Ukrainian Language

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Why Ukrainians Resent the Russians Ukrainian Language
Submitted by Slavko Pihut
Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies, (August 2019)

The oldest recorded names used for the Ukrainians are Rusyny, Rusychi, and Rusy (from Rus'), which were transcribed in Latin as Russi, Rutheni, and Ruteni (later Ruthenians).

In the 10th to 12th centuries those names applied only to the Slavic inhabitants of what is today the national and ethnic territory of Ukraine. Later a similar designation was adopted by the proto-Russian Slavic inhabitants of the northeastern principalities of Kyivan Rus'--Russkie (of Rus'), an adjectival form indicating that they were initially subjects of ('belonged to') Rus'.

Beginning in the 16th century Muscovite documents referred to the Ukrainians as Cherkasy, alluding perhaps to the fact that in and around the town of Cherkasy there were many Cossack settlements.

In the 17th- and 18th-century Cossack Hetman state the terms Malorosiiany and Malorosy, from Mala Rus' (Rus' Minor, the name introduced by the Patriarch of Constantinople in the 14th century to refer to the lands of Halych metropoly and reintroduced by Ukrainian clerics in the 17th century), became accepted by the inhabitants as their designation. Those terms were retained in a modified Russian form and used officially under tsarist rule and by foreigners (eg, Little Russia) until 1917.

By the 1860s, however, some opposition to the terms became evident in Russian-ruled Ukraine, on the ground that they were as pejorative as the term khokhol. The modern name Ukraintsi (Ukrainians) is derived from Ukraina (Ukraine), a name first documented in the Kyiv Chronicle under the year 1187. The terms Ukrainiany (in the chronicle under the year 1268), Ukrainnyky, and even narod ukrainskyi (the Ukrainian people) were used sporadically before Ukraintsi attained currency under the influence of the writings of Ukrainian activists in Russian-ruled Ukraine in the 19th century. Western Ukrainians under Austro-Hungarian rule used the term 'Ukrainians' to refer to their ethnic counterparts under Russian rule but called themselves 'Ruthenians.' The appellation 'Ukrainian' did not take hold in Galicia and Bukovyna until the first quarter of the 20th century, in Transcarpathia until the 1930s, and in the Presov region until the late 1940s...

Learn more about Ukrainians and the Ukrainian language by visiting Encyclopedia of Ukraime: and searching for such entries as:

UKRAINIANS. The East Slavic nation constituting the native population of Ukraine; the sixth-largest nation in Europe. According to the concept of nationality dominant in Eastern Europe the Ukrainians are people whose native language is Ukrainian (an objective criterion) whether or not they are nationally conscious, and all those who identify themselves as Ukrainian (a subjective criterion) whether or not they speak Ukrainian. Isolated attempts to introduce a territorial-political concept of Ukrainian nationality on the Western European model (eg, by Viacheslav Lypynsky) were unsuccessful until the 1990s. Because territorial loyalty has also been manifested by the historical national minorities living in Ukraine, the accepted view in Ukraine today is that all permanent inhabitants of Ukraine are its citizens (ie, Ukrainians) regardless of their ethnic origins or the language in which they communicate.

The official declaration of Ukrainian sovereignty of 16 July 1990 stated that 'citizens of the Republic of all nationalities constitute the people (narod) of Ukraine.' Until the final quarter of the 19th century the Ukrainians, with few exceptions, lived on their aboriginal lands, which now, basically, constitute Ukrainian ethnic territory.

In the last few decades of the 19th century Ukrainians under Russian rule began a massive emigration to the Asian regions of the empire, and their counterparts under Austro-Hungarian rule emigrated to the New World. The number of Ukrainians outside of their homeland had grown from 1 million in 1880 to over 14 million by 1989. Today more than one-quarter of all Ukrainians in the world live outside of Ukraine...

RUTHENIANS. A historic name for Ukrainians corresponding to the Ukrainian rusyny. The first use of the word Ruteni in reference to the inhabitants of Rus' was in the Annales Augustiani of 1089. (Rus' was the former name of Ukraine. In the Kyiv Chronicle the term was a collective noun referring initially to the Varangians and then to the land of the Polianians around Kyiv. Gradually it came to signify the entire realm of the grand prince of Kyiv, ie, Kyivan Rus').

For centuries thereafter Rutheni was used in Latin as the designation of all East Slavs, particularly Ukrainians and Belarusians. In the 16th century the word more clearly began to be associated with the Ukrainians and Belarusians of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth as distinct from the Muscovites (later known as Russians), who were designated Moscovitae.

After the partitions of Poland (1772-95) the term 'Ruthenian' underwent further restriction. It came to be associated primarily with those Ukrainians who lived under the Habsburg monarchy, in Galicia, Bukovyna, and Transcarpathia. Although the term Ruthenen remained in official use until the collapse of the Habsburg monarchy in 1918, Galician Ukrainians themselves began to abandon that name (from around 1900) in favor of the self-designation ukraintsi (Ukrainians).

