Slavic languages constitute a separate group within the Indo-European family of languages. There are around 300 million speakers around the world, making it the 4th largest subfamily within the Indo-European. Despite the variety of separate languages and dialects, the borders are not marked by sharp divisions and a certain level of mutual intelligibility can be reached between the speakers of modern Slavic languages. As Žuravlev rightly noted: “The possibility of mutual understanding among Slavic people still exists, without a compelling need for translation or switching to a common language. There are no phonetic phenomena or grammatical categories that could fundamentally distinguish Slavic languages from each other.” [Žuravlev 1988; 153] Therefore, the history and evolution of distinct Slavic languages/ varieties, to a certain degree, can be studied within the framework of language secessionism and identity formation among the different groups of Slavs. Indeed, the notion of “language” coalesces with the notion of ethnic-national identity throughout the whole history of Slavic. A good illustration of this is the fact that the Slavs were defined as jazyk (lit. “tongue”) by the author of the Primary Chronicle [Колесов 1986; 133].
All Slavic languages stem from a common ancestor, a reconstructed language, termed Proto-Slavic (alternatively, Common Slavic, Common Slavonic, or Proto-Slavonic). Before the hypothetical “break-up” when minor dialectal differences started to appear within the Common Slavic, the Proto-language had been in close contact with other Indo-European languages. The result of these contacts are many common features that Slavic languages share with Iranian [Эдельман 2002, Zaliznjak 1962], and most strikingly with Baltic languages (Latvian, Lithuanian, and Old Prussian). Balto-Slavic shared isoglosses and many linguistic similarities [Kortlandt 1994] pushed scientists to the hypothesis that these two branches might have been the descendants of one common language, later called Proto-Balto-Slavic.
The idea of the common origin of the Slavic languages was present already in the 17th c. The first classification was put forward by the Croatian Jesuit Juraj Križanić who even advocated the idea of a pan-Slavic language (somewhat similar to modern Interslavic) in his Gramatično izkazanje ob ruskom jeziku (1659-1666) [for more on the Slavic constructed interlanguages, see Joannot 2021]. Subsequent transformation of the classification models involved various stages of development, both qualitative (from dichotomic up to heptachotomic models) and quantitative classifications [Blažek 2020; 34-57]. The classification model presented on the map below is based on the hexachotomic classification. In essence, it is a tree diagram that also takes into consideration the geographical position of the languages on the map. Note that the net schemes presented in Ivanov 1990 and Blažek 2020; 44, include languages/ dialects that were not directly attested and are only known from toponymy, and borrowings into other languages. The idioms that were in the abovementioned works but are not present here are:
- The Slavic language of Pannonia, a substratum language that is thought to be the source of a substantial amount of loanwords in Hungarian, e.g. *szent < svętъ “holy” (Slavic nasals were regularly rendered as vowel + nasal consonants) [Xelimskij 1988; 349].
- The substratum language that contributed to Romanian and Albanian. Interestingly, some North Slavic features can be traced in the loanwords, such as Romanian zăpadă “snow”, c.f. dialectal Russian запа́д [zapad] “obstruction of path by snow” [Трубачев 2003; 459].
- The Slavic languages of the Saal basin, and Upper Austria and Bavaria that are known only by toponymy [Blažek 2020; 43].
- Language varieties known as “microlanguages” (a term applied by A.D. Duličenko), that are characterized by a relatively limited sphere of use and incompleteness of standardization [Кнолл 2017]. In the latest literature the following varieties fall into this category [Duličenko 2017; 628]: Pannonian Rusyn, Burgenland Croatian, Slavomolisano dialect (Molise Croatian), Resian dialect, Banat Bulgarian dialect, Prekmurje Slovene, Chakavian, Kajkavian, East Slovak, Laščina, Carpatho-Rusyn, and West Polesian. Some of these varieties are mentioned in the “Dialectal groups” section, and Carpatho-Rusyn is presented separately.
The outline of the article
This article is an attempt to provide the reader with systematized language data. It is intended to be a blueprint of Slavic languages that may guide those who are just making a start in their study. The data presented in this article is largely based on Schenker, Stankiewicz 1980; Comrie, Corbett 1993; Sussex, Cubberley 2006; Молдован, Скорвид, Кибрик, et al. 2017. We have worked to compress the linguistic data from the mentioned works and arrange it into sections, as was already done with Iranian Languages. We have also attempted to sustain the uniformity of sections. However, some of the sections in the description of certain languages have deliberately been left out. For example, a section like “The Number of Speakers” can not be included in the description of an old/ extinct language, for understandable reasons. Besides, “Textual Sources”, “Socio-historical context” and “Periodization” are not conjointly represented for each language variety, since for a living language the concept of “Textual Source” is significantly overlapped by the concept of the “Corpus”, thus, for this particular case, we tried to supplement the other sections with those historical sources that are worthy of mention. For the languages with well-elaborated historical periodization, the “Socio-historical context” section has been omitted, and vice versa. Under the section “Linguistic Peculiarities” distinctive features of each language variety are cited. Features that are common to the branch or subbranch (mainly based on Sussex, Cubberley 2006) are given under the corresponding title. The most relevant literature for each language variety is given under the section “Selected Bibliography”, and you will find the “General Bibliography” at the conclusion of this article.
List of Slavic Languages
|Old Church Slavonic|
|Old Novgorod Dialect|
|Northwest Slavic Languages|
|Slovincian||Language of Polabian Slavs|
|Bosnian/ Serbian/ Croatian/ Montenegrin|
Old Slavic Languages
Old Church Slavonic
Nomenclature: словѣ́ньскъ ѩꙁꙑ́къ /slověnĭskŭ językŭ/ (endonym, a name given by the native scribes), Old Bulgarian (Eng.) / Altbulgarisch (Germ.) (old-fashioned), Old Church Slavic/ Old Church Slavonic (Eng.), Аltkirchenslavisch (Germ.).
Geographical distribution: *Southern Macedonia, Thessalonica, broadly speaking, Bulgaro-Macedonian geographical area.
Date: OCS is the oldest documented variety of Slavic.10th-11th cc.
Socio-historical background: Old Church Slavonic is a medium variety of Old Slavic which H. Lunt precisely describes as “a generalized form of early Eastern Balkan Slavic (or Bulgaro-Macedonian)” [Lunt 2001; 0.0]. In a strict sense, “Old Church Slavonic” is a term for the language variety developed by early Orthodox monks (traditionally ascribed to St. Cyril and Methodius) predominantly for the translation of Christian liturgical texts and church services. Initially, the translation of the Bible (the beginning of the Gospel of St. John was the first text to be translated), an event of central importance in the history of all Slavic people, had political implications. In 862, Rastislav, the ruler of Moravia, sought to extricate the Moravian church from the sphere of influence of the Bavarian hierarchy and institute an independent church under the jurisdiction of Rome. That being so, he appealed to Constantinople and requested missionaries to teach laity (prosta čędь) the Gospel in vernacular (a similar practice emerged in Armenian, Ethiopian (and Eitrean), Syriac and Coptic). Constantine and his brother Methodius who were appointed to this mission together embarked upon the strenuous task of translating the liturgical texts into Slavic and devising a more or less systematic isolect that would serve religious purposes. The primary sources about the life and deeds of the two brothers are Vita Cyrilli and Vita Methodii according to which they were born in the Greek city of Thessalonica and probably were well familiar with the local dialect of the Slavic-speaking region and thus introduced the South Slavic or Bulgaro-Macedonian elements into the translation. That being said, it can be safely assumed that at the time point under consideration, the differences among the speakers of various groups of Slavic people were quite insignificant and the OCS variety enjoyed wide intelligibility among the Slavic people. The question of to what degree OCS variety is comparable to the actual vernacular of the area remains an open one. Typically, the OCS texts represent a word-by-word translation of the Greek version, however given the fact that it was elaborated to be comprehensible for the general public, one can assume that OCS was not at all “unnatural” or “artificial”, nor was it a “flower language”.
Writing System: Glagolitic and Cyrillic. It is generally agreed that Glagolitic which is assigned to Cyril himself predates the development of Cyrillic [for a more detailed discussion, see Schenker 1995; 179-180]. In spite of the fact that the Cyrillic script is named after Cyril, it was probably developed later by his disciples in Bulgaria in the 890s and was based on the uncial form of the Greek alphabet [Cubberley 1996; 346-347].
Textual sources: Old Church Slavonic corpus is rather small and as its name implies, incorporates texts of ecclesiastical character: translations of gospels and psalms, prayer books, descriptions of the lives of saints, etc. The so-called “canonical” texts can be divided into the manuscripts written in Glagolitic and those written in Cyrillic.
- Codex Zographensis (Zo) /the end of the 10th - beginning of the 11th c./(The National Library of Russia, St. Petersburg).
- Codex Marianus (Mar) /early 11th c./ (The Russian State Library, Moscow).
- Codex Assemanianus (Ass) /early 11th c./ (the Vatican Library).
- Vatican palimpsest cyrillic lectionary (Vat), partly legible.
- Psalterium Sinaiticum (Ps) /1040s/. (St. Catherine, Egypt).
- Euchologium Sinaiticum (Euch) /first half of the 11th c./ (St. Catherine, Egypt ).
- Savvina Kniga (Sava’s Book, Sav) /~ the 1030s/ (Central State Archive of Old Documents (CGADA) in Moscow)
- Codex Suprasliensis (Supr) /10th c./. It is kept in three parts (the National and University Library of Slovenia, the National Library of Poland, and the Russian National Library).
- Sluck Psalter (Sl), Orchid Folia (Ochr), Hilandar Folia (Hil), Rila Folia (Ril), 2 Zograph Folia (ZogrF), etc.
The study of OCS is of exceptional importance for historical linguistics since it represents the oldest documented variety of Slavic and thus preserves the features believed to be inherent to Proto-Slavic and to all the Slavic varieties of the time.
- Ample amount of loanwords and calques from Greek. In the course of borrowing, jers were artificially inserted in those clusters that failed to conform to the Slavic syllable structure, a good example is the word пъсалъмъ < ψαλμός [psalmos] “psalm” , where the rule of the open syllable forced the insertion of the non-etymological jers.
The period when Old Chuch Slavonic texts were elaborated and the language variety of the southern Macedonian town Thesallonica was devised for religious use, saw the rise of some Slavic states, such as Samo’s Empire, Pannonia, Bulgaria, and Moravia. Thus, there was already an inconsiderable or “state-drive” dialectal break-up in the Common Slavic (for example, Moravian territorial features (Moravian recension of OCS) like c < *tj, e.g. pomoc’ “help” < PS *po-mogti, c.f. OCS pomošt, Rus. pomoš’, etc. are found in Kiev Missal). However, for each distinct region the term “Kultursprache” can be applied with utmost caution which implies that before Constantine and Methodius one can not speak about the existence of literary languages. The codification of the OCS based on the southern dialect of Bulgarian-Macedonian, which did not differ much from other Slavic varieties, served as a kind of “counter-entropy” to impose the norms on the other varieties by means of religion to prevent dialectal divergence.
Selected Bibliography: /Grammar/ Trubetzkoy N. S. (1954) Altkirchenslavische Grammatik, Wien| Lunt H.G. (2001). Old Church Slavonic Grammar, Mouton de Gruyter, Berlin, New York | /Grammar books/ Аверина С.А. и др. (2013). Старославянский язык: учебник для высших учебных за ведений Российской Федерации — СПб.: Филологический факультет СПбГУ | Pronk T. (2015). Introduction to Old Church Slavic: Leiden Summer School in linguistics.| /Vocabulary/ GORAZD (2020). Institute of Slavonic Studies of the Czech Academy of Sciences. Digital Old Church Slavonic Dictionary. The Old Church Slavonic Digital Hub. | Havlová E. (1989). Etymologický slovník jazyka staroslověnského, Prague.
/Other/ Мареш Ф. В. (1961). Древнеславянский литературный язык в Великоморавском государстве: Вопросы языкознания, № 2,С. 12-23.
/Online/ Todd B. Krause, Jonathan Slocum: Old Church Slavonic online.
Nomenclature: руськи (endonym), Old Russian, (Old) Ruthenian, Rusian, Altrussisch (Germ.), le vieux russe (Fr.).
Geographical distribution: The early speakers of the Eastern sub-branch of the Slavic languages occupied a vast territory that stretched from Lake Peipus and the southern shores of Lake Ladoga in the West up to the Volga-Oka region in the East, an area that roughly includes the territories of contemporary Ukraine, Moldavia, eastern boundaries of Poland, Belarus, eastern and northern parts of Romania, Eastern Slovakia, and western part of European Russia.
