Determinant grammar of the Russian language as an academic grammar of a new type

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The relevance of the research is caused by the need to find a method that provides a complete and systematic presentation of Russian grammar. The aim of the study is to discuss the prospects for creating a grammar that will clarify the reasons for the features of each level of the language and the principle of mutual functional coordination of all levels. Structural and systemic models for constructing grammatical theory became the object of the study, and a comparative systemic analysis of these models was used as a method. The authors show that there are objective prerequisites for the successful creation of a new model of academic grammar - determinant theory of language developed by the founder of modern systemic linguistics G.P. Melnikov. The most stable property of the language system (internal determinant), acquired as a result of its adaptation to the conditions of communication, makes it possible to explain the interdependence of the composition of vowels and consonants, the structure of the syllable, morpheme and word form, the means of syntactic connection of words in a sentence, the features of the internal form of the language, the non-randomness of the composition of grammatical categories and grammatical ways of expressing them. The internal determinant of the inflectional Russian language, formed in the conditions of poor awareness of the interlocutors about each other, formulated as the need to save the length of the speech stream due to the appearance of a large number of joint-meaning morphemes, makes it possible to explain and link such features of the Russian language as the widespread use of internal inflection and fusion, the preparedness of word forms, methods and functions of affixation, the non-randomness of the grammatical categories of tense, person and case, and ways of expressing them. Research prospects are associated with the uniqueness of the determinant approach, which synthesizes the possibilities of typological and historical approaches and makes it possible to establish the meaning and mutually agreed function of each element of the form. Therefore, it allows to create an academic grammar not of a descriptive, but of an explanatory nature.

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The existing academic grammars of the Russian language, built on a formal basis, especially expressed in Grammar 80, are purely descriptive, even stating, and therefore present the levels of the language in a fragmented way, and the properties of the elements are more often shown as a set of random features.

Meanwhile, a language system, like any naturally formed adaptive system, retains its integrity, even though it is divided into subsystems and its elements are singled out. This integrity is ensured by the fact that the subsystems and elements are interconnected in a certain way, and their properties are not random but functionally coordinated. The functional coherence of all parts of the system is provided by distributing private functions and keeping a given determinant which is the functional property of the whole system. The notion of an adaptive system in its system-wide and linguistic aspects was developed by G.P. Melnikov in his articles (Melnikov, 1965, 1968, 1969) and was used in his later works to explain the typological specificity of different languages.

The attempt to compare the explanatory possibilities of the traditional descriptive and determinant models of grammar determines the relevance of the present study.

The grammar revealing the single principle of mutual agreement of all units and all levels of the Russian language as a language preserving its inflected typological status, despite the tendency of "failure" in manifesting its inflected nature, would become a new type of academic grammar – a determinant grammar.

A determinant academic grammar would be simultaneously typological and historical, since it reflects the current state of the language system not as a static, but as a dynamic one, since it is assumed that a determinant grammar would consider the nature of grammatical categories in their unity with the causes of the formation of languages of different types. It would describe conditions of languages restructuring towards improvement and, conversely, transformation of the previously formed into an obstacle to the successful performance of the main function of the language – the function of communication, if the conditions of human communication change.

The need of not only theoretical linguistics, but also applied areas of linguistics – practical Russian language studies, methods of teaching foreign languages, cultural linguistics – for research aimed at establishing the causes of grammaticalization and degrammaticalization of categories, determining the structure of grammatical and lexical-semantic fields by their functions, and, therefore, the relevance of the problem raised, in particular, is confirmed by the following scientific papers: Shaklein, 2012; Shaklein, Kovtunenko, 2021; Vinogradova, Klobukova, 2022.

The practical value of the research lies in the broad possibilities of using the explanatory features of determinant grammar, which describes language as a system of functionally appropriate elements and relations, in teaching the Russian language.

The aim of the research is to discuss the prospects of creating a grammar of the Russian language, which will clarify the reasons for the features of each level of language and the principle of mutual functional coordination of all levels.

Methods and materials

The research was based on the systematic method, including comparative, logical and semantic, contextual analysis, and semantic reconstruction of the conceptual field at different stages of work.

