Old Church Slavonic
Old Church Slavonic, also known as Old Church Slavic (often abbreviated to OCS; self-name словѣ́ньскъ ѩзꙑ́къ,slověnĭskŭ językŭ), was the first Slavic literary language. The 9th-century Byzantine Greek missionaries Saints Cyril and Methodius are credited with standardizing the language and using it in translating the Bible and other Ancient Greekecclesiastical texts as part of the Christianisation of the Slavic peoples. It is thought to have been based primarily on the dialect of the 9th century Byzantine Slavs living in the Province of Thessalonica (now in Greek Macedonia). It played an important role in the history of the Slavic languages and served as a basis and model for later Church Slavonic traditions, and some Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic churches use this later Church Slavonic as aliturgical language to this day. As the oldest attested Slavic language, OCS provides important evidence for the features of Proto-Slavic, the unattested common ancestor of all Slavic languages.
The language was standardized for the mission of the two apostles to Great Moravia in 863 (see Glagolitic alphabet for details). For that purpose, Cyril and his brother Methodius started to translate religious literature to Old Church Slavonic, allegedly based onSlavic dialects spoken in the hinterland of their home-town, Thessaloniki, in the today’s region of Macedonia.
As part of the preparation for the mission, in 862/863, the Glagolitic alphabet was created and the most important prayers andliturgical books, including the Aprakos Evangeliar (a Gospel Book lectionary containing only feast-day and Sunday readings), thePsalter, and Acts of the Apostles, were translated. (The Gospels were also translated early, but it is unclear whether Sts. Cyril or Methodius had a hand in this). The language and the alphabet were taught at the Great Moravian Academy (Veľkomoravské učilište) and were used for government and religious documents and books between 863 and 885. The texts written during this phase contain characteristics of the Slavic vernaculars in Great Moravia.
In 885, the use of Old Church Slavonic in Great Moravia was prohibited by the Pope in favour of Latin. Students of the two apostles, who were expelled from Great Moravia in 886, brought the Glagolitic alphabet to Bulgaria. There it was taught at two literary schools: the Preslav Literary School and the Ohrid Literary School. The Glagolitic script was originally used at both schools, though theCyrillic script was developed early on at the Preslav Literary School where it superseded Glagolitic. The texts written during this era exhibit certain linguistic features of the vernaculars of the First Bulgarian Empire (see Basis and local influences below). Old Church Slavonic spread to other South-Eastern and Eastern European Slavic territories, most notably to Bosnia, Croatia, Serbia, Bohemia,Lesser Poland, and principalities of the Kievan Rus’ while retaining characteristically South Slavic linguistic features. Later texts written in each of those territories then began to take on characteristics of the local Slavic vernaculars and, by the mid-11th century, Old Church Slavonic had diversified into a number of regional varieties. These local varieties are collectively known as the Church Slavonic language.
Apart from the Slavic countries, Old Church Slavonic has been used as a liturgical language by the Romanian Orthodox Church, as well as a literary and official language of the princedoms of Wallachia and Moldavia (see Old Church Slavonic in Romania), before gradually being replaced by Romanian during 16th-17th centuries. Church Slavonic maintained a prestigious status, particularly in Russia, for many centuries – among Slavs in the East it had a status analogous to that of the Latin language in western Europe, but had the advantage of being substantially less divergent from the vernacular tongues of average parishioners. Some Orthodox churches, such as the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, Russian Orthodox Church, Serbian Orthodox Church, Ukrainian Orthodox Church and Macedonian Orthodox Church, as well as several Eastern Catholic churches, still use Church Slavonic in their services and chants today.
Initially Old Church Slavonic was written with the Glagolitic alphabet, but later Glagolitic was replaced by Cyrillic, which was developed in the First Bulgarian Empireby a decree of Boris I of Bulgaria in the 9th century. In Bosnia was preserved the local Bosnian Cyrillic alphabet, while in Croatia a variant of the Glagolitic alphabet was preserved. See Early Cyrillic alphabet for a detailed description of the script and information about the sounds it originally expressed.
For Old Church Slavonic the following segments are reconstructible. The sounds are given in Slavic transliterated form rather than in IPA, as the exact realisation is uncertain and often differed depending on the area that a text originated from.
