The Common Slavic Grammar.
Sound samples available - just click a Common Slavic word!
1. The Background of the Common Slavic language.
2. The Common Slavic Phonetics.
3. The Common Slavic Noun.
 4. The Common Slavic Adjective.
5. The Common Slavic Pronoun.
6. The Common Slavic Numeral.
7. The Common Slavic Verb.
8. The Common Slavic Verbal Nouns.
9. The Common Slavic Prepositions.
     § 1. The background of the Common Slavic language.
Actually, no signs, inscriptions, historical documents or even short glosses remained from the Common Slavic language, as well as from Proto-Indo-European, Common Celtic or many other proto-languages. Slavs did not have writing when they lived together and spoke their Common Slavic language. Archaeological research can provide us with names of different archaeological cultures found in East Europe and in European Russia, they describe the way of life of those ancient tribes, their pottery and iron working, but tell nothing about the language. And so comparative linguistics is the only subject which can prove the existence of such a language as Common Slavic, and even rediscover its phonetic and morphological structure.

Slavs must have come from one source - that's the first thesis which even does not require proofs. As Slavic peoples nowadays speak relative languages it is evident they used to have one common one. Was it like Russian (East Slavic), Bulgarian (South Slavic), Polish (West Slavic)? It was not any of them, and at the same time was similar to each of them. Old Polish, preserved in medieval manuscripts (see Slavic Links), shows much more similarity to Old Russian spoken in Kiev Russia, than the modern Polish does to modern Russian. The Old Church Slavic, the ancestor of nowadays Bulgarian and Macedonian, looked quite like Old Russian and Old Polish together. But even they fifteen centuries ago were different and could be misunderstood by each other relative Slavic nation. The earlier level of development of all them was Common Slavic.

It was spoken when Slavs lived as one community, after they drifted apart the Balto-Slavic unity, which in its turn was one of the branches of the Proto-Indo-European language. Balto-Slavic, we can believe, was one of the latest to go north from Asia and to come into Europe to settle. In the second millennium BC, according to Niderle (see Bibliography), the Balto-Slavic proto-language was spoken in the vast territories of Eastern Europe, from Oder to Dnepr, from Neman to Dnestr. Such a large region inhabited by monogenous people, gradually prevented their cultural, social and linguistic unity, and as different tribes contacted with other nations, lived in other surroundings and developed separately, dialects were appearing, constantly dividing the common language. That is how in the early first millennium BC (10th - 9th centuries BC) the Proto-Slavic or Common Slavic language emerged in the southern half of the region. Some historians such as Gornung, Rybakov and others, state that the time of Slavic genesis took place even earlier, in the 15th - 13th centuries. But practically everyone agrees that Slavic was the descendant of the earlier Balto-Slavic. Certainly, the process went on slowly, and it was impossible at that time to define the exact borders between Slavic peoples and Baltic peoples.

The middle of the 1st millennium BC is believed to have been the most prosperous epoch of Slavs. At that time they did not suffer significant external threat, were spreading freely to the east, west and south, though remaining in forest zone. Filin, one of the greatest Soviet linguists, used the linguistic data to prove that Slavs always lived far from the sea, in the region of forests and swamps, and the names for different trees and plants common for all Slavic languages proved the exact region was without any doubt between the Western Bug and the Middle Dnepr.

Slavic settlements of that period of time show little fortification, they were situated mainly along the rivers near the forest where Slavs could hunt, fish and cultivate the land. Archaeological cultures which are included by most linguists into the Slavic area, are namely Lusatian, Belogrudovo, Chernolesje, Forest Scythian. Slavic peoples had wide contacts with their neighbours: Baltic relatives in the north and north-west, Finno-Ugric hunters in the east, where now Central Russia is situated, then Indo-Iranian nomadic peoples in the south, in Steppes region, Thracians (Dacians) in the south-west, on the other side of the Dnestr and the Prut, and other Indo-European communities: Illyrians, Celts, maybe even Venetians who contacted with Slavs on their western borders. All these contacts were both economic and cultural, anthropological and linguistic, and influenced the language much with vocabulary, phonetics and morphology.