The systematic method is aimed at clarifying the general system of categories and the scheme of the acts of new properties emergence in the object and at explaining the diverse consequences with the same cause as a natural phenomenon where diverse material is a condition of different consequences. The comparative method is used to compare the explanatory power of a structural-descriptive and a determinant grammar.

Logical and semantic analysis reveals the relationship of grammar concepts in the cases when they are not explicitly described. Contextual analysis is used to reliably establish the content of the principles and concepts of systemic linguistics. Semantic reconstruction of conceptual field is aimed at determining the contours of conceptual fields in the framework of scientific theory and the complete system formed by these fields, organized as a conceptual field, where each concept has numerous essential connections with other concepts.

The material of the research was texts of monographs, articles and theses of reports by G.P. Melnikov, the founder of modern systemic linguistics and creator of the method of determinant analysis of language, published in scientific magazines and collections of reports of scientific conferences (Melnikov, 1965, 1968, 1969, 1977, 1977, 1978, 1997, 2003, 2011). Before G.P. Melnikov, the idea of a determinant was developed only in systemology (general theory of systems) and was not applied in linguistics. The material also included academic grammar of the Russian language (Russian grammar, 1980) and chapters on grammar in university textbooks of the modern Russian language.1


The result of the study was a determinant explanation of the typological features of the Russian language presented as a chain of causes and effects. This explanation clarifies the logic of the proposed new model of grammar:

⇒ mutual awareness of interlocutors only at the level of social experience (external determinant);

⇒ the need to recall several abstract meanings, expressed in signs long enough to be distinguished one from another;

⇒ a universal need to save the relative length of the speech stream;

⇒ the groups of the most recalled meanings form a separate sign – a morpheme with several joint meanings is created, but the need to introduce the interlocutor to the subject of the message remains;

⇒ the message will contain a relatively big number of words;

⇒ to help the listener to understand multi-lexemic statements, a tendency to prepare the variants of the lexeme, depending on the most typical function of the lexeme in the statement is formed;

⇒ the coalescence of morphemes in such variants and the development of fusion as a characteristic way of combining morphemes in lexemes, and non-functional morphemes develop such ways of economical variation as internal inflection and accentuation + prefabricated lexeme variants (word-form selectivity) develop a predictive technique;

⇒ explicit indication of syntactic relations in the utterance;

⇒ the syntactic structure of an utterance is free from the elementary tasks of expressing connections between elements of the situation;

⇒ the syntactic structure of the utterance has great potential to present any situation according to the canonical scheme of a developing event;

⇒ possibility to package any information in a form acceptable to the listener in conditions where the speaker is not sufficiently aware of the awareness of the interlocutor at levels below general background knowledge.


Reasons for the formation of inflected type language: the need to save the length of the message in the conditions of mutual awareness of interlocutors only at the level of social experience

A deeply adapted system, such as modern Russian language (see: Melnikov, 2011), is characterized by a determinant consistency with other properties, consistency of structure with substance, and consistency of substance with function. A change in structure or substance in a direction that is less consistent with that system function will also change the higher supported property of that system – its determinant.

Structural grammars, based on F. de Saussure's scheme of communication (Saussure, 1977), do not explain “how meaning is connected with thought (with meaning – in systemic linguistics)” and do not reveal “the processes through which signs in a speech stream are reproduced by one person and understood by others” (Bakhtikireeva, Valentinova, 2022: 230). The novelty of systemic linguistics consists in the fact that “starting from I.A. Baudouin de Courtenay, the connection between meaning and sense is explained with association by similarity, that is, association between images that are due to the fact that one of the images is fully or partially included in another” (Bakhtikireeva, Valentinova, 2022: 231). This understanding of communication and language as its means reveals the language focus on performing its function in specific communicative conditions, that is, its external determinant.

The vast expansion of a culturally homogeneous sedentary linguistic community requires a linguistic technique, which in the conditions of communication between little familiar or completely unfamiliar people – in order to preserve the unity of the nation – would ensure the general awareness of everything socially significant. Socially significant knowledge is knowledge (meanings) of generic level. People who communicate may not have any common individual knowledge in such circumstances, and common current (unique) impressions can be limited only to those arising only at the moment of the meeting and reflecting only the situation of the conversation.