Several notable constraints on the distribution of the phonemes can be identified, mostly resulting from the tendencies occurring within the Common Slavic period, such as intrasyllabic synharmony and the law of open syllables. For consonant and vowel clusters and for sequences of a consonant and a vowel, the following constraints can be ascertained:
As a result of the first and the second Slavic palatalizations, velars alternate with dentals and palatals. In addition, as a result of a process usually termed iotation (oriodization), velars and dentals alternate with palatals in various inflected forms and in word formation.
In some forms the alternations of /c/ with /č/ and of /dz/ with /ž/ occur, in which the corresponding velar is missing. The dental alternants of velars occur regularly before /ě/ and /i/ in the declension and in the imperative, and somewhat less regularly in various forms after /i/, /ę/, /ь/ and /rь/. The palatal alternants of velars occur before front vowels in all other environments, where dental alternants do not occur, as well as in various places in inflection and word formation described below.
As a result of earlier alternations between short and long vowels in roots in Proto-Indo-European, Proto-Balto-Slavic and Proto-Slavic times, and of the fronting of vowels after palatalized consonants, the following vowel alternations are attested in OCS: /ь/ : /i/; /ъ/ : /y/ : /u/; /e/ : /ě/ : /i/; /o/ : /a/; /o/ : /e/; /ě/ : /a/; /ъ/ : /ь/; /y/ : /i/; /ě/ : /i/; /y/ : /ę/.
Vowel:∅ alternations sometimes occurred as a result of sporadic loss of weak yer, which later occurred in almost all Slavic dialects. The phonetic value of the corresponding vocalized strong jer is dialect-specific.
As an ancient Indo-European language, OCS has a highly inflective morphology. Inflected forms are divided in two groups – nominals and verbs. Nominals are further divided into nouns, adjectives and pronouns. Numerals inflect either as nouns or pronouns, with one through four also showing gender agreement.
Nominals can be declined in three grammatical genders (masculine, feminine, neuter), three numbers (singular, plural, dual) and seven cases: nominative, vocative,accusative, instrumental, dative, genitive, and locative. There are five basic inflectional classes for nouns: o/jo-stems, a/ja-stems, i-stems, u-stems and consonant stems. Forms throughout the inflectional paradigm usually exhibit morphophonemic alternations. Fronting of vowels after palatals and j yielded dual inflectional classo : jo and a : ja, whereas palatalizations affected stem as a synchronic process (N sg. vlьkъ, V sg. vlьče; L sg. vlьcě). Productive classes are o/jo-, a/ja- and i-stems. Sample paradigms are given in the table below.
Adjectives are inflected as o/jo-stems (masculine and neuter) and a/ja-stems (feminine), in three genders. They could have short (indefinite) or long (definite) variants, the latter being formed by suffixing to the indefinite form the anaphoric third-person pronoun jь.
Synthetic verbal conjugation is expressed in present, aorist and imperfect tenses, while perfect, pluperfect, future and conditional tenses/moods are made by combining auxiliary verbs with participles or synthetic tense forms. Sample conjugation for the verb vesti ”to lead” (underlyingly ved-ti) is given in the table below.
Basis and local influences
Written evidence of Old Church Slavonic survives in a relatively small body of manuscripts, most of them written in First Bulgarian Empire during the late 10th and the early 11th centuries. The language has a Southern Slavic basis with an admixture of Western Slavic features inherited during the mission of Saints Cyril and Methodius to Great Moravia (863–885). The only well-preserved manuscript of the Moravian recension, the Kiev Folia, is characterised by the replacement of some Southern Slavic phonetic and lexical features with Western Slavic ones. Manuscripts written in the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396) have, on the other hand, few Western Slavic features.
Old Church Slavonic is valuable to historical linguists since it preserves archaic features believed to have once been common to all Slavic languages. Such features include:
Old Church Slavonic is also likely to have preserved an extremely archaic type of accentuation (probably close to the Chakavian dialect of modern Serbo-Croatian), but unfortunately no accent marks appear in the written manuscripts.
