The Linguistic World-Image Of The Medieval Slavs Through The Phraseological Prism


Phraseological units of Old Church Slavonic language are in the focus of the authors’ attention. These word complexes keep valuable information about the linguistic world-image of the medieval Slavs in the era of blending Christian perception of the world with the pagan one. The purpose of our research is to reconstruct the main fragments of the linguistic world-image. Sacredness, commonness for all the Slavs and cultural value are the fundamental traces of the Old Church Slavonic language which determine semantic nature of more than 4500 set units. All Slavonic manuscripts of the 10th –11th centuries (including east-Slavonic) have become the materials for this study. The authors used synchronous and diachronic approaches in this study. They applied comparative-historical and liguoculturological methods, component and contextual analysis and confirmed the conclusions with statistical data. The analysis carried simultaneously with the work on “The big phraseological dictionary of the Old Church Slavonic language” allowed the authors to get certain results. 1. After Christianization the linguistic world-image of the medieval Slavs has changed. 2. The transformation of the linguistic world-image could go a) due to appearing of new ideas, notions and concepts, such as “The one God”, “God’s grace”, “Martyrdom”, “Self-sacrifice”, “Kingdom of Heaven”, “Christian church”, “Monkhood”, “the Day of Judgment” or b) due to enlarging and reinterpretation of the old well-known concepts, such as “Family”, “Love”, “Honor” and etc. 3. New set units were created according to Slavonic models, and their components were mainly polysemants from the common Slavic lexical fund.

Keywords: Christianizationsphere of conceptsphraseography


Phraseological corpus of the common literary language of all Slavs has been neglected by slavicists during the long time. Appeared in the 17th century, Slavonic studies developed into powerful scientific field, joining specialists in linguistics, literature theory, anthropology, history and culture of Slavic peoples. Until the beginning of the 20th century in different Slavic and non-Slavic countries linguists were interested in the manuscripts dating, their paleographic description, circumstances of the birth of Slavic alphabets, phonetic system and grammatical system of language of ancient Slavic texts and their primary dialect basis. The vocabulary of the manuscripts of the 10-11th centuries were analyzed by linguists through the prism of Old Church Slavonic language, and that was shown in the dictionaries of the turn of the 20th century (see more about it in the references to the “Phraseological dictionary of the Old Church Slavonic language”). When phraseology took shape of an independent linguistic discipline, "the more intensively it developed, the bigger was the imbalance between the general theoretic achievements of it and comparative-historical studies of specific superword language units, including Old Church Slavonic ones. A sound analysis of that period was given by the famous phraseologist, V.M. Mokienko, in the work "Prinzipeneinerhistorisch- etymologischen Analyse der Phrazelogie" (Mokienko, 2018). But even when slavistics went through structuralism and the first Old Church Slavonic dictionaries and monographs on Slavonic vocabulary appeared (Staroslavyanskij slovar`…, 1994; Starobylgarski rechnik…, 1993–2009; Vendina, 2016; Yefimova, 2011; Zeitlin, 1977), the study of Old Church Slavonic phraseology was treated with a high degree of scepticism by most linguists. Their main argument was the low use frequency of supposed superword units in so-called "classical" Old Church Slavonic texts. This subjective factor has delayed the very process of studying the phraseological corpus of the Old Church Slavonic language for a long time.

Problem Statement

In the authors’ opinion, one of the most important issues is studying and introducing phraseological corpus of the common literary language of all medieval Slavs into the scientific world. The article deals with the possible ways of solving this problem through the use of set phraseological units as one of the most important sources of reconstruction of the medieval linguistic world-image of the Slavs of the second part of the 9th-11th centuries. The workable solution here is to create a phraseological dictionary of the Old Church Slavonic language.

Research Questions

Solving the above-mentioned problem, the authors answer the questions about the birthtime of the set units and their role in verbalization of the new and transformed concepts. Moreover, the article deals with the system connections of the set units appearing in synchronic and diachronic plane.

Purpose of the Study

The purpose of the study is to analyze the changes that took place in the linguistic world-image of the medieval Slavs after their Christianization; to understand the role of superword language units in the transformation of the already known units and the formation of new concepts.