Both interlocutors are aware of socialized (national) generalized knowledge of the generic level. Therefore, to introduce the interlocutor to the topic, they can recall of many abstract generic images with generic meanings, which hint at individual and current meanings or even form the knowledge necessary for introducing the topic.

Since this abstract knowledge only needs to be recalled, it would be logical to assume that they need rather short signs. However, a lot of meanings need to be recalled, so we need sufficiently long signs to be distinguished one from another.

The length of the speech stream can be reduced by creating a separate sign for groups of the most frequently recalled meanings – a morpheme with several joint meanings: gender, number case (nedel-ya ‘week’), person, number, tense, mood (id-et ‘goes’), etc.  Saving the length of the speech stream would require a lot of morphemes in the language. And if the interlocutors do not have common individual and current information, a lot of morphemes will also be required in the speech stream.

Of course, when people meet, the very moment of speaking and the interlocutor’s behaviour will be well-recognized. Therefore, after the interlocutors have introduced each other into the topic of communication, they will rely on this common information. Thus, when describing a certain event, they will note how it corresponds to the time of speaking (it took place before the moment of speaking, is taking place simultaneously or will take place afterwards), when describing participants of the event they will specify their participation or non-participation in this conversation, and they will give the most visible characteristics to everything visible (one – many).

The idea of classifying images according to the degree of abstractness (generic, individual, current) was put forward by G.P. Melnikov in his lectures on introduction to linguistics and proved to be very fruitful for comparing the external determinants of languages according to the parameter of interlocutors' mutual awareness (see: Melnikov, 2003: 127‒131).

When the conditions of communication (external determinant) form the mutual awareness of interlocutors only at the level of social experience, the internal determinant of language becomes the economy of message length through extensive use of specific morphemes and morphemes with joint meanings. This higher property of the language system creates the peculiarity of each level and the principle of level coordination.

With the described external determinant and the resulting internal determinant, the socialized generic thought units prevailing in this type of language, which have to be transformed into usual meanings, receive favourable conditions for this transformation: the language accumulates a large number of prefabricated lexemes.

Thus, the relative reduction of the speech stream due to the morphemes with joint meanings does not cancel the need to introduce the interlocutor into the topic of the message, and thus the message will contain a relatively large number of lexemes. For the listener to be able to make sense of multi-lexemic utterances, a tendency is formed in the language to prepare variants of the lexemes in advance depending on the most typical function of the lexeme in the utterance. In other words, a rich system of word-formation develops within one lexeme. This system gives the opportunity to select the word-form depending on the usual meaning formed in the utterance.

The set of grammatical categories in the Russian language and their expression depending on the morphological type of language

The regular means of expressing grammatical categories (grammatical ways) in all world languages are limited to affixation, internal inflection, suppletion, composition, repetition, accentuation, functional words, word order and intonation (Reformatskii, 2008: 253‒254, 263‒317). Morphemes in a lexeme can be either “fused” (fusion) or mechanically “glued” (agglutination).

The task of a determinant grammar is not simply to describe the ways used in a language, but to explain the internal logic of the relationship between the preferred grammatical way and the nature of morpheme interaction, on the one hand, and the morphological type of language, on the other.

Communication in the inflective Russian language, as we have already noted, is based on the prefabrication of signs in the linguistic consciousness to express any social meanings, which are known to all interlocutors before the act of communication, so in Russian (as in any inflective language) the number of morphemes indicating the basic usual meanings and the number of morphemes, very often with joint meanings and multi-signed, with specialized auxiliary grammatical meanings is increasing.

The proliferation of morphemes with joint meanings and multi-signed morphemes that express grammatical meanings leads, in turn, to the fact that when it is necessary to express a certain grammatical meaning and use a morpheme with this grammatical meaning, this morpheme is often followed by other sememes (meanings) that are functionally underloaded in the given set of morphemes.

