Birds & Beasts

Družinu tvoju, knjaže, pticь krily priodě, a zvěri krovь polizaša.
‘O prince, birds have set wings on your guardsmen, and beasts licked the blood.’

In this gruesome quote from The Tale of Igor’s Campaign, one of the masterpieces of Old Russian literature, Izjaslav reports that birds and beasts are feasting upon the bodies of the fallen after a massive defeat. The birds and the beasts are engaged in two different kinds of events. Whereas the birds have carried out a goal-oriented action, setting their wings on the dead soldiers, the beasts have lapped at the blood, an event that is not necessarily goal-oriented. The Birds & Beasts Project explores the historical development of two crucially different ways of conceptualizing the shape of events in Russian, addressing key questions of linguistic typology by developing empirical databases and applying statistical methods to their analysis.

The Birds & Beasts Project addresses the shaping of events on four levels. On the level of linguistic theory, we seek to expand existing knowledge about the typology of verb classifier systems. On the level of methodology, we apply linguistic profiling to corpus data in order to explore form-meaning relationships and evaluate these relationships by means of statistical methods. On the empirical level, we are building a corpus of Old Church Slavic and Old/Middle Russian that parallels the architecture of other historical corpora, facilitating linguistic analysis and comparison. On the applied level, this project has impact on the teaching and learning of Russian, a key component in the University of Tromsø’s strategy for building competence relevant to the Barents Region (“Nordområdene”).


The Tromsø Old Russian and OCS Treebank (TOROT, is a dependency treebank of Old Russian, Middle Russian and Old Church Slavonic. TOROT builds on and incorporates the Slavic part of the PROIEL corpus (, and currently contains approximately 250 000 words with lemmatisation, morphological and syntactic annotation. The web interface allows simple morphosyntactic queries.


The Birds & Beasts project is supported by a grant from the Norwegian Research Council.