At the end of the BC era and in the first centuries AD the Slavic nation, represented by Przewor, Chernyakhovo and Zarubinets archaeological cultures, were still unified, though some dialectal differences in the language must have appeared among them. And finally in the 5th century the migration of Slavic tribes to the west and south, following the fall of the Roman Empire, put an end to the Common Slavic, and since then three branches of it began their separate development in the south, in the west, in the east.

Common Slavic is reconstructed and based on comparative studies of all Slavic languages, both ancient and modern. The laws of the reconstruction are determined by many famous linguists, and therefore the Common Slavic was described already in the previous century. But the research is still going on, and we hope that our contribution can be useful for those who wishes to go deeper into Slavic and Indo-European linguistics.
     § 2. The Common Slavic Phonetics.
When I just sat down and tried to make a plan of this grammar, I suddenly realized how difficult it would be to cope with Slavic phonetic within the narrow abilities of HTML fonts. And nevertheless it's worth trying, and I promise to do my best to reflect the true Common Slavic with the symbols available.

The Slavic language changed the Proto-Indo-European phonetic system a lot, both in number of phonemes and in their quality. In most cases such changes meant the more complicated level, as the vowels and the consonants sometimes acquired strange forms (strange for the Proto-language). And from the other side, phonetics was simplified losing its complex sounds such as syllable vowels, aspirated consonants, semi-vowels etc. The number of diphthongs was reduced. As a whole, Common Slavic, as, I believe, most of Indo-European branches, was much simpler than the Proto-language, in morphology, syntax and phonetics. Sometimes linguists write about the development of Indo-European languages that the Proto-language was born simple, absolutive, without any inflections and verbal forms, then steadily grew into one of the most complicated and rich languages in the world, but later again goes to its original stage where there would be no cases, no genders, no verb persons,  no synthetic forms at all. For example, the ergative stage of the PIE language used 2 cases (ergative - nominative), the late PIE - eight cases, the Common Slavic used 7 cases, modern Russian has 6, and English just 2, now common and possessive. The faster the language develops - the less synthetic we can see in it, it grows simpler, and maybe in five hundred years we will all use two noun cases. Thanks God I will hardly live then.

The Proto-Indo-European vowels could be long and short. The vowels in Common Slavic could also be super-short. At all, there were 11 vowel sounds which I will try to explain in the table below. The Indo-European corresponding sounds are given, as well as the examples. 

Proto-IE original sound Slavic vowel Example Comment
á, ó a *matï (mother) back long vowel
a, o o *bosü (barefooted) back short vowel
u; final o; syllable n, m; @ ü (short u) *rabü (a slave) back super-short vowel
ou u *sluga (a servant) back long vowel
ú y (non-labial u) *myš (a mouse) back long vowel 
on, om o. (nasal o) *ro.ka (a hand) back long nasal vowel
é, ai, oi ê (open e) *dêlo (a matter, doing) front long open vowel
e e *zemja (ground) front short closed vowel
í, ei, ai, oi i *piti (to drink) front long vowel
ï (short i) *vodjï (a leader) front super-short vowel
en, em; syllable n, m e. (nasal e) *agne. (a lamb) front long nasal vowel
Super-short vowels will be marked with a double dot above them as they are written in Cyrillic in books. As you can see, these super-short sounds were reduced forms of Indo-European short u and i, and could be seen in Common Slavic mainly (but not always) in final position. Nasal vowels here will have a dot after them (o. and e.), as in fact in phonetic transliteration they have a little tail under them.

The vowel y represents the sound which does not exist in English, nor in French and German, so some of you will have to pass through difficulties to pronounce it. It is used  also in Romanian. This sound can be characterized as the unlabialized [u], i.e. an [u] as in "book" but with your lips not round but long. Try "book" without rounding your lips, and you will get the word "ox" in Slavic - *bykü.

So there were 7 long, 2 short and 2 super-short vowels in the language, and two long ones were nasal. Nowadays practically Slavic languages lost this distinction, and only a few have different long and short vowels, and the only one - Polish - has nasals. In other tongues nasal vowels turned either in simple [o] and [e] sounds or in vowel combinations (diphthongs). Super-short vowels, which, as scientists believe (e.g. Bernstein), were growing shorter and shorter within the whole Common Slavic period and its preceding Balto-Slavic epoch, now are not pronounced anywhere in Slavic languages, though written in some (Russian, Belorussian).

