Ukrainian (yкpaiнcькa мoвa) belongs to the East Slavic group of the Slavic branch of the Indo-European language family. Its closest relatives are Belarusian and Russian. According to Ethnologue, there are 31 million speakers of Ukrainian in Ukraine with another 8 or more million in Russia and in the former republics of the Soviet Union, as well as in Eastern Europe, U.S., Canada, and Latin America. The total number of speakers of Ukrainian is estimated to be at around 40 million people.
Prior to the 14th century, ancestors of the modern Ukrainians, Belarusians, and Russians spoke varieties of Old East Slavic — a language that was common to all three. Linguists think that it split into what are now Ukrainian, Belarusian, and Russian at the end of the 14th century.
Before the 18th century, the precursor of the modern literary Ukrainian language was a spoken language that existing side-by-side with a literary language based on Church Slavonic, a language that was quite different from the spoken one. The end of the18th century saw the publication of the first literary works written in a language based on spoken Ukrainian.
After the Partitions of Poland at the end of the 18th century by Prussia, Habsburg Austria, and Russia, Western Ukraine (Galicia) was taken over by Austria, while the rest of Ukraine was gradually incorporated into the Russian Empire. The Tsarist government of Russia did not encourage the development of Ukrainian as a separate language. Ukraine was referred to as Little Russia, and the language was called Little Russian. Publications in Ukrainian were forbidden. Widespread use of Ukrainian as a written language and in education dates only from after the Bolshevik revolution of 1917 and the establishment of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR) in 1922.
Approximately 83% of its 47.5 million inhabitants speak Ukrainian as their first language. During the seventy years of Soviet rule, the Ukrainian was the primary spoken language in the USSR. However, it always had to compete with Russian, and the attitudes of the Soviet leadership towards its use ranged from a grudging tolerance to suppression. But today, Ukrainian is the official language of the Republic of Ukraine. Approximately 83% of its 47.5 million inhabitants speak Ukrainian as their first language. 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. In Kiev, both Russian and Ukrainian are spoken today, a shift from the recent past when the city was primarily Russian-speaking.
Since 1991, Ukraine has been working on elevating the status of Ukrainian. The educational system has been transformed from partly to predominantly Ukrainian. There are, however, still many obstacles to limiting the use of Russian in government administration and commerce.
Some linguists divide Ukrainian into three geographical dialects that differ mostly in pronunciation and vocabulary but are part mutually intelligible.
- Surzhyk (literally ‘multigrain flour or bread’) is a mixed language spoken by some 15-20% of the population of Ukraine. It combines Ukrainian grammar and pronunciation with a predominantly Russian vocabulary.
Ukrainian is also spoken by large emigré groups in Canada, the U.S., Argentina, and Brazil. The first wave of these emigrés came primarily from Galicia which was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire before World War I, and then part of Poland between the two World Wars. These communities speak the Galician dialect of Ukrainian which shows less influence of Russian than modern Ukrainian and which has many loanwords from the local languages, e.g., English in Canada and the U.S., Spanish in Argentina, and Portuguese in Brazil.
Ukrainian shares many phonological features with other Slavic languages, particularly Russian and Belarusian.
Ukrainian has five vowel phonemes, i.e., sounds that can distinguish word meaning..
There are 32 consonant phonemes. The language allows a variety of consonant clusters in different positiions in a word.
|Rhotic (trill, flap)
- sʲ, zʲ, tsʲ, dzʲ, nʲ, lʲ, rʲ are palatalized consonants produced with the blade of the tongue coming in contact with the hard palate.
- ʃ = sh in shop
- ʒ = s in vision
- tʃ = ch in chop
- dʒ = j in job
- x = German pronunciation of ch in Bach
- ɣ has no equivalent in English
- ʋ has no equivalent in English
- j = y in yet
- Voiceless stops, fricatives and affricates are voiced when preceding voiced ones, e.g., [naʃ dom] ‘our house’ becomes [naʒ dom].
- Post-alveolar and dental consonants (except /r/) can be doubled.
