Fifteen Eighty Four

Academic perspectives from Cambridge University Press


Uniting Slavists Across the Traditions

Wayles Browne, Danko Šipka

A linguistic rift runs down the North Atlantic. On its American side linguistics seems to begin and end with phonology, syntax and semantics. On the European side, the picture is much more complex, as linguistics includes things like metalexicography, lexicology, language contact studies and such. There are, of course, exceptions, but such is the overall picture.

Slavic linguistics is not immune. The two traditions, each on its own side of the Pond, have seemed to live their separate lives. When we were tasked with editing the Cambridge Handbook of Slavic Linguistics, our idea was to bring these two traditions together. Only that could make the handbook complete.

Authors for each chapter have been selected, without fear or favor, as established experts in their particular fields. Inclusivity in the subject matter comes with the territory, but the volume also proves to be temporally and geographically inclusive. Thus it includes early, mid, and late career scholars of Slavic studies, in a way giving insight into the past, present, and future of Slavic linguistics. The range of places from which the authors come testifies to the latter. While, as is usual in publications in English, authors from countries like the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom constitute the core of the contributors, there are authors from Germany and Austria, where Slavic studies are exceptionally strong, but also from other European countries, such as Belgium and Spain, and from Japan. Last, but definitely not least, there are authors from the Slavic-speaking countries – from Croatia, Czech Republic, Montenegro, Poland, Russia, Slovenia, and Serbia.

We bring the two aforementioned Slavist traditions together in a handbook. The Oxford English Dictionary (OUP, 2023: s.v.) defines handbook as follows:

Originally: a book small enough to be easily portable and intended to be kept close to hand, typically one containing a collection of passages important for reference or a compendium of information on a particular subject, esp. a book of religious instruction (now historical). Later also more generally: any book (usually but not necessarily concise) giving information such as facts on a particular subject, guidance in some art or occupation, instructions for operating a machine, or information for tourists.

In our case, the relevant part of the definition is that it is a book giving information such as facts on a particular subject, a book that is concise. The concise nature is apparent even from the term, calqued from Latin manuāle with the same meaning, ultimately from manuālis ‘suitable to be held in one’s hand’. The subject at hand was Slavic linguistics. The intention then was to provide a succinct compendium of main topics in Slavic linguistics. This orientation is what differentiates the present volume from all previous compendia, which focus on individual Slavic languages rather than linguistics or strive for comprehensiveness rather than succinctness.  

The Cambridge Handbook of Slavic Linguistics seeks to provide a systematic review of relevant topics and research about them in Slavic linguistics. The review is approach-neutral and involves synchronic and diachronic perspectives. The goal of each chapter is to identify and review the following: (a) the linguistic features pertinent to Slavic languages, (b) the development of these features from Proto-Slavic to the present-day Slavic languages (to the degree appropriate for the topic of the chapter), (c) the main findings in historical and ongoing research devoted to these features, and (d) a summary of what the state of the art in the field is and what the directions of further research will be.

While remaining accessible to a broad circle of scholars and students in the fields of linguistics and Slavic studies, the present volume caters in particular to the following three readerships. First, to current and prospective students of Slavic linguistics it offers a review of main areas of inquiry in Slavic studies. The brisk introductions to the field provided in each chapter are thus meant to be teasers that would help these students to select the field or fields of their specialization. Second, nowadays Slavic linguists typically specialize in one or several rather narrow areas of inquiry. The chapters discussing the fields other than one’s own offer to these scholars an accessible introduction and a chance to broaden their horizons in Slavic studies. Finally, in contrast to the previous group, non-Slavic linguists may be interested in the chapters on their specializations. For example, a scholar of inflection in Baltic or Germanic languages may want to get some introductory information about that field in Slavic languages.

Our first six chapters are devoted to phonology. The next section comprises four chapters focusing on inflectional morphology and two exploring lexical morphology. A cohort of chapters treating syntax is next. The following section presents three chapters devoted to the lexicon. Thereafter are chapters addressing sociolinguistics, broadly understood, and geographical approaches. The final section is devoted to prominent applied-linguistic fields in Slavic linguistics. As one can see, there are a great variety of topics important in both traditions: E duobus unum!

As happens in all volumes of this kind, with multiple authors and diversified content, some technical and substantive errors might have slipped our notice. Relying on the benevolence of our readers to communicate those problems to us, we renew the plea of an early Slavic manuscript copyist with which Horace Lunt concluded the preface to his Old Church Slavonic Glossary: moljǫ vьsěxъ počitajǫštiixъ : ne modzěte klęti, nъ ispravljьše počitaite. Tako bo i s[vę]tъi Paulъ reče : Bl[agoslovi]te a ne klьněte! [We] ask all readers: do not curse [us] but having corrected it, read. For thus saith Saint Paul: Bless, and curse not!

The Cambridge Handbook of Slavic Linguistics by Danko Šipka and Wayles Browne

About The Authors

Wayles Browne

Wayles Browne is Professor Emeritus of linguistics at Cornell University. His interests include Bosnian-Croatian-Serbian, Rusyn, Ukrainian, Polish and Belarusian; clitics and other...

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Danko Šipka

Danko Šipka is Professor of Slavic languages and linguistics at Arizona State University. His research interests include lexicography, lexicology, and cultural linguistics. Recent...

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