Date: 9th-14th cc.
Socio-historical background: Old Russian (alternatively Old East Slavic) is a cumulative linguonym given to a language variety (or a complex of dialects) that was spoken in the eastern part of the Slavic world in the 10-14th cc.
Writing System: Cyrillic. There were three major styles of handwriting: uncial (устав), half-uncial (полуустав) and cursive (скоропись). More on this topic see.
Textual sources: Inscriptions, Manuscripts.
- One of the most well-known inscriptions is Tmutorokan’ stone /11th. c./ (Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg), a piece of marble with an inscription in Old Russian discovered in 1792 near Taman’ in which it is told that Prince Gleb measured the distance between Tmutorokan’ and Kerch (Bibliography: Медынцева А. А. Тмутараканский камень. — М.: Наука, 1979; Brian J. Boeck, "Stone of Contention: Medieval Tmutarakan as a Measure of Soviet Archaeology in the 1950s and 1960s," Ruthenica 4 (2005)). A complete list of inscriptions can be found in [Рыбаков 1964].
Some major manuscripts written in Old Russian are (according to Vinokur 1971; 32):
- The Ostromir Gospels /11th. c./ (National Library of Russia) /Text editions: Востоков А.Х.(1843). Остромирово евангелие 1056—57 года: С прил. греч. текста евангелий и с граммат. объясн., изд. А. Востоковым / [Предисл.: А. Востоков]. — Санкт-Петербург: тип. Акад. наук, 1843. — , XII, 324 с., 296 л.; - (1988). Остромирово евангелие 1056–1057. Факсимильное воспроизведение. Л.; М.
- Svjatoslav's Miscellanies /1073 and 1076/.
- Archangel Evangelary /1092/.
- Novgorod Minei /1095/.
- Mstislav's Gospels /before 1117/, Galician Gospels /1144/, Dobrilov's Gospels /1164/.
- Miscellany of Uspensky Cathedral /~1190/ (a detailed overview of the new edition is provided in this report).
- The Russkaya Pravda (Russian Law, the legal code of Kievan Rus’) /1282/ (resources on this topic can be found here)
- Laurentian Codex /1377/.
- Sermons of Kirill of Turov, the translation of the Byzantine Chronicle of George Hamartolos /13th c./
The Tale of Igor's Campaign /?/ This work deserves special attention as it has been the focus of scientific discussions for already two centuries and has an element of mystique in it [for a linguistic discussion of the topic see Зализняк 2008; 8-244].
- Pleophony (Russ. полногласие [polnoglasie], Ger. Vollaut): *CeRC/ *CoRC > CeReC/ CoRoC, c.f. OCS Влади́мїръ [Vladimirŭ] ~ Old Russian Володимѣръ [Volodiměrŭ], the name of Vladimir the Great. The form with -la- lingered in the language probably as a result of the OCS influence.
- The loss of nasals, e.g. OR язы́къ “language” [jazýk] ~ OCS ѩзꙑкъ (językŭ) < Proto-Balto-Slavic *inźuʔ- [Darksen 2008; 159].
- *tj > č, *dj > ž, e.g. OR свѣча [svěča] ~ OCS свѣща [svěšča] “candle” < *světja (svět- “light”), OR мєжа [meža] ~ OCS мєжда [mežda] < *medja “boundary, division”
Dialectal groups: For the older period (~ 13th c.) the following dialectal groups are reconstructed [based on Хабургаев 2017; 466-467]:
- North-Western (see the “Old Novgorod Dialect” section below).
- North-Eastern: the area between the Volga and Oka Rivers.
- Central: the territories of Polotsk, Smolensk, and Kursk.
- South-Western: upper reaches of the river Western Bug and the middle reaches of the Dniester.
Selected Bibliography: Gribble Ch. (2016). Medieval Slavic Texts: Old and Middle Russian Texts, Vol. 1, Cambridge. | Lunt, Horace G. (1987). "On the Relationship of Old Church Slavonic to the Written Language of Early Rus'." Russian Linguistics, 11(2/3), 133-162. | Николаев С.Л. (1994). Ранее диалектное членение и внешние связи восточнославянских диалектов | Рыбаков Б. А. (1964) Русские датированные надписи XI—XIV веков / Свод археологических источников, М., Наука. | Vinokur G. O. (1971). The Russian Language: A Brief History: Cambridge University Press. | Винокур Т. Г. (2004). Древнерусский язык. — М.: Лабиринт. | Зализняк А.А. (2008). “Слово о полку Игореве”: взгляд лингвиста, Москва.
/Online/ Todd B. Krause, Jonathan Slocum: Old Russian online.
Old Novgorod Dialect
Nomenclature: древненовгородский диалект (Rus.), Old Novgorodian/ Ancient Novgorod dialect (Eng.).
Geographic distribution: Novgorod, Staraya Russa, Pskov, and adjacent areas.
Date: 11-15th cc.
Language Status Situation: extinct.
Socio-historical background: The language variety known by the term “Old Novgorod dialect” is the language of the birch bark writings found in Novgorod and eleven other cities (excavations continue to this day). These letters reveal much about the life and culture of the population and most importantly about the vernacular they spoke. According to A. Zaliznyak, the language situation of that period and for that area can be characterized by the existence of 5 idioms:
1. Church-Slavonic, sacred language of the church, and literature.
2. Supra-dialectal Old Russian which was the primary H language norm.
3. Old dialect of Pskov.
4. East Novgorodian dialectal group.
5. Dialect of Novgorod and adjacent areas.
The West and East Novgorodian dialects may be unrelated to each other, and thus may not be considered a result of the break up of a hypothetical Proto-Novgorodian [Зализняк 2004; 6-7].
Textual sources: The following categorization is the compressed version of the model, proposed by A. Zaliznyak [Зализняк 2004; 11-15].
- Birch bark writings from Novgorod and Staraya Russa.
- Short inscriptions on household items (Spindle whorls, combs, etc.).
- The first part of the Varlam letter (1192-1210).
- Several parchment and paper letters from Novgorod.
/Secondary sources/ (marked by the presence of “novgorodisms”)
- Novgorodian parchment letters.
- Novgorodian chronicles. One of the most important textual sources is Novgorod First Chronicle.
- Novgorodian theological monuments. “The Questions of Kirik”, an ethical-religious treatise written by Kirik, a twelfth-century monk and mathematician from Novgorod, is a good example of this type.
The language of the majority of birch bark writings is Slavic (supra-dialectal Old Russian and Church-Slavonic). There are only a few letters, written in non-Slavic languages: Finnish (Karelian) - N292; Latin - N 488; Greek - N 552; Low-German - N 753. The birch bark writings are quite short. The longest letter contains 176 words (N 519-520). In terms of contents, personal letters constitute the largest part of birch bark writings. A significant number of the writings are registries of various types (mainly debt lists, signatures of monetary or in-kind payments, etc.). It is noteworthy, however, that the first dated writing (N 591) is an alphabet.
Linguistic Peculiarities: The OND differs from the rest of East Slavic languages in the following respects [Зализняк 2004; 41-58]:
- e ending in the Nom. m.: Ivane, gorode “city”, ja zvĕre “I am animal” (N 199).
- Absence of the Second Palatalization: kьrky “church” ~ Rus. cerkov’ < West Germanic *kirika. This feature differs OND not only from East Slavic but from the other Slavic languages.
- *kv, *gv, *xv are retained / _front Vowels: gvĕzda “star” ~ Rus. zv’ezda < PS *gvĕzda, kvĕt “color” ~ Rus. c’vet < PS *květъ.
- Third or progressive Palatalization is treated variously: *x is retained in vьxo “all”, c.f. ovxo “entirely” (The Questions of Kirik), *g is retained in ne lego “not permitted” (N 855) ~ Rus. n’el’zja, etc.
- Evolution of *tj, *dj, *sj, *zj (also *stj, *zdj) in the Old Dialect of Pskov: ragat’ “to give birth” ~ Rus. rožátʹ < *radjati, vexat’ “to hang” < *věsjati, etc.
- *tl, *dl > kl, gl in the Old Dialect of Pskov: sustrĕkli “they met” < *sustrĕtli, c.f. Rus. sustr’et’.
- Šokan’je (Rus. шокание “lisping”), s’ and z’ (before front vowels) merged with š and ž, e.g. šizyi “dove-colored” ~ Rus. sizyj, etc.
- Realization of *ě as e and i.
- Prothetic *j is retained in some words like jubrus “towel” ~ Rus. ubrus, Cz. ubrus < PS *obrusъ..
- Mixing of the reduced sounds ь/ ъ.
Selected Bibliography: Dekker S. (2018). Old Russian Birchbark Letters: A Pragmatic Approach, Leiden, Brill. | Зализняк А. (2004). Древненовгородский диалект, Москва. | ___ (2006). Берестяные грамоты — бесценный источник сведений о Древней Руси и ее языке, Екатеринбург : Издательство Уральского университета, 2006. — С. 214-237.
General distinctive features of West Slavic
- t’ > c’, d’ > dz.
- Fixed stress on the first syllable.
- Quantitative distinction.
- Contraction through the loss of /j/.
- Mergence of jers into /e/.
1. *t’, *d’ > ć, dź, e.g. Pol. ciemny “dark” < PS *tьmьnъ, c.f. Cz/ Sl. temný.
2. Phonemic distinction between /i/ - /y/, e.g. Pol./ Sorb. być “to be” - bić “to strike”.
3. *e > o, e.g. Pol. żona “wife” < PS *ženà.
4. Hard-soft opposition.
5. Syllabic liquids > vowel + liquid.
6. Opposition of vowels by length is lost.
7. *l > w, e.g. Pol. stół ~ Cz stůl < PS *stolъ.
8. CoRC > CroC.
Nomenclature::język polski, polszczyzna, polski (endonyms), Polish (Eng.), Polnische (Germ.), le polonais (Fr.).
Geographic distribution: The long list of territorial entities where Modern Polish is spoken includes Poland, USA, Canada, UK, Czech Republic, Hungary, Latvia Lithuania, Slovakia, Ukraine, France, Italy, Russia, Belarus, etc. However, historically speaking, the primary reference point for the geographical distribution of the Polish is the basins of the Warta and Noteć Rivers.
Official Status: Poland, European Union.
Language Status Situation: not endangered.
The number of speakers: ~ 42 million, a number based on a more reliable methodology (for more details, see here).
Socio-historical background: Polish people (Polacy), as their name (< PIE *pleh₂-, c.f. . Lith. platùs ‘broad, wide’, Gk. πλᾰτύς “wide, flat, broad”, Av. pərəθu “broad”, etc.) implies, derive from the Lechitic tribes that inhabited the flatland around the River Warta. The political history of Polish people starts with the first Polish state which rose in Greater Poland (Poznań, Gniezno, Kruszwica) in the 10th c. after the fall of the Great Moravia. The leading role in the consolidation of the Polish tribal union was played by Mieszko I from the Piast dynasty who also initiated the process of the Christianization of Poland. As aptly noted by Sussex and Cubberley: “The Polish language has been maintained for more than a millennium by virtue of numbers, historical self-awareness, ethnic loyalty, and religious cohesion” [2006; 90]. With the spread of Catholicism, Latin was given official status, thereby Latin script was adopted for writing down the language. The first written accounts of Polish are the so-called glosses, individual words (predominantly personal and geographical names) that are attested in Latin texts. One of the most significant textual sources of this kind is the Bull of Gniezno, which includes more than 400 Polish glosses. There are also other texts that are worthy of mention, such as a Latin medieval text, written by “Bavarian Geographer” that contains the names of some Lechitic tribes (Uislant, Lendizi, etc.), “Dagome iudex” which mentions some Polish toponyms and tribes names and some other texts. The first complete sentence written in Polish is “Daj, ać ja pobruczę, a ty poczywaj”, meaning “Give it to me! Let me grind, and you rest”. It was put on record in the Book of Henryków (13th c.), a Latin text devoted to the history of the Cistercian abbey. Not all texts managed to outlast the difficulties of time and space, however, some manuscripts reached the hands of the researchers. These are mostly of a religious character. Among the most famous manuscripts are: Holy Cross Sermons (13-14th cc.), the Sankt Florian Psalter (14th c.), the Bible of Queen Sophia (the first translation of the Bible into Polish, 15th c.), Rozmyślanie przemyskie (16th. c.), etc.
