Postposed demonstratives in Finnic and North Russian dialects

Research output: ThesisDoctoral ThesisMonograph


The present study investigates the use and development of demonstratives that follow head word, postposed demonstratives, which are characteristic of eastern Finnic and North Russian dialects. Some previous studies regard these postposed demonstratives as definite articles, while other recent studies identify additional functions related to information structure and discourse. Given that postposed demonstratives are not a feature common to all East Slavic languages, several studies propose that this characteristic feature of North Russian could have resulted from language contact with the Uralic-speaking population who adopted Russian as their second language, particularly Finnic speakers.

The main goal of the present study is to answer three research questions:
1) How do postposed demonstratives function as grammatical markers?
2) What does the development of demonstratives tell us about the history of Finnic and Slavic languages?
3) Do postposed demonstratives result from a Finnic substratum in North Russian dialects?

For this purpose, the present study examines spoken language data comprising thirteen Finnic and two North Russian varieties which have been in contact during the latest millennium, as well as Novgorod birch bark documents from the 11th–15th centuries. The typological analysis identifies properties and functions of postposed demonstratives from various perspectives: word order, host attachment, syntactic and pragmatic functions. The analysis also combines results with geographical data, which shows the correlation between the speaking areas and linguistic similarities among varieties.

The results achieved in the present study justify the following conclusions. First, postposed demonstratives function as grammatical markers with a basic function to organise information structure. At the same time, the properties of information-structural uses as topic and focus markers have secondarily extended to contexts of use in which postposed demonstratives co-occur with definite referents, and are used to code the speaker’s evaluation. The functional extension is particularly common in North Russian dialects and adjacent Finnic varieties in the east. Second, the development of demonstrative systems from Proto-Finnic to modern Finnic languages is influenced by later contacts among Finnic sub-branches that share areal features. Based on these isoglosses, the Finnic demonstrative system can be classified into four groups: 1) western Finnic (Livonian, South Estonian, and North Estonian), 2) central Finnic (Votic and Ingrian), 3) Karelian Finnic (Olonets Karelian and Northern Lude), and 4) eastern Finnic (Southern Lude and Veps). Third, the postposed demonstrative “-to” and its variants in North Russian dialects do not result from the Finnic substratum, but from the adstratum. Through mutual reinforcement with the Veps demonstrative “se”, the indeclinable “-to” inherited from the Central dialect of Middle Russian has developed further properties to inflect and co-occur more often with definite referents. Such a developed pragmatic use later also spread to Lude and Olonets Karelian.
Translated title of the contributionPääsanan jälkeiset demonstratiivit itämerensuomalaisissa ja pohjoisvenäjän murteissa
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Faculty of Arts
  • Grünthal, Riho, Supervisor
  • Kittilä, Seppo, Supervisor
Award date14 Nov 2020
Place of PublicationHelsinki
Print ISBNs978-951-51-6691-3
Electronic ISBNs978-951-51-6692-0
Publication statusPublished - 14 Nov 2020
MoE publication typeG4 Doctoral dissertation (monograph)

Fields of Science

  • 6121 Languages
  • demonstrative
  • Finnic languages
  • North Russian dialects
  • substratum
  • language contact
  • areal typology
  • definiteness
  • information structure

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