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  Philologica 1 (1994)  
   
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Iu. S. STEPANOV

SLOVO (THE WORD)
From an Entry for a Dictionary of Concepts (Conceptuarium) of Russian Culture

 
 
 


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Summary

Entries of the Dictionary describe the stable notions (concepts) of Russian culture, such as ‘Eternity’, ‘The Word’, ‘Love’, ‘Faith’ and so on. It was noted long ago that their number is not particularly great, whereas the spiritual culture consists of operations with these concepts.

Our presupposition is that Russian culture is a part of European culture; therefore, our Dictionary “grasps” the constant notions at the moment of their separation from the pan-European cultural ground or background. The first section of each Entry concentrates on the etymology of the words which express this particular concept: the etymology is a pre-history, or rather a pre-written history of a concept. Then the early history of the concept is traced, as it is reflected in the written testimonies. The further evolution of the concept is only given in outline.

For a preliminary publication, which would correspond to the subject and spirit of Philologica, the materials for one of the key articles of the Dictionary have been chosen: ‘The Word’. The Indo-European base of this Russian word, *kleu- etc. (an -s-enlargement possible), is found in all Indo-European languages. The meaning of the root unifies the actions of speaking and listening: it denoted the whole of the situation in which speaking pre-supposes listening and vice versa, i. e. “the circle of communication” (the speaker and the listener are constantly switching roles).

In the Russian language, actions, which are connected with the idea of speaking, can be presented as a three-stage model; this model embraces three primary verbs which derive from the root under discussion: (1) slavit’ ‘to praise’ — (2) slyshat’ ‘to hear’ — (3) slyt’ ‘be spoken of, be known (as)’. The first stage is the beginning of the process stimulated by an action; the second stage is when the climax is reached. As is usual for this model, the first stage verb is a causative and means ‘to do something in order for somebody to be known (as)’. The place of the second stage is occupied, in the Russian, by two verbs: slyshat’ ‘to hear’ and slushat’ ‘to listen’; also, the verb of condition (the third stage verb), had to have a corresponding verb for a start of an action (in the second stage): something like *slynuti ‘to become to be known (as)’.

The same model (“the circle of communication”) is the basis for the construction of a number of other Indo-European concepts, amongst which are ‘Faith’, ‘Will’ (‘I want’) or ‘Love’. Presumably, the object of the exchange which is going on in “the circle of communication” (whether it be ‘Faith’ or a ‘Contract / Agreement’ or a ‘Word’) did not appear to the “Indo-Europeans” as a “role”, but as a “solid essence”, self-sufficient and independent from the communicating selves, that is from the speaker and the listener.

Apart from the connection with the Indo-European *kleu-, the concept of ‘Word’ also entered at least two semantic fields: one of them was ‘Golos’ (‘Voice’) with its attendant magical, poetic and religious conceptions; the other ‘Vest’, Znanie’ (‘Information, Knowledge’). However, leadership in the development of the concept of ‘Word’ evidently belonged to the first of the three roots: the formation of the notion of “philology”, as well as (later) this field of knowledge, is linked with this root.

In the Greek language the ideas of the “word” and “philology” evolved in the frame of oppositions of three terms: epos, mythos, and logos. From the viewpoint of the history of philology, a fact of exceptional significance was the appearance (circa 4th century B. C. ) of the verb philologeo ‘to love study, pursue learning’ and of the corresponding nominals: the substantive, philologia ‘love of learned conversation’, and the adjective, philologos ‘fond of reasoning or argument’. In the patristic age, in Origenes, another term appeared: philologeus ‘a learned commentator, scholiast’. “Exegeses of words” (hermeneutics of the Holy Scripture) and of “words about words” (theological controversies) became an indispensable part of both theology and philology. This entire initial complex of conceptions and their affinities is clearly articulated in two definitions of philology which crown the Russian tradition: that of Faddej Francevich Zelinskij and of Grigorij Osipovich Vinokur.

For the time being we can determine philology thus: it is a field of knowledge which deals with the most important incorporation of the human word and spirit — the addressed text.

 


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