This typical functional redundancy of meanings leads to the reduction of the external form of inflective language morphemes. The reduction of the external form manifests itself in variants of the same lexeme depending on the grammatical meaning it expresses and in a multivariant form of both morphemes and phonemes of each lexeme.

As for non-functional morphemes, the need for economical variation leads to the internal inflection of lexemes and the use of accentuation as an extremely economical means of varying the grammatical characteristics of the lexeme: ber – (ú) (‘I take’), br – (át’) (‘to take’), (ot) – bór (‘selection’), (so) – bir – (át’) (‘to gather’); nes – (ú) (‘I carry’), nósh – (ú) (‘I wear’), násh – ([y]val) (‘used to wear’), nósh – (a) (‘burden’), (pod) – nós (‘tray’). In addition to vowel and consonant alternation, accent changes, the internal inflection can also be realized in the form of partial doubling of the morpheme: da – (yút) (‘they give’), dad – (út) (‘they will give’). These varying lexemes and separate morphemes are perceived by native speakers as identical.  Subtle semantic oppositions of lexemes and morphemes (such as the opposition by shortness/length of the action, which is expressed by Slavic original long i and a and Slavic original short e and o: bir-/ber-, skak/skoch-, etc.) are not always understood. Therefore, a determinant grammar should establish these meanings as well.

The prefabrication of a lexeme in its variants depending on the typical set of grammatical categories (the paradigm of prefabricated word forms) leads to the coalescence of morphemes in such variants and fusion as a characteristic way of joining morphemes in lexemes of the inflected language.

The need to put several sememes into one lexeme also requires affixation in the inflected language, but in its fusion variant: ya pish – u (‘I write’), ya pod – pish – u (‘I will sign’), ya pod – pish – u – s’ (‘I will subscribe’), where originally soft [sh'] was formed in Proto-Slavonic unity era from the Indo-European combination *sj.

Thus, Russian, as an inflected language, has internal inflection accompanied by fusion when affixing as its most important grammatical means.

The prefabricated variants of lexemes (word-forms) can lead to the fact that the prearranged relations between lexemes can come into conflict with the actual communicative role of the lexeme in the message. To introduce functional information about this discrepancy in inflected languages, intonation and word order are used, i.e. rearranging lexemes in the message without changing their form. The nature of grammatical meanings from the standpoint of systemic linguistics, their classification and the determinative conditionality of their system in a particular language were briefly formulated in the theses of the report (Melnikov, 1977), and were discussed in more detail at G. Melnikov’s lectures and seminars on special courses “Explanatory Grammar of the Russian Language” and “The Case System of the Russian Language”, and at the meetings of the Baudouin scientific club of RUDN University in 1980‒2000.

A determinant grammar has to explain not only non-random grammatical ways of expressing grammatical meanings, but also non-random set of grammatical categories that have required a regular expression.

If the language has adapted deeply enough to the conditions of communication, then the functional meanings (grammatical categories) which need regular expression have already "found" relatively simple and regular grammatical ways. But if the language adaptation is still far from its limit or the limit cannot be achieved, the conditions of language functioning are constantly changing, then some grammatical categories, despite the high demand for their expression, may not have time to get a delineated form and therefore will be expressed in a wide set of grammatical ways, including descriptive lexical means. A grammatical category that has no form and is expressed descriptively is a latent category, such as the type of noun reference, relevance/usuality, controllability/uncontrollability, stagnation /dynamicity of a verb.

The determinant approach will identify what kind of functional information is required, if socially meaningful communication takes place in certain conditions. This understanding of the connection between the conditions of communication and the principle of the language system organization will determine which grammatical categories of the Russian language should be recognized as truly grammatical and why they may be ungrammatical in languages of another type.

