Schaarschmidt’s grammar of Upper Sorbian

(The academic publisher LINCOM Europa doesn’t have much distribution in the United States, so I can’t review its offerings on Amazon.com as I do with most everything else I read.)

Gunter Schaarschmidt’s Upper Sorbian is a 2002 volume in LINCOM’s Descriptive Grammar Series. (I hadn’t heard much about this series before, but it seems to cover many Uralic languages and so invites further exploration.) The two Sorbian languages are among the least described of the Slavonic languages, and any resource in English is welcome. Schaarschmidt limits his analysis to the Upper Sorbian language, which as it is split into at least nine major dialects, but which is generally described in a standard form.

At 79 pages this grammar can only be a sketch. The phonology and morphology are described mainly in concise charts, with brief comments following. Syntax, however, gets more substantial treatment than is found in many small grammars. The grammar is nearly entirely synchronic. The limitations imposed by the publisher for the size of the grammar mean that there’s no room to go into great detail on historical matters. That’s quite a pity, since many interesting matters, such as the loss of the feminine vocative and the rise of a new masculine vocative, are mentioned but not explained. It would have also been helpful for the author to include the standard Sorbian reflexes of unstable Common Slavonic phonemes (e.g. the yers, nasal vowels, and yat) so that Slavicists could more quickly find their bearing.

Besides the grammar proper, there are some socio- and geolinguistic data, although this is no more substantial than that found in Routledge’s The Slavonic Languages ed. Comrie. There are also two texts with word-by-word glosses. One is from the literary language, and the other from a dialect northeast of Bautzen. This is most useful for seeing how thoroughly the complicated tense system of Common Slavonic, with its aorist and imperfect, has been replaced in speech with a simplified aspectual system like Russian or Serbian while surviving in the literary language.

One major annoyance of the book is its typesetting. Seemingly done in Microsoft Word with default settings, the text is riddled with irregular line spacing, a ragged right edge (so no hyphenation), no headers, and unbalanced position of diacritics. I can bear typewritten publications from the “great textbook crisis” of the late 1970s recession, but there’ s no excuse for this sort of product in this day and age, and I was actually irked enough to write to the publisher to complain.

I’m still waiting for a rigorous historical grammar of the Sorbian languages, like Matthews’ or Vlasto’s for Russian, or Shevelov’s for Ukrainian. Still, for those wanting to know something of the grammar of Upper Sorbian, Schaarschmidt’s sketch is at least something, and the bibliography points one to further resources scattered among various collections of papers.

One thought on “Schaarschmidt’s grammar of Upper Sorbian”

  1. Well, you have a very “rigorous historical grammar” distributed along few Schuster-Sewc’s (and Sewc-Schuster’s) papers (his historical-etymological dictionary is not less impressive, Historisch-etymologisches Wörterbuch der ober- und niedersorbischen Sprache). Unless you are able to get those papers (some of them are jewels of the Slavic philology but nowadays quite rare to be found…), you should be happy with Carlton’s introduction to the phonological history of the Slavic languages, 254–76, plus different books dealing with the historical morphology of (ALL) Slavic languages, paying attention on Sorbian chapters. At any rate, Wowcerk or Swela deals a lot with historical facts… By the way, Jakubinskij or Ivanov are better historical grammar of Russian than Matthew’s or Vlasto’s, Kiparky’s book being the best one.

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