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The etymologies of the word Rus j : A comparative approach by Joshua McCall.

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Presentation on theme: "The etymologies of the word Rus j : A comparative approach by Joshua McCall."— Presentation transcript:

1 The etymologies of the word Rus j : A comparative approach by Joshua McCall

2 Contents What’s the problem? The two theories Methodology Analysis Conclusion Future work

3 What’s the problem? “No question in the entire field of Russian history has drawn more attention in historical literature, and has created more controversies than the problem of the origin of the Russian state.” The origin of Rus j, in essence, defines the entire Russian nation. Slava, is the standard. In the ninth century, the cultural prominence of Kievan Rus j, or simply Rus j, was “inferior only to that of Byzantium.”

4 Two theories: Normanists In AD 1748 a historian name Gerhardt Fredrich Müller presented a theory on the origin of Rus j to the Academy of Sciences. The oldest source of historical evidence supporting this theory is found in the Primary Chronicle, which was recorded at or about AD 1113 by the Kievan monk- chronicler known only as Nestor.


6 Two theories: Normanists In his history, Nestor refers to a Scandinavian people called the Russes who settled in what is now Russia, according to Nestor, in the year AD 862. This is not only the oldest source of historical evidence supporting the Normanist theory, but also the primary source.

7 Two theories: Normanists They (the natives) accordingly went overseas to the Varangian Russes: these particular Varangians were known as Russes, just as some are called Swedes, and others Normans, Angles, and Goths, for they were thus named. The Chuds, the Slavs and the Krivichians then said to the people of Rus “Our whole land is great and rich, but there is no order in it. Come to rule and reign over us!” They thus selected three brothers, with their kinsfolk, who took with them all the Russes and migrated. The oldest, Rurik, located himself in Novgorod; the second, Sineus, in Byeloozero; and the third, Truvor, in Izborsk. On account of these Varangians, the district of Novgorod became known as the land of Rus. The present inhabitants of Novgorod are descended from the Varangian race, but aforetime they were Slavs (Nestor 1930:145).

8 Two theories: Normanists This theory was stigmatized by a nationalistic Russian academia for good reason.


10 Two theories: Normanists Since Müller’s initial publication, supporters of his theory have substantiated it by finding similarities between the word Rus j and Finnish and Greek forms, Ruotsi and Ros respectively, which are semantically connected with the peoples of Scandinavia.

11 Normanists: problems Since even [the Chronicle’s] first redaction, which we do not possess, [it] was obviously a compilation of facts, fantasies, interpretations, materials of different origins, interpolated discourses, imitations of other sources and fortuitous or non-fortuitous omissions; modern historians have had a jolly time tearing down the flimsy edifice.... For, having discarded all the evidence, and having nowhere else to look for more, they began replacing it with wishful figments of imagination, each expert brilliantly succeeding in proving exactly what he set out to prove.

12 Two theories: anti-Normanists Anti-Normanists, such as Mikhail Lomonosov, found that there were factual inconsistencies in the Primary Chronicle. The Chronicle placed the date of the arrival of the Russes at AD 862, which conflicted with other sources that recorded the name Rus j before then. Dmitry Ilovaisky, a Russian historian of some note, took it upon himself to find links between Rus j and found that the names of many European rivers, including some in Russia, seemed to be forms of Rus j :



15 Two theories: anti-Normanists The native name or Ros j Rus j, like many other names, is directly connected with the names of rivers. Eastern Europe is replete with rivers, which are or once were called by that name. Thus, Neman, in the old days, was called Ros j ; one of its tributaries retained the name Rus j, and the bay into which it drains was named Rusna. Next we find Ros j or Rusa, the river in the Novogorod province; Rusj, the moth of the Narev; Ros j, the famous mouth of the Dnieper in Ukraine; Rusa, the mouth of the Semi;... But most importantly, the name Ros j or Ras belonged to our Volga (Ilovaiski 1890:vii).

16 Two theories: anti-Normanists There is also an obvious similarity between the old Slavic word ruslo (river or stream bed) and rusalka (water sprite). Numerous anti Normanists have pointed out that these forms adequately predate the arrival of the Russes and are feasible, albiet distant, roots for Rus j.

17 Methodology In order to determine which of the four evidences presented is the least likely, we can look at documented sound changes that took place after the time the forms started appearing. This would give us an idea about whether or not it is feasible, for instance, if Ruotsi (one of the possible links in the derivational chain of the word in question) became Rusj through a sound change. C  C j / __V [+front]

18 Analysis The sound change that would be required to give Ruotsi from Rus j is nonexistent. The change ou → u does not apply, making this an unlikely etymological derivation. It is wholly possible the Vikings took the Greek term Ros with them back to Russia and used it there. This would explain the forms R Λ s j ija, and its adjectival form, r Λ s j iski, both of which have o as the underlying form of the first vowel. This part of the Normanist theory stands up to scrutiny.

19 Analysis The numerous names found by Ilovaiski have forms with palatalization of the final s and without. Thus, many of them do not need a sound change to be possible root for Rus j. Many of the forms also predate the Chronicle. Concerning the loss of palatalization that would be required to explain the change of rusalka or ruslo → Rus j, we do have a record of several forms that inexplicably became palatalized in their final consonant (e.g., tvar → tvar j ).

20 Conclusion “The origin of the name Rus j remains obscure, in spite of the persistent efforts of scholars.” Both theories are possible, and in fact, could coexist. Though the derivation through Ruotsi is highly unlikely, the Greek form Ros is possible, which substantiates the Normanist theory.

21 Conclusion Both possible derivations proposed by the anti-Normanists are equally possible. The river and water names discovered by Ilovaiski are possible. The derivations through rusalka and ruslo are also possible.

22 Future work Though they warrant research, I did not look at Finnish sound changes which may have taken place to produce Ruotsi from another form. Further research would need to be done to fully discount this theory which includes studying other Baltic roots, such as the Estonian form Ro:tsi.

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