Old Russian Birchbark Letters

A Pragmatic Approach


This study is devoted to a corpus of Old Russian letters, written on pieces of birchbark. These unique texts from Novgorod and surroundings give us an exceptional impression of everyday life in medieval Russian society. In this study, the birchbark letters are addressed from a pragmatic angle. Linguistic parameters are identified that shed light on the degree to which literacy had gained ground in communicative processes. It is demonstrated that the birchbark letters occupy an intermediate position between orality and literacy. On the one hand, oral habits of communication persisted, as reflected in how the birchbark letters are phrased; on the other hand, literate modes of expression emerged, as seen in the development of normative conventions and literate formulae.
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Biographical Note

Simeon Dekker, Ph.D. (Leiden University, 2016) is a researcher in Slavic philology. His main focus of research concerns the pragmatics of medieval texts.

Table of contents

Preface List of Abbreviations List of Tables List of Figures Index of Birchbark Letters 1 The Field of Study: Berestology  1.1  Introduction  1.2  Excavations  1.3  Dating and Chronology  1.4  Users and Uses of the Birchbark Letters  1.5  The Language: Old Novgorodian  1.6  Other Sources: Parchment Documents  1.7  Concluding Remarks 2 The Background: Communicatively Heterogeneous Letters  2.1  Introduction  2.2  The Problem  2.3  Communicative Heterogeneity  2.4  The Oral Component  2.5  Evaluating Gippius (2004)  2.6  Subsequent Research  2.7  Discussion 3 Research Question  3.1  Introduction  3.2  Research Question  3.3  The Choice of Case Studies  3.4  Concluding Remarks 4 Theory and Methodology  4.1  Introduction  4.2  Philology  4.3  Pragmatics  4.4  Pragmaphilology  4.5  Orality  4.6  Use of the Corpus  4.7  Illustration of the Pragmaphilological Approach: One Case Study 5 Case Study I: Imperative Subjects  5.1  Introduction  5.2  Imperative Subjects  5.3  The Imperative Subject as a Cohesive Device  5.4  The Oral Component  5.5  Concluding Remarks 6 Case Study II: Speech Reporting  6.1  Introduction  6.2  Speech Reporting Strategies  6.3  Some Terminological Considerations  6.4  The Data on Birchbark  6.5  Diachronic Considerations  6.6  Speech Reporting Strategies on a Scale  6.7  Complexity and Context  6.8  Functional Considerations  6.9  Free Direct Speech Revisited  6.10  More Elements of Orality: Dictation and Performatives Type  6.11  Concluding Remarks 7 Case Study III: Epistolary Past Tense  7.1  Introduction  7.2  Birchbark Data and Discussion  7.3  Epistolary Past Tense in Other Languages  7.4  The Data on Birchbark Revisited  7.5  Deixis  7.6  Performatives  7.7  Ancient Greek Revisited  7.8  Concluding Remarks 8 Case Study IV: Assertive Declarations  8.1  Introduction  8.2  Theoretical Considerations  8.3  The Data on Birchbark  8.4  Other Languages  8.5  Discussion  8.6  Concluding Remarks 9 Conclusions  9.1  Introduction  9.2  General Lines Connecting the Case Studies  9.3  A Transitional Period of Verschriftlichung  9.4  Final Remarks References Index


The subject will be of interest not only to scholars of Russian, but also to linguists who work in the fields of corpus linguistics and historical pragmatics.