Proto-Slavic *pьrsi and *grǫdь: semantics and etymology
Mikhail Saenko (Institute of Slavic studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow)
Journal of Language Relationship, № 17/3-4, 2019 - p.319-340
The article looks at the semantic history of the Proto-Slavic words *pьrsi and *grǫdь. In modern Slavic languages their continuants compete for the role of the main word designating the human chest. The author provides a detailed description of this concurrence on the basis of dialectal and historical data. Semantic reconstruction demonstrates that even in the most ancient Old Church Slavonic translation of the Old Testament, Greek στῆθος ‘breast’ and στηθύνιον ‘breastbone’ always corresponded to pьrsi and grǫdь respectively. A similar distribution of the words prsi and hrudi can be found in the first version of the Old Czech translation of the Bible. Since this kind of distribution cannot be derived from the text of the Vulgata, the author concludes that the Old Czech translators of the Bible must have referred to the Church Slavonic text. Analysis of Old Church Slavonic, Old Czech and Old Polish data supports the conclusion that the word *pьrsi was the most general designation for ʽbreastʼ in Proto-Slavic, whereas *grǫdь denoted ‘breastbone’. The latter meaning may be the result of an earlier metaphorical shift from the meaning ʽbeamʼ.
Keywords: Proto-Slavic language, Old Czech language, Old Church Slavonic, body part terms, historical semantics, lexical etymology