I’ve been on something of a spending spree at Amazon lately,* and the latest goodie to arrive is a copy of The History of the Russian Literary Language from the Seventeenth Century to the Nineteenth, Lawrence L. Thomas’s abridged 1969 translation of V. V. Vinogradov‘s classic Очерки по истории русского литературного языка XVII—XIX вв. (2nd ed. 1938). It starts with Thomas’s introduction summarizing the history of the language up to the seventeenth century, when Vinogradov’s story begins, and I’ve already run across a paragraph that was so enlightening to me I wanted to share it. Thomas is discussing the changes between the Kievan and Muscovite periods that “made possible the importation of new Church Slavonic doublets”:
One such development was the loss and vocalization of the jers (ъ, ь), which allowed for new borrowings from Slavonic. In East Slavic, the Common Slavic group *dj had yielded ж; in Church Slavic, the result was жд. In Kievan times, it was not possible to borrow Slavonic words with this consonant cluster because East Slavic had no approximation of it… The East Slavic form жьдати had to become ждати before the assimilation of such Church Slavonicisms as рождение, между, хождение, etc., was possible. Similarly, artificial church pronunciation of a vowel in the prefix въз-, въс-, in places where spoken Russian now had no vowel, led to new Church Slavonicisms. The form возраст was thus doubly a Church Slavonicism; were it not for the influence of Church Slavonic, the Modern Russian form of this word would have been взрост (cf. взрослый). By this time, also, a former е had become [о] under accent before a hard consonant (in modern orthography, it is inconsistently represented by the letter ё). Since church pronunciation tended to be a spelling pronunciation, however, it did not reflect this feature of the spoken language. Consequently, the pronunciation of the genitive plural жён as [žen] rather than [žon] was a Church Slavonicism. Semantic doublets were thus created; cf. Modern Russian небо (sky) as compared to нёбо (palate).
*I’d like to thank whoever bought a Kindle via my Amazon links, as well as everyone who bought enough books and other items to give me a considerably fatter monthly gift certificate than usual; you are helping feed the voracious LH book habit! Remember, when you click on one of my links and buy something, no matter what, on your Amazon visit, I get a much-appreciated cut.