Ni dva ni poltora: semantics of indefiniteness in Russian idioms

2016. № 2 (32), 32-44

Anatoly N. Baranov, Dmitrij O. Dobrovol’skij, Vinogradov Russian Language Institute, Russian Academy of Sciences


The article examines the semantics of a group of idioms with double negation — ni ryba ni mjaso (neither fish nor fowl), ni dva ni poltora ‘neither this nor that’, ni to ni së ‘neither one nor the other’, ni tuda ni sjuda ‘neither here nor there’, ni s togo no s sego ‘for no apparent reason’, ni bogu svečka ni čërtu kočerga ‘neither this nor that’, as well as the idiom seredinka na polovinku ‘something in between’, which is close in meaning. This group displays two nomination strategies for conveying the notion of something indefinite or unclear. The first such strategy consists in negating the presence of certain important attributes of two different entities, which makes it impossible to choose between them and thereby resolve the uncertainty. This negation strategy is applied in particular in the idiom ni ryba ni mjaso. The second strategy consists in mixing certain of the important attributes of the given phenomena in a single entity, which once again makes assigning it to one or another class or type more complicated. This strategy of mixing is used in idioms such as ni dva ni poltora. Depending on the context, in the idiom ni to ni së both strategies can be applied. Discussion also concerns the sequential order of the constituents of the construction ni… ni… ‘neither … nor …’.