In the sentence, "русская культура создавалась веками", why is веками in instrumental case, and how would you translate the sentence? Thank you!

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This seems to be an example of the so called Temporal case which in Russian either coincides with Instrumental or is expressed through Instrumental.

In Russian nouns denoting most generic periods of time during which discussed events take place or phenomena exist often inflect in Instrumental: днём, вечером, зимой, весной, летом, осенью, часами, неделями, месяцами, годами. This is one of adverb formation paradigms.

2.3.6. Творительный Времени

Временные употребления, как и инструментальные, составляют широкий класс употреблений творительного падежа. В этих контекстах употребляются находящиеся на разной стадии лексикализации формы, перечисленные в п. 1.2. Наиболее частотны формы утром, днём, вечером и ночью, обозначающие конкретный момент времени. Они наиболее близки к наречиям, тем не менее, возможность иметь зависимое-прилагательное, характерная для существительных, но не для наречий (ср. словосочетания типа ранним утром, летним вечером) показывает, что процесс конверсии в данном случае ещё далёк от завершения.

(32) Поздним вечером, когда они остались в здании детского сада одни, не считая сторожа, Костик встал и с серьезным выражением лица сказал: «Маришка, выходи за меня замуж!» [«Лиза» (2005)]

Это не единственный способ временного употребления творительного: ещё один крупный класс составляют употребления множественного числа творительного: вечерами, ночами, годами, урывками, — обозначающие (длящееся и) повторяющееся через определённые промежутки времени действие («творительный дистрибутивный» в терминологии [Малаховская 1958]). К этим формам также могут присоединяться зависимые-прилагательные.

This function of Instrumental seems related to its use with words denoting landscape features through which motion takes place (Творительный траектории): (плыть) морем, (идти) лесом, полем, дворами. It's more prominent in Ukrainian than in Russian. On the other hand Temporal Instrumental in Ukrainian is somewhat rarer than in Russian.

The translation i'd offer is

Russian culture has been in creation/development for centuries

Russian culture has been developing for centuries

  • I never understood why Russian linguists insist on naming the same case different names for different uses of the same case. Instrumental has at least a dozen of those... Good explanation nevertheless :-) – MrVocabulary Dec 9 at 12:14
  • @MrVocabulary do you perchance mean the same name for different uses? because Temporal Instrumental is only a provisional name, it's not officially recognized because such case in itself isn't officially recognized – Баян Купи-ка Dec 9 at 14:03
  • But I often see uses of cases named separately in Russian linguistics, not anywhere else. I can see the arguments for Partitive, but I meant you addressing it as "temporal case". Unless that was a descriptive use? – MrVocabulary Dec 9 at 14:09
  • @MrVocabulary since in this particular instance Instrumental functions for purposes other than denotation of means of action and since this use of Instrumental has parallels in specific grammatical cases of other languages i believe it's fair to recognize it as a subset of Instrumental, and i think knowing these subsets would help learners of Russian – Баян Купи-ка Dec 9 at 15:16
  • 1
    @MrVocabulary: that's because "case" is not well defined. Case is a grammatical thing so it makes sense to confine the definition to grammar and morphology only. How many distinct questions can a word answer? Five, and this way we don't have accusative anymore and vocative doesn't answer any question. How many distinct forms can word have, keeping its number and gender? Up to nine in total but not for any single word (neo-vocative only works for those in which don't have locative or partitive). How many semantic roles can a form of a word serve? It's beyond the scope of the grammar. – Quassnoi Dec 9 at 15:20

I would translate it:

Russian culture was created over the centuries

If you translate it literally, it would be:

Russian culture was created by centuries

so "centuries" (века) is in instrumental case: "веками".

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