Tuesday, 29 May, 4.00-5 pm: Simeon Dekker

Cohesion, coherence and beyond in Old Russian birchbark letters

Venue: Lipsius, 001

For an article in preparation I have investigated the use of imperative subjects in the corpus of medieval Russian birchbark letters. This perspective serves as a starting point for more general questions about cohesion and coherence. For instance, imperative subjects might be seen as cohesive devices, creating speaker selection in communicatively heterogeneous letters with more than one addressee. In certain cases, however, no overt marker of speaker selection is present. This is due to the context in which letters containing instructions were often performed orally, i.e. read out aloud in front of the addressee(s).

There are several ends to which this initial exploration could lead. For one, it might be a step towards a description of referential devices in Old Russian. Secondly, it could be the beginning of a typology of communicative functions of letters on birchbark. But it could also lead to more fundamental questions about the nature of language, e.g. the exact relationship between spoken and written language, the extent to which the context of performance determines meaning, making use of meaning potentials, to the detriment of the notion of fixed meanings attaching to words and constructions.

I would like to discuss these possibilities and hear your thoughts about the directions into which this research project might lead me. First of all, I have to clearly formulate the overarching goal of the project. In addition, a theory is needed in order to justify the selection of case studies of those linguistic elements that are appropriate for investigation.