On semantic and etymological reconstruction of borrowed “cultural words”: Pomor Russian noun gurij ‘landmark sign made of stone’

2022. №6, 21-43

Elena L. Berezovich
Ural Federal University,Yekaterinburg, Russia; berezovich@yandex.ru
Irma I. Mullonen
Institute of Language, Literature and History, Karelian Research Centre of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Petrozavodsk, Russia; irma.mullonen@hotmail.com


The article analyzes an extensive etymological word family with the top word gurij, functioning in Northern Russian dialects (mainly near the White Sea). The semantic structure of the word family is considered, in which two blocks of meanings are distinguished: 1) with the semantic center ‘stone landmark’ (‘a sign in the form of a stone pyramid, indicating a camp and serving for other orientational purposes’ → ‘a pile of excrement’, ‘in divination — index signs from the sourdough’, etc.); 2) with the semantic center ‘fishing failure’ (gúrej popal, gúr’je prinesti ‘to return from hunting, fishing, etc. with nothing, empty-handed’, gur’jë ‘naked buttocks, which women show to men when they return from fishing or hunting an animal with empty hands’, otgur’ját’sja ‘complete fishing (hunting) effectively, with a (good) catch’, etc.). The authors explain the relations between the meanings of the first and second block by the significance of the notion itself, which bears orientational, memorial, and ritual functions. Recognizing the existing etymologies of gurij unsatisfactory, the authors offer two new etymological versions: 1) Scandinavian (perhaps mediated by Saami), cf. Old Scandinavian hǫrgr ‘pyramid of stones, sacrificial complex, stone altar’; 2) Finnic, cf. hurri (hurrikas, hurrikainen) ‘sign tree (usually cut off in a special way in honor of the neophyte)’. Mutual attraction of heterogeneous words with their subsequent formal and semantic modification is possible. The authors show the typological significance of the considered word against the background of other sacred terms.

For citation:

Berezovich E. L., Mullonen I. I. On semantic and etymological reconstruction of borrowed “cultural words”: Pomor Russian noun gurij ‘landmark sign made of stone’. Voprosy Jazykoznanija, 2022, 6: 21–43.


The contribution of E. L. Berezovich was supported by the Russian Science Foundation (project No. 20-18-00223 “Etymologisation and semantic reconstruction of russian dialect vocabulary”), the contribution of I. I. Mullonen was prepared as part of the state assignment of the Karelian Research Center of the Russian Academy of Sciences (project No. 121070700122-5 “Fundamental and applied aspects of the study of Finnic languages of Karelia and adjacent regions”).