The “Golden age” in the history of the Polish language is characterized by an increase of national self-awareness which can best be expressed by the proclamation of the father of Polish national literature, Mikołaj Rej who once said: “Polacy nie gęsi, iż swój język mają” (Poles are not geese, and have their own language). It was also the period of the formation of the literary Polish language when it gradually started to replace Latin in different spheres of life. The question about the dialectal basis of the literary Polish or Polish koine has been raised multiple times and it can be summarized in the following principal question: “Wielkopolska czy Malopolska?”, i.e. has the language evolved from the Great Polish or Little Polish dialectal environment? The main arguments put forward by the advocates of “the Great Polish” theory (K. Nitzsch and followers) are: absence of Mazuration; narrow realization of the PS nasals; absence of the Little Polish x > k (w rękach > w rękak); tw, kw, sw, św clusters, present in written monuments differs from Little Polish [f], etc. The major counter-argument advanced by the opponents emphasizes the anachronistic character of such arguments, proposing that the formation of the literary language dates later than such phonological changes as Mazuration [more on this Ананьева 2009]. In the course of time, however, specialists have come to the conclusion that literary Polish combines elements from both dialects.
Writing System: Latin.
- Preservation of nasal vowels, e.g.pięć [pʲjɛ̇̃ɲʨ̑] “five” < PS pętь, Rus/ Ukr/ Bel pjat’.
- Occlusive [g] retains its quality, as in NRus, LSorb, and all South Slavic standard languages.
- As opposed to the rest of West Slavic languages, stress falls on the penultimate syllable.
- ĕ (jat’) > a/ e (not under all conditions), e.g. rzeka “river” < PS rĕka, lato “summer” < PS lĕto.
Dialectal groups: There are four dialectal areas:
- Great Poland (west, Poznań, Gniezno).
- Little Poland (southeast, Cracow).
- Mazovia (Warsaw and surrounding area).
- Silesia (south-west, Katowice).
The most well-known distinctive features are:
- Mazurzenie, mergence of dentals (s, z, c, ʒ ) and post-alveolars (š, ž, č, ǯ ) into a single series (s, z, c, ʒ ), found in Mazovia, LP, and Silesia, e.g. Pol. jeszcze ~ jesce “more, else”.
- “External Sandhi”, voicing of consonants before a word beginning with vowel/sonorant.
For more extensive information see Sussex, Cubberley 2006; 528-531, Ананьева 2009.
Selected Bibliography: Rospond St. (2005). Gramatyka historyczna języka polskiego z ćwiczeniami, Warszawa. | Gussmann Ed. (2007). The Phonology of Polish, Oxford.
/Grammar books/ Swan O. E. (2002). A Grammar of Contemporary Polish, Bloomington.
/Dialectology/ Ананьева Н. Е. (2009). История и диалектология польского языка, Москва.| Dziubalska-Kołaczyk K., Walczak B. (2010). “Polish”: Revue belge de philologie et d'histoire. Belgisch tijdschrift voor philologie en geschiedenis 88(3):817-840, DOI:10.3406/rbph.2010.7805
Nomenclature: kaszëbsczi jãzëk (end.), język kaszubski (Pol.), Kashubian/ Cashubian/ Cassuban (Eng.), Kaschubisch/ Kassubisch (Germ.), le cachoube (Fr.), кашубско-словинский (Rus.). Old fashioned linguonyms that were mainly in use in the 20th c. are język pomorski/ pomorszczyzna (Pol.), поморский/ поморско-кашубски/ кашебский (Rus.).
Geographic distribution: The Kashubian dialects are spread in the historical region Pomerania on the southern coast of the Baltic Sea.
Corpus: Leipzig Corpora Collection.
Official Status: Recognized as a minority language in Poland (2005, Minorities Act of 2 January, Article 19).
Language Status Situation: Threatened.
The number of speakers: ~ 117,000 (L1: 107,000/ L2: 10,000).
Socio-historical background: Kashubian dialects (there is no “standard” variety although there have been some attempts to create it on a unitary dialectal basis) are considered to be the successor of the so-called Pomeranian languages, a dialect group that was spoken in the same region during the early medieval Slavic migrations. Historically, the region inhabited by Kashubian-speaking Slavs lay within the influence zone of the Germans from the West and the Poles in the East. Germanization and Christianization of the region accompanied by the introduction of Latin as a prestige language pushed Kashubian to the background and subsequently led to the “bottling” of the language and its preservation mainly among the lesser knights and laity. This can be considered one of the main reasons for the absence of an interdialectal norm and the diversity of the regional dialects. Nowadays, Kashubian dialects live on under the conditions of Kashubian-Polish bilingualism/diglossia where Polish takes the dominant position, however, the Kashubian linguistic self-identity is strong enough to maintain its existence and the insertion of Polish elements into the language (denoted by the lexeme pòlaszenié) can be even viewed as something negative.
Periodization: Following Duličenko, the history of the Kashubian can be subdivided into 3 periods [2017; 412-413].
1. ” Pre-Renaissance” period (the beginning of 15th c.- first half of 19th c.), when the language use was limited to the religious sphere. The general characteristic of the written texts of this period is that they are mainly written in Polish with an interpolation of the grammatical, phonetic, and lexical elements of Kashubian.
One of the remarkable specimens from this period is the translations of the hymns of Martin Luther, elaborated by Szymon Krofey.
2. “Renaissance” period (the mid of 19th c. - 20th c.). The “Zeitgeist” of this particular period revolves around the name of one person - Florian Cenowa, a political activist, linguist, and writer known to be the first person to make an attempt towards the standardization of the language through its codification. He strived to awaken the self-identity of his compatriots based on national-linguistic grounds by creating literature in their native language.
3. This subphase which spans from the 20th c. until the present represents the evolution of the second one since the search for a standard continued to be carried out. This period saw the birth of the Kashubian national epic “The Life and Adventures of Remus” written by Aleksander Majkowski.
Writing System: Polish-type Latin with some minor differences.
- Word stress on the initial syllable.
- Schwa phoneme (lowering and centralizing the articulation of short *u and *i), e.g. jãzëk ~ Pol. jazyk “tongue”
- s, z, c, dz < *sʲ, *zʲ, *tʲ, *dʲ, e.g. sedzec vs. Polish siedzieć “sit”.
- k’, g’ > č’, dz’, e.g. Kash. mitczi ~ Pol. miękki “soft”, dłudzi ~ Pol. długi “long” etc.
- German loanwords constitute 5% of the lexicon, e.g. jastrё < Germ. Ostern “easter”, although the level of German elements is relatively lower as compared to Polabian and Slavinician.
Dialectal groups: According to the general classification model Kashubian dialects are divided into North (Puck County and Wejherowo County excluding the south-western part), Central (Kartuzy County and the rest of Wejherowo), and South Kashubian (Remaining area). The main features of North Kashubian are differences in realizations of stressed and undressed vowels, *o > ie/ e, e.g. krowa [kriɛ̯vɑ, krɛvɑ] “cow” etc. The features of South Kashubian include rising of front vowels / _Nasals, and fixed initial stress. On the contrary, Central Kashubian lacks unique innovations that are present in two other groups [Locz; 34-38].
Selected Bibliography: Lorentz F. (1919). Kaschubische Grammatik: Danzig, Gedania. | ___ (1925). Geschichte der pomoranischen (kaschubischen) sprache, Berlin. | Treder J. Język kaszubski. Poradnik encyklopedyczny, Gdańsk: Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Gdańskiego and Oficyna Czec. | Locz L. “Central and Western Lechitic: Kashubian, Slovincian and Polabian” to appear in J. Fellerer, & N. Bermel (Eds.), The Oxford Guide to the Slavonic Languages, Oxford University Press. | Topolinska, Z. (1974). A Historical Phonology of the Kashubian Dialects of Polish. General Information on the Kashubians and Kashubian Dialects.
/Atlas/ AJK (1964-1978). Atlas językowy kaszubszczyzny i dialektów sąsiednich. 1-15, Zdzisław Stieber and Hanna Popowska-Taborska (eds). Wrocław – Warszawa – Kraków – Gdańsk: Zakład Narodowy im. Ossolińskich and Wydawnictwo Polskiej Akademii Nauk.
Nomenclature: slovjĩnsħï ją̃zĕk, slovjĩnsħė gådą̃ńė (endonym), Slovinzisch (Germ.).
Socio-historical background: Slovincian is a variety once spoken along the Baltic coastline. Although it is generally considered to be the westernmost documented variety of Kashubian, the question of the self-identity of this group of Slavic tribes is a controversial subject [Filip 2018]. Early in the 20th c., it was still in use by some hundred people, however after World War II there were only a few speakers left. Those Slovincians who did not voluntarily leave Pomerania after its annexation to Poland in 1945, were mostly viewed as Germans and expelled from the country or assimilated.
Language Status Situation: extinct.
Linguistic Peculiarities: The main feature differentiating Slovincian from Kashubian is */l/ > u̯, also found in the Zaborian dialect of Kashubian [Topolinska 1974; 64-65].
Selected Bibliography: Lorentz F. (1903). Slovinzische Grammatik. — СПб.: Изданіе Второго Отдѣленія Императорской Академіи Наукъ. | ___ (1905). Slovinzische Texte: St. Petersburg : Izdanie vtorogo otdielenii︠a︡ Imperatorskoĭ Akademii nauk, | ___ (1908). Slovinzisches Worterbuch: St. Petersburg, Buchdr. der Kaiserlichen Akademie der Wissenschaften. Filip M. (2018). A tribe after all. The problem of Slovincians’ identity in an anthropological approach: Studia Slavica et Balcanica Petropolitana.
Language of Polabian Slavs
Nomenclature: slüvensťĕ (end.), vensťĕ/ wénske/ wénskia (end.), wendisch (Germ.)
Date: ≥ the mid-18th c. It is told in the books of Wustrów that a woman who could speak the language died on 3 October 1756 [Polański 2010; 20].
Socio-historical background: The language which is commonly known as Polabian derives its name from the River Elbe, Slavic Łaba, Laba or Labe, and preposition po, meaning “on, onto”, thus designating the Slavs that live “on the River Laba”. The Germans used to call the language wendisch from the ethnonym “Vends” (this is how Germans referred to the neighboring tribes of Slavic descent) after which the region Wendland was named. Another name that stands out from the rest is “Drevian '', firstly attested in the form Drewani in a document of Emperor Henry II and used by some philologists on account of the fact that the Polabians were descendants of Drevani (from the word drevo “tree”, lit. “people of woods or trees”), a Slavic tribe that was a part of the Obodrite confederacy. Judging from the primary sources, Polabian was still in use in the 17th c. It was not only the vernacular of the people inhabiting the area but was also used as the language of folk literature and church. However, at the beginning of the 18th c. the situation drastically went downhill when Polabians were no longer allowed to use their language. This was the beginning of the process of progressive deterioration that eventually led to language loss.
Writing System: Latin.
Textual sources: There are no surviving texts written by the Polabians themselves and the initiative to collect the linguistic data (mainly compilation of Polabian dictionaries) was taken by some Germans when the language was already on the verge of extinction. The monuments of the Polabian languages are as follows:
- A concise dictionary compiled by G.F. Mittgoff that was included in the posthumous Collectanea Etymologica by Leibniz.
- The German-Polabian dictionary Vocabularum Venedicum, compiled by the Wustrow pastor Christian Hennig. It also includes a wedding song in the Polabian language.
- The data, contained in a letter from G. F. Mittgoff to H. Schrader, written on May 17, 1691.
- The Lord's Prayer, provided by S. Buchholtz in the book “Versuch in der Geschichte des Herzogthums Mecklenburg”.
- A dictionary compiled based on Hennig's dictionary in 1710 by an unknown author for a certain Monsieur de Baucoeur, a Hanoverian diplomat in Paris.
- A dictionary compiled in the second half of the 17th c. in the vicinity of Dannenberg which was labeled by R. Olesz as Ur-Dannenberger and served as the basis for three other dictionaries.
- The Chronicle of Jan Parum Schultze from a village near Lüchow, written in German but supplemented by a German-Polabian dictionary.
Language Status Situation: extinct.
- k, g, χ > t’, d’, χ’ (not in all environments), e.g. t’aipě < *kypitъ “merchant” etc.
- o > ö / if _hard dental, else > ü, e.g. nös < *nosъ “nose”, büzě < *božiьjь “God”.
- e > i / _soft C, e.g. ziḿa < *zemja “earth”.
- a > o, zobo < žaba “frog”.