The category of tense. The internal determinant of inflected languages, derived from the conditions of mutual awareness of interlocutors only at the level of generic thought (including linguistic) units and the absence of mutual unique meanings, shows the importance of mutual reliable unique knowledge about the very fact of conversation, the fact of actual stimulation of cognitive processes in the listener's mind by the speaker. Under these conditions, a reliable method of establishing the communication channel would be linking the event to the moment of speaking, albeit accidental, but credible. Therefore, an indication of the time of the event, counted from the moment of speaking, becomes desirable functional information. That is why the language developed special meanings to express the category. Special functional meanings are necessary to create a certain image of the situation, and then the language chooses the appropriate ways to express these meanings. So, in Russian, as an inflected language, tense will quite definitely be a formal-grammatical category. This compares with polysynthetic languages, formed in the conditions of deep mutual awareness of interlocutors at all levels of thinking, including levels of linguistic thinking, where attachment of the events to the moment of speaking is not necessary. Therefore, polysynthetic languages cannot develop the category of tense even as a latent category, and if the category requires its expression (very rarely), it is no longer a functional category, but a basic one.

The category of person. In inflected languages, the category of person supplements the information expressed by the category of tense, therefore the category of person is especially important, as it represents “a means of tying the event named in the statement to the reference, coordinating event – to the act of speaking – with its obvious spatial and temporal event characteristics” (Melnikov, 1997: 124).

The personal pronoun characterizes the subject or object by their role in the situation of communication, rather than by their irrelevance to this situation. For example: the pronoun I is a self-naming of the actual personal author of the message, emphasizing only the fact that the one calling himself at the moment of naming acts as the speaker, that is, the transmitter of the message. No non-communicative properties of the actual meaning of the sign I are expressed. The fact that I is a personal rather than a collective author (not we) is also a communicative characteristic. If there is no person who says or writes the I sign, this sign has no actual meaning. But if someone used this sign, then he or she simultaneously automatically actualized its meaning and reflected the state of the communicative situation at the moment of saying the sign I, i.e. started determining the communicative role of all participants of the act of communication. It is really advantageous if the personal acquaintance between the communicators is very weak and the objective characteristics of the named people, objects, phenomena are not sufficiently known to the interlocutors or are not known at all.

In other words, naming certain current unique meanings with the help of pronouns – relying primarily on the obvious actual communicative roles (signifiers) of the denotations of these meanings – helps make these unique meanings common to the interlocutors. Therefore, these meanings, which have become common, are already relatively easy to use as actualizing meanings when naming other meanings that are not obvious and self-actualizing.

With the general lack of mutually known information at the level of unique actual meanings in the act of communication, one cannot neglect seemingly random information about the role of the named denotatum in statements like a dog is running on the lawn, where lexemes dog and running signal the third person: a running dog is not a participant of the conversation.

The category of case. The opposition of forms by case allows to determine the typical communicative role of the lexeme in the message at the level of the external form of the lexeme. The nominative case indicates that the typical communicative role of the lexeme is the core of the message topic. The genitive case testifies to the typical communicative role of the topic core actualizer. Lexeme forms in other Russian cases perform typical communicative roles (i.e. communicative roles) of clarifiers in the message rhema (Dremov, 2002; Lutin, 2008).

The same grammatical category of case in Russian definitions (noviy dom ‘new house’ – novogo doma ‘no new house’ – novomu domu ‘to a new house’...) performs a different, relational function, which indicates not only the communicative role of this lexeme, but also that it clarifies another lexeme with the same role. This kind of relational function is called concordance. Many actualizing grammatical categories at the same time form concordance, i.e. are not only actualizing, but also relational grammatical categories (for example, the categories of person, number and case in the statement lyudi speshat ‘people hurry’).

The use of affixation is also determined by the peculiarities of the determinant. Here is an example. The determinant features of inflected languages –  he fall in the level of personal acquaintance of interlocutors while preserving the accumulated social information, means and techniques of expressing functional meanings, common worldview and emotional warehouse – have developed in these languages a system of suffixes of emotional evaluation, which blossomed not in the ancient period, but precisely in the last centuries. To determine what type of meaning these suffixes express, grammatical or lexical, let us analyze an example: Malysh protyanul ko mne svoi ruchki ‘The little boy extended his small hands to me’. The context clearly shows that the child's hands are small. So, in this utterance the diminutive meaning (ruchki) plays a different role –  it expresses a functional meaning – confirming, and if the interlocutors in the act of communication understand it, it allows them to see that the process of communication proceeds in a normal way and mutual understanding between speakers is guaranteed: the speaker feels tenderness for the hero of his story and is convinced that the listener feels the same. In Russian the suffixes of emotional evaluation are most often used as signs of acknowledgement and, therefore, of functional meaning, so this type of meaning should be regarded as grammatical, which coincides with the opinion of V.V. Vinogradov.