The Southern Slavic nature of the language is evident from the following variations:
Old Church Slavonic has some extra features in common with Bulgarian:
The language was standardized for the first time by the mission of the two apostles to Great Moravia from 863. The manuscripts of the Moravian recension are therefore the earliest dated of the OCS recensions. The recension takes its name from the Slavic state of Great Moravia which existed in Central Europe during the 9th century on the territory of today’s western Slovakia and Czech Republic.
In the Prague fragments the only Moravian influence is replacing /ʃt/ with /ts/ and /ʒd/ with /z/. This recension is exemplified by the Kiev Folia. Certain other linguistic characteristics include:
First Bulgarian Empire
Old Church Slavonic developed in the First Bulgarian Empire and was taught in Preslav (Bulgarian capital between 893 and 972), and in Ohrid (Bulgarian capital between 991/997 and 1015). It didn’t represent one regional dialect but a generalized form of early eastern South Slavic, which cannot be localized. The existence of two major literary centres in the Empire led in the period from the 9th to the 11th centuries to the emergence of two recensions (otherwise called “redactions”), termed “Bulgarian” and “Macedonian” respectively. Some researchers do not differentiate between manuscripts of the two recensions, preferring to group them together in a “Macedo-Bulgarian” or simply “Bulgarian” recension. Others, as Horace Lunt, have changed their opinion with time. Initially Lunt (1974:5-6) stated that the differences in the initial OCS were neither great, nor consistent to oppose the Macedonian from the Bulgarian recension. However, a decade later Lunt (1985:202) seems to conceive OCS and its “adjustments” in somewhat different terms, that a Macedonian and a Bulgarian variety of OCS existed, illustrating his point with paleographic, phonological and other differences. The development of Old Church Slavonic literacy had the effect of preventing the assimilation of the South Slavs into neighboring cultures, which promoted the formation of a distinct Bulgarian identity.
The manuscripts of the Bulgarian recension or “Eastern” variant are among the oldest of the Old Church Slavonic language. This recension was centred around the Preslav Literary School. Since the earliest datable Cyrillic inscriptions were found in the area of Preslav, it is this school which is credited with the development of the Cyrillic alphabet which gradually replaced the Glagolic one. A number of prominent Bulgarian writers and scholars worked at the Preslav Literary School, including Naum of Preslav (until 893), Constantine of Preslav, John Exarch, Chernorizets Hrabar, etc. The main linguistic features of this recension are the following:
The manuscripts of the Macedonian recension or “Western” variant are among the oldest of the Old Church Slavonic language. The recension is sometimes named Macedonian because its literary centre, Ohrid, lies in the historical region of Macedonia. At that period, administratively Ohrid formed part of the province of Kutmichevitsa in the First Bulgarian Empire until the Byzantine conquest. The main literary centre of this dialect was the Ohrid Literary School, whose most prominent member and most likely founder, was Saint Clement of Ohrid who was commissioned by Boris I of Bulgaria to teach and instruct the future clergy of the state in the Slavonic language. The language variety that was used in the area started shaping the modern Macedonian dialects. This recension is represented by the Codex Zographensis and Marianus, among others. The main linguistic features of this recension include:
Later use of the language in a number of medieval Slavic polities resulted in the adjustment of Old Church Slavonic to the local vernacular, though a number of Southern Slavic, Moravian or Bulgarian features also survived. Significant later recensions of Old Church Slavonic (referred to as Church Slavonic) in the present time include: Slovene, Croatian,Serbian and Russian. In all cases, denasalization of the yuses occurred; so that only Old Church Slavonic and modernPolish retained the old Slavonic nasal vowels.
The Serbian recension was written mostly in Cyrillic, but also in the Glagolitic alphabet (depending on region); by the 12th century the Serbs used exclusively the Cyrillic alphabet (and Latin script in coastal areas). The 1186 Miroslav Gospels belong to the Serbian recension. They feature the following linguistic characteristics:
Due to the annexation of Bulgaria in 1396 and to the Ottoman conquest of Serbia in 1459, Serbia saw an influx of educated refugee-scribes who re-introduced a more classical form – as in manuscripts of the Bulgarian recension.