Reduction of vowels in posttonic position into ǎ and ě (nasals are not affected by this change).
- Preservation of Dualis (+ Lusatian and Slovenian), e.g. rǫce < *rǫcě “hands”.
- The abundance of German loanwords and calques (20% of the recorded vocabulary).
According to Polański, three dialectal groups can be differentiated: the Süthen dialect, the Lüchow dialect, and the Klennow dialect [for a more detailed discussion, see Polański 1993; 823].
Selected Bibliography: /Vocabulary/ Lehr-Spławiński T., Polański K. Słownik etymologiczny języka Drzewian Połabskich, zesz. 1—4, Kraków.
/Grammar/ Супрун А.Е. (1987). Полабский язык, Минск. | Polański K. (1993). Polabian // The Slavonic Languages / Comrie B., Corbett G.. — London, New York: Routledge. | ___ (2010). Gramatyka języka połabskiego / pod redakcją J. Okuniewskiego. | ___ (2014). Polabian / Polabisch: Halbband 2, https://doi.org/10.1515/9783110215472.1407. | Trubetzkoy, Nikolaj (1929): Polabische Studien. Wien/Leipzig.
- *t’, *d’ is retained.
- Phonemic distinction between /i/ - /y/ is lost.
- *e is retained, e.g. Slk žena “wife”.
- Hard-soft opposition is not as developed as in North West Slavic.
- Syllabic liquids are retained, e.g.
- Vowel length is phonologically distinctive, e.g. Cz vína “of wine” - vina “guilt”.
- l is retained.CoRC > CRaC.
Nomenclature: lingua Bohemica (Lat.), čeština/ český jazyk (Cz. autonym), Czech (Eng.), Tschechisch (Germ.), le tchèque (Fr.).
Geographic distribution: Czech is spread mostly on the historical territories of Czechia and Moravia. However, its language borders extend far beyond the modern Czech Republic. Today, a Czech-speaking population can be found in countries such as Slovakia, Poland, Romania, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ukraine, Moldova, Russia, Kazakhstan, Austria, Germany, France, Belgium, the USA, Canada, Australia, Argentina, etc.
Corpus: Czech National Corpus.
Official Status: Czech Republic, European Union, recognized as a minority language in Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia.
Language Status Situation: Not endangered.
The number of speakers: 12,257,160 ( L1: 9,568,660; L2: 2,688,500).
Socio-historical background: The impact of the Czech language and culture in European history has been immense, suffice it to mention Jan Amos Komensky, whose contribution to universal education can hardly be overestimated. The letter č, widely used in various Slavic languages and for the transcription of the Indo-Iranian voiceless affricate [t͡ʃ], owes its origin to The Czech alphabet, as a result of the reforms of Jan Hus. One might be excited to discover that words like polka, pistol, robot, and even dollar have Czech “provenance”. And yet, Czech has another ace in the hole to amaze the reader, the point is that the language that is commonly referred to as “Czech” encompasses three different variants:
1. Written Czech (Spisovná čeština), the official written standard, a “semi-prestigious koine that is socially unrestricted throughout Bohemia and parts of western Moravia” [Wilson 2007; abstract].
2. Common Czech (Obecná čeština), a colloquial language that has a general use.
3. Spoken (Literary) Czech (Hovorová čeština). The simplest definition that can be given to this variety is “(it) is used in informal conversation but outside the intimacy of the family and close friends” by [Dickens 1994;30] cited in [Wilson 2007; 59].
The history of Czech is subdivided into 3 periods:
1. Old Czech (until 16th c.). In this period some Chuch Slavonic texts show Czech features. A good example is the reflexes of *tj and *dj in Kiev Missal, etc. Thus the Czech glosses start to penetrate the written language.
2. Early Modern Czech (from 16th - 18th cc.). The language of this period was already represented by a vast amount of printed books. The stylistic differences between spoken and the H variant (written norm) were already sensible (diphthongization of ý, v- prothesis, etc). The focal point of the H variant is considered to be the Bible of Kralice. This period also marks the divergence between Czech and Slovak languages that started in the 16th c.
3. Modern Czech (18th c. >). The vast literary tradition gave birth to the literary standard which was also the product of the national revival and the struggle of the Czech literati who kicked against the Counter-Revolution and tried to elaborate a high norm. J. Dobrovský’s Ausführliches Lehrgebäude der böhmischen Sprache and J. Hungmann’s Slovník česko německý were consumed by the idea of the supranational Czech-Slovak language. The revision of the standartization mady by J. Gebauer enlarged the gap between the norm, common speech, and dialects. This is the main reason why there are so many variants of Czech.
Writing System: Latin.
- Umlaut (Cz. přehláska): piji “I drink” < *pijǫ.
- Prothesis of a glottal stop before initial vowels.
- Unlike, for example, Russian, consonants are not opposed by hard/ soft quality.
- Archaic nominal system.
Dialectal groups: Traditionally, 4 major groups are distinguished (although other classificational models were proposed, for example, de Bray’s model which distinguishes 6 groups [de Bray 1980; 45]):
2. Central Moravian
3. Lach or Silesian
4. Eastern Moravian
Some significant distinctive features are:
- Diphtongization of long vowels, e.g. ý > ej, mlýn “mill” ~ Boh. mlejn.
- Prothesis of v- in Boh and colloquial Czech.
- Absence of umlaut in Eastern Moravian, e.g. piju “I drink” ~ Cz. piji.
- s, z, t, d > s´ z´ c´ dz in Lach.
Selected Bibliography: /Grammar books/ Naughton, James (2005). Czech: An Essential Grammar. Routledge Press. | Cerna, Iva, Machalek, Jolana (2007). Beginner's Czech. Hippocrene Books.
/Dialectology/ Koudela, B.; et al. (1964). Vývoj českého jazyka a dialektologie. Československé státní pedagogické nakladatelství. | Wilson J. (2009). Moravians in Prague: A Sociolinguistic Study of Dialect Contact in the Czech.
Nomenclature: slovenčina/ slovenský jazyk/ slovenská reč (endonym), Slovak (Eng.), Slowakisch (Germ.), le slovaque (Fr.).
Geographic distribution: The boundary of Slovak reaches the Czech Republic in the west, Poland in the north and east, Ukraine in the east, and Austria and Hungary in the south. Outside of Slovakia, both literary and dialectal forms are in use in such countries as Hungary, Romania, Czech, Ukraine, and Serbia. It is also represented by the Slovak diaspora living in western European countries, the Americas, Austria, etc.
Corpus: Slovak National Corpus.
Official Status: Slovakia, Serbia, European Union, recognized minority language in Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, Croatia, Ukraine, Russia, Belarus.
Language Status Situation: threatened.
The number of speakers: 7,251,080 ( L1: 5,206,080; L2: 2,045,000).
Writing System: Latin.
Socio-historical background: Despite the striking similarity between Czech and Slovak, the history of the latter differs from that of Czech in some respects. The “parting point” between the two was the Hungarian conquest of the Great Moravia in 906 AD. From that time on and up to the 18th c. Slovak has constantly been under the sphere of foreign influence. For several ages the written standard was Latin. From the 14th c. Czech assumed the role of the dominant language. Together with Latin, it was used as the language of chancellery and church (from the 16th c. it became the language of liturgy among the Protestant Slovaks). An impetus to the Slovak “sense of self” was given by the Catholic Church in the mid of the 18th c. when the Bible was translated into Slovak. Shortly after came the first attempt at codification made by A. Bernolák. This de-Czeched literary language was given the name bernolákovčina after its author. At its core, it was an amalgamation of Czech morphology and west-central Slovak phonology. A more serious step in the path of codification of the language was taken by L. Štúr who developed a new koine (labeled štúrovčina) on the base of the Central dialects. The “dark ages” in the history of Slovak are associated with the establishment of the Austro-Hungarian Compromise when lots of schools and the Matica Slovenská were closed until 1918, the formation of the Czechoslovak state. To summarize, after the seminal codification activity of S. Czambel, Slovak has been the subject of regulation and normalization by the states that have been appearing and disappearing from the stage of history at full tilt.
- Diphtongization of long vowels.
- *x > s (as a result of the 2nd and 3rd Palatalization), in this respect, resembles East Slavic.
- As compared with the other West Slavic, the vocative is lost.
Dialectal groups: There are three major Slovak dialect groups (see the map):
- Eastern (Poprad, Prešov, Spišská Nová Ves, Humenné, etc.)
- Central (Martin, Liptovský Mikuláš, Prievidza, Banská Bystrica, Zvolen, Lučenec, etc.
- Western (Nove Mesto-nad-Vahom, Trencin, Zilina, Chadtsa, Nitra, Tpolchani, etc.)
- Area of mixed dialects.
The dialects of Slovak have emerged from different dialectal bases. The proto-central dialectal group had some south-Slavic features differentiating it from the proto-western and proto-eastern groups (for a more detailed discussion see Sussex, Cubberley 2006; 537-543, Лифанов 2023; 6-15).
Selected Bibliography: /Dialectology/ Hanulíková A.; Hamann S. (2010), "Slovak", Journal of the International Phonetic Association, 40 (3): 373–378. | Лифанов К. В. (2023). Диалектология словацкого языка: Учебное пособие. | Nábělková, M. (2007). Closely-related languages in contact: Czech, Slovak, “Czechoslovak.” International Journal of the Sociology of Language, 2007(183).
Nomenclature: serbska rěč, serbšćina, hornjoserbšćina (Upper Sorbian), dolnoserbšćina (Lower Sorbian), sorbian (Eng.), Lusatian, Sorbisch (Germ. with variants Obersorbisch, Niedersorbisch), Wendisch (old-fashioned), le sorabe, le wende (Fr.), серболужицкий (Rus.).
Geographical distribution: The speech area of the Sorbian includes two major centers within the historical region Lusatia (modern German states of Saxony and Brandenburg): Bautzen, where Upper Sorbian is spoken and Cottbus, the center of Lower Sorbian.
Corpus: Corpus of Upper Sorbian.
Official Status: Upper Sorbian (Corpora Collection Leipzig).
Language Status Situation: Definitely endangered (Lower Sorbian), Endangered/ unsafe (Upper Sorbian).
Socio-historical background: The collective name “Sorbian” is applied to two languages: Upper Sorbian and Lower Sorbian. The speakers of these languages are the descendants of the Slavic tribes that inhabited the territory around the Elbe and the Oder. Two questions remain open, whether the Upper and Lower Sorbians are two distinct languages or two dialects of the same language, and even whether the specialists are dealing with one unitary ethnic group or two separate ethnocultural groups of different pedigrees. The answer to the latter may be easier, as it is known that Upper Lusatia was inhabited by Milceni and the Lower Sorbian by Lužici [Polanski 1980; 230], also confirmed by the archaeological data [Barford 2001; 78-79].
The normalization process was set by the Reformation and the first written texts appeared in the 16th c. Even the early translations of the religious texts show the plurilinguistic situation of the region since already in the 18th c. there were 3 standardized Sorbian languages - Lower Sorbian and two Upper Sorbians (Catholic and Protestant) [Sussex, Cubberley 2006; 95]. Eventually, the Lower Sorbian was standardized by the scientific association Maćica Serbska. Also, a central role in honing the path towards a standard language belongs to the newspapers Tydźenska nowina and Serbske Nowiny (being published until now) and to the publishing house Domowina. Nowadays, the Serbian Institute has taken the primary role in the standardization of LS.
Writing system: Latin.
*Common for both Upper and Lower Sorbian.
- Prothesis of consonants before all initial vowels: wucho < *uxo “ear”, wu < *umĕti “to know”, etc.
- Dualis, e.g. ruka (sg.) - ruce (du.) “2 hands”.
- Preservation of the Proto-Slavic aorist and imperfect (also in Bulg. Mac. and BSC).
Dialectal groups: Sorbian shows a high degree of regional variation [Stone 1993; 682]. According to the dialectal subdivision that is based on the isoglosses mapped in Sorbischer Sprachatlas, there are 3 dialectal zones: Upper Sorbian (South), Lower Sorbian (North), and a transitional zone between the two. The transitional zone shows the highest degree of variation. Some major phonetic, morphological, and lexical differences include (for the complete data see Stone 1993; 682-683):
- *g > h in US, while LS retains it: gora (LS) - hora (US) “mountain”.
- Masculine category is present in US, while in LS and transitional dialects, it is missing.
- The verb “to say”: gronis (LS) and prajic/ rjec (US).