Statements like on uvidel chiu-to ruku ‘he saw someone's hand’, more precisely – ruchku (‘a small hand’), when the additional content is included in the main information and is not a functional meaning (he saw someone's small hand) are not frequent.

Suffixes of emotional evaluation can also reflect objective characteristics of denotatum, and these characteristics can specify the usual meaning of the morphemes to which they are joined in the lexeme (for example, ruka cheloveka ‘a man's hand’ – ruchka dveri ‘a door handle’). In this function, these suffixes can be seen as a means of lexical concretization, that is, as a means of expressing a type of functional meaning that contributes to nomination. This means that, while becoming lexeme-forming, these suffixes remain grammatical.

G.P. Melnikov's idea of determinant explanation of the specificity of language types and languages was supported in the works of his successors (Dremov, 2002, 2019; Kirov, 1999, 2019; Fedosyuk, 2013, 2015).


A determinant grammar of the Russian language, revealing the non-accidental set of functional meanings and non-accidental means of their expression, clarifying the principles of coordination between language subsystems, could begin the formation of academic grammars of a new type, which would reveal the causes of grammatical distinctions between languages.

In his reports, lectures at Peoples' Friendship University of Russia, meetings of the Baudouin circle, and in friendly conversations, G.P. Melnikov gave examples of the effective use of the determinant approach in explaining the peculiarities of different levels of the inflected Russian language at different periods of its history The scientist focused his listeners' attention on the event communicative perspective peculiar to the Russian language and complex prognostic technique at all of its levels, from the phonetic to the syntactic. According to G.P. Melnikov, improvement of the technique, which allows to describe any story as a developing event and helps the interlocutor to predict certain qualities of this event, was the reason for the emergence of reduced vowels, the transition to power stress, the formation of the category of aspect, the semantic functions of cases, the means of connection in compound sentences, the semantic differentiation of conjunctions, the phenomenon of impersonal sentences, the development of word-formation paradigms, including stylistic, synthetic and analytic constructions, etc.

The authors of this article, relying on the ideas of G.P. Melnikov, have reconstructed a sequence of causal relationships, originating from an external determinant, which reveals not only the features of each level of the Russian language, but also the principle of coordination of these levels. The deduced causal sequence appears as a coiled logical model of determinant grammar of the Russian language. The prospect of the study is seen in creating an academic determinant grammar of the Russian language.


1 Valgina, N.S. (2003). Modern Russian language: Syntax: Textbook (pp. 62‒135). Мoscow: Vysshaya Shkola Publ.; Shansky, N.M., & Tikhonov, A.N. (1987). Modern Russian language (part 2, pp. 78‒89). Moscow: Prosveshcheniye Publ.; Beloshapkova, V.A. (Ed.). (1989). Modern Russian language (pp. 380‒531). Moscow: Vysshaya Shkola Publ.


About the authors

Olga I. Valentinova

RUDN University

Author for correspondence.
ORCID iD: 0000-0002-8510-8701

Doctor of Science in Philology, Professor, Professor of the General and Russian Linguistics Department

6 Miklukho-Maklaya St, Moscow, 117198, Russian Federation

Mikhail A. Rybakov

RUDN University

ORCID iD: 0000-0001-9444-3889

Candidate of Science in Philology, Associate Professor, Associate Professor of the General and Russian Linguistics Department

6 Miklukho-Maklaya St, Moscow, 117198, Russian Federation

Lyudmila V. Ekshembeeva

al-Farabi Kazakh National University

ORCID iD: 0000-0001-9236-7982

Doctor of Science in Philology, Professor, Professor of the Department of Russian Philology and World Literature

71 al-Farabi Ave, Almaty, 050040, Republic of Kazakhstan


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