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Ukrainian language
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Ukrainian language

Ukrainian is an East Slavic language closely related to Russian and Belarusian but with many notable differences and with heavy influence of Polish vocabulary.

Ukrainian (українська мова / Ukra´ns'ka Mova)
Spoken in: Ukraine, Poland, Slovakia
Region: --
Total speakers: 41 million
Ranking: 26
Official status
Official language of: Ukraine, Transnistria (Moldova)
Regulated by: ?? Language Academy
Language codes
ISO 639-1 uk
ISO 639-2 ukr


Historically, the Ukrainian language is derived from the Old Russian language of Rus' (other languages derived from Old Russian are the Belarusian) and, in part, the Russian. Scholarship on the early history of the Ukrainian language was hampered by the lack of Ukrainian independence. This, much of the early scholarship of the language was viewed through the lens of foreign neighboring conceptions. Perhaps most notably, Russian Tsarist historiography denied the existence of a separate Ukrainian language. Soviet historiography manifested an ideology of three brotherly East Slavic nations. Modern Russian empire enthusiasts tend to admit a difference between Ukrainian and Russian only at later time periods (fourteenth through 16th centuries). Ukrainian scholars see a divergence between the language of Kiev and Rus'-propria, also called Halych-Volynia and the language of the Finno-Ugric/Slavic mixed nation to the north (Russia) by the 1100s. Some European and American linguists concur. During the time of the incorporation of Ruthenia (Ukraine and Belarus) into the Polish Commonwealth, Ukrainian (Rus'ian) and Belarusian diverged into identifiably separate languages.

The Polish language has had heavy influences on Ukrainian (and on Belarusian, too). As the Ukrainian language developed further, some borrowings from Tatar and Turkish occurred. Ukrainian culture and language flourished in 16th and first half of 17th century, when Ukraine was part of Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Ukrainian was also the official language of Ukrainian provinces of Crown of Polish Kingdom. Among many schools found in that time, Kijovian Academy was the most important. The substance of Ukrainian culture didn't stand the anarchy of Khmelnytsky Uprising and following wars. Kijovian Academy was taken over by Russia and most of Ukrainian nobles and schools switched to Polish. Gradually the official language of Ukrainian provinces of Poland was changed to Polish as well, while Russian part of Ukraine used widely Russian.

After partitions of Poland, Ukrainian language was banned from printing by Alexander II of Russia, in the Ems Ukaz, that retarded the development of the Ukrainian language. At the same time, in Galicia, Ukrainian language was widely used in the education and in official documents.

During the Soviet era, the Ukrainian language had a wide official support, being used in education, print, radio and television programs in the Ukrainian SSR. However, the Russian language was considered more prestigious, so it slowly replaced Ukrainian.

Since 1991, the independent Ukraine has made Ukrainian the only official language (despite the fact that about half population of Ukraine are native speakers of Russian).

History of Ukrainian Literature

The literary Ukrainian language may be subdivided into two stages: the Old Ukrainian (14th18th centuries) and the Modern Ukrainian (since the end of the 18th century). A lot of literature has been written in the Old Ukrainan language: legal acts, polemical articles, science treatises and fiction of all sorts.

Influential literary figures in the development of the Modern Ukrainian literature included the philosopher Hryhori Skovoroda, Kostamarov, Taras Shevchenko, Ivan Franko, and Lesia Ukrainka.

Comparative grammar

Russian o often corresponds to Ukrainian i, as in pod/pid "under". This also happens when Ukrainian words are declined, such as rik (nom):rotsi (loc) "year". Also, the letter "Г" renders different consonants in Russian and Ukrainian, see language notes in Cyrillic alphabet. Ukrainian "Г" is the sounded match for Cyrillic "Х" (and therefore it is transliterated as Latin "H"), while the Russian one is the sounded match for the Latin "G". East Slavic "non-mainland" Russian speakers "contaminate" the Russian speech with what is called "soft Ukrainian 'Г'".

Ukrainian case endings are somewhat different from Russian, and the vocabulary includes a large overlay of Polish terminology. Russian na pervom etazhe "on the first floor" is in the prepositional case. The Ukrainian corresponding expression is na pershomy poversi, which to the Russian ear is a mishmash. -omy is the standard locative (=prepositional) ending, but variants in -im are common in dialect and poetry, and allowed by the standards bodies. The x of Ukrainian poverx has mutated under the influence of the soft vowel i (k is similarly unstable in final positions).

Current usage

The Ukrainian language is currently emerging from a long period of disuse and persecution. Although there are almost fifty million ethnic Ukrainians worldwide, including roughly 38-39 million in Ukraine (three-quarters of the total population), only in western Ukraine is the Ukrainian language commonly spoken. In Kyiv and central Ukraine Russian is the language of nearly all city-dwellers, although there is a shift towards Ukrainian; in eastern Ukraine, Russian is dominant and a Russified Ukrainian spoken in some circles, while in the Crimea Ukrainian is almost absent. Use of the Ukrainian language in Ukraine can be expected to increase, as the rural population of Ukraine (still overwhelmingly Ukrainophone) migrates to Ukrainian cities and the Ukrainian language enters into wider use in central Ukraine.

Ukrainian is also spoken by a large emigre population, particularly in Canada. The founders of this population primarily emigrated from Galicia that used to be part of Austria-Hungary before World War I and between the World Wars belonged to Poland. Their vocabulary reflects somewhat less russification than the modern language of independent Ukraine -- for "store/shop" they might prefer kramnytsya to mahazyn (cf. Russ. magazin, orig. French), whereas in Ukraine mahazyn is much more common and kramnytsya somewhat self-conscious.

Language Structure


The Ukrainian language has 6 vowels (a, e, i, y, o, u) and one semi-vowel j. The combination of j with some of the vowels is represented by a single letter (ja = я, je = є, ji = ї, ju = ю).  jo and jy are written using two letters (jy is used in certain dialects only).

Most of the consonants come in 3 forms: hard, soft and long, for example, l, lj, ll or n, nj, nn. In writing the vowels change the preceding consonant from hard to soft or vice versa. In special cases, for example, at the end of the word a special soft sign is used to indicate that the consonant is soft. An apostrophe is used to indicate the hardness of the sound in the cases when normally the vowel would change the consonant to soft. The letter is repeated to indicate that the sound is long. Ukrainians tend to pronounce long sounds where the letters are double in other language, English or Russian, for example.

Sounds dz and dzh do not have dedicated letters in the alphabet and are rendered by two letters. Yet, they are single sounds rather than two sounds d z and d zh, pronounced separately. dzh is like English g in huge, dz has no English equivalent, it is pronounced like Japanese z in kamikaze.

Ukrainian alphabet is almost phonetic with the exception of the three sounds that do not have the dedicated letters and complex but intuitive (for a native) rules of the change of softness or hardness of the consonants by the following vowels.


Ukrainian language has 3 tenses: present, past and future. All verbs in Ukrainian fall in either of two categories: perfect or imperfect. In order to express the idea that the action is finished one has to use a perfect verb, an imperfect verb does not have a perfect form and vice versa.

For example, the verb pysaty (write) is an imperfect verb. For the perfect form there exist a number of related verbs each expressing slightly different aspect of have written : napysaty, zapysaty, perepysaty, prypysaty, dopysaty, zpysaty, etc.

In the present and future tenses, verbs are conjugated according to the person and number. Like in Russian, however, the past tense does not indicate the person, but instead gender.

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