Ornatovsky, Ivan

Ornatovsky, Ivan [Орнатовський, Іван; Ornatovs'kyj], b in 1783 or 1784 probably in the Poltava region, d after 1810. Clergyman and scholar. A graduate of the Orthodox theological seminary in Katerynoslav, he continued his education at Kharkiv College and the Kyivan Mohyla Academy. Around 1808 he was teaching a number of subjects (grammar, mathematics, Greek language) at Kharkiv College; his later biography is unknown.

Ornatovsky’s only published work is Noveisheie nachertanie pravil Rossiiskoi grammatiki, na nachalach vseobshchei osnovannykh (An Up-to-date Outline of the Russian Grammatical Rules Based on the Principles of Universal Grammar) that appeared in Kharkiv in 1810 and is considered arguably the best grammar of this kind produced in the Russian Empire. Apart from offering an adequate description ‘of the language employed in the preponderant part of the country both in writing and in conversation,’ this 311-page book contains a good deal of interesting observations of theoretical nature derived from a rather novel interpretation of the views on language exposed in the Late Scholasticism and in the works of West European authors, such as Hugh Blair, Johann Christoph Adelung, Friedrich Christian Baumeister, and others, as well as in the French rationalist grammar writing. Within the history of Russian grammar, Ornatovsky is sometimes treated as a precursor of its modern ‘onomasiological’ current, whereas his masterly analysis of tense relations is regarded to be an important stage in the conceptualization of the verbal category of aspect. In particular, his distinction between ‘language in the widest sense’ (= ‘faculty of language’), ‘language in the narrow sense’ (= ‘a particular idiom’), and ‘speech’ (= ‘discourse’) clearly foreshadowed Ferdinand de Saussure’s famous triad ‘langage – langue – parole’ (1916), while the Saussurean notion of valeur, crucial for the definition of langue, has an approximate equivalent in Ornatovsky’s znachitelnost ‘significance.’ In Ornatovsky’s view, the faculty of language, natural to all men, initially produces all the particular idioms in the same (basically onomatopoeic) way, but later changes make each of them appear as ‘something artificial, arbitrary, and dependent on men, a certain number whereof employ different sounds to convey their thoughts to each other’ by joint consent. In this respect, he distinguished between the common written language employed by the best-educated people within a society and exemplifiable, for example, by the (Slavo-)Russian used in the Russian Empire and owing its current guise, at least in part, to the individual efforts of Mikhail Lomonosov, on the one hand, and the vernacular language, divided into various dialects, not susceptible to grammatical description and only serving as a source of explanatory evidence to the established rules, on the other hand. The vernacular varieties of Slavo-Russian listed by Ornatovsky, and arisen, according to him, as a result of foreign influences, included, beside ‘Little Russian’ (= Ukrainian), ‘White Russian’ (= Belarusian) and ‘Low Russian’ (= Southern Russian?) also what he called the ‘Great Russian Dialect,’ treated by him on a par with the other dialects and not identified with the whole country’s erudite language.

Although the impending decay of the universal language paradigm soon tossed Ornatovsky’s book into oblivion, some of his theses found echoes in Oleksander Potebnia’s work. A certain upsurge of interest in Ornatovsky’s ideas became internationally noticeable in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

Keipert, Helmut. ‘Terminologische Doubletten in I. Ornatovskijs “Novejšee načertanie pravil rossijskoj grammatiki” (Char'kov 1810),’ in Texts and Studies on Russian Universal Grammar 1806–1812, vol. III: Linguistische, philosophische und wissenschaftsgeschichtliche Grundlagen, ed. by J. Biedermann & H. Keipert (Munich 1988)
Wakulenko, Serhiy. ‘Ivan Ornatowski contre Ferdinand de Saussure: une prioritée contestée,’ Druhyi mizhnarodnyi konhres ukraïnistiv, Lviv, 22–29 serpnia 1993 r.: dopovidi i povidomlennia (Lviv 1993)
Archaimbault, Sylvie; Fournier, Jean-Marie. ‘Le temps dans les grammaires générales russes,’ Histoire Épistémologie Langage, 1995, vol XVII, fasc. 2: Une familière étrangeté: la linguistique russe et soviétique
Archaimbault, Sylvie. ‘Ornatovskij, Ivan,’ Histoire Épistémologie Langage, 1998, Hors-Série no. 2: Corpus représentatif des grammaires et des traditions linguistiques (tome 1)
Danilenko, Valerii. ‘Onomasiologicheskoie napravlenie v istorii russkoj grammatiki,’ Nominatsia. Predikatsia. Kommunikatsia. Sbornik statei k iubileiu professora Lii Matveievny Kovalёvoi, ed. by A. Kravchenko (Irkutsk 2002)
Vakulenko, Serhii. ‘Movoznavchi pohliady Ivana Ornatovskoho v otsintsi Oleksandra Potebni (do pytannia pro nastupnist idei u kharkivskii tradytsii),’ Movoznavstvo, 2008, no. 6

Serhii Vakulenko

[This article was written in 2022.]

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