka kusalas, potomu to ona moet nanesti sereznye
Never let a dog bite someone, because it can cause serious injury.
(http://zooclub.ru/dogs/dres/142.shtml. Accessed 2012-03-27)
If the SJA verb kusatsja can be paraphrased with kusat eloveka bite a person and both
expressions are considered absolutely synonymous, then these two sentences must be replaceable with each other all the time. The examples, however, show that the two sentences
are used in slightly dierent contexts. Authentic examples from the Internet can identify the
dierence between the uses of the sentences as in (28a)(28c). SJA sentence (28c) describes
a property of a dog or a group of dogs. The dog is the topic of the whole context, and the
speaker keeps talking about the dog and the dogs behavior, which could end badly. The
sentences with kusat eloveka bite a person or people (28a) and (28b) are more about an
incident in which a dog bites a person. Example (28a) is about a possible incident. Example
(28b) is also about a situation that an excited or agitated dog can bite a person, but is not
about biting as a constant quality of a dog. SJA sentence (28c) is more about the dogs biting
habit as a characteristic feature of the dog. This kind of dierent connotation can be found
in example (29a)(29c):
(29) a. Kniga itaetsja s interesom.
This book is being read with interest.
b. Kniga itaetsja s interesom ljudmi raznyx pokolenij.
The book is being read with interest by people of various generations.
c. Vai stixi itajutsja mnoj.
Your poems are read by me.
Accessed 2012-03-20)
Example (29a) is a SJA sentence with a qualitative meaning, and the sentence can be paraphrased with a phrase expressing a generic agent as in (29b). These two sentences share the
same topica book, but (29a) is about the quality of the book and (29b) focuses on the
fact that the book is read with interest by people not only of one generation, but of dierent
generations. The agent in the instrumental case in example (29b) could be considered as a
peripheral use of SJA, considering that the statistics show that passives with an overt agent
are less than 20 %. A prototypical passive SJA expresses a speakers focus on the action,


H. Ahn

and the added agent in the instrumental case is considered to take over the focus. Therefore it is possible to say that the SJA verbs of qualitative meaning are closely related to the
passive SJA verbs, and the passive SJA sentences with generalized agents are a linking area
between the two meanings above. The ambiguity between the passive and qualitative SJAs
can be explained using the verbal aspect in Russian. The imperfective aspect in the passive
constructions shows the meaning of concrete process, while the same imperfective aspect in
the qualitative constructions expresses a habitual meaning or a meaning of generalized fact.
However, the context always provides a key to this ambiguity.
The next category of SJA has a semantic feature signaling that there is no agent controlling
the action of the SJA verb. An agent can occur in the SJA sentence, but the agent does not have
control over the action of the verb. Galkina-Fedoruk (1958, 156) mentions that the SJA form
emphasizes and reinforces the independence of the process from the subject. The participant
who performs the action appears as a setting and the action expressed by the SJA verb is
highlighted. The notion of the independence of process can be an argument for the fact that
neither subject nor agent have control over the process denoted by the verb.
The rst subgroup of SJA verbs consists of the SJA verbs expressing uncontrolled action
by an agent. These SJA verbs denote an emotionally or physically uncontrollable action or
change of state of a participant. This group typically includes the following verbs: ikatsja
hiccup, nezdorovitsja feel unwell, dyatsja breathe, vzgrustnutsja feel sad, depressed,
ixatsja sneeze, zevatsja yawn, drematsja doze, drowse, etc. The subject in the dative
case with these SJA verbs carries a double role, that of the agent and that of the aected
participant of the action.
The second semantic subgroup of the meaning of no control is comprised of the SJA
verbs of natural phenomena. This subgroup expresses the meaning of atmospherical and
meteorological phenomena and the meaning of phenomena happening in a place or to a person. The SJA verbs of climatological phenomena include smerkatsja get dark, brezitsja
dawn, tumanitsja become hazy, projasnjatsja clear, etc. It is interesting to compare
these SJA verbs with SJA verbs of color. Leinonen (1985, 81) states that the SJA verbs meaning is stronger than the corresponding non-SJA verbs meaning in the verbs smerkat and
smerkatsja. Boguslavskij (1962, 79) mentions that belet become white shows a stronger
whiteness than beletsja show white. These comments seem to oppose one another, but there
is a plausible explanation. SJA verbs of color describe an entity with a certain color. If we see
a color on a background of another color, the change of the color, i.e. the meaning of inchoativeness, makes the color more vivid than just showing one color without change. However,
SJA verbs of climatological phenomena usually denote colors or changes on a much bigger scale. If a person sees an already dark sky, this sky feels much darker than a sky that is
becoming dark.
Galkina-Fedoruk (1958, 129) states that impersonal verbs denoting daylight or climatological phenomena such as svetaet it is getting light, veereet it is becoming evening, etc.
are more frequently used than the corresponding impersonal SJA verbs. However, in the case
of smerkat get dark statistics show a dierent tendency. The Russian National Corpus has
just one use of smerkaet it is getting dark, but yields 24 contexts for the corresponding SJA
verb smerkaetsja it is getting dark. A Google search likewise shows 154 hits for smerkaet,
but 7230 for smerkaetsja. The frequency of SJA and non-SJA uses totally depends on the
lexical semantics of a particular verb. My next research will be aimed at investigating the
reason for their frequency.
The SJA of no control has various subcategories of SJA verbs. The SJA of no control
expresses focus on the action or event being denoted by the verb. These SJA verbs are in the
periphery of the semantic network of the passive SJA.