The Russian recension emerged after the 10th century on the basis of the earlier Bulgarian recension, from which it differed slightly. Its main features are:
The line between OCS and post-OCS manuscripts is arbitrary, and terminology varies. The common term “Middle Bulgarian” is usually contrasted to “Old Bulgarian” (an alternative name for Old Church Slavonic), and loosely used for manuscripts whose language demonstrates a broad spectrum of regional and temporal dialect features after the 11th century.
The Bosnian recension used the Bosnian Cyrillic alphabet (better known as Bosančica) and the Glagolitic alphabet.
The Croatian recension of Old Church Slavonic is one of the earliest known today. It used only the Glagolitic alphabet of angular Croatian type. It shows the development of the following characteristics:
The core corpus of Old Church Slavonic manuscripts is usually referred to as canon. Manuscripts must satisfy certain linguistic, chronological and cultural criteria to be incorporated into the canon, i.e. they must not significantly depart from the language and tradition of Constantine and Methodius, usually known as the Cyrillo-Methodian tradition.
For example, the Freising Fragments, dating from the 10th century, do show some linguistic and cultural traits of Old Church Slavonic, but are usually not included in the canon as some of the phonological features of the writings appear to belong to certain Pannonian Slavic dialect of the period. Similarly, the Ostromir Gospelsexhibits dialectal features that classify it as East Slavic, rather than South Slavic, so it is not included in the canon either. On the other hand, the Kiev Missal is included in the canon, even though it manifests some West Slavic features and contains Western liturgy, due to the Bulgarian linguistic layer and connection to the Moravian mission.
Manuscripts are usually classified in two groups, depending on the alphabet used, Cyrillic or Glagolitic. With the exception of the Kiev Missal and Glagolita Clozianus which exhibit West-Slavic and Croatian features respectively, all Glagolitic texts are assumed to be of the Macedonian recension:
All Cyrillic manuscripts are of the Bulgarian recension and date from the 11th century, except for Zographos Fragments which is of the Macedonian recension:
The Lord’s prayer in Old Church Slavonic:
The history of Old Church Slavonic writing includes a northern tradition begun by the mission to Great Moravia, including a short mission in the Balaton principality, and a Bulgarian tradition begun by some of the missionaries who relocated to Bulgaria after the expulsion from Great Moravia.
Old Church Slavonic’s first writings, translations of Christian liturgical and Biblical texts, were produced by Byzantine missionaries Saint Cyril and Saint Methodius, mostly during their mission to Great Moravia.
The most important authors in Old Church Slavonic after the death of Methodius and the dissolution of the Great Moravian academy were Clement of Ohrid (active also in Great Moravia), Constantine of Preslav, Chernorizetz Hrabar and John Exarch, all of whom worked in medieval Bulgaria at the end of the 9th and the beginning of the 10th century. The Second Book of Enoch was only preserved in Old Church Slavonic, although the original most certainly had been Greek or evenHebrew or Aramaic.
The name of the language in Old Church Slavonic texts was simply Slavic (словѣ́ньскъ ѩзꙑ́къ, slověnĭskŭ językŭ), derived from the word for Slavs (словѣ́нє,slověne), the self-designation of the compilers of the texts. This name is preserved in the modern names of the Slovak and Slovene languages. The language is sometimes called Old Slavic, which may be confused with the distinct Proto-Slavic language. The commonly accepted terms in modern English-language Slavic studies are Old Church Slavonic and Old Church Slavic.
The term Old Bulgarian (German: Altbulgarisch) is the only designation used by Bulgarian-language writers. It was used in numerous 19th-century sources, e.g. by August Schleicher, Martin Hattala, Leopold Geitler and August Leskien, who noted similarities between the first literary Slavic works and the modern Bulgarian language. For similar reasons, Russian linguist Aleksandr Vostokov used the term Slav-Bulgarian. The term is still used by some writers but nowadays normally avoided in favor of Old Church Slavonic.
The term Old Macedonian is occasionally used by Western scholars in a regional context.
The obsolete term Old Slovenian was used by early 19th century scholars who conjectured that the language was based on the dialect of Pannonia.
Modern Slavic nomenclature
Here are some of the names used by speakers of modern Slavic languages:
Published - November 2014
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