Selected Bibliography: /Grammar/ Мудра Иржи, Петр Ян (1983). Учебник Верхнелужицкого Языка, Bautzen. | Schaarschmidt G. (1997). A Historical Phonology of the Upper and Lower Sorbian Languages, Heidelberg.
Traditionally, the South Slavic languages are classified into two sub-branches: North-west South Slavic which includes Slovenian, Bosnian, and Serbo-Croatian, and South-east South Slavic, consisting of Bulgarian and Macedonian.
Distinctive features of South Slavic:
1. Disappearance of /y/ phoneme, the fusion of /i/ and /y/.
2. tl/ dl > l, e.g. OCS плєлъ < PS *pletlas (< *plektlo-), c.f. Cz. pletl “wove”, Skt. praśná “turban”, Lat. plectō, Gr. πλεκτή “knitted”, etc.
3. Restructuring of the diphthongs: CoRC > CRaC, CeRC > CRĕC, #oRC > RaC , CoLC > CLaC, CeLC > CLĕC, e.g. *o´lk-om- “hungry” > lakom-, *melti > mleti etc.
4. š’, č’, c’ > š, č, c (Hardening).
5. ę > e (Denasalization).
6. Mergence of jers into [ə]
7. Syllabic l̩ was lost.
- Preservation of initial *je- (<*e-), e.g. BSC jezero “lake” < *ezero.
- Vocalic tone.
- 3pl Pres. ending is -e-.
Nomenclature: Serbo-Croat-Bosnian (SCB), Bosnian/Croatian/Montenegrin/Serbian (BCMS), Serbokroatisch (Germ.), naški/нашки "ours" (Informal). *The most widespread term Serbo-Croatian was first used by Jacob Grimm in 1824 [Lencek 1976; 46] who is mostly known for systematically setting the sound laws that describe the PIE stops as they developed in the Germanic (Grimm’s law).
* More on the nomenclature [Brozović 1991; 356].
Geographic distribution: This variant of South Slavic is spoken on the territory of the former constituent republics of Yugoslavia: Serbia, Croatia, Montenegro, Bosnia, and Herzegovina. A substantial number of BSCM speakers reside in the neighboring countries as a minority: Austria, Hungary, Italy, Romania, Slovenia, North Macedonia, and Albania. Besides BSC is represented by a vast diaspora, living in the USA, Canada, Australia, Germany, etc.
Corpus: Corpora Serbo-Croatian.
Official Status: Serbia (Serbian), Croatia (Croatian), Montenegro (Montenegrin), Bosnia and Herzegovina (BSCM), EU (Croatian), recognized minority language in Austria, Hungary, Italy, Romania, Slovakia, Czech Republic, and North Macedonia.
Language Status Situation: not endangered.
The number of speakers: ~ 19 million.
Writing System: Serbian Cyrillic alphabet (standardized by V. Karadžić); Croatian Latin alphabet (by L. Gaj); Arebica, a slightly modificated version (e.g. the vowels have distinct letters, like in Sorani Kurdish) of Arabic script that used to be in use between the 15th-19th cc.
Socio-historical background: The history of the development of the BSCM language situation that is generally treated as a “polycentric” status quo is a tempting story of the creation of various types of collective identities and nationalisms, a story of separation and reunification and a story of different state formations and liquid boundaries, changing over time. The names “Serb” and “Croat” are ethnonyms (probably of Indo-Iranian origin), while “Bosnia” (probably from the name of the Bosna river) and “Montenegro” (lit. “black mountain”, taken from Venetian Italian, which in turn is a calque of the local Slavic “Crnagora”) are place names pertaining to geography, which illustrates that the identities of the BSCM speakers were not only built on the national idea. Historically, the literary tradition of this South Slavic area hinges on the cultural-linguistic opposition or the pluricentrism of the Western Catholic regions (Istria, Dalmatia, Bosnia, etc.) and the Eastern-Orthodox literary traditions. The dominant group among the Orthodox believers were Serbs, who adopted Christianity in the 870s. The history of the Serbian state starts with the Serbian Principality, established by the Vlastimirović Dynasty in the 8th century, however, it reached the peak of its power during the rule of The Nemanjić dynasty when the state underwent cultural and economic growth. The Ottman invasion put an end to the Serbian “Golden Age” and many Serbians had to flee west into Bosnia and Montenegro and north into Hungary where they had better conditions for cultural survival and growth. The political and cultural vacuum created after the fall of the Byzantine Empire was filled by Russia. The Russian recension of Church Slavonic was accepted among the Serbians and thus the elements of Russian started to penetrate the language.
The Croats, on the other hand, were adherents of Catholicism. They have passed a long historical way, from the arrival of what is today called Croatia and Christianization up to the establishment of an autonomous state, the first of which was the Kingdom of Croatia. For a long time, Croatia was dominated by Hungaria, and then the Ottomans. The sociolinguistic situation was in complete disarray, as on one hand Latin was the official language, and on the other hand Church Slavonic served as the language of the religion. Along with these “prestige” languages, the local dialects continued to exist. The Croatian culture of that time is unique not only for its “trilingualism”, but “triliteracy” as well, because of the use of three scripts Latin, Glagolitic, and Cyrillic simultaneously [Galović 2018; 113].
In the 19th c. with the progressive growth of nationalistic tendencies among the South Slavic people, a need for a standard language arose and some prominent Serbian and Croatian linguists dedicated themselves to this mission. The foundations of standard Serbian were laid by V. St. Karadžić, while the Croatian standard received its standard design as early as the Middle Ages. A parallel process of the national awakening was evidenced in Croatia. In the 1830s a group of Croatians led by Ljudevit Gaj endeavored to establish a standard language as a counterpoise to the foreign cultural-linguistic influences.
A joint action objective was agreed upon in 1850 when Serbian and Croatian linguists signed the Vienna Literary Agreement which was aimed at creating a unitary standard. As a result, the dialect of East Hercegovina was chosen as the national standard. This process of unification marked the beginning of a process of ongoing rivalry between Serbian, Croatian, and more recently Montenegrin and Bosnian as well. An Agreement was reached in 2017 with the Declaration on the Common Language which stated that all four standardized languages (Serbian, Bosnian, Croatian, and Montenegrin) are considered as a part of one polycentric language and all are ascribed an equal status. It also declared against any kind of linguistic discrimination in local language policies.
Textual sources: The history of the written BSCM can be traced back to the Old Church Slavonic period that served as the language of church and liturgy. The oldest liturgical and non-liturgical texts are written in glagolithic which remained in use up to the 19th c. Among the earliest monuments are: Baška tablet (Glagolithic), Humac tablet (Bosnian Cyrillic), Plomin tablet, Valun tablet, Inscription of Župa Dubrovačka, etc. The Western center of the Church Slavonic literary tradition fell into the territory of the Chakavian dialect. To this Church Slavonic tradition belongs “The Electives” of Bernardine Splichanin (1495), written in Latin. Among the monuments of the Shtokavian tradition, the Charter of Ban Kulin (1189) and Miroslav Gospel can be cited, both written in Cyrillic and produced in the Hum region (Bosnia and Herzegovina).
The end of the Medieval Era was marked by the emergence of texts of non-religious provenance. For the sake of brevity, we will enlist only some of the most important works:
- “Osman” by Ivan Gundulić (~ 1600).
- “Dictionarium quinque nobilissimarum Europae linguarum” by Faust Vrančić (1595).
- “Institutiones linguae illyricae” by Bartol Kašić (1604).
- “Dictionar” by Juraj Habdelić (1674).
- “Blago jezika slovinskoga” by Jakov Mikalja (1649).
- “Nova slavonska i nimacska gramatika” by Mathiam Antonium Relkovich(1767).
- /v/ sonorant is not devoiced on the segment boundary like in other Slavic languages [Sussex, Cubberley 2006; 169]
- t’ > c’, d’ > dz’, e.g. sveća “candle”, medja “middle”.
The principle by which the BSCM dialects are differentiated is quite simple to memorize since they are named after the word “what”. Thus the BSCM dialect chain involves the following groups of dialects:
- Chakavian uses ča/ ca and is spread in Northern Dalmatia, the Adriatic, and Burgenland (Austria).
- Kajkavian - kaj, mainly spoken in Central Croatia.
- Shtokavian - što/ šta “what”, the most widespread dialect, also spoken in the southern part of Burgenland.
* The fourth group, referred to as Torlakian or Prizren-Timok dialect, is either viewed as a part of other groups and languages (as a dialect of Bulgarian for instance) or described as a distinct group within the “Balkan Slavic” area.
* A comprehensive list of the dialectal features of the groups can be found in the related Wikipedia article.
Selected Bibliography: /Dialectology/ Ivić P. (2001). Dijalektologija srpskohrvatskog jezika, Matica Srpska.
/Other/ Brozović, D. (1991). “Serbo-Croatian as a pluricentric language”. Pluricentric Languages. Contributions to the Sociology of language 62. Berlin & New York: Mouton de Gruyter. https://doi.org/10.1515/9783110888140.347. | Galović T. (2018). “Intellectual and Cultural History: Croatian Glagolitic, Cyrillic and Latin Written Culture in the Early Middle Ages”: Journal of Croatian Studies. | Lencek, R. (1976). "A few remarks for the history of the term 'Serbocroatian' language". Zbornik Za Filologiju I Lingvistiku. 19 (1)
A more or less complete Bibliography can be found here.
Nomenclature: краинский (Crainski Jeʃik) /виндский/хорутански (old-fashioned), slovene/ Slovenian (Eng.), Slovenisch/ Slowenisch/ Windisch (Germ.).
Geographic Distribution: The core of the Slovenian-speaking area is Slovenia with its capital Ljubljana. In the West, it borders with Roman languages (Italian and Friulian), in the North- with the German-speaking area, in the South it neighbors with Croatian an in the North-East its borders reach Hungary (Carinthia). Outside Slovenia proper, the language is spoken in Italy (Venetian Slovenia), Austria, Hungary, Croatia. It is also represented by Slovenian diaspora living in Australia, Germany, France, the USA, and Canada.
Corpus: FidaPlus Corpus.
Official Status: Slovenia, EU, a minority language in Austria and Italy.
Language Status Situation: shifting.
The number of speakers: ~ 2.1 million [Duličenko 2017; 213].
Writing System: Latin.
Socio-historical background: Although Slovenes enjoyed a somewhat “peaceful existence” as compared to other Slavic people, the question of national and linguistic self-identity is like a red thread running through the history of Slovenes. Even the different namings of the language (see above) well illustrate the ambiguity of the narratives behind the scenes and it was mainly due to the efforts of some Slovene literati like Jernej Kopitar, Urban Jarnik, Valentin Vodnik, etc. that the generic name gained prominence over the German Windisch [Stankiewicz 87]. Being under foreign control throughout almost the whole history, the Slovene receded in favor of more prestigious German and Italian the use of which prevailed in big cities primarily among the aristocrats. Even one of the most renowned Slovene poets France Prešeren had some verses written in German. Thus, the axis of self-identity and the struggle for establishing a linguistic model, either using “Old Slovenian” formulas or the vernacular, was built on the opposition between “Slovenian” and “non-Slovenian”.
- Denasalization of ǫ, e.g. zoba “tooth” < zǫbъ.
- Presence of high-mid and low-mid phonemes.
- t’ > č, d’ > ž.
Dialectal groups: The Slovene-speaking territory is characterized by a diversity of dialects. The classificational models are based on two principles: horizontal and vertical divisions. Traditionally, in accordance with the horizontal division elaborated by Fran Ramovš back in 1935, 8 dialectal groups or “bases” are distinguished: Upper Carniolan, Lower Carniolan, Styrian, Pannonian, Carinthian, Littoral, Rovte [Greenberg 2006; 13-14].
Comprehensive data on the dialectal groups of Slovene and their features is given in the related Wikipedia article.
Selected Bibliography: /Grammar/ Herrity P. (2000). Slovene: a comprehensive grammar, Routledge.
/Dialectology/ Greenberg M. L. (2006). A Short Reference Grammar of Standard Slovene, Kansas | Pronk T. (2009). The Slovene dialect of Egg and Potschach in the Gailtal, Austria, Brill.
/Other/ Toporišič J. (1992). Enciklopedija slovenskega jezika, Ljubljana.
- *je- > e (je comes from PS *e-), e.g. Mac. ezero “lake” < *ezero, through *jezero.
- Strong ь > e.
- Lost of the case forms.
- Absence of Infinitive forms.
- Definite articles are attached to the end of the word.
- 3pl. Pres. ending is -at.
- 3sg. Pers. Pron. toj “he”, absent from the other Slavic languages.
