Research article
Issue: № 4 (12), 2017


The most important linguistic phenomena in the history of Slavic languages are associated with the analysis of dialect vocabulary documented in different dictionaries. Etymological study of dialect vocabulary is recognized as one of the most important tasks of systematic, complex, targeted study of Russian folk dialects. This article examines the etymology of lastochka (swallow) lexeme as a case study of the Slavic lexicographic sources, exemplifies meanings of lastochka lexeme embodied in the folk culture heritage. The authors identify etymological grounds for combining and converging different names of animals and birds in Russian dialects.

In different cultures and nations swallow symbolizes things like spring, morning and rebirth, hope, friendship and loyalty. The Egyptians believed that swallow was embodiment of motherhood, and a flock of swallow was seen as the North stars hanging over the Life Tree. In Ancient Greece and Rome to kill a swallow meant to court disaster, because swallow symbolized dead children spirits; besides, it was an attribute of Aphrodite (Venus). The Swedish legend tells of a swallow which like a stork appeared at the Crucifixion site and cried out for consolation: Svala! Svala! (cf. Eng. swallow). In China swallow is a symbol of courage, danger, loyalty and positive destiny changes but in Japan it symbolizes mothering care as well as infidelity. The Muslims also honor swallow as they believe that it makes its annual pilgrimage to Mecca. In heraldry swallow was depicted as a fantastic bird without feet on the coat of arms because in the middle ages swallow was believed not to touch the ground (this idea is also reflected in African cultures, where the swallow represents purity) [2, P. 248–249].
Swallows are traditionally among the most beloved and honored birds in Russian culture; it embodies female symbolic and the combination of the heavenly and chthonic beginning. Swallow is a pure, holy bird which along with dove and lark belongs to God's birds. Swallows’ twittering is perceived as a tireless prayer. 
A number of legends can be found in ethnolinguistic dictionary "Slavic Antiquities" where swallow appears to be the Savior, the Protector. The folk tale of the Crucifixion tells how swallows were trying to save the Christ from agony, shouting "dead, dead!" (Rus., Polish.), taking out thorns from his wreath (Rus., Ukr.) bringing him water (Ukr.), moaning and circling over his head (Pol.).
Like a dove and lark, swallows are considered sacred (Eng.), birds of God (Pol.), loved by the God (Rus.), birds whose singing praises the God (Bosn.-Herzegovin.). Its twittering is perceived as relentless litany reading (Kashub.), like a prayer: "Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy immortal, have mercy on us" (Rus.). In Ukrainian song swallow is like the Mother of God: "On the shore of the Dunai, the swallow was bathing. That was not a swallow, but the Mother of God..." (Chub.) [3, P. 85].
According to the South Slavic etiological legends a swallow saved a man from the bloodthirsty snake after the Flood (Bosn., Bolg., Rodop.), and the snake bit off swallow’s tail, that is why swallows have forked tails (Serb.). This bird also saved the Sun from the snake which wanted to devour it. The swallow hid the Sun under its wings (Dalmatian., Bosn.-Herzegovin.) and took it up in the sky (Croatian. Bosn.) [3, P. 85].
In the Bulgarian legends swallow is a girl who married the Sun (Plovdiv.) or was given in marriage to a robber (Svistov.) and then she escaped. She was taken by the veil or kosnik (Old Russian plait accessories) or by the hair and a clump of it was pulled out, that is why swallows have forked tails. The Polish legend explains that the swallow got its tail and its red goiter as a punishment for stealing scissors and a ball of red thread from the Mother of God. In some of the Southern-Slavonic legends swallow symbolizes sister lamenting for a brother. The other two sisters in their grief turned into a cuckoo and a snake (Bosn.-Herzegovin.), or her mother turned into a cuckoo (Macedon.). So the Macedonians think swallow is a cuckoo’s daughter. In Serbian and Croatian songs a swallow, cuckoo, and sometimes snake symbolize the inconsolably grieving people [3, P. 85–86].
Swallow also patronizes the house and cattle. Swallow nest under the roof of a house is widely viewed as a sign of happiness. Its nest in the barn has a positive impact on the cattle (Bel.-Poles., Croatian.). Abandoned nest is a sign of death in the family (Ukr. Poles. Galits.). Killing a swallow means no luck in livestock breeding (Russ., West-Ukr. Malopolesye, Croatian.), and destroying the nest means losing shelter (Malopa.) or going blind (Bulgarian., Pol.). The person who does harm to a swallow, will lose their mother (West-Ukr., Serb., Macedon.) or a relative (Ukr., Pol.) or this person will lose livestock (Ukr., Bulgarian.-Banat.) or the cow will lose milk (z.-Ukr., Pol.) or will give blood milk (West-Ukr. Malopolesye). The swallows’ nest is believed to protect the house from lightning (Pol. Croatian) and fire (Bel., Ukr., Kashub.). If someone dares to destroy the nest, the swallow will burn their house (Ukr., Croatian) no wonder she has a red spot like it is a burn (Rus. Oryol.) [3, P. 86].
