Slavic prefixes are verb classifiers

Principal investigator: Laura A. Janda

Project title: Slavic prefixes are verb classifiers

Summary of the project:

What do Slavic aspectual prefixes have in common with numeral classifiers? Our answer is that the parallels are compelling, both in terms of breadth and depth. The grammatical function of numeral classifiers is to form and classify units for the referents of nouns, and we argue that Slavic aspectual prefixes have the function of forming and classifying units for the referents of verbs. Numeral classifiers contribute a meaning of discreteness to objects, whereas Slavic aspectual prefixes do the same for events. Just as there are various types of numeral classifiers, there are also various types of Slavic aspectual prefixes. We find that the patterns identified for numeral classifiers are consistently matched by the grammatical behavior of the various types of aspectual prefixes throughout the Slavic linguistic territory. We furthermore anchor this comparison in a variety of ways, taking into account distributional and semantic evidence, and the effects of construal, foregrounding, definiteness, and transnumerality. In the places where this comparison breaks down, the causes are inherent differences between the domain of nouns and the domain of verbs. We suggest that Slavic aspectual prefixes and numeral classifiers should be considered to be verbal and nominal instantiations of a general category of lexico-grammatical unitizers.

Project duration: 2012 – 2015


Stephen M. Dickey, U Kansas

Tore Nesset, UiT

Svetlana Sokolova, UiT

Anna Endresen, UiT

Anastasia Makarova, UiT

Olga Lyashevskaya, Higher School of Economics, Moscow


Grant from Norges forskningsråd/Norwegian Research Council for project “Neat theories, messy realities: How to apply absolute definitions to gradient phenomena” 2011-2014

Grant from the Centre for Advanced Study at the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters for the project “Time is Space: Unconscious Models and Conscious Acts” 2011-2012

Key publications:


Time and Space in Russian Temporal Expressions (= Russian Linguistics 37, No. 3). 2013. Edited by Stephen M. Dickey, Laura A. Janda, and Tore Nesset.

Aspect in Slavic: Creating Time, Creating Grammar (= Journal of Slavic Linguistics, v. 21, number 1). Edited by Laura A. Janda. 2013. 204pp.

Why Russian aspectual prefixes aren’t empty: prefixes as verb classifiers. 2013. Janda as first author; co-authored with Anna Endresen, Julia Kuznetsova, Olga Lyashevskaya, Anastasia Makarova, Tore Nesset, Svetlana Sokolova. Bloomington, IN: Slavica Publishers. 227pp.


Janda, Laura A. “Why neither the prefixes nor our arguments are empty”. Russian Language Journal 2015 (Published in 2016) 65, 99-120.

Janda, Laura A. “Verbal Prefixation in Russian”. 2015. Mundo Eslavo 14, 7-25.

Dickey, Stephen M., Laura A. Janda. 2015. “Slavic Aspectual Prefixes and Numeral Classifiers: Two Kinds of Lexico-Grammatical Unitizers”. Lingua 168, 57-84. DOI: 10.1016/j.lingua.2015.09.005

Janda, Laura A. “Is Russian a verb classifier language?” In Gianina Iordăchioaia, Isabelle Roy, Kaori Takamine (eds.) 2013. Categorization and Category Change, 59-86. Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

Janda, Laura A. “Russian ‘purely aspectual’ prefixes: Not so ‘empty’ after all?”, co-authored with Anna Endresen, Julia Kuznetsova, Olga Lyashevskaya, Anastasia Makarova, Tore Nesset, Svetlana Sokolova. Scando-Slavica 58:2 (2012), 231-291.

Janda, Laura A. “Russkie pristavki kak sistema glagol’nyx klassifikatorov”. Voprosy jazykoznanija 6 (2012), 3-47.

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