Zero anaphora in Russian: a microdiachronic analysis

2020. № 1 (39), 36-59

Olga E. Pekelis
Russian State University for the Humanities
National Research University Higher School of Economics
(Moscow, Russia)


The paper presents an analysis of the conditions that restrict the use of null referential
subjects within a finite clause (the so-called “zero” anaphora) in the Russian language of the
19th century and in present-day Russian. Contrary to a widespread assumption, these conditions
are not the same: they were looser in the 19th century than they are today. Basing our investigation
on data extracted from the Russian National Corpus, this fact is demonstrated for
null subjects in different syntactic contexts (declarative root clauses, questions, embedded
clauses). We propose to regard the evolution which zero anaphora in Russian underwent over
the last two centuries as grammaticalization of the pattern known in typology under the term
“partial null-subject language”. Consequently, the newly acquired traits of zero anaphora in
present-day Russian may contribute to the general picture of a partial null-subject language.