Some folklore images of swallow is documented by Dal V.I. in his “Explanatory Dictionary of Alive Russian Language”: lastitsa or lastka, lastovka, lastovochka, lastochka (swallow), lastushka feminine gender of ptashka (little bird) Нirundo, Н. urbica et rustica, krasnozobka (red-necked bird) and forktail and kosatka (whale), north koshanok.  Night swallow, big black swift, sickle, serpik (small sickle). Stone swallow, Sib. mountain swallow of Eastern Siberia, Нirundo alpestris. Sea swallow is a small species of Petrel. Dove and swallow are God's favorite birds. Wherever a swallow flies, spring comes. Swallow starts the day (spring) and Nightingale finishes it. Who washes with milk at the first swallow, becomes white. If a swallow flies under a cow, it will give blood milk. Swallow, flying into the window, means that somebody will die. It is a sin to destroy swallow’s nest. Who destroys swallow’s nest, becomes freckled. The Annunciation with no swallows means cold spring. Early swallows means happy year. Swallows flying high symbolizes wind. Swallows flying low, darting around, means rain. A young horse has been overseas; back is sable, and the belly is white. What is it? Swallow. Shitovilo-Beatovilo, German speaking, at the front there is a picker, at the back there is a roller, at the top there is a blue cloth and at the bottom there is a white towel. What is it? Swallow [1, P. 239].
Descriptive, comparative-historical, historical and comparative methods have been employed to analyze the text in this study. 
There are several versions explaining the origin of word swallow. According to one of the theories swallow is a borrowing from Lithuanian language. The word swallow is related to Lithuanian words lakstau, lakstyti meaning flight. M. Fasmer gives the following explanation in the "Etymological Dictionary of the Russian Language": "lakstau, lakstyti are most likely related to fly, lakstus is related to fast, Lithuanian lakstit. *lek-, is the same as letet’ (perfect), letat’(imperfect), expander -st-. There might be a simplification -kst- > -st on Slav., grounds" [7, P. 463]. There is another theory explaining this lexeme etymology which defines it as the true Slavic, tracing its origin to the word laska (care, tender) and other words with a similar root: "Laska (care, tender) is related to the Slav. word laska (love, affection),  which also explains etymologically identical laska (weasel) "Musteia vulgaris"; cf., for example, lastochka (swallow) Laska, 1780; see the Trubachyov "Etymological Researches on the Russian Language", Volume II, Moscow, 1962, p. 29]" [7, P. 463].
In the "Dictionary of Russian Dialects of Lower Pechora" swallow refers to as "a small carnivorous animal, weasel. Lastotska is white in winter and now it is red, it is smaller than a rat, it is neither harmful, nor wild. Lastochka is all white but the tail is black, it lives in a hole, Lastochka (swallow) in the house brings unhappiness. Lastochka does not have a black tail but Gornostal’(erminea) does. Lastochka is a very small animal, it is white too, and in spring it turns gray, it changes, it is white and the tail is white [4, P. 376].
Chernykh, the author of the " Historical and etymological dictionary of the modern Russian language ", also pays attention to both versions of the origin of the word lastochka (swallow), but he finds the first one is more reasonable, explaining the word swallow as a borrowing: "...The etymology of the word is unclear. It is associated with Russian verb lastit’ (caress) – laskat’ (stroke) – lastit’sya, laskat’sya (impf. take comfort in), laska (care, tender), laskovii (tender, lovesome). Of course, it is just embodiment of people’s understanding of this word (swallow is among the favorite birds in our culture) [10, P. 468–469].
In addition to the abovementioned views, we would like to present our theory on its origin.
In the "Dictionary of Russian folk dialects" numerous polysemous cognate lexeme have been documented; the root is –las– and its allomorph (laska, lasuk, lasitsa, lastochka, lastvochka, lastik, lastochok, lastovitsa, lastka).
Lasuk is an animal of the weasel family; weasel. Sverdlovsk, 1965. Lasuk is a white long animal, he kills chickens. Sverdl.
Lasitsa is a carnivorous animal, weasel. Slov. Acad. 1814. Lasitsa ran into its hole. Smolensk., 1914
Lasta is a carnivorous animal of the weasel family; weasel. Verkhne-Toem. Arkhangelsk.
