In Modern Standard Russian (MSR), the prefix/preposition pair u-/u is peculiar with respect to other similar pairs, due to the meaning mismatch between the two. While the prefix u- has an ablative meaning, as shown when it is prefixed to motion verbs, the prepositional phrase u+gen occurs in locative constructions, and other related constructions, such as predicative possession that is expressed via the cross-linguistically common Locative Schema. Etymological considerations show that the meaning preserved by the prefix is older. The only type of occurrence which, according to the literature, preserves the ablative meaning for the u+gen construction is found with verbs of requesting, removing, and buying. Notably, however, in other Slavic languages putative ablative contexts are limited to verbs of requesting. Data from MSR, Old Church Slavic, Polish and Czech lead to the conclusion that the extension of the u+gen construction to verbs of removing in MSR is based on its use for the encoding of predicative possession. Extension to verbs of buying is better explained through the locative meaning of the construction. As a result of different developments, the u+gen construction has become part of the argument structure of a group of verbs including verbs of asking and requesting, verbs of removing, and verbs of buying, which are characterized by the common feature of taking human non-recipient third arguments. We argue that the different usages of the u+gen construction in MSR constitute an instance of constructionalization based on the merger of originally different constructions. We further argue that accounting for this development in constructional terms offers better insights in the relation among the various different usages of u+gen than simply focusing on the meaning of the preposition and its polysemy pattern.
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