Old Church Slavonic language

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Old Church Slavonic (словеньскъ)

Spoken in

speaker no native speakers
Official status
Official language in -
Language codes
ISO 639 -1


ISO 639 -2


ISO 639-3


Methodios and Cyril - section of an icon from the 19th century

As Old Church Slavonic or Old Slavonic or Altbulgarisch (proper name словѣньскъ ѩзыкъ , transliterated slověnьskъ językъ , Slavic language ' ) refers to the oldest Slavic written language , developed or been held for 860 and from the different end of the 11th century varieties of church Slavonic emerged.

The term Old Church Slavonic is based on its almost exclusive use as a sacred language . The language used to be called Old Bulgarian ( Bulgarian старобългарски starobălgarski ), since most of the surviving Old Church Slavic monuments have Bulgarian features. In most Slavic countries, however, the term Old Slavonic ( Russian старославянский язык staroslawjanski jasyk , Czech staroslověnština , etc.) is preferred. In Bulgaria , the name will continue Altbulgarisch used.


At the request of the Moravian prince Rastislav to Byzantium and the Eastern Church to send clergymen to spread the Christian faith , the brothers Constantine (later called Kyrillos) and Methodios were commissioned by the patriarch Photios I with the missionary work and went to Moravia in 863 . Constantine had previously translated parts of the Gospels and, during the mission, the Psalter as well as other Christian books into the Slavic language of Saloniki , which he was familiar with , and set them down in writing using the Glagolitic alphabet he had designed.

When the missionaries and their students were expelled in 886, the written language spread to the south, in the Bulgarian Empire . The Glagolitsa , which was still used in the Moravian Empire despite the expulsion, now spread to large parts of the Balkans , whereby two script variants developed: The angular western variant in the area of ​​today's Croatia and the round eastern variant of the Glagoliza in today's Bulgarian-Macedonian Serbian area, which was replaced by the Cyrillic script before the end of the 9th century . In the Alpine Slavic southwest, i.e. in the area of ​​today's Slovenia and north of it, the Latin script was also used in isolated cases . While Old Church Slavonic was initially only the language of the Slavic liturgy , it became the state language of the Bulgarian Empire from 893 onwards .

The Christianization that took place through the Moravia mission and the expulsion of the apostles to the south meant the greatest cultural change in southern and eastern Europe up to the time of the Reformation . Under different rulers, smaller centers emerged in which Old Church Slavonic also developed into a literary language of a high level and found its heyday in the 10th century, in the School of Preslav and the School of Ohrid , in the capitals of the Bulgarian Empire at that time. From there the language began to influence the Eastern Slavs in the following period .

Despite their South Slavic dialect, the two preachers could easily be understood by their Slavic brothers in the north, who spoke the Moravian-Slovak-Pannonian dialects, as the regional dialects were still very similar at that time. Today's comparatively large differences go back to around the 11th century, when different variants of the Old Church Slavonic language developed, which are now grouped under the umbrella term Church Slavonic . These include the Bulgarian Church Slavonic (also called Central Bulgarian) as well as the Russian, Serbian, Croatian and Czech Church Slavonic.

In 1652, Church Slavonic, established by Patriarch Nikon, became the liturgical language of the Slavic Orthodox Church . From that time on it was also referred to as New Church Slavonic or Synodal Church Slavonic and has maintained a status comparable to that of Latin in the Roman Catholic Church to this day.

Although the influence of Church Slavonic on the younger Slavic languages ​​is enormous, it must be assumed that the oldest Slavic written language is the South Slavic dialect of the first missionaries, but not a common ancestor of the Slavic language family, such as the Proto or Pro-Slavic . However, due to its age, the Old Church Slavonic is still quite similar to the Ur-Slavonic, which is why it is of great importance for the historical-comparative study of the Slavic languages.


The history of research into Old Church Slavonic goes back to the founding of Slavic philology in the early 19th century. Josef Dobrovský 's Institutiones linguae slavicae dialecti veteris (teaching building of the old dialect of the Slavic language) , published in 1822, is considered to be pioneering work in this field.

Slavic philology has always been intensely concerned with the question of the origin and home of Old Church Slavonic. Dobrovský was looking for the home of the language in the south, in 1823 he wrote in his work Cyrill und Method, der Slaven Apostel - a historical-critical attempt : “By diligently comparing the newer editions with the oldest manuscripts I became more and more convinced that Cyrill's language the old, unmixed Serbian-Bulgarian-Macedonian dialect was “. Jernej Kopitar, on the other hand, was convinced that the origin of Old Church Slavonic was to be found in Pannonia , it was the language “that flourished under the Slavs of Pannonia around a thousand years ago” (“quae ante mille fere annos viguit inter Slavos Pannoniae”).