Lastvochka – a swallow. Ufim., Slov. Acad. 1932 [6, P.279].
Lastik is an animal of the weasel family; weasel. Poshehon'e Yaroslavl' 1849. Yar..
Lastuk is an animal of the weasel family; weasel. Lastuk is an ermine subspecies. Sverdl., 1971.
Lastochok is an animal of the weasel family; weasel. Shadr. Perm., 1897.
– a mole. Mole called "Lactuchok" takes out the earth in stocks and place them up. Novosib. Toguchin.;
– a small carnivorous animal of the weasel family. Lactuchok is an animal which lives in burrows, in the field ridges [5, P. 199].
– lastochka., Three swallows (lastochki) flew to the body, As the first lastka is Lastka, dear mother. Onezh. Arkh., Sobolewski.
– animal of the weasel family; weasel. Slov. Acad. 1847. East.-Sib., Cherkasov. He was mounting tents in his father-in-law, catching lastok-gornostayushek (song). Samar. Dikaya lastka Petrov. Sarat., Slov.Acad. 1932 [6, P. 273–286].
– animal of the weasel family, weasel. Burnashev. Kurmysh. Simb., 1897. Tul. Swallow is a small animal. South.-Ural. ;
–  squirrel. Kazan. Kazan., 1897.
–  a field mouse. Ryaz., 1898.
–  a bird, swallow. Lipiets. Voron., Trostyanskiy.;
–  a bird, slavka, grey. Yarosl.,1922.
–  a bird with black plumage and a white bump on his forehead; "water chicken".
–  a bird, Plareola; pratincole: meadow swallow, sea swallow Svetlokrilaya (with white wings).
– tern Svetlokrilaya (with white wings). Uralsk, kaach., Menzbir.
– black swallow, black tern. Ryaz., Menzbir.
– a swallow. Tul., North., ORL., Don. Slov. Acad. 1958 [obsolete meaning].
– a tern Menzbir [no place of identification]. Slov. Acad. 1932 
– a bird, ordinary monkey. Kholodkovsky and Silant'ev [no place of identification]. Slov. Acad. 1932
– animal of the weasel family; weasel. Don., 1929. 1. Lastka, Lastochka (swallow) feminine gender. Flew to the body, Three swallows flew to the body, As the first lastka is Lastka, dear mother. Onezh. Arkh., Sobolewski [6, P. 272–285].
    In the "Etymology Dictionary" under the editorship of Fasmer M. yama (hollow, hole) lexeme is kin to the Greek ἄμη shovel, spud; δι-αμᾶν means digging up; ἀμάρα means fosse, drain, ridge; αμᾶν means excavate  [9, P. 555–556].
We find it interesting to compare lexemes lopata, lapa, plast, last with the reference to Fasmer dictionary;
– lopata, Sloven. lopata, Check., Slvts. lopata, Polish ɫораtа, Lettish lāpusta, lãpsta. Another variant of vocalism is lapa. Laffa means palm, blade, oar; cf. Lith. lepeta means elephant foot [7, P. 518–519];
– lapa – Ukr. lapa, Bolgar. lapa, Sloven. lapa, Polish ɫара. It is related to lópa (dog or bear’s paw), Lettish lãpa (paw), Gothic lōfа (palm) [7, P. 458];
– last - not widely spread Russian word, Slavic origin *lарstъ, related to Lettish lâpsta (shovel), lãpa (paw), Lith. lópa Russ. [7, P. 462–463];
– plast – related to plãštaka, plaštakà (palm), рlúоštаs (cupped hand), also related to ploskii (flat) [8, P. 273–274].
The following lexemes have been documented in the "Dictionary of Russian folk dialects":
– las is a small wooden shovel to take out dough from the vat [6, P. 272];
– laskar’ is a small iron straight shovel [6, P. 275];
– laska is a hole in the game for children, the player stands with one feet in the hole (the number of holes in the game depends on the number of players in the team of the game leader) [6, P. 274];
– last is a small wooden shovel to take out dough from the vat [6, P. 279];
– lasta is a hole with a lid of a tool to catch stone-eels [6, P. 279].
Thus, all of the above-mentioned animals and birds have something in common. They live in simple shallow pits, holes (lasta), which serve them as a shelter. Weasel, mole, marten, ground squirrel, field mouse have similar name in folk dialects (lasta, lactuchok, lastovitsa etc.) dig holes in the ground. Swallows (lastochka) make nests in the existing hollows or in sand cliffs. Water hen, tern, gull, ordinary monkey (lake or river gull) make nests in the holes in the ground, in the branches of trees in the water, in the reeds, in the bushes by the water.


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