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University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Resources for the Study of the Ukrainian Language

Supplementary materials for students in their first year of study of the Ukrainian language

Overview of the Ukrainian Language

Ukrainian (украї́нська мо́ва, ukrayins'ka mova, [ukraˈjinʲsʲka ˈmɔʋa]) is a language of the East Slavic subgroup of the Slavic languages. It is the official state language of Ukraine. Ukrainian uses a Cyrillic alphabet. It shares some vocabulary with the languages of the neighboring Slavic nations, most notably with Belarusian, Polish, Russian and Slovak.

The Ukrainian language traces its origins to the Old East Slavic language of the ancient state of Kievan Rus'. The language has persisted despite the two bans by Imperial Russia and political persecution during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Ukrainian has survived mainly due to its broad base among the people of Ukraine, its folklore songs, kobzars, prominent poets like Taras Shevchenko and Lesya Ukrainka.

The Ukrainian language is currently emerging from a long period of decline. Although there are almost fifty million ethnic Ukrainians worldwide, including 37.5 million in Ukraine (77.8% of the total population), only in western Ukraine is the Ukrainian language prevalent. In Kiev, both languages are spoken, a notable shift from the recent past when the city was primarily Russian speaking. The shift is caused, largely, by an influx of the rural population and migrants from the western regions of Ukraine but also by some Kievans' turning to use the language they speak at home more widely in everyday matters. In northern and central Ukraine, Russian is the language of the urban population, while in rural areas Ukrainian is much more common. In the south and the east of Ukraine, Russian is prevalent even in rural areas, and in Crimea, Ukrainian is almost absent.

Use of the Ukrainian language in Ukraine can be expected to increase, as the rural population (still overwhelmingly Ukrainophone) migrates into the cities and the Ukrainian language enters into wider use in central Ukraine. The literary tradition of Ukrainian is also developing rapidly overcoming the consequences of the long period when its development was hindered by either direct suppression or simply the lack of the state encouragement policies. (Source: http://www.101languages.net/ukrainian/usage.html)

History of Ukrainian Language

The following is taken from www.101languages.net.  To read the entire essay see http://www.101languages.net/ukrainian/history.html.

Under Lithuania/Poland, Muscovy/Russia, and Austro-Hungary

After the fall of Halych-Volhynia, Ukrainians mainly fell under the rule of Lithuania, then Poland. Local autonomy of both rule and language was a marked feature of Lithuanian rule. Polish rule, which came mainly later, was accompanied by a more assimilationist policy. The Polish language has had heavy influences on Ukrainian (and on Belarusian). As the Ukrainian language developed further, some borrowings from Tatar and Turkish occurred. Ukrainian culture and language flourished in the sixteenth and first half of the seventeenth century, when Ukraine was part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Ukrainian was also the official language of Ukrainian provinces of the Crown of the Polish Kingdom. Among many schools established in that time, the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy (Kiev-Mogila Academy), founded by the Orthodox Metropolitan Peter Mogila (Petro Mohyla), was the most important.

In the anarchy of the Khmelnytsky Uprising and following wars, Ukrainian high culture was sent into a long period of steady decline. In the aftermath, the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy was taken over by the Russian Empire. Most of the remaining Ukrainian schools also switched to Polish or Russian, in the territories controlled by these respective countries, which was followed by a new wave of Polonization and Russification of the native nobility. Gradually the official language of Ukrainian provinces under Poland was changed to Polish, while the upper classes in the Russian part of Ukraine used Russian widely.

There was little sense of a Ukrainian nation in the modern sense. East Slavs called themselves Rus’ki ('Russian' pl. adj.) in the east and Rusyny ('Ruthenians' n.) in the west, speaking Rus’ka mova, or simply identified themselves as Orthodox (the latter being particularly important under the rule of Catholic Poland). Ukraine under the Russian Empire was called Malorossiya (Little or Lesser Rus' or Little Russia, where the inhabitants spoke the 'Little Russian or Southern Russian language', a dialect of the Russian literary language.

But during the nineteenth century, a revival of Ukrainian self-identity manifested itself in the literary classes of both Russian-Empire Dnieper Ukraine and Austrian Galicia. The Brotherhood of Sts Cyril and Methodius in Kiev applied an old word for the Cossack motherland, Ukrajina, as a self-appellation for the nation of Ukrainians, and Ukrajins’ka mova for the language. Many writers published works in the Romantic tradition of Europe demonstrating that Ukrainian was not merely a language of the village, but suitable for literary pursuits.