Since almost all of the Old Church Slavonic texts that were preserved came from Bulgaria, Pavel Jozef Šafárik coined the term Old Bulgarian in his Serbian Reading Grains (1833) and in his work Slovanské starožitnosti (Slavic Antiquities) , published in 1837 . In Germany, August Schleicher, and after him Johannes Schmidt and August Leskien, made the terms Old Bulgarian and Church Slavonic popular. It is only to be considered that the language was never named that way in the oldest and contemporary sources, the name only appears in a Greek source from the 10th century (Vita S. Clementis ). For the ninth century, however, the designation would Altbulgarisch with greater right to the then not yet fully Slavicized Proto-Bulgarians and their language relate.

With regard to the name slověnьskъ (словѣньскъ) appearing in Old Church Slavonic sources , Franz Miklosich coined the term Old Slovenian . However, he used it in a specific sense to postulate that the Slavic liturgy originated in Pannonia, and consequently that the language of the Slavic liturgy must also be Pannonian, which Vatroslav Jagić vehemently denied. In the last years of his life, however, Šafárik revised his original view: in his work On the Origin and Home of Glagoliticism (Prague 1858), like Kopitar and Miklosich before, he argued for the Pannonian origin theory of Old Church Slavonic.

Texts and vocabulary

Old Church Slavonic Our Father

Modern research on Old Church Slavonic divides the Old Church Slavonic epoch into the Early Church Slavonic of the missionary period, the time of the classical Old Church Slavonic (10th to 11th centuries) and the Late Old Church Slavonic at the turn of the century. The earliest of the manuscripts of Old Church Slavonic preserved and known today come from the classical period of the 10th and 11th centuries. The relatively small canon of the total surviving linguistic monuments of the time comprises only about 30 manuscripts and not quite 100 inscriptions , the best known of which include the tombstone erected by the Bulgarian Tsar Simeon around the year 893, four larger Gospel manuscripts , two Gospel fragments, a psalter, liturgical Texts and collections of Bible passages are. Copies created later often show characteristics of the later Church Slavonic or the regionally developing languages.

Further discoveries and finds from Old Church Slavonic documents, for example a Gospel manuscript in excerpts in the Vatican library in 1982 expand the lexical overall corpus, which has grown to some size despite the few texts, to which in addition to the original theological vocabulary from other areas such as e. B. the early historiography , philosophy , but also medicine and botany . The Preslaw School was also known for poetry .

In addition to the partial translation of the Bible and liturgical texts as well as literary texts (including the biography of Constantine and the preface to the Gospel attributed to him), the works of the Church Fathers were later translated (e.g. Basil the Great, among others ) by Constantine and other missionaries ) and philosophers. This is where the translators take on additional importance, since with the presentation of complex and abstract philosophical facts in a mostly spoken language only a limited hereditary vocabulary could be accessed. Even beyond the late Middle Ages , the process of expanding the language, initiated by the first translators and so fruitful for Old Church Slavonic and later Church Slavonic, continued through word creations , borrowings, as well as loan translations and loan coinage, predominantly from Greek and Latin, but also from Hebrew and Old High German . Some examples are: градь-никъ grad-nik from the Greek word πολί-της poli-tes , German ' citizen ' (as loan translation), ђеона geona from γέεννα ge'enna , German ' hell ' (as loan word ), мьша mješa from the Latin (and Old High German) missa 'mass' , рабби rabbi and серафимъ seraphim from Hebrew.


Table of the inflectional endings of the Old Church Slavonic noun

Corresponding to the other Indo-European languages , the Old Church Slavonic word formation system is also multilayered. In addition to lexemes , which convey the meaning of the word as a whole, different types of morphemes can contribute to the formation of the word stem as further smallest carriers of meaning. The Old Church Slavonic has a system of inflection that is similar to that of today's Slavic languages. In the declension of nouns , adjectives , participles and pronouns there are the grammatical categories number , case and gender , which are formed by suffixes . There are three numbers, namely singular , dual (still present in Slovenian and Sorbian today) and plural . There are seven different cases: nominative , genitive , dative , accusative , instrumental , prepositional / locative , vocative . Except for the latter, which is rarely used today, the use of the cases is similar to that of Russian . As in many Indo-European languages, there are three genera masculine , feminine and neuter . Old Church Slavonic has a complex system of declinations that is reminiscent of Latin.

The Old Church Slavonic conjugation system , which is roughly divided into five classes with different verbal stem formation, includes the categories person , number , mode , gender and tense . At the verb person (first, second, third) and number (singular, dual, plural) as well as mode ( indicative , conditional and imperative ) are marked. In the active , the grammatical gender is also distinguished by different personal endings. The tense system consists of the present tense , the past tense and the aorist known from the Greek , which are expressed through the formation of stem suffixes (synthetic), as well as the future tense I / II, the perfect and the past perfect , which are formed analytically.


Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Günter Prinzing : Ohrid . In: Lexicon of the Middle Ages (LexMA). Volume 6, Artemis & Winkler, Munich / Zurich 1993, ISBN 3-7608-8906-9 , Sp. 1376-1380. (here Sp. 1377: "[...] the school of Ohrid produced a large part of the (old) Bulgarian literature.")
This version was added to the list of articles worth reading on October 23, 2005 .