- Existence of the “Renarrative” verb forms structured in analogy to Turkish. These kind of verb forms denote narration by a speaker who has not witnessed them himself/ herself.
Nomenclature: Български език (Bulg.), Bulgarian (Eng.), Bulgarisch (Germ.), le bulgare (Fr.).
Geographic distribution: Bulgarian is spoken not only in Bulgaria but also in the adjacent regions in Greece, Serbia and Macedonia, with small islands in Turkey, Moldavia, Ukraine, Hungary, and Czech. Outside Bulgaria and the South Slavic axis, language is represented among the diaspora in Germany, France, Italy, Spain, the UK, the USA, and Canada.
Corpus: Bulgarian National Corpus.
Official Status: Bulgaria, European Union, a minority language in Ukraine, Moldova, Romania, Hungary, Serbia, Czech Republic, and Albania.
Language Status Situation: shifting.
The number of speakers: ~ 10 million (L1 + L2).
Writing System: Cyrillic.
Socio-historical overview: The history of Bulgars and the evolution of the Bulgarian language is full of peaks and valleys (as Bulgarians say when being inquired about their well-being: “горе-долу”, meaning “I’m all right”, lit. “with ups and downs”). It starts with the arrival of a Turkic tribe, referred to as Bulgars (not to confuse with Bulgarian which designates the Slavic population, speaking Slavic language) to the Balkans under the command of Asparukh, son of Kubrat, who managed to subjugate the Slavic-speaking population of the region and founded the First Bulgarian Empire. However, the invaders’ cultural identity was not well grounded and within two centuries they became assimilated. A great deal of ink has been spilled over the problem of the origin of the so-called “proto-bulgarians” (bulg. първобългарит), however there is no agreement even on the question of the etymology of the ethnonym Bulgar. To put it in a nutshell, the foundations of Bulgarian ethnobiography rest on the several narratives-theories, competing for the recognition, such as turkic, hunnic and East-Iranian or Scythian theories. On the first glance, the contrastive data from the linguistics, anthropology and genetics may give some credence to the East-Iranian theory. However, there is still much to be done in the field in order to give a final answer to this evergoing question.
Periodization: The history of Bulgarian can be conventionally segmented into 4 periods (following Маслов 2017).
1. Pre-writing period, embraces the first stages of the penetration of Slavic tribes into the Balkans (circa the first half of the 9th c.), more precisely the region lying south of Dunai.
2. Old Bulgarian (the first half of the 9th c. - the end of the 11th c.). This period was marked by the creation of the Glagolithic and Cyrillic writing systems. Linguistically it is characterized by the loss of jers, development of contracted forms of adjectives, replacement of archaic forms of aorist by those ending in -охъ, etc.
3. Middle Bulgarian (12th to 15th centuries). This stage is represented by a variety of written sources of different genres, both religious and secular. It was the age of the Asen and Shishman dynasties whose unusual taste can be identified in such manuscripts as the Vatican Manasses Chronicle (1345) and the Tsar Ivan Aleksandur Gospel (1356). Some major phonological and grammatical shifts take place during this period, such as a transition from inflection to more analytical grammatical forms, the emergence of a new inflectional class (3rd or “a”-class), restructuring of imperfect and aorist, etc.
4. Modern Bulgarian (from the 15th c. onwards). This period involves the era of the “Turkish yoke” that lasted five centuries and is considered a bleak era of Bulgaria’s cultural meltdown when the majority of the literate people either perished or had o emigrate (mainly to Serbia) under the oppression of the Ottoman Empire. The so-called Damaskin texts from this period show a mixture of various dialectal, vernacular elements that mark the evolution of the language from middle to modern Bulgarian. The idea of a unitary national language, although first expressed in Istoriya Slavyanobolgarskaya in 1762 by Saint Paisius of Hilendar, was brought to fruition by the end of the 19th c., based mainly on the Eastern dialects spoken in the historical center Veliko Tarnovo.
Textual Sources: Since the Church Slavonic is a language variety that rose from the South Slavic region, for the early medieval textual sources look into the “Textual Sources” section of the Old Church Slavonic. A detailed overview of the textual sources and the literature can be found in [Мирчев 1978; 5-43].
- Reduction of vowels in unstressed position.
- ĕ > ja, e.g. svĕtъ > svjat “light, world” (+ Pol., Rus. dialects).
- t’, d’ > št, žd, e.g. svešt “candle”, c.f. OCS svĕšta, mežda “middle”.
Dialectal groups: Traditionally, dialects of Bulgarian are classified into two major groups: Eastern and Western. This distinction is based on a single isogloss, the yat (ѣ) border that marks the differences in the realizations of the Proto-Slavic yat phoneme. According to this classification model, *ě is realized as either ia or ɛ in the Eastern group, e.g. mlyàko “milk”/ mlekàr “milker”, but only as ɛ in Western dialects. The yat borderline falls along the Dunai River and makes its way to the South and South-West, approximately to the town Solun. A more detailed picture of Bulgarian dialects can be found in the related Wikipedia article.
Selected Bibliography: /Grammar/ Мирчев К. (1978). Историческа граматика на българксия език, София | Пашов П. (1999). Българска граматика, София. | Leafgren J. (2011). A concise Bulgarian Grammar, SEELRC. | Scatton, E. A. (1984). A reference grammar of modern Bulgarian. Columbus
/Dictionaries/ V. I. Georgiev; et al., eds. (1971–2011), Български етимологичен речник [Bulgarian etymological dictionary], vol. I–VII, Българска академия на науките.
/Dialectology/ Стойков (Stoykov), Стойко (2002) . Българска диалектология (Bulgarian dialectology) (in Bulgarian). София: Акад. изд. "Проф. Марин Дринов". ISBN 954-430-846-6. OCLC 53429452. | Keremidchieva S. (2018). Dialects and Bulgarian Dialectology in the beginning of the XXI century, Trudy IRY RAS. № 1 (15),113 - 135.
Nomenclature: македонски jазик (Mac.), Macedonian (Eng.), Makedonisch (Germ.), le macedonien (Fr.), σλαβομακεδονική (Slavomacedonian)/ μακεδονική γλώσσα/ σλαβική διάλεκτος “slavic dialect” (Gr.).
Geographic distribution: Macedonian is spoken primarily on the Balkan peninsula. The territory of the Modern Macedonian borders with Bulgarian in the East, Albanian in the West, Serbian in the North, and Greek in the South. The language is also spoken by the Macedonians, living in the neighboring countries: Greece (Aegean Macedonia), Albania, Serbia, Bulgaria, as well as by the Macedonian Diaspora in the USA, Canada, and some other countries.
Corpus: Macedonian Spoken Corpus.
Official Status: the Republic of North Macedonia, a recognized minority language in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Romania, and Serbia.
Language Status Situation: not endangered.
The number of speakers: ~ 2 million.
Writing System: Curillic (македонска азбука).
Socio-historical background: Geographically, North Macedonia is situated at the core of the Balkan Peninsula. From the 6th century AD onwards, when the Slavic tribes arrived in the Balkans they were in close contact with both Slavic (Bulgaric) and non-Slavic Indo-European languages (Greek, Albanian, Aromanian, Romani, Romanian, etc.). That being said, Macedonian reveals not only interesting “Slavic” innovations but also has the highest degree of the so-called balkanisms, grammatical, syntactical, phonological, and lexical features that can be found across the Balkan language area (also termed Balkan Sprachbund) [Lindstedt 2000]. Being at the center of the Slavic-speaking area of the Balkans, it has been greatly affected by Serbian and Bulgarian. Dialects of Macedonian are a good illustration of this realia, the further north you go, the more South Serbian characteristics you will find, and likewise, the further East you go, the more they resemble the West Bulgarian.
1. The oldest period includes the time when Macedonian dialects broke apart from the Proto-Slavic. The Macedonian dialectal features can be seen in OCS texts such as Codex Marianus, Codex Assemanianus, etc.
2. 12-13th cc. Characterized by the denasalization of ǫ and e̝, t’ > k´, d’ > g´ under the influence of Serbian as Serbia expanded its territories towards the South. Traces of Macedonian dialectal features can be found in Macedonian or Ohrid recension of Old Church Slavonic, such as the Dobromirovo gospel, Psalterium Bononiense, etc.
3. This period, which encompasses 14-18th cc., coincides with that of Modern Bulgarian (see above) when the elements of the vernacular language were introduced into the church literature.
4. The Modern period of the Macedonian timeline was immensely important in forming its identity. The ideological ground for the establishment of a standard language was created with the emancipation of the Slavic people from the Ottoman Empire. However, for quite a long time, there hasn’t been a consensus among the literati as to which dialect will be chosen for this purpose. It is also important to note, that at that time, Cyrillic was forgotten in some regions, and this “vacuum” was filled with Greek, so that even when writing in their native tongue, Macedonians would sometimes use the Greek alphabet. Thus, history has seen Macedonian folk songs being written down in the Greek alphabet by Dimitar Miladinov, however, in print they were eventually transcribed into Cyrillic, which implies the importance and the prestige of the Cyrillic writing system for the Slavic population. The first attempt to create a standardized form was made by Krste P. Misirkov in his book “Za makedonckite raboti” (1903). He proposed to choose the Prilep-Bitola dialect as the dialectal basis for the future standard language. However, his idea was brought to life only in 1944 at the Anti-fascist Assembly for the National Liberation of Macedonia when Macedonian was given an official status.
- t’ > k´, d’ > g´, e.g. svek´a “candle”, meg´a “between”.
- Loss of /x/, e.g. leb “bread” in Standard Macedonian and Western dialects, East Macedonian dialects preserve the /x/.
Dialectal groups: Broadly speaking, the dialectal division of Macedonian follows the East-West dichotomy. The boundary between the varieties runs along the Crna and Vardar Rivers. However, you may come across some other classification models that group the dialects into Northern, Western, and South-East complexes. Within the Western complex Central dialects lying south of Skopje are allocated in a separate group. The westernmost dialect group, as one can see from the map, is more divided due to landscape roughness. The standard Macedonian that was established in 1944-1945, is based mainly on the central dialects, however, codificators included elements from other minor dialects as well. Some of the general phonological and morphological features characterizing the differences include:
- *ĕ > e / all dialects, except eastern dialects /c/_, e.g. Standard Macedonian cel “whole”, East Mac. cal < *cĕlъ.
- Differences in the reflexes of /ъьr̥ḷǫ/ , e.g. korv (WMac.) ~ krv (CMac.) ~ krəv (EMac.) “blood”.
- Stress: Prosodic system with a fixed stress on the penultimate syllable in WMac., while Eastern dialects show non-fixed stress patterns.
- /x/ phoneme (see above)
- /v/ > ∅ / V_V in WMac. osnoa “basement” < *osnova.
- Prothetic /j/ (WMac.) VS prothetic /v/ (EMac.)/ before *ǫ, e.g. Standard Mac. jaglen “coal” < *ǫgľь.
- Lack of deictic suffixes in -on and -ov in EMac.
- Lack of 3sg Pres. -t ending in EMac.
Selected Bibliography: /Grammar/ Horace L. (1952). A grammar of the Macedonian literary language, Skopje. | Koneski B. (1986). Istoria na Mekdonskiot Jazik, Skopje | Kramer Ch., Mitkovska (2011). Macedonian: A Course for Beginning and Intermediate Students (English and Macedonian Edition).
/Vocabulary/ Reginald De Bray (1998). Macedonian-English dictionary. London: Routledge.
/Dialectology/ Božidar V. (1998). Dijalektite na makedonskiot jazik. Skopje. | Lindstedt, J. (2000). Linguistic Balkanization: Contact-induced change by mutual reinforcement // Languages in Contact / D. G. Gilbers & al, (Studies in Slavic and General Linguistics, 28.). — Amsterdam & Atlanta.
2. * je- > o-: Rus./ Ukr. ozero, Bel. vozera < *jezero “lake”, c.f. Pol jezioro.
3. Denasalization: *ǫ > u, *ę > ja:
4. *t’ > č, *d’ > ž: Rus./ Ukr. xoču, Bel. xaču < *xot-jǫ “i want”, Rus. xožu, Ukr. xodžu, Bel. xadžu < *xod-jǫ “i go”.
5. e > o, treated in various ways in Rus., Ukr. and Bel.
6. Strong jers > e/o: Rus./ Bel./ Ukr. mox < *mъxъ “moss”, Rus./ Ukr. den’, Bel. dzen’ < *dьnь “day”.
- Preservation of the 3rd. Sg. and Pl. endings, e.g. Ukr. hovoryt’ “he says”, Rus. govorit, Bel. havoryc’.
