Ukrainian language: origin, history, dialects

Ukrainian is accepted to be the official language of Ukraine, since it was declared independent in 1991. Ukrainian together with Belarusian and Russian belongs to the East Slavic language group. It is mainly widespread in Ukraine, also in Belarus, Russia, Poland, Romania and Slovakia.  In some regions of Central and Eastern Europe Ukrainian has the status of national minorities` language or the regional language.

History of Ukrainian language

There are many theories concerning Ukrainian language origin.

Mikhail Lomonosov

Mikhail Lomonosov

According to Mikhail Lomonosov theory there was one common language used by all East Slavic people during Ancient Rus` times (9th-12th cent.). In 13th-17th centuries Polish and Turkish languages had a great influence on Ukraine that entailed significant differences between Great Russian and Little Russian (Ukrainian). His theory was called “polonization”.

Alexei Shakhmatov

Alexei Shakhmatov

The author of other theory is Russian linguist Alexei Shakhmatov. According to his conception Ukrainian language originated as the result of Old Russian languages collapse (which in its turn developed from proto-Slavic dialects) in 14th-15th centuries.

Stepan Smal-Stotskyj

Stepan Smal-Stotskyj

Ukrainian philologist Stepan Smal-Stotskyi, as well as Yevhen Tymchenko, Olena Kurylo, denied the existence of Old East Slavic language group. They insisted East Slavic tribe dialects developed from proto-Slavic languages. The Ukrainian language was formed as a result of merging tribe dialects process due to migration throughout the territory of Ukraine.

The history of the Ukraine national language development can be divided into several periods.



Medieval Times

As Scythian and Sarmatian tribes contacted with Slavs until the early Middle Ages they made the contribution to the modern Ukrainian language with γ (h) letter.

In 13th century German settlers were invited by princes of Galicia-Vollhynia to Ukraine. A lot of new German words appeared in the language of that period, which are in use nowadays. These words are “ринок” (market), “папір” (paper), “дах” (roof) etc.

Polish and Lithuanian impact

In the middle of the 13th century the territory of modern Ukraine was divided between Mongol Tatars and Grand Duchy of Lithuania so both regional languages were totally isolated one from another.

By the 16th century the Ukrainian language consisted of the mixture of Old Church Slavonic, Ruthenian and Polish languages. Polish language made a great contribution to the Ukrainian vocabulary. Such Polish words as “раптом” (suddenly), “качка” (duck), “обіцяти” (promise), “завжди” (always) appeared in the Ukrainian language.

Soviet period

In the soviet times Ukrainian language was theoretically considered to be the local language of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. But practically it was banned. The Russian language dominated in education, mass media and trade.

Only after USSR collapse in 1991 Ukrainian language had received the status of the official language of the independent Ukraine.

Ukrainian language dialects

Ukrainian dialects can be divided into three main groups:

  • Northern dialects (also called Polissian) were influenced by neighboring Belarusian dialects. They consist of Eastern Polissian (Chernihiv, Sumy, Kyiv), Central Polissian (Zhytomir, Rivne) and West Polissian (Volyn and Rivne regions) dialects.
  • Southwestern dialects have significant divisibility features, due to foreign dialects influence (Hungarian, Slovakian, Polish). They can be divided into three subgroups:
    • Volynian and Podillian dialects are spoken in Vinnytsia, Khmelnytskyi, Cherkasy, Zhytomyr, Ternopil regions.
    • Galician and Bukovynian dialects are spoken in Lviv, Ternopil, Ivano-Frankivsk, Chernivtsi regions.
    • Carpathian dialects (Boyko, Lemko) are spoken in Lviv, Ivano-Frankivsk regions.
  • Southeastern dialects have subgroups:
    • Middle Dnieprian dialect is considered to be very close to “standard” Ukrainian language. It is spoken in the central Ukrainian regions, Cherkassy and Poltava regions.
    • Slobodan was formed from incremental mixture of Ukrainian and Russian languages. It is typical for Kharkiv, Luhansk, Donetsk, Sumy regions.
    • Steppe dialect was the main language of Zaporozhian Cossacks. Now it is spoken in Zaporizhzhia, Dnipro, Kherson and other southeastern and southern regions.

Differences between Ukrainian and Russian languages

Ukrainian and Russian are both Slavic languages, but to compare them, there are some differences.

  • In Ukrainian there is the vocative case, but in Russian it was replaced by the nominative. They say in Ukraine “brate” (brother) instead of “brat” or “mamo” (mother) instead of “mama”.
  • The Common Slavic letter “g” was changed on “h” in Ukrainian pronunciation. For example, “harnyi” (good), “pohanyi” (bad), “noha” (leg).
  • In Ukrainian language Russian sound “” was transformed into “i”, for example, to compare Russian “les” and Ukrainian “lis” (forest), Russian “pechka” and Ukrainian “pichka” (stove).

Ukrainian language learning

Ukrainian is a very melodic and beautiful language and is worth being learnt. If you don`t know how to learn Ukrainian language there are some tips.

  1. You should start with learning the Ukrainian alphabet that consists of 33 letters. It is the basis of every language. Then proceed to studying words and word combinations.
  2. Audio and video courses will help you to learn Ukrainian pronunciation. Listening dialogues and monologues will be useful in order to consolidate the new information.
  3. Watching Ukrainian films and reading Ukrainian literature essentially hasten the process of studying. Some foreigners in order to learn how to speak Ukrainian find native Ukrainian speakers, because speaking practice is the basic element.

Ukrainian language beauty

Ukrainian, as well as Italian, is considered to be one of the most romantic languages in the world. If you want to declare your love in the unique way you should learn Ukrainian phrases. The most popular Ukrainian love phrases are:

“Я тебе кохаю” (Ya tebe kohaju) I love you
“Ти – моє кохання, мої крила” (Ty moje kohannia, moji kryla) You are my love and my wings
“Ти – все моє життя, мій всесвіт” (Ty vse moje zhyttia, mij vsesvit) You are my whole life, my universe


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