Word of the Day

Friday, January 14, 2011

Latin and Russian Neuter Nouns

I have just learnt that a very limited number of Russian neuter nouns have an irregular plural ending. Those with -мя in singular nominative have -мени. There are only 11 of them:
бремя burden, время time, вымя udder, знамя banner, flag, племя tribe, имя name, пламя flame, полымя flame (archaic), семя seed, semen, стремя stirrup, темя cinciput (sic)
Some of them have good similarities with Latin neuter nouns such as семя vs. semen; полымя vs. fulmen (lightning). The Latin neuter nouns ending in -men have -mina for the nominative plural. Comparing the two systems, we see the following pattern:
L: -men → -mina
R: -mja → -meni

If they are really systematic parallels, then the Russian singular may have lost the final -n as the result of an earlier nasalization. Blaming it to nasalization often justifies Greek ties that trace the origin of the language back to Proto-Indo-European.

1 comment:

světluška said...

"Those with -мя in singular nominative have -мени."
Actually, the nominative plural is mena. What you meant is genitive singular in meni. See here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russian_declination#First_declension_-_masculine_nouns (third declension, plural neuter)

But talking about Slavic languages and Latin, another similarity is that Slavic neuter nouns related to the young of animals have a plural nominative that resembles Latin and Greek. For example: Czech štěně (puppy) - plural štěňata, like Greek problema, problemata and Latin flumen, flumina. Even borrowed words in Czech present the same declension: singular drama, plural dramata. See here: http://prirucka.ujc.cas.cz/?slovo=drama&Hledej=Hledej