Stress can occur on any syllable of a word.
Ukrainian is a richly inflected language with a grammar that is very similar to that of other Slavic languages, especially Russian and Belarusian.
Ukrainian nouns are marked for gender, number, and case. The three are fused into one ending, as in all Slavic languages. Ukrainian nouns have the following grammatical categories:
- gender: masculine, feminine, neuter;
- four noun and adjective declensions are largely based on gender;
- number: singular and plural;
- case: nominative, genitive, dative, accusative, instrumental, locative, vocative, however only a few nouns have retained the vocative forms;
- animate and inanimate masculine nouns have different endings in the accusative case;
- There are no indefinite or definite articles.
- Adjectives are marked for gender and case only in the singular; in the plural they are marked only for case.
- Adjectives and possessive and demonstrative pronouns precede the nouns they modify and agree with them in gender, number, and case.
Ukrainian verbs agree with their subjects in person and number in the non-past, and in gender and number in the past. They are marked for the following categories:
- Three persons: first, second, third. Like all Slavic languages, Ukrainian is a pro-drop language, i.e., personal pronouns can be dropped because the verb ending makes the person clear.
- four conjugations;
- two tenses: past, non-past. Present and future tenses have the same endings.
- two aspects: imperfective and perfective. Perfective and imperfective verbs are formed from basic verb roots by adding prefixes and suffixes. Non-past conjugation of perfective verbs indicates future tense, non-past conjugation of imperfective verbs indicates present tense. Imperfective verbs form future tense with the auxiliary verb być ‘be.’
- three moods: indicative, imperative, conditional
- two voices: active, passive
- Verbs of motion constitute a special subcategory of verbs. They are characterized by a complex system of directional and aspectual prefixes and suffixes.
The neutral word order in Ukrainian is Subject-Verb-Object. However, other orders are possible since inflectional endings take care of clearly marking grammatical relations and roles in the sentence. Word order is principally determined by topic (what the sentence is about, or old information) and focus (new information). Constituents with old information precede constituents with new information, or those that carry the most emphasis.
Most of the modern Ukrainian lexicon is based on common Slavic roots shared by the other Slavic languages. The rest of the words were borrowed from languages it had come into contact with over the course of its history. Among them are Old Church Slavonic, Greek, Latin, Polish, Lithuanian, French, German, Russian, and English. Below are some common phrases and words in Ukrainian.
|You are welcome
|Heмa зa штo
Below are Ukrainian numerals 1-10.
The recorded history of the Ukrainian language began in 988, when Kievan Rus’ was converted to Christianity. Ukrainian religious materials, including translations of the Bible, were written in Old Slavonic, the language used by missionaries whose mission was to spread Christianity to the Slavic peoples.
Modern Ukrainian is written with an adapted version of the Cyrillic alphabet which consists of 33 letters that represent 38 phonemes, i.e., sounds that make a difference in word meaning, plus an apostrophe. It underwent several reforms in the 19th and early 20th centuries and was officially approved in 1927. It was replaced by a Soviet-approved version of the alphabet in the 1930’s. Curiously, the letter Ґ which represents the sound [ɣ] was banned from 1933 until 1990.
- Ґ ґ = [ɣ]
- Щ щ =[ʃtʃ]
- Є є, Ï ï, Я я, Ю ю and ь indicate palatalization of the preceding consonant. The apostrophe is used to override this rule.
Take a look at Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Ukrainian and Russian. Do you see any differences in the orthographies of the two languages?
|Зaгaльнa дeклapaцia пpaв людинi
Вci люди нapoджyютcя вiльними i piвними y cвoïй гiднocти тa пpaвax. Вoни нaдiлeнi poзyмoм i coвicтю i пoвиннi дiяти y вiднoшeннi oдин дo oднoгo в дyci бpaтepcтвa.
|Universal declaration of human rights
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
How difficult is it to learn Ukrainian?
Ukrainian is considered to be a Category II language in terms of difficulty for speakers of English.