However, in the Russian Empire expressions of Ukrainian culture and especially language were repeatedly persecuted, for fear that a self-aware Ukrainian nation would threaten the unity of the Empire. In 1847 Taras Shevchenko was arrested and exiled, and banned from writing and painting, for political reasons. In 1863, tsarist interior minister Pyotr Valuyev proclaimed "there never has been, is not, and never can be a separate Little Russian language". A following ban on Ukrainian books led up to Alexander II's secret Ems Ukaz, which prohibited publication and importation of most Ukrainian-language books, public performances and lectures, and even the printing of Ukrainian texts accompanying musical scores. A period of leniency after 1905 was followed by another strict ban in 1914, which also affected Russian-occupied Galicia. (Luckyj 1956:24–25)

For much of the nineteenth century the Austrian authorities favoured Polish culture, but the Ukrainians were relatively free to partake in their own cultural pursuits in Galicia and Bukovyna, where Ukrainian was widely used in education and in official documents.[1] The suppression by Russia retarded the literary development of the Ukrainian language in Dnieper Ukraine, but there was a constant exchange with Galicia, and many works were published under Austria and smuggled to the east.

The name Ukrajins’ka mova 'Ukrainian language' became accepted by much of the Ukrainian literary class during the late nineteenth century under Russia and in the early twentieth in Austro-Hungarian Galicia. By the time of the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the collapse of Austro-Hungary in 1918, the former 'Ruthenians' or 'Little Russians' were ready to openly develop a body of national literature, to institute a Ukrainian-language educational system, and to form an independent state, named Ukraine (the Ukrainian People's Republic, shortly joined by the West Ukrainian People's Republic).

Ukrainian speakers in the Russian Empire

In the Russian Empire Census of 1897 the following picture emerged, with Ukrainian being the second most spoken language of the Russian Empire. According to the Imperial census's terminology, the Russian language (Russkij) was subdivided into Ukrainian (Malorusskij, 'Little Russian'), what we know as Russian today (Vjelikorusskij, 'Great Russian'), and Belarusian (Bjelorusskij, 'White Russian').

Soviet era


During the seven-decade-long Soviet era, the Ukrainian language held the formal position of the principal local language in the Ukrainian SSR. However, practice was often a different story: Ukrainian always had to compete with Russian, and the attitudes of the Soviet leadership towards the Ukrainian varied from encouragement and tolerance to discouragement and, at times, suppression.

Officially, there was no state language in the Soviet Union. Still it was implicitly understood in the hopes of minority nations that Ukrainian would be used in the Ukrainian SSR, Uzbek would be used in the Uzbek SSR, and so on. However, Russian was used in all parts of the Soviet Union and a special term, "a language of inter-ethnic communication" was coined to denote its status. In reality, Russian was in a privileged position in the USSR and was the state official language in everything but formal name—although formally all languages were held up as equal. Often the Ukrainian language was frowned upon or quietly discouraged, which led to the gradual decline in its usage. Partly due to this suppression, in many parts of Ukraine, notably most urban areas of the east and south, Russian remains more widely spoken than Ukrainian.

Soviet language policy in Ukraine is divided into six policy periods

1. Ukrainianization and tolerance (1921–late-1932)
2. Persecution and russification (1933–1957)
3. Khrushchev thaw (1958–1962)
4. The Shelest period: limited progress (1963–1972)
5. The Shcherbytsky period: gradual suppression (1973–1989)
6. Gorbachev and perestroika (1990–1991)

From http://www.101languages.net .  Accessed May 25, 2011.

Intensive Language Programs

The American Association for Teachers of Slavic and East European Languages (AATSEEL) website has a page that describes intensive programs in Slavic and East European languages as well as in the languages of the Republics of the former Soviet Union. The listings include those programs offered in U.S. (and some Canadian) colleges and universities as well as in programs abroad. This is a free service provided by AATSEEL to such programs.

Each language has its own page, and programs are divided into the following categories: Summer Programs in the U.S., Summer Programs Abroad, and Semester/Year Programs Abroad. Information is added to this page as it is received, so check frequently for updates.

The website has a table which allows you to click on the language you are interested in, and it directs you to links to the program/school websites teaching the language.