According to the table above, Indo-European short diphthongs, which were 8 at whole, sometimes were converted into simple long vowels. But some still remained in Common Slavic. In fact, all long diphthongs (ái, ói, áu, óu) were preserved and sounded like ai, oi, au, ou. Diphthongs oi and ou could change into ei and eu respectively after soft consonants. But still the number of diphthongs was reduced considerably.

In addition to vowels described above, the Proto-Indo-European had also the so-called syllable vowels, or sonant vowels r, l, m, n which are written usually as a letter with a round under it. They could be also long and short in the Proto-language. Common Slavic does not show either of them, and linguists think that already in the Balto-Slavic period of development syllable vowels were reduced and became as follows:
    short n, m > in, im, sometimes ü
    short r, l > ir, il; ur, ul
    long n, m > e.
    long r, l > ir, il

One of the proofs that it happened when Baltic and Slavic were together is that Baltic languages had almost the same changes. Some examples: Proto-Indo-European *wlkwo- (a wolf) > Slavic *wülkü, Baltic *vilkos; Proto-IE *grno- (grain) > Slavic *zïrno.

Vowels had some phonetic laws which were generated during the Common Slavic epoch and jumped then into late Slavic languages. The Indo-European Ablaut in the stem was also widely used in Slavic. Some the most widespread vowel interchanges were the following: o - e (*morü - *mêrti), ü - ï, y - i. The interchange y - e. existed at the end of the word and was rather rare.

As for other processes, we can point some of them: ê after j, s, š, z', c' turned into a (*c'êsü > c'asü "an hour"); this very ê became o before the sound v in unstressed position. Phonemes y, ü, ï, ê could not start the word - they required v or j before them (Indo-European *@n- > vün "into"; Indo-European *él-n- > jêlênï "deer"). I would like to stress that all these processes took place on late stages of Common Slavic existence, and reflected the development of the language, which can't be stagnant.

Now the consonants which are also interesting. Here Slavic people was too tired to invent new sounds or just to pronounce original Indo-European ones; we simplified all that. The Proto-language used several sets of fricative consonants: normal, palatal, aspirated, palatal aspirated, labiovelar, labiovelar aspirated. It looked quite like this: k, k', kh, k'h, kw, kwh (or khw). I just cannot imagine how Slavs can pronounce all that; actually, only the minority of Indo-European nations keep some of the above forms, and none preserves all. Greek and Sanskrit had aspirants, Latin and Hittite had labiovelars. Slavic has only g and k, and now try to say that Slavic is difficult to learn!

Here is the table of early Common Slavic consonants with their Proto-Indo-European correspondences:

Common Slavic
b, bh
*bher- (to carry) > *bero. (I take)
d, dh
*dhé- (to put) > *dêti 
g, gh
*ghosti- (a guest) > *gostï
*ped- (a foot) > *peš (on foot)
*mátér- (mother) > *matï 
k, kw, kwh
*kel- (to chop) > *koloti
*kwel- (to roll) > *kolo (a wheel)
*weid- (to know) > *vêdati 
s, sw, k'
*sneigwh- (to snow) > *snêgü (snow),
*k'erd- (a heart) > *sïrdïke 
g', g'h, gh
*gheim- (winter) > *zima 
j [j]
*yeu- (youth) > *junü (young) 
s, x
x [kh]
*aus- (an ear) > *uxo
gw, gwh
z' [zh]
*gwei- (alive) > *z'iti (to live)
k, g, x, sj
š or s' [sh]
*syu- (to sew) > šiti
k, kw, kj
c' [ch]
*plakjo. > *plac'o. (I cry)
*mer- (to die) > *mrêti 
*nogw- (bare) > *nagü
*bhrátér- (a brother) > *bratü
*leuk- (to shine) > *luc'ï (a light)
To comment on this table I would like to say first of all, that correspondence between Indo-European and Slavic consonants is just approximate: phonetic laws do not act as axioms in mathematics, they can be proven uncertain or even wrong, and in any case plenty of exceptions are found. So the fact that the Common Slavic z derived from Proto-Indo-European g', g'h, gh, is true, but in some words it could derive from other sounds, and the list of such words can be rather long.