Defocusing in Russian reexives


4 The semantic network of the REFLEXIVE SJA

Russian SJA verbs have various semantic subcategories that can be expressed by the semantic
network in Fig. 7.

Fig. 7 The semantic network of

the SJA constructions.
(Cons. = consequential SJA,
Int. = intensive SJA, Mid. =
middle SJA, N.C. = SJA of
no-control, Pass. = passive SJA,
Qual. = qualitative SJA, Reci. =
reciprocal SJA, Recv. = receiver
SJA, Re. = reexive SJA

The prototype of SJA is the reexive SJA construction (Re.). All the SJA categories are
semantically related to each other. The semantic function of SJA is dicult to summarize in
one phrase, but semantic defocus is the primary and prototypical function of SJA. A semantic
defocus expresses a speakers construal of a situation by putting a participant o the focused
stage. A reexive construction does not remove the participant, the participant simply exists
in a situation without being especially highlighted. This defocus causes, or leads to, another
semantic featurefocus on the action of the verb. The focus on the action is realized differently depending on the lexical meaning of individual verbs. The typology of SJA verbs
shows this diverse realization.
Subcategories of SJA constructions are the middle SJA (Mid.), the reciprocal SJA (Reci.),
the receiver SJA (Recv.), the passive SJA (Pass.), the intensive SJA (Int.), the SJA of nocontrol (N.C.), the qualitative SJA (Qual.), and the consequential SJA (Cons.). Re., Mid.,
and a part of Reci. SJA can be listed under the title accusative SJA, because of a defocus happening in relationship to a participant in the accusative case, this participant being the direct
object of the corresponding non-SJA construction, if there is one. The other subcategories
can be listed under the title dative SJA, because of the same reason. However, the dative
SJA shows extended usage, for example, SJA constructions that express or imply aected
This network of SJA constructions does not show a so-called invariant meaning, which is
shared in all SJA verbs, but the network displays the relationships between SJA constructions.
SJA constructions share semantic features and these features evolve, interacting with the
lexical meanings of the verbs and the participants in a given situation.


H. Ahn

5 Conclusion
Russian SJA is known as a clitic expressing reexivity and a passive meaning. These two
meanings are the prototypical meanings of Russian SJA. The whole category of SJA is, of
course, a semantic network of two prototypical meanings with a number of peripheral members with diverse meanings.
Traditional interpretation of the reexive construction often leads to the idea of intransitivity, which is related to the elimination of a participant. SJA constructions, however, do not
eliminate a participant, but decrease or change the speakers focus on the situation and the
participant. The participant remains in the situation, but with a dierent focus on him / her.
The semantic defocus of a participant often makes the whole construction show a stronger
focus on the verb.
Classication of the SJA constructions according to the function of SJA clearly shows
that the SJA constructions are related to each other. When considering the meaning of SJA,
the reexive SJA is the best example for showing this function. There are other SJA subcategories such as the middle SJA, the reciprocal SJA, the receiver SJA, the passive SJA, the
intensive SJA, the SJA of no-control, the qualitative SJA, and the consequential SJA. SJA
constructions do not share a single meaning, but do show semantic connections. However,
there are a number of variables such as verbal aspect, tense, and lexical meanings of verbs. A
speaker chooses SJA constructions to express a certain meaning, not for indicating intransitiveness. Cognitive linguistics oers a better way of understanding the structure of SJA verbs
by graded centrality and semantic networks, not through binary opposition.

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