(Relatively) recent Old Church Slavonic primer

Coming from a little-known European academic publisher, LINCOM EUROPA, and unavailable for sale in the U.S., Boris Gasparov’s 2001 primer Old Church Slavonic (ISBN 3895868892) was a pleasant surprise. The book is generally a synchronic treatment of the artificial language that we find in the manuscripts, with few references to Proto-Indo-European. Still, Prof Gasparov does bring in historical matters to explain the semi-improvisational character of OCS, as in, for example, the variant dental palatalisations and the sigmatic aorist’s idiosyncratic inflection coming from earlier phonological constraints. The book also devotes more space to issue of syntax than other grammars I know, showing just how much the translators strove to preserve Greek word order.

The only reading provided is the life of the holy martyr Basiliscus from Codex Suprasliensis, 18, just a single paragraph. Reading and analysis follow. The bibliography is similarly meagre, containing just some popular readers and primers and leaving out monographs or journal articles that someone with a new grasp of OCS could move on to.

Gasparov’s book is a much more usable text for the beginner than Lunt’s intimidating and over-detailed Old Church Slavonic (De Gruyter, 7th ed. 2001), a reference grammar too often recommended as a primer, though for the Indo-Europeanist Nandriș‘s Handbook of Old Church Slavonic: I. Grammar (Athlone Press, 1959) is in my opinion still the best choice. It is a pity that this book by Gasparov book sunk like a rock; I only found it while browsing the shelves at the University of Chicago’s library.

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