SYNCRETISM has long been an object of  linguistic discussions. The term in its linguistic meaning was suggested by L. Hjelmslev, who considered syncretism as a general feature of the language. Syncretism is regarded as one of the basic  linguistic categories and is defined as a “category set by concurrency” [Hjelmslev 1960: 387]

V. V. Babaytseva’s works of the 1960s initiated the studies of syncretism in the grammatical structure of the Russian language. The term “syncretic phenomena” was introduced to denote the phenomena of the so-called syncretic zone (contamination, combination, synthesis) that takes place between the opposed prototypical categories.

The Linguistic Encyclopaedic Dictionary provides two main definitions of the term:“Syncretism – 1) Concurrency of functionally different grammatical categories and forms in one form in the process of the language development. For example, in the Russian language we observe case syncretism (one ending has a meaning of different cases) or syncretism of different grammatical categories (one ending has a meaning of gender, number and case). Some scholars refer syncretism to the grammatical homonymy, others refer it to polysemy (polyfunctionality) of the grammatical form; 2) A combination (synthesis) of differential structural and semantic features of language units (some categories of words, meanings, sentences, parts of sentence etc.) opposed to each other in the language system and connected with the phenomena of transitivity. These are hybrid (contaminational, intermediate, diffusive) formations [Linguistic Encyclopaedic Dictionary 1990: 446]. Syncretism appears at all language and speech levels.

Several branches of studying syncretism can be singled out:

  • Transitivity theory (Bowder, Bordet, Gaysina, Kim etc.)
  • Syncretism in the parts of speech (Chesnokova, Babaytseva, Abdullaev etc.)
  • Syncretic features of syntactic units (Furashov, Melikova, Kalinina, Pokusaenko)
  • Text syncretism (Rybka, Stein, Syrov etc.)

The phenomenon of syncretism may be found not only in grammar, but also in lexicology, phraseology, morphemics and word-building. A number of researchers point to the universal nature of syncretism. Syncretism is also studied in other fields of research, for instance, in philosophy, literature and arts.

Further reading

Ельмслев, Л. Пролегомены к теории языка (1953)/Пер. с англ. [Текст]/Л. Ельмслев// Новое в лингвистике. — Вып. 1. — М., 1960. — С.264-389.

Колесникова Т. В. О понятии синкретизма в языкознании [Электронный ресурс]//Университетские чтения/Пятигорский гос. лингвист. ун-т. — Пятигорск, 2008.

Павлюковец М. А. Синкретизм в лингвистике и его виды [Электронный ресурс]/М. А. Павлюковец//Материалы XV Международной научной конференции студентов, аспирантов и молодых ученых «Ломоносов-2008» . — М.: Изд-во МГУ, 2008.

Ekaterina Subbotina

Translated by Chizhov Mikhail