Since the Second World War the term 'Ruthenian' has been used as a self-designation almost exclusively by descendants of emigrants from Transcarpathia in the United States, but since the 1970s they have begun to abandon it in favor of the designation 'Rusyn' or 'Carpatho-Rusyn'...

UKRAINIAN LANGUAGE. The second most widely spoken language of the 12 surviving members of the Slavic group of the large Indo-European language family. Geographically, it is classified with Russian and Belarusian as an East Slavic language. Actually, like Slovak, it occupies a central position: it borders on some West Slavic languages, and it once bordered on Bulgarian, a South Slavic language, before being separated from it by Romanian and Hungarian. Accordingly, Ukrainian shared in the historical development of all three branches of the Slavic languages.

Today Ukrainian borders on Russian in the east and northeast, on Belarusian in the north, and on Polish, Slovak, and two non-Slavic languages--Hungarian and Romanian--in the west. Before the steppes of southern Ukraine were resettled by the Ukrainians, this was an area of contact with various Turkic languages, such as Crimean Tatar. Within its geographic boundaries Ukrainian is represented basically by a set of dialects, some of which differ significantly from the others. Generally, however, dialectal divisions in Ukrainian are not as strong as they are, for example, in British English or in German. Standard Ukrainian, which is accepted as such by the speakers of all the dialects and represents Ukrainian to outsiders, is a superstructure built on this dialectal foundation. It is the only form of Ukrainian taught in school and, except for clearly regional manifestations, used in literature. The standard language is based mainly on the Poltava-Kyiv dialects of the southeastern group, but it also contains many features from other dialects, particularly the southwestern ones...

STANDARD UKRAINIAN. The standard, or literary, version of the Ukrainian language evolved through three distinct periods: old (10th-13th centuries), middle (14th-18th centuries), and modern (19th-20th centuries). The cardinal changes that occurred were conditioned by changes in the political and cultural history of Ukraine. Old Ukrainian is found in extant Kyivan Rus' church and scholarly texts dating from the mid-11th century and the Kyivan charter of 1130, in Galician church texts dating from the late 11th century, and in Galician charters dating from the mid-14th century. The language of all these genres is basically Church Slavonic, with an ever-increasing admixture of local lexical, phonetic, morphological, and syntactic features. Although the language was not institutionally regulated, it remained quite stable, because of the patronage of the church and the concentration of literary life around religious centers. The decline of Kyivan Rus' and later the Principality of Galicia-Volhynia and the resulting annexation of most Ukrainian lands (except for Galicia, Bukovyna, and Transcarpathia) by Lithuania interrupted the literary tradition of Old Ukrainian. This is particularly evident in the rift that occurred between the language of the church and that of government. The political division of the Ukrainian lands between Poland and Lithuania led to the development of two variants of administrative language, Galician and Volhynian-Polisian. The growth of towns, the rise of a Ukrainian burgher class, and the influence of the Reformation brought about a shift in the language of the higher genres toward the chancery and vernacular languages. There were even attempts at translating the Bible into a language approximating the vernacular...

CYRILLIC ALPHABET (kyrylytsia). Slavic system based on the Greek majuscule script. When, after their expulsion from Moravia in 885, the disciples of Saint Cyril and Saint Methodius settled in Bulgaria, they had recourse to the Greek alphabet as a replacement for the Glagolitic alphabet developed by Saint Cyril. The Greek alphabet was adapted to Slavic and supplemented by letters from the Glagolitic that rendered phonemes lacking in the Greek language. The original Cyrillic alphabet had 36 to 38 letters, some of which were used only, or primarily, in the writing of Greek words. With the expansion of eastern Christianity, the Cyrillic alphabet spread from Bulgaria to other Slavic lands. The Cyrillic alphabet (with certain modifications) is still used today in the Ukrainian, Belarusian, Bulgarian, Macedonian, Russian and Serbian writing systems...

DIALECTS. Ukrainian dialects are classified into two basic groups--the northern (Polisian) and the southern dialects--between which there extends a wide belt of 'transitional' dialects, southern dialects on northern foundations (that is, historically northern dialects that were assimilated by southern dialects).

The northern dialectal group is subdivided into the following dialects: the east Polisian (east of the Dnipro River), the central Polisian (between the Dnipro and the Horyn River), the west Polisian (between the Horyn and the Buh River and Lisna River), and the Podlachian dialects.

The southern group of dialects is divided into two subgroups: the more uniform southeastern dialects (central Dnipro dialects, Slobidska Ukraine dialects, and steppe dialects) and the southwestern dialects, which are highly differentiated. The southwestern group is composed of the following dialects: South Volhynian dialects, Podilian dialects, Dnister dialects, Sian dialects, Bukovyna-Pokutia dialects, Hutsul dialect, Boiko dialect, Middle-Transcarpathian dialects, and Lemko dialects. After the Ukrainian literary language, ie, Standard Ukrainian, stabilized in the 19th century, the use of dialects came to characterize primarily the peasantry. But in the course of the 20th century, with the influence of the church, education, the press, and radio, elements of the literary language began, and continued increasingly, to penetrate even the language of the peasants...

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