For example, Slavic languages are considered to be "satem" and different in this way from "kentum" languages (Celtic, Germanic, Tocharian). This means that palatal stops k' and g' which turned into k, g in Celtic, here in Slavic became fricatives: s and z. But this rule, which is the absolute law for Avestan, can be ignored by Common Slavic, and such words as *kamy (a stone), *bergü (a river bank), *gordü (a town), *go.sï (a goose) were not effected by this "satem" law. But still Slavic is known as a satem language, for the list of words having s and z instead of palatals is much longer: *sïrdïke (a heart), *pisati (to write), *prositi (to ask), *zïrno (grain), *znati (to know).

So, Slavic had 2 labial stops (p, b), 2 dental stops (t, d), 2 velar stops (k, g), a labial fricative v, 2 dental fricatives s and z, one palatal fricative j, one velar fricative x, four sonants: labial m, dental n, l, liquid r. In addition, already in Balto-Slavic all firm consonant sounds began to acquire their softened equivalents which nowadays exist in all Slavic and Baltic languages. Soft consonants automatically preceded front vowels. The letter l had even three sounds in Common Slavic: firm, medium, and soft. Now only Polish, I believe, has all three.

Some features written in the table above need special comment. Phonetic processes influenced consonants much during the whole Common Slavic period, and we have to reflect it there. Indo-European consonants k and g when preceding front vowels turned into c' and z': kê > c'ê, gï > z'ï etc. These front vowels (namely see vowel table) cused much more changed to consonants: kt was changed into later tj (the destiny of which was different in all late Slavic subgroups): *pekti > *petji (to cook) > Russian pec', Old Church Slavic pes'ti, etc. The similar mutation of x into s' took place later in Common Slavic, and exists in most modern Slavic languages (Russian mukha "a fly" ~ mushechka "a little fly").

Indo-European s could turn into x [kh], according to Pederson's Law, after i, u, r, k and before any sound except unvoiced stops (p, t, k). Examples: *teis- (quiet) > *tixü, *aus- (an ear) > *uxo, *liks- (angry) > *lixü (wild, crazy). In any other situations s remained as it was.

The sound j lost its independence which existed in Indo-European, and served vowels or was put to the beginning of the word. Combinations with it - kj, gj, xj, sj, zj - were converted into fricatives c', s', z' (*muz' < *mugjü "husband", *nos'o. < *nosjo. "I carry"). In many positions the letter j was completely lost in Slavic. Also sounds like r, s, t, d, m disappeared during the Common Slavic epoch at the end of the word, which is important for noun and verb inflections (*padê "he put"). The sound m could either go to o. or to n. In general, m and n often turned into nasal vowels in final position, or even into the vowel y which will be seen later in noun declension.

Some sounds, such as p, b, t, d, could disappear before n in the next syllable: *spati (to sleep) - *usnuti (to fall asleep; a verb where p disappeared due to the suffix -nu-).
Here is what I wanted to say about Common Slavic consonants and their mutations. It is not all, naturally, and numerous thick books were devoted to the problem. It is just the introduction which will, I hope, allow you to read every such book without problems of understanding it. And do not forget while reading those books, that you now know all basic things about Common Slavic phonetics.
 § 3. The Common Slavic Noun.
The noun in Common Slavic carried all attributes of its Proto-Indo-European ancestor, and therefore was much more archaic than nouns of modern Indo-European languages. Noun endings can be easily traced back to their Indo-European correspondences, noun cases are practically the same, and noun stems are just the same. Nouns in Common Slavic, according semantical theories, were not so important as verbs, and that can be seen even nowadays: at school I was taught that Russian newspaper headlines carry their main idea in the predicate - i.e. in the verb, while English headings are based on a noun, so we had to translate bearing this in mind. It is just an interesting fact.

The stems which Common Slavic nouns consisted of were not numerous but still important. They carry the same names as in Proto-Indo-European.

á-stems were nouns of the feminine or masculine gender, which always ended in -a and were used the same way as in Latin, Greek or Gaulish. The feminine nouns made the majority, but masculine also existed, like Latin agricola or Greek choreutés. Nowadays á-stem nouns make a large group in all Slavic languages. Examples in Common Slavic include such nouns as *kora (crust; a feminine word), *sluga (a serve; could be masculine or feminine), *vojevoda (a military leader; a masculine word).