Research Methods

The challenges caused by the purpose of the study required the authors to combine synchronous and diachronic approaches when studying Old Church Slavonic phraseological material. Comparative-historical method was chosen as the main one. It was applied along with the methodology of the field analysis of language material developed in cognitive linguistics. The authors also used a continuous sampling method for choosing phrases from all the Old Church Slavonic texts survived to our days. In addition, the linguists used techniques of component analysis, supported by liguoculturological information and statistical calculations.


The choice of set units as the source for studying linguistic world image of the medieval Slavs is not accidental. Most of the texts of the 10th-11th centuries are sacral Christian texts, translated from Greek. Cyril and Methodius had to create Slavic equivalents of Greek and old Jewish words to explain the key Christian concepts to the brand-new Christians. Superword language units could be easily found on the place of one-member Greek terms. That translation shift was scientifically proved in the works of Nida (1943), who succeeded in Bible translation into different world languages. Estimating Nida’s translation theory, one of the most popular Russian experts on Bible studies writes:

… Nida suggested that even in the face of lexical deficits, it is always possible to interpret the meaning of the Christian Scriptures. For this purpose it is necessary to drop word-for-word translation and start either contextual paraphrasing, or component-by-component construction of new phrases suitable for a certain context (as cited in Vereshchagin, 2012).

The biggest part of Old Church Slavonic set units was formed by Solun Brothers thanks to component-by-component construction of phrases. Those set units became not only the names for many new concepts, but also the main verbalizators of fragments of the linguistic world-image which appeared after Christianization such as «Праваявера» and «Злаявера» (Shulezhkova, 2018a), «Святаятроица»», «Царствонебесное» and «Царствоземное» (Shulezhkova, 2018b), «Мученичество» and «Жертвенность» (Shulezhkova, 2019) and etc.

Many of the set units created by Cyril and Methodius enriched the lexical-phraseological fields of transformed concepts « «Жизнь» and «Смерть», «Зло» and «Добро», «Преступление» and «Наказание» (Shulezhkova & Kostina, 2017), «Ад» and «Рай», «Семья» and etc. After Christianization, the key position in the changing sphere of concepts of Slavs was taken by a new concept, developed in detail in the Messages of the Apostle Paul as opposed to the Old Testament law. That concept was named by Cyril and Methodius as "Grace" (Vereshchagin, 2012). Set units of the concept are connected with the verbalizators of the other concepts by many relations (synonymous, antonymous, hyperhyponymic, etc.).

For our studying of the phraseological corpus of the common literary language of all medieval Slavs, we used not only 17 so-called classical Old Church Slavonic texts, which were created in Bulgarian territory. As sources for the study, we took all the oldest Slavic texts known to modern science, including those discovered at the end of the 20th and at the turn of 21st centuries: Vatican gospel discovered by Bulgarian scientist Tr. Krystanov (Shulezkova, Dvorzhatski, & Kosminskaya, 2017; Shulezkova & Mihin, 2017), and the Novgorod Code, found during excavations near Veliky Novgorod. This allowed us to put off all the doubts about the possibility of marking and studying super-word language units due to their low frequency. The belonging of all 32 texts to the common literary language of all medieval Slavs is proved by their similarity (with some variations) in their phonetic system, grammatical system and vocabulary. Both Christian themes and the time of appearing in Slavia (10th -11th centuries, when Slavs still realized themselves as a single ethnic group) unites them. As it turned out, the phraseological corpus, formed in religious discourse after Christianization, became universal for the Slavs. Continuous sampling method allowed us to find about 4,500 superword language units. Some of them were included in the small "Phraseological Dictionary of the Old Slavic Language" (Frazeologicheskij slovar` staroslavyanskogo yazyka, 2011), the whole corpus is planned to be described in the "Big Phraseological Dictionary of the Old Church Slavonic Language" in 4 volumes, the first volume of which has already been accepted for printing.

The scope of the article does not allow us to stop on the particular set units. We are going to mention only the common features of this very informative for the description of the linguistic world-image language layer.