- There are some features which are unique to East Slavic; some well known examples are Rus. sorok “40”, sobaka “dog”, xorošij “good”, etc. that are not attested in the other groups.
* The features of NE correspond to those of Russian.
Nomenclature: velikorusskij “pertaining to Great Russia” or Great Russian (until 20th c.), Russian (Eng.), Russisch (Germ.), le russe (Fr.).
Geographic distribution: Russia is the largest country in the world, however, its language borders are even larger. Eurasia can fairly be considered the “heartland” of the Russian language, however, it is represented in all the continents of the world including even Sub-Saharan Africa, the Americas, and Oceania. An interesting case of a language mixture is evidenced among the Russian speakers of Brighton Beach (also referred to as “Little Odessa” ) who acquired English as a second language. This kind of pidgin language is known as Runglish (“Russian English”) and is formed by adopting and modifying English words in a Russian manner. For a more comprehensive look at the geographic distribution and the speakers, see the Wikipedia article.
Corpus: Russian National Corpus.
Official Status: Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan (UN member states); South Ossetia, Transnistria, Abkhazia (Partially recognized states).
Language Status Situation: Safe.
The number of speakers: ~ 258 million total speakers (native and L2).
Socio-historical background: The history of the Russian language is variegated in every sense of the word. It is directly linked to the history of the East Slavs that has seen the transfer from paganism and alien rule to Christianity, 250 years of Tatar occupation, the so-called “Second South Slavic Influence” brought about by the fall of Bulgaria to the Turks [more on this Talev 1973], progressive “westernization” implemented by Peter the Great, Pushkin’s “Eugene Onegin'' and Karamzin’s “Poor Liza” and finally the communist state with its policies of Russification and Korenizatsiia.
Periodization: The history of the Russian language is conventionally divided into three major periods.
1. Old Russian (see the “Old Russian” section). The sociolinguistic situation can be characterized as a mere “unilingualism”, because of the lack of major linguistic differences between OR and OCS. In some other classification models this period is known as “Kievan” which connects the development of language to the process of polytogenesis in Kyiv and the formation of “Kievan Rus”.
2. Great Russian (14th- 17th cc.) or “Moscovite” period [Камчатнов 2013; 15]. This period saw the transition of the political center from Kyiv to Vladimir-Suzdal and then in the early 14th c. to Moscow. In the ongoing rivalry for cultural-political dominance between Moscow and Tver, the latter was taken down a notch partially as a result of the activity of Peter, Metropolitan of Moscow who later opted for Yuriy Danilovich against Mikhail of Tver in the rivalry for the grand ducal dignity. He also played a key role in reuniting the Church which was fractured as a result of the Mongol Invasion and recognizing Moscow as the cultural-religious center of the whole Rus.
The major grammatical shifts that occurred during this period can be summarized as follows:
- Loss of Vocative and Dualis.
- Emergence of -a ending in Nominative plural, e.g. goroda ~ *gorodi.
- е > о / after soft sibiliants, e.g. tjažokъ “heavy” ~ tjažekъ.
- The Replacement of c, z, s (emerged as a result of the Second Palatalization) by k, g, x, e.g. rukъ “of hands” ~ rucъ.
- Imperative forms ending in -ite, e.g. nosite “You (all) carry”!
The major dialects known from this period are Novgorodian, dialects of Pskov, Smolensk, Rostov-Suzdal, etc. Moscovian dialect was a part of Rostov-Suzdal dialectal area. The 16th c. is marked by the process of normalization of the language based on the Moscovian dialect that absorbed the elements of both North Russian (for example, Hard -t ending in 3rd. Sg. and Pl., e.g. nosit “he carries” ~ Southern nositь; /v/ sound in the Gen. of the masc. and neut. Adjectives and pronouns, e.g. tovo “of that” ~ Southern togo) and South Russian dialects (akan’e, see below).
The sociolinguistic situation as opposed to the previous period can be described as Russian-Church Slavonic diglossia, which by the end of this period transforms into bilingualism, thus, speaking formally, a privative opposition is followed by equivalent opposition, because of the growing gap between the varieties. A curious example of diglossia is Tsar Ivan Grozny’s message the Kirillo-Belozersky Monastery where he addresses to the monastic brothers first in Church Slavonic and then switches to Russian thus alternating one variety with another [Успенский 1994; 44-45].
Some of the major works written during this period are:
- “A journey Beyond the Three Seas” by Afanasy Nikitin.
- “The Tale of Peter and Fevronia of Murom” by Hermolaus-Erasmus.
- “The Pskov Capture” by a contemporary of the events.
- The writings of Ivan the Terrible, etc.
3. The period of formation and development of literary or “Modern” Russian (the middle of the 17th c. >). This was the most crucial period for the formation of Russian as a distinct “entity”. In brief, the ongoing processes can be summarized in two words: Westernization and normalization. The venture into international politics has tremendously stimulated the process of borrowing from the West European languages (words like генерал “general”, армия “army”, штраф “penalty”, канцлер “chancellor”, etc). The vast amount of loanwords that entered the language during the reign of Peter I, have been filtered and only part of them remained.
This period is also characterized by some major sociolinguistic shifts. The importance of Church Slavic as a prestige language has significantly decreased and, by the same token, the dialects have started to be regarded as the lowest form of language. Between these two varieties, the language that is known as literary Russian manifests itself and was gradually polished by the literary work of the most renowned Russian writers, such as A. Pushkin, M. Lermontov, F. Dostoevsky, I. Turgenev, A. Chekhov, and others.
- GENsg.m. -ogo ending pronounced with [v] in modern Russian, but [ɣ], [g] in dialects, e.g. Nom. nóvoje - Gen. nóvovo, c.f. Ukr. novoho.
- Church Slavonic borrowings identified by phonological (South Slavic) shapes: Rus nagrada < OCS nagrada ~ Ukr. nahoroda, Bel. naharoda “prize” (absence of pleophony); prosveščenie ~ Ukr. osvičenie “illumination” (CS šč); CS prefixes iz-, so-, voz- (the East Slavic correspondences are vy-, s-, vz-, uz-, z- respectively) etc.
Dialectal groups: Despite the vast territory Russian occupies, the dialectal base lies within European part of Russia and includes three dialectal areas (see the map for a more detailed illustration):
- Northern [N]. The Western border starts from Saint-Petsburgh and stretches to Vetluga and Semenov in the East.
- Southern [S]. The southern group of dialects can be considered those that lie South of Moscow and border with Belorussian in the West and Ukraine in the South.
- Central [C]. Forms a belt, running from Pskov in the West up to Penza and Saransk in the East.
Here, some significant phonological, morphological, and syntactic differences will be presented following Sussex, Cubberley 2006.
- okan’e : Distinction of unstressed /o/ from unstressed /a/ in N (similar to Standard Ukrainian), as opposed to S where there’s a parallel phenomenon, called jakan’e in the position following soft consonants (similar to Standard Belarusian)
C.f. Standard Russian молокó [məlʌ’kɔ], S-Rus [mala’kɔ] (~ Bel. малако), N-Rus [mɔlɔ’kɔ] (~ Ukr. молоко). A good illustrative example of jakan’e is Rus. пяти [pjitji] “of five” (Gen.), c.f. S-Rus [pjati] (~ Bel. [pjaitsi]).
- [ṷɔ], [i̯ɜ] diphtongs in N, corresponding to [o]/ [e] elsewhere, e.g. N-Rus [stṷɔɫ] “table” ~ Rus. stol.
- cokan’e, in other words, mergence of Rus. č and c phonemes, e.g. N-Rus cudo~ Rus. čudo “miracle”.
- Fricative velar [ɣ] (similar in Bel. and Ukr.) in S, while N and Standard language have [g].
- *f > x/ xv/ xw in S, productive enough to include even contemporary words, e.g. xvord xvokus < Ford Focus (Source 31:00 (in Russian))
- Contraction of the sequence VjV in N, e.g. Rus. staraja > N-Rus stara (~ Cz, Ukr, Blg, Mac.).
- Postpositive articles in N (similar to Balkan Slavic), e.g. kniga-ta “the book” ~ Rus. ta kniga.
- 1st and 2nd Pers. and Reflexive Pron. in Dat. and Acc. coincide in S, e.g. mene (Acc./Dat.) ~ Rus. mnje (Dat.)/ menja (Acc.).
- Soft -t’ ending in 3sg. and pl. Verforms in S.
- Direct object used in Infinitival Constructions of purpose is in Nom., e.g. zemlja paxat’ “land to plow” (feature of some N dialects).
*Generally speaking, Central Russian dialects represent a mixture of features from the Southern and Northern dialectal groups
Selected Bibliography: Камчатнов А.М. (2013). История русского литературного языка, Москва | W. K. Matthews (1967). Russian Historical Grammar, Athlone Press, 1960. | Успенский Б.А. (1994). Краткий Очерк Истории Русского Литературного Языка, Москва |
/Dialectology/ Горшкова К.В. (1972) Историческая диалектология русского языка. Москва. | Колесов В.В. (1990). Русская Диалектология, Москва. | Text samples with a special dialectological vocabulary are presented in Васильева О.В., Лутовинова И.С. (2011). Русская диалектология: учеб. пособие для высш. учеб. Заведений, СПБГУ.
/Vocabulary/ Словарь Русских Народных Говоров/ Dictionary of Russian Dialects in 47 Vols. (46 Vols. are available online).
1. Lenition of g (also evidenced in South Russian dialects).
2. d’ > dž / affects the verbal system.
3. v > w, l > ṷ / postvocalic, preconsonantal, pre-pausal.
4. i_ > i̯ / u_ > ṷ / unstressed
5. A significant number of similarities in a Stress position in Ukrainian and Belarusian.
6. CrъC/ CrьC, ClъC/ ClьC > CryC, ClyC / unstressed syllables.
Soft labials > ∅.
Nomenclature: украї́нська мо́ва (Ukr.), Ukrainian (Eng.), Ukrainisch (Germ.), l’ukrainien (fr.), Little Russian, south-russian (in the 19th c. works).
Geographical distribution: The majority of the Ukrainophone population lives in Ukraine, however, there are estimated about 40 countries where Ukrainian is spoken.
Corpus: Ukrainian Web Corpus ukTenTen.
Official Status: Ukraine, Republic of Crimea, Transnistria; recognized as a minority language in Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Moldova, Poland, Romania, Serbia and Slovakia.
Language Status Situation: Threatened.
The number of speakers: ~ 33 million.
Socio-historical background: According to G.Y. Shevelov, the question “When did the Ukrainian language arise?” can be given no scholarly answer [Shevelov 1980; 143]. On account of complicated historical circumstances, the reconstruction of the historical development of Ukrainian has always been a hard task for specialists. Ukrainian can fairly be labeled as “a language under siege”, since throughout the greater part of its history it has been under the cultural-political influence of various states and formations. However, Ukrainian managed to overcome the trials of history mainly by introducing the elements of local speech into the Church Slavonic and cultivation of the local tradition. The medieval texts Izbornik of Grigori Bogoslov, Vyg and Leksa Sbornik and Hankenstein Codex already show some Ukrainian features. An interestinc case study is the Bamberg Abecedarium (12th c.) which shows some Ukrainian features (e.g. g > h, the name of the fourth letter Г is hlahol < *golgolъ) [Mathiesen 1981; 227]. Besides, the impact of “Euthymian reforms” and the “Euthymian” recension of Church Slavonic as a model of written language was substantial.
After the siege of Kiev caused by the Tatar invasion, Galicia and Volhynia were the only regions to maintain some political-cultural independence. Shortly after, however, the territory of Ukraine was absorbed and partitioned by Poland, Hungary and Lithuania. Needless to say that none of the parties was interested in promoting Ukrainian. In the Lithuanian part of Ukraine, the Belarusian dialect of the political center Vilna, the so-called rus’kyj or Ruthenian (do not confuse with modern Russian) was adopted as the official language. The major part of linguistic influences were exercised by Polish language after the Union of Lublin when the opposition Ukrainian vernacular (often referred to as “prostaja mova” for both Ukrainian and Belarusian) - Ruthenian was replaced by a new opposition: prostaja mova - Polish. The situation only exacerbated in the 18th c. when Ukraine was annexed by Russia and the use of Ukrainian was prohibited by the authorities. Even so, there were some Ukrainian “hearths” that continued to thrive and remained untouched by the authorities, namely “clerical schools” (дякiвськi школи) and some educational institutions (гiмназiя), supported by the local elite [Del Gaudio 2010; 10].
