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the official language of Ukraine: an East Slavonic language closely related to Russian
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



the language of the Ukrainians. Ukrainian is spoken primarily in the Ukrainian SSR and is one of the working languages of the United Nations. There are more than 35 million speakers of Ukrainian in the USSR (1970 census). Ukrainian is an East Slavic language. The modern dialects are divided into three main groups: northern, southwestern, and southeastern, the last of which evolved into literary Ukrainian.

The principal phonological characteristics of the Ukrainian literary language are as follows (examples rendered in standard phonemic transcription): the opposition of front i to a less frontal y; the shift from the old o and e in closed syllables to i(snopĕsnip, “sheaf”); the consistent change of the Old Russian ĕ to i (Old Russian lĕto, Ukrainian lito, “summer”); the change of e to o after palato-alveolar fricatives and j before hard consonants, regardless of stress (ščoka, “cheek”; psona, “millet meal”); the fusion of Old Russian y and i into the single vowel y (ryba, “fish”; syla, “strength, force”); the presence of the clusters ry and ly (from Old Russian rt, rb and lb, lb) in open unstressed syllables (krysyty, “to crumble”); the replacement of the reduced vowels 5 and 6 with y before j (shyja, “neck”); the presence of the affricates dz and dz (xodzu, “I walk”; dzvin, “bell”) and the fricative h (holova, “head”); the hardening of consonants before e; the hardening of labials, palato-alveolar fricatives, and r at the end of syllables; the preservation of soft c; the preservation of voiced consonants at the end of words and before voiceless consonants (snih, “snow”; dub, “oak”; kladka, “planked footway”); the occurrence of long soft consonants resulting from the assimilation of j to a preceding soft consonant (buttja [phonetic bufta], “being”; pytanja [phonetic pitanna], “question”); the presence of [w] (orthographic v) instead of Old Russian l before consonants and in the masculine past tense of verbs (vovk [phonetic vowk], “wolf; xodyv [phonetic xodiw], “walked”); the presence of variants in words with i-j or u-v in initial position (ity-jty, “to walk”; ucytelb-vcytelb, “teacher”); and the occurrence of prothetic v and h (yuxo, “ear”; hostryj, “sharp”).

Ukrainian morphology differs from Russian in several respects. Nouns have a vocative case (Petre, “Peter!”), and second declension nouns take the ending -ovil-evi in the dative case (bratovi, “to the brother”). The mutations h-z, k-c, and x-s occur before final i (u luzi, “in the meadow”; na ruci, “on the hand”; u vusi, “by the ear”). Feminine and neuter singular and all plural long form adjectives in the nominative and accusative cases show loss of j and vowel contraction (cervona, cervonu, cervoni, “red”). Adjectives form the comparative by adding the suffixes -is- and -s-(dobrisyj, “kinder”; syrsyj, “wider”). The ending -tb has been lost in the third person singular, present tense, of first conjugation verbs (znae, “he knows”; pyie, “he writes”). The verbal ending -mo is used in the first person plural (znaemo, “we know”), and verbs have a synthetic form in the future tense (xodytymu, “I will walk”). The adverbial participle (deeprichastie) takes the ending -iy (znaiucy, “knowing”; xodjaiy, “walking”).

The distinguishing features of Ukrainian syntax are as follows (examples in modified Library of Congress transliteration): impersonal sentences whose main member is an indeclinable verbal form in -no or -to (robotu vykonano, “the work has been done”); compound nominal predicates consisting of the preposition za plus the accusative case (starshyi brat buv nam za bat’ka, “the elder brother was like a father to us”); and peculiarities in the government of verbs (diakuvaty komu, “to thank someone” [object in dative case]) and the use of prepositions (o pershii hodyni, “at one o’clock”).

The basic Ukrainian lexicon is of Slavic origin, but many words formed during the country’s independent historical development are loan words from Polish, German and other languages.

The earliest texts in the Ukrainian literary language are gramoty (business documents and letters) dating from the 14th century. Having inherited the Old Russian writing system, Ukrainian further developed the traditions of the literary language of Kievan Rus’ during the 14th and 15th centuries, although it was strongly influenced by local dialects. In the late 15th century the first attempts were made to bring the literary language closer to everyday speech. The first translations of sacred texts were made in the 16th century and included the Pere-sopnitsy Gospel (1556–61) and the Krekhovskyi Acts of the Apostles and Epistles (1560). Two types of literary language emerged: the prosta mova (vernacular) and a Ukrainian heavily influenced by Old Church Slavonic and Russian.

Between the end of the 16th and the first half of the 17th century, important polemical works and chronicles were written in the literary language, and an independent literature developed. M. Smotritskii’s grammar (1619) and P. Berynda’s dictionary (1627) helped standardize Ukrainian. The reunification of the Ukraine and Russia in 1654 brought about a closer relationship between the countries’ two languages, which fostered the development of Ukrainian literature and helped to bring the literature closer to the vernacular.

Literary Ukrainian was used in all genres of writing during the 17th and the first half of the 18th century, and literary works were written in the vernacular, for example, those of I. Nekrashevich. The vernacular became established in literary usage in the beginning of the 19th century, as exemplified by I. Kotliarevskii’s Aeneid (1798) and other works. T. G. Shevchenko was instrumental in creating the modern Ukrainian literary language. In the tsarist period, the use of Ukrainian was subjected to restrictions and official prohibitions. Conditions favorable to the comprehensive development of the literary language did not come about until after the October Revolution of 1917 in Russia.

The Ukrainian alphabet is identical to the Russian, with the addition of the letters i, 1, and e and the apostrophe.


Bulakhovs’kyi, L. A. Pytannia pokhodzhennia ukrains’koi movy. Kiev, 1956.
Kurs istorii ukrains’koi literaturnoi movy, vols. 1–2. Edited by I. K. Bilodid. Kiev, 1958–61.
Ukrains’kyipravopys. Kiev, 1960.
Istorychna hramatyka ukrains’koi movy. Kiev, 1962.
Suchasna ukrains’ka literaturna mova, vols. 1–5. Edited by I. K. Bilodid. Kiev, 1969–73.
Ukrains’ko-rosiis’kyislovnyk, vols. 1–6. Kiev, 1953–63.
Russko-ukrainskii slovar’, vols. 1–3. Kiev, 1969.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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