The first thing the researcher faces while studying the Old Church Slavonic phraseological corpus is a significant excess of set units with substantive meaning. They are often built according to the model "Noun (N) + Adjective (A)" (агньцьнепорочьнъ, богъавраамль, благодатьбожиl, вратасъмрьтьнаl), or (less often) “Adjective (A) + Noun (N)” (великаl cрhда, ветъхыизаконъ, водьнытр@дъ). These units are used as names of New Testament characters (отьцьнебесьныи, сынъчловhчьскыи, доухъсв#тыи, ангелибожии). They can denote the inhabitants of the real material world (цhсареземьнии, сыновеиздраилеви, старhшинылюдьсции, во~ игемонови), call settlements, cult structures (селокръве, божииградъ, црькыгосподьнl, капиmепоганьско~), sacred books (новыизавhтъ,кънигыпророчьскы>, св#то~ ~вангели~), Christian holidays (св#таl пасха,благовhmени~ св#тhибогородици) and martyrs (св#тииапостоли, правьдьнъм@жь,св#тыим@ченикъ).

The second largest number is the processual set units. They characterize relationships between the God and believers: благодать/ /благодhтьдати, възда"ти, дарьствовати; благодать// /благодhтьобрhсти; благодать/ /благодhть, благодh"ни" / приимати, /при>ти; благодать ///благодhтьтворити/, сътворитикомоу; благословлени~ //благословь~ни~ въз#тиотъкого; въскрьситиотъмрьтвыихъ, датиживотъвhчьныикомоу, отъпоуститигрhхыкомоу; славитибога; молитибогаочемь and etc.

Among the main features of the Old Church Slavonic set units are:

  • Their multi-sided variations (phonetic, spelling, morphemic, lexical (колhноиздраилево / /израилево; отъпоуmени~ / /отъпоуmень~ грhхъ/ / грhховъ; лобово/ / лобьно~, крани~вомhстоetc.);

  • Use of polysemantic lexemes from the common Slavonic lexical fund as components (доуховьныисынъ, домъбожии, великъдьнь, мhстом@чьно~);

  • Many of the set units, especially those that function as ready-made sentences (commandment of Christ, moralisms, aphorisms from proverbs) have instructive or regulative character. They became the basis of the transformed ethics of the Slavs (Неоубии; Неоукради; Невъзжелаиженыближнlагосво~го; Възлюбиближнlагосво~гоetc.);

  • Studying of the fate of the set units, described in the dictionary and in the series of scientific articles, show that the phraseological corpus of the Old Church Slavonic language includes a great amount of cultural information which can be studied in the future (see Fraziologicheskij slovar` staroslavyanskogo yazyka, 2011; Segal, 2017; Shulezhkova, 2018a; Shulezhkova, 2018b; Shulezhkova, 2019; Walter, 2018).


A complex analysis of the set units, taken from all the Old Church Slavonic manuscripts known to modern science, proved the applying to such sources the wide understanding of the object of phraseology. At the same time, there are unlimited opportunities to identify various ties between the superword language units in the past and the present. Moreover, there are opportunities for reconstruction of the linguistic world-image at one of the most important moments of history, which has become a powerful boon for the cultural development of all Slavic peoples.

Observations on the functioning of the set units in Old Church Slavonic texts revealed that the Slavic linguistic image of the world has been significantly enriched. Of course, it should not be forgotten that the authors had texts of religious content, and they do not reflect all facets of the life of the medieval person. However, we can see the inevitable implanting of Christian formulas, rules and aphorisms into the social and private life.


Grant №19-512-18005\19.


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03 August 2020

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Sociolinguistics, linguistics, semantics, discourse analysis, translation, interpretation

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Shulezhkova, S., & Kostina, P. (2020). The Linguistic World-Image Of The Medieval Slavs Through The Phraseological Prism. In N. L. Amiryanovna (Ed.), Word, Utterance, Text: Cognitive, Pragmatic and Cultural Aspects, vol 86. European Proceedings of Social and Behavioural Sciences (pp. 1548-1553). European Publisher.