An experimental study of the distribution of the complementizer to čto in non-standard variants of Russian

2019. №5, 7-40

Mikhail Yu. Knyazev
Institute for Linguistic Studies, RAS, St. Petersburg, Russia;
National Research University Higher School of Economics, St. Petersburg, Russia;
Saint Petersburg State University, St. Petersburg, Russia;


In non-standard variants of Russian, the complementizer čto can be replaced by the combination to čto, as in Ivan dumaet, to čto… ‘Ivan thinks that…’, including in cases associated with the correlative pronoun, as in Problema sostoit v tom, to čto… ‘The problem is that…’ Despite its strong non-normative character, to čto can be viewed as a grammatical phenomenon in its own right, as was suggested by previous researchers dubbing it a “new declarative complementizer”. This paper deals with the distributional properties of to čto, in particular its preference for certain syntactic positions as opposed to others (e.g., direct vs. oblique position, the position with vs. without a correlative, the position associated with an optional vs. obligatory correlative), as identified in previous research, which was taken to reflect the diachronic development of to čto. In this contribution, these observations are tested in an acceptability judgment study contrasting the distributional profile of to čto with that of the standard complementizer čto. The experiment revealed some distributional preferences that are specific to to čto, i.e. its preference for the position associated with a correlative, suggesting that the new complementizer has first emerged in this syntactic position.

For citation:

Knyazev M. Yu. An experimental study of the distribution of the complementizer to čto in non-standard variants of Russian. Voprosy Jazykoznanija, 2019, 5: 7–40.


The study is supported by the RSF (Russian Science Foundation) project 16-18- 02003 “Structure of meaning and its mapping into lexical and functional categories of Russian” at MSPU (Moscow State University of Education). The author thanks two anonymous reviewers as well as Natalia Serdobolskaya for their valuable comments on earlier drafts of this paper.