The soft variety of this kind of stems is the -stem. It possibly did not exist in the Proto-language, but still can be observed in many groups, including Germanic, Baltic, Celtic languages. The declension of this group (all declension is given below) differs from the firm stem by some phonetic changes. Examples: *dusja (a soul), *zemja (ground). A theory says the distinction of á- and - stems existed in Balto-Slavic as well, and later was represented by nouns ending in -e. in Lithuanian (see Lithuanian Historical Grammar).

o-stems were the only group which used the thematic vowel between the stem and the ending of the noun. This group consisted of masculine and neuter nouns and made really the most common stem in the language. Latin ager < *agros, Greek agros, Old English stán - they all come from o-stems, as well as Common Slavic *rabü (a slave; masculine), *okno (a window; neuter). These stems also include their jo- variety, a soft one as well. jo-stem nouns could also be masculine or neuter (*pole - a field; neut.).

i-stems did not use the thematic vowel, they included words of feminine and masculine, common for all Indo-European languages, I believe. Compare Sudovian *gastis, Latin hostis, Gothic gasts, Common Slavic *gostï (a guest). Other examples include: *putï (a way; masculine), *kostï (a bone; feminine); *pe.tï (five).

u-stems could use masculine or (rarely) feminine gender and sometimes can be mixed with o-stems because their nominative singular sounded the saem way. Slavic languages did mix them, and later these two groups co-incided. But in Common Slavic - not yet, and you will see that in declension table. And as for examples - *domü (a house), *synü (a son), *polü (floor; all masculine).

ú-stems (long u), vice versa, consisted only of feminine nouns, mostly relative terms and parts of the body, like *kry (blood), *svekry (father-in-law for a woman), *zoly (sister-in-law for a woman).

Other stems are together called consonant stems, and their common characteristic feature was the presence of the suffix in indirect cases. These stems namely are: n- (*dïnï - a day; masc.), s- (*nebo - sky; neut.), r- (*matï - a mother; fem.), t- (*agne. - a lamb) and a few others. Some of them denoted certain semantical groups: for instance, r-stems included mainly terms of relatives (mother, sister, daughter), t-stems consist of words meaning animal cubs (child, lamb, calf, etc.).

Now let us look at the declension table of Common Slavic nouns. The examples used in it are as follows: *mama (a mother; fem.), *dusja (a soul; fem.), *rabü (a slave; masc.), *okno (a window; neut.), *polü (a floor; masc.), *putï (a way; masc.), *osï (an axis; fem.), *nebo (sky; neut.).

Nominative mama dusja rabü, okno polü putï, osï nebo
Genitive mamy dusje. raba, okna polu puti, osi nebese
Dative mamê dusji rabu, oknu polovi puti, osi nebesi
Accusative mamo. dusjo. rabü, okno polü putï, osï nebo
Instrumental mamojo. dusjejo. rabomï, oknomï polümü putïmï, osïjo. nebesïmï
Locative mamê dusji rabê, oknê polu puti, osi nebese
Vocative mamo dusje rabe, - polu puti, osi -
Nom., Voc. mamy dusje. rabi, okna polove putïje, osi nebesa
Gen. mamü dusjï rabü, okonü polovü putïjï, osïjï nebesü
Dat. mamamü dusjamü rabomü, oknomü polümü putïmü, osïmü nebesïmü
Acc. mamy dusje. raby, okna poly puti, osi nebesa
Instr. mamami dusjami raby, okny polümi putïmi, osïmi nebesy
Loc. mamaxü dusjaxü rabêxü, oknêxü polüxü putïxü, osïxü nebesïxü
Nom., Acc., Voc. mamê dusju raba, oknê poly puti, osi nebesê
Gen., Loc. mamu dusju rabu, oknu polovu putïju, osïju nebesu
Dat., Instr. mamama dusjama raboma, oknoma polüma putïma, osïma nebesïma
All consonant stem nouns besides s-nouns which are described above, have the same type of declension. They use suffixes to form their indirect cases: r-stems (matï, matere), t-stems (tele., teleta), n-stems (dïnï, dïne).

jo-stems have the same differences from o-, as já- from á-: -e ending instead of -o, ê > i, y > i (instrumental plural), y > e. (accusative plural).

