Old Church Slavonic

Old Church Slavonic Language and Culture

Background Information

The term 'Old Church Slavonic' consists of three components: a chronological ('Old'), a functional ('Church'), and a genetic ('Slavonic').

  • Chronological: Old Church Slavonic is the oldest attested Slavic language. It is preserved in about two dozen manuscripts and a limited number of inscriptions, all dated to the tenth and eleventh centuries.
  • Functional: Old Church Slavonic is exclusively linked to Christian religious life. Almost all manuscripts contain biblical, liturgical or other types of religious texts. Nearly all texts are translations from Greek originals.
  • Genetic: Old Church Slavonic is part of the South Slavic language group. Not only the characteristics of the language itself, but also historical events that led to the rise of the first Slavic written language, show that Old Church Slavonic is closest related to present-day Macedonian and Bulgarian.

Old Church Slavonic is the typical starting point for the historical-comparative study of the Slavic language family. On the one hand it is one of the most important sources for the reconstruction of Proto-Slavic, on the other hand it is the predecessor of a number of regional writing traditions (e.g., Middle Bulgarian, Croatian Glagolitic, Russian Church Slavonic). Old Church Slavonic is an important component of the various modern Slavic written languages. This is certainly also true for Russian, where the Church Slavonic tradition has left deep traces in the modern standard language.

The Course

The course offers an intensive introduction to the grammar and cultural history of Old Church Slavonic. The course addresses the following themes:

  • cultural and historical context
  • periodization and sources
  • phonemic system and orthography
  • internal phonological developments
  • present tense and Leskien's verbal classification
  • aorist and imperfect
  • other verbal forms
  • nominal forms
  • pronominal forms and 'mixed' declension
  • participles

The handbook used for this course is: Jos Schaeken & Henrik Birnbaum, Die altkirchenslavische Schriftkultur: Geschichte - Laute und Schriftzeichen - Sprachdenkmäler (mit Textproben, Glossar und Flexionsmustern) (= Altkirchenslavische Studien II, Slavistische Beiträge 382). München: Sagner, 1999.

  • Click here for the website of Altkirchenslavische Studien
  • Click here for the overview "Tables Old Church Slavonic-Russian: The Noun"
  • Click here for the overview "Old Church Slavonic-Russian: The Verb"

The main objective of the course is for students to be able to read Old Church Slavonic texts with the help of a dictionary. Reading is therefore an important part of the course. The first text that will be treated is Luke 11: 1-13 (The Lord's Prayer), according to the Codex Marianus (pp. 158-160 in the "Textproben"). Students are expected to prepare a number of verses extensively every week:

  • Translate the sentences accurately, using the "Glossar" (pp. 187-216) and, if necessary, a modern Bible translation.
  • For each verb form give the infinitive and the Leskien Class: I, II, III, IV or V (corresponding to tables XIVa-c, XV and XVI on pp. 233-237 of the "Flexionsmuster").
  • For each noun give the gender, nominative singular and historical stem class (o-stem, s-stem, etc., see tables Ia-d, IIa-d and IIIa-d on pp. 218-224 of the "Flexionsmuster").
  • For each adjective and participle indicate whether it is a long or short form (see tables IVa-b, Va-b, VIa-c, VIIa-c, VIII, IX and X on pp. 225-228 of the "Flexionsmuster").


This 10 ECTS course is part of the Master's Programme Russian and Eurasian Studies.

Assessment takes place in the form of an oral exam and consists of two parts:

  • First, knowledge of Old Church Slavonic is assessed on the basis of texts that have been discussed in class: "Textprobe" II.2 ("Aus dem Codex Marianus") and a part of II.1 ("Aus dem Codex Zographensis"). The assessment will mainly focus on identifying the various forms (aorist, imperative, u-stems, Leskien Class V verbs, etc.). Additionally, attention will be given to orthography, historical phonology and the cultural historical context.
  • Second, an additional reading portfolio will be assessed, consisting of the remaining part of "Textprobe" II.1 (not treated in class) as well as II.3 ("Aus dem Codex Assemanianus und der Savvina Kniga"), II.7 ("Aus dem Psalterium Sinaiticum"), and IV.3 ("Aus dem Codex Suprasliensis").

Recommended Literature

See "Literaturverzeichnis" of Die altkirchenslavische Schriftkultur, in particular:

  • Grammars: Diels (1963, 2nd ed.), Duridanov e.a. (1993, 2nd ed.), Lunt (1974, 6th ed. or later), Seliščev (1951-52), Vaillant (1963-64, 2nd ed.), Vondrák (1912, 2nd ed.), Van Wijk (1931)
  • Dictionaries: Slovník jazyka staroslověnského (1966-97), Staroslavjanskij slovar' (1994), Sadnik & Aitzetmüller (1955)