Prezidentskie vybory vs. vybory prezidenta: how to choose?

Президентские выборы или выборы президента: как выбрать?


We present three case studies of the distribution of adjective + head noun (‘adjective’) vs. head noun + noun-genitive (‘genitive’) constructions based on datasets extracted from the Russian National Corpus. Each case study focuses on a different set of non-head referents: case study 1 examines non-heads that are country names (like ‘Norway’ as in norvežskij N vs. N Norvegii), case study 2 looks at non-heads that refer to leaders (like ‘president’ as in prezidentskij N vs. N prezidenta), and the focus of case study 3 is non-heads that are person names (like ‘Petja’ as in Petina N vs. N Peti). Head nouns in all three datasets were annotated for the same set of nine semantic categories representing an Individuation Hierarchy. This hierarchy accounts for only some of the patterns that we see across the case studies. Other patterns can be explained in terms of: ‘uniqueness’, which favors the genitive construction when the head noun is a unique entity; ‘salience’, which favors the genitive construction when the non-head is more salient than the head noun; and ‘obligatoriness’, which favors the genitive construction when the head is a relational noun that presupposes a specific non-head.


Опираясь на данные, извлеченные из Национального корпуса русского языка, мы рассматриваем три частных случая конкуренции между ‘адъективной конструкцией’ (прилагательное + вершинное имя) и ‘генитивной конструкцией’ (вершинное имя + определение в генитиве). Три частных случая выделяются на основании семантики зависимого компонента: в первом случае рассматриваются названия стран (например, для ‘Норвегии’: норвежский N или N Норвегии), во втором—обозначения различных «лидеров» (например, для ‘президента’: президентский N или N президента), а в третьем—краткие личные имена (например, для имени ‘Петя’: Петин N или N Пети). Для всех трех групп данных вершинные имена были разбиты на 9 семантических категорий, различающихся по положению на иерархии индивидуированности. Эта иерархия объясняет лишь некоторые аспекты полученных нами распределений. Другие аспекты этих распределений связаны с тремя параметрами: ‘уникальность’ (вершины, задающие уникальный референт, притягивают генитивную конструкцию), ‘значимость’ (генитивная конструкция более вероятна, если зависимый компонент обладает большей значимостью, чем вершина) и ‘обязательность’ (генитивная конструкция более вероятна, если вершиной является реляционное имя, семантика которого предполагает наличие определенного зависимого).

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  1. 1.

    All numbered examples in this article, except (1), are from the RNC unless otherwise stated. For each example we provide a year, as well as the name of the author (for books and works of fiction) or the name of the periodical (for articles in newspapers and journals). For the convenience of the reader, in each example we italicize the construction under scrutiny.

  2. 2.

    This text is available at Accessed January 8, 2019.

  3. 3.

    Available on Accessed 8 January 2019.

  4. 4.

    We use ‘??’ rather than ‘*’ in our acceptability judgments, since examples like geolog Norvegii ‘Norway’s geologist’ may be marginally acceptable in, say, a context where different countries have nominated one member of an international commission of geologists. Importantly, in this context geolog Norvegii ‘Norway’s geologist’ would refer to one unique individual, and this usage is therefore not at variance with the Uniqueness Hypothesis.

  5. 5.

    Chi-squared = 241.73, \(\mathit{df} = 8\), \(p\)-value < 2.2e-16, and Cramer’s \(V = 0.435\), indicating both a significant association and an effect size between ‘moderate’ and ‘strong’.

  6. 6.

    Fisher test evaluations for all five of these relationships are highly significant (\(p < 0.001\)).

  7. 7.

    Bratishenko (1998, p. 162 and elsewhere) discussed the ways in which high position of the non-head nominal on the animacy scale attracted the PA construction (rather than the genitive construction) in the history of Russian.

  8. 8.

    Constraints on the use of genitive possessors also exist (e.g. genitive possessors are problematic in the predicative position and especially in headless noun phrases, see Kopčevskaja-Tamm and Šmelev 1994, pp. 211, 220), but these constraints are largely irrelevant for our data.

  9. 9.

    These search queries are not ideal, because they both yield some noise and miss some relevant uses. For example, appositional constructions such as ot djadi Saši ‘from uncle Sasha’ are among the search hits, although Saša is not a possessor in this example. On the other hand, PAs where the head noun is modified by an additional adjective (Sašin staršij brat ‘Sasha’s elder brother’) did not meet the search criteria. However, overall these queries do cover most of the relevant examples.

  10. 10.

    As can be seen from Table 5, it is more natural for proper names to be used as possessors repeatedly within a given text. For that reason, in case study 3 we decided against taking only one example per document (cf. case study 2). Implementing this principle would have artificially biased the distribution in favor of the relatively unusual pattern with just one instance of the construction per document.

  11. 11.

    There is some debate as to how genitives and possessive adjectives and pronouns are interpreted when the head noun is a nominalization (Corbett 1987, p. 330; Kopčevskaja-Tamm and Šmelev 1994, pp. 223–224; Padučeva 2009). These details are irrelevant for our purposes.

  12. 12.

    This observation is related to a more general idea that prenominal possessors are modifier-like, whereas postnominal genitives are argument-like (Partee and Borschev 2001; see also Eckhoff 2011, p. 155 for a historical perspective). Another potentially relevant generalization is that possessive pronouns are interchangeable with the genitives when they represent arguments, whereas in those cases when they represent “possessors” sensu stricto they can’t be replaced by genitives. Šmelev (2008, p. 928) critically assesses this latter claim; however, his analysis is concerned with pronominal rather than nominal possessors, on the one hand, and with grammaticality judgements rather than quantitative evidence, on the other hand.

  13. 13.

    There seems to be a weak effect of the head noun’s case on the choice between the two constructions. The genitive and the accusative attract the PA constructions, whereas two clearly peripheral cases, the instrumental and the locative attract the genitive construction (the nominative and the dative are neutral). The role of this factor and its possible interrelations with other factors should be explored elsewhere.


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Janda, L.A., Nesset, T. & Say, S. Prezidentskie vybory vs. vybory prezidenta: how to choose?. Russ Linguist 43, 181–204 (2019).

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