The next table is the most valuable piece of info that I have on the Common Slavic language. It represents the origins of Common Slavic endings from Indo-European forms. The main sources for these reconstructions were Meillet and Soviet authors Skupsky and Tronsky (see Bibliography). Practically all the rules of reconstruction co-incide with main Slavic phonetic laws described above in Phonetics section. Comments follow the table:
Nom. á > a os > ü, om> o3 us > ü is > ï ón > o ér > é > i
Gen. ás > áns > y osyo > a2 ous > u ís > i esos > ese  
Dat. ái > ê oi > u4 owei > ovi í > i esai > esi  
Acc. ám > o.  om > o, ü um > ü im > ï esmo > osm >o érmo > erï
Instr. ám > ajan > ojo. 1 omi > omü umi > ümï imi > ïmï esmi > esïmï érm > erïjo.
Loc. ái > ê oi > ê óu > u í > i ese > ese  
Voc. a > o o > e5 ou > u í > i    
Nom., Voc. áes > ás > ans > y ós > i6, á > a owes > ove iyes > ïje9 eses > esa10 éres > ere
Gen. áom > am > om > ü óm > ü owom > ovü iyom > ïjï9 esom > esü  
Dat. ámos > amü omos > omü umos > ümü iymos > ïmü esmos > esïmü  
Acc. áns > ans > y ons > y, á > a uns > y ins > i esnos > esa10  
Instr. ámís > ami óis > y7 umís > ümi imís > ïmi esmís > esy10 érmís > erïmi
Loc. ásu > axü osu > êxü8 usu > üxü isu > ïxü essu > esïxü10  
Nom., Acc., Voc. ái > ê ó > a, oí > ê ú > y í > i esi > esê  
Gen. Loc. áus > au > u ous > u owous > ovu ious > ïju9 esous > esu  
Dat. Instr. ámó > ama omó > oma umó > üma imó > ïma esmó > esïma  

1. Instr. sg. was a loan-form from the anaphoric pronoun (see Adjectives).
2. The Indo-European gen. sg. ending disappeared and was replaced by the former ablative case ending -ód > -ád > -a.
3. The expected form would be or -o., but Slavic -o is an influence of the demonstrative pronoun to (see Pronouns).
4. Again the pronominal declension, like in tomu (see Pronouns).
5. The mutation of the thematic vowel at the end of the word.
6. The Indo-European demonstrative pronoun oi (like Greek ohi) > -i.
7. This change is unknown, but the source was surely -u > -y.
8. Pronominal declension influence: -osu was replaced by -oisu > -êxü.
9. The sound j acted as a division between vowels, so the full process was like that : -iyom > -iom > -io > -ijo > -ïjü > -ïjï.
10. These changes took place due to o-stems, which finally - in late Slavic languages - managed to replace most of consonant stems.

I hope all that could be understood. And the last but not least thing about the nouns in Common Slavic is the noun suffixes which were highly productive in the language.  These suffixes, as everywhere in Indo-European languages, could form both nouns and adjectives:

-vo- (*prüvü - right)
-ro- (*mirü - world)
-lo- (*dêlo - a doing, a job)
-mo- (*dymü - smoke)
-do- (*pravïda - truth)
-dlo- (*radlo > *ralo - a plough)
-jo- (*vodjï - a leader)
-no- (*supnosü - sleepy)
-to- (*bytü - daily round)
-tel- (*datelï - who gives)

And a couple of little things about the syntax of nouns in Slavic. Nouns often started the sentence according to the direct word order; but that is not the strict law, for the word order in general was quite free and depended on emphasis in the sentence. Locative, accusative and dative sentences could be used either with prepositions or without them (modern Slavic use locative only with prepositions, and modern Baltic - only without any). For example: *visêti vyji - to be hanged by neck. The ablative case, which, as you might notice, existed in Proto-Indo-European, here in Slavic coincided with genitive; its relicts are seen in some endings (see above, comment 2), and in several poetic constructions. Pushkin often uses the phrase bezhal lyubvi (ran from the love), which is in fact the ablative form, because genitive must have been like bezhal ot lyubvi.

Nouns occupied much of your time? Don't worry, adjectives will be much shorter.

1. The Background of the Common Slavic language.
2. The Common Slavic Phonetics.
3. The Common Slavic Noun.
4. The Common Slavic Adjective.
5. The Common Slavic Pronoun.
6. The Common Slavic Numeral.
7. The Common Slavic Verb.
8. The Common Slavic Verbal Nouns.
9. The Common Slavic Prepositions.