The language situation of the 17th and 18th cc. revolves about the tripartite interplay of simplified version of Church Slavonic, the so-called Slov’janoru’ka mova, the vernacular dialects (narodna rozmovna mova) and the above-mentioned prosta mova (for a more detailed discussion Del Gaudio 2010; 12-15). In other words it was the period of plurilingualism that somehow preempted the emergence of the national language.
The seed of the idea of the “supranational” language was planted during the late 18th - mid. 19th cc. when on the one hand the interest towards the Ukrainian or “Little Russian” started to grow among the Russian scholars (the publication of the “Grammar of little Russian” by Pavlovs’kyj to mention but a few) and was marked by the foundation of a few major educational institutions, e.g. The University of Kharkiv (1805) and the University of Kyiv (1834). On the other hand, in the Eastern part of Ukraine (under the Russian rule) the Ukrainian culture and literature were given an extra impetus. Particular mention should be made to I. Kotliarevsky’s precious work Eneida, in which elements from Ukrainian dialects were introduced. The works of P. Hulak-Artemovsky, Y. Hrebinka, H. Kvitka-Osnovianenko, I. Nekrashevych and others continued further to absorb and cultivate the data from the regional dialects. This was the turning point in the history of language, since the attitude towards the vernacular has greatly changed later to evolve into the idea that it can possibly give rise to a new standard language. The works of T. Shevchenko were of special importance for the development of a normalized language, since they served as a sort of “forge” for forming supranational linguistic samples for various literary-cultural dimensions. Thus the southern dialectal base for Standard Ukrainian was established [Del Gaudio 2010; 17].
The evolution of Ukrainian between the 20th-21th cc. is characterized by certain drastic changes which have caused deep-seated attitude adjustments in the population. If in the early 20th century the use of Ukrainian, even in private, was perceived as an indicator of belonging to a lower class, and the number of people from the upper class who spoke Ukrainian was relatively low [Shevelov 1989; 8-10], over the years, the political and sociocultural conditions have significantly reversed the course of events. The Russian language which was granted a position of prestige (H language) as a result of language policies implemented by the Russian Empire, and subsequently, by the Soviet Union has completely ceded its position in the past decade. In such a manner, the recent events tipped the scale against not only Russian, but also surzhyk, a mixed variety that has come into existence due to a long coexistence of Ukrainian and Russian [more on surzhyk, see Kent 2012].
- Absence of akan’e.
- E, o > i/ In closed syllables: nič < *nočь “night”.
- Quality of /c/ phoneme. It can be hard or soft.
- Consonants preceding /e/ remain hard.
- Final obstruents are not devoiced.
- Archaic dative ending -ovi (parallel to -u) of the u-stem Masc. nouns: drugu/ drugovi “to friend”.
- The Pres. of the 1st Class verbs is formed with the palatalized consonant, compared to Rus. and Bel. that preserve the velar: mož-ut “they can” ~ Rus. mog-ut, Bel. moh-uc’.
- A great number of Polonisms entered the language during Polish rule.
Dialectal groups: Standard Ukrainian is based on the South-East group of dialects with the insertion of some Polish lexical elements from the western dialects. The classification below is based on Sussex, Cubberley 2006, according to which there are 3 major dialectal groups:
1. Northern, stretching from Volyn to Sumy.
- ĕ/o/e > i occurs only in stressed position, e.g. stárost “olness”, where o is retained.
- The quality of r is hard, as compared to SE group, which resembles Russian.
2. South-western, the northern border extends to Lutsk, Rivne, Zhytomyr and makes its way to the south, partially including Odessa oblast.
- r/l + jer > er, el, ir, il: Ukr. sloza ~ SW selza “tear”.
- Final obstruents are devoiced.
3. South-eastern (the rest of the territory).
Selected Bibliography: /Grammar/ Басова Г.Д. et al. (2003). Сопоставительная грамматика Русского и Украинского языков, Киев. | Press I., Pugh S. (1994). Colloquial Ukrainian, London: Routledge.
/Dialectology/ Shevelov G. (2002). «Історична фонологія української мови», перекл. Укр., (tr. from "A Historical Phonology of the Ukrainian Language", Kharkiv. | Kent K. (2012). Morphosyntactic analysis of Surzhyk, a Russian-Ukrainian mixed lect: Retrieved from the University of Minnesota Digital Conservancy, https://hdl.handle.net/11299/137718.
/Other/ Шахматов А.А. (1916). Краткий очерк истории малорусского (украинского) языка: Украинский народ в его прошлом и настоящем, СПБ. | Mathiesen R. (1981). A Thirteenth-Century Ukrainian Church Slavonic Text in Latin Letters: Studies in Ukrainian Linguistics in honor of George Y. Shevelov, Vol. XV, 39-40, pp. 219-231. | Shevelov G. (1989). The Ukrainian Language in the First Half of the Twentieth Century (1900-1941): Its State and Status, Harvard.
Nomenclature: Lit. “White Russian” or “White Ruthenian”, беларуская мова (endonym), Belarusian, Belarusan, B(y)elorussian (Eng.), Belarusisch, Belorussisch, Weißrussisch (Germ.), le biélorusse (Fr.). During the period from 14th to 17th centuries it was called рус(ь)ка мова, рус(ькй) язык “russian language” or проста мова [prosta mova].
Geographical distribution: Apart from the Republic of Belarus, the language is represented by more than a million speakers, living abroad in countries like Russia, Ukraine, Latvia, Lithuania, Kazakhstan, Poland, Estonia, Moldavia, etc.
Corpus: Belarusian N-corpus.
Official Status: The Republic of Belarus.
Language Status Situation: Potentially vulnerable.
The number of speakers: For someone who would like to provide a moderately precise number, it would be a rather difficult task, since the sociolinguistic situation may seem completely baffling. The fundamental question is which data can be safely taken into consideration, since, according to the results of the 2019 Census in the Republic of Belarus, ~53.2% (5,058,402 people) recognize Belarusian as a “native language”, but only ~26% of Belarusians (2,447,764 people) use it at home or in everyday life. By contrast, Russian is considered “native” by ~42 % (3,983,765 people), yet it is the main means of communication for just over 70 % of the population. This may lead to the conclusion that the somewhat fictitious perception of the “native language” among Belarusians is strongly linked to the concept of “nation”. On the other hand, it is important to note the emergence of a mixed form of speech as a result of a consistent cod-switching between Russian and Belarusian Trasyanka, commonly referred to as Trasyanka, literally “a mixture of dried hay”, note the Russian and Belarusian elements in the following example by Zaprudski 2007; 111:
To summarize, we would like to cite the following words from the work “The Expression of Predicative Possession, De Gruyter Mouton 2015”: “As seen in the previous chapter, many of those, who usually speak Belarusian, have, in actuality, learnt it at school, and not at home.42 Also, it is virtually impossible to find monolingual Belarusians with no competence in Russian, as Russian is dominant in all spheres of public life” [p. 89].
Socio-historical background: The history of Belarusian as an independent entity starts from the Grand Duchy of Lithuania where it served as a medium for chancellery and correspondence. Belarusian (or rather Old Belarusian) features are reflected in the Lithuanian Statute, the semi-official reports, memoir literature, or diaries (Bel. дзённік). The works of F. Skaryna hold a special place in the history of Belarusian. He was an educator, physician, translator, and one of the first book printers who opened the first printing house in Vilnius and promulgated a translation of the Bible in twenty-three books. Not only is this translation with prefaces the culminating point of the author's literary activity but it also played a significant role in the formation of literary Belarusian, since much of the Belarusian lexical elements replaced those of Church Slavonic origin. The works of S. Budny and W. Ciapiński demonstrate an approximation of the vernacular with religious language on a larger scale.
After the Union of Lublin (the creation of a unitary Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth) Belarusian gave its way to Polish as an official medium. This period is marked by the penetration of Polonisms into the vocabulary of Belarusian (words like praca “work”). In the late 18th c. when Belarus was occupied by the Russian Empire, its official use was prohibited and it continued to exist throughout the 18th and 19th cc. in oral form. Belarusian was usually described as a dialect of Russian, a good example of this attitude is the first dictionary of Belarusian by I.I. Nosovich, titled “Dictionary of Belarusian dialect” (Slovarʹ bělorusskago narěčija). The language breathed a sigh of relief only after the 1905 revolution. An important episode of this period was the publication of Naša Niva in 1906 which served as a unifying forum for the discussion of a variety of issues and brought together all the renowned Belarusian literati of the 20th c. Interestingly, in the beginning, it was published in both Cyrillic and Latin until 1912 when it started to be printed only in Cyrillic.
There are two periods of national revival in the history of Belarus that served as an impelling force for the promotion of the national language: the short period of the Belarusian National Republic when it was adopted as an official language and the so-called “second period of national revival” (1991-1995) when it was the only official language of the country.
Writing System: Cyrillic/ Latin.
Corpus: Belorusian N-corpus.
/Vocabulary/ Literary Belorussian has preserved some Common Slavic forms of words, e.g. volat “giant”, c.f. Rus. volot/ dial. velet, Ukr. velet , tribe name Veleti ( or Wiltzes) < CS *volotъ / veletъ, probably from PIE *, sjabar < * sębrъ, c.f. Ukr. sjaber, dial. Rus. sjabjór, Serbo-Croatian sȅbar etc.
/Phonology/ The most principal features are as follows:
- Akanne-jakanne (non-dissimilative), in the unstressed position /o/ and /e/ => [a], e.g. gory “mountains” - gará “mountain”, mésce “place” - mjascóvy “local”.
- Dzekanne-cekanne, the process of affrication of the soft consonants [d’] > [dz] and [t’] > [c], e.g. dzen’ - Rus./ Ukr. den’ “day”, xoc “although” - Rus. xot’.
- Doubling of consonants. All consonants, other than r and labials, can be lengthened or doubled, a case that is particularly evidenced before [j], c.f. vosennju “in autumn”, noččju “at night”, sjónʹnja “today” etc.
- Hardening of [rʲ] (and mergence with [r]) and labials, e.g. крук [kruk] as compared to Rus. крюк [krjuk] “hook”, sem ~ Rus. sem’ “seven” etc.
- Lenition of voiced stop [g] to a velar fricative [ɣ] (In Belarusian Classical Orthography or Taraškievica), e.g. Гётэ / Г’ётэ [Gjote] “Goethe”.
- Development of historical [l] > non-syllabic u (<ў> <ŭ>), e.g. voŭk < Proto-Slavic *vьlkъ.
Dialectal groups: There are two major dialectal groups, South-West (SW-Bel.) and North-East (NE-Bel.). Some dialectologists distinguish the third group (based on Аванесов 1963), the central or transitional dialects. The major differences include [see the complete list in Sussex, Cubberley 2006; 515-517]:
- Dissimilative akan’e/jakan’e in NE-Bel and “non-dissimilative” akan’e in C-Bel, and SW-Bel. A feature, specific to C-Bel is ekan’e (also found in North Russian).
- Diphtongization of /o/ and /u/ in stressed position in SW-Bel, e.g. žonka “wife” in C-Bel ~ žuonka in SW-Bel (also in North Ukrainian and North Russian).
- y > u / Lab._ in SW-Bel, e.g. buk “ox” ~ Rus/Ukr./Bel. byk.
- Cokan’e in NE-Bel (also in North Rus.).
- Some differences in case system and gender.
- Contraction of adjectival ending (VjV, like aje/ oje, etc.) in SW-Bel, e.g. zjaljona “green” ~ Bel. zjaljonaje.
- Consonantal ending in 3sg. Non-past in NE-Bel kaxajec’ ~ Bel kaxaje “he loves”.
Selected Bibliography: Bird S., Litvin N. (2021). “Belarusian”: Journal of the International Phonetic Association 51/3, pp. 450-467, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/S0025100319000288 | Pashkiewicz V. (1978). Fundamental Byelorussian, Toronto. | Wexler P. (1977). A historical phonology of the Belorussian language. Heidelberg: C. Winter. | Zaprudski S. (2007). “In the grip of replacive bilingualism: The Belarusian language in contact with Russian”: International Journal of the Sociology of Language 183, 97–118.
/Vocabulary/ Этымалагічны слоўнік беларускай мовы/ Etymological Dictionary of Belarusian (available online).
Nomenclature: rusynsˈkўj jazўk /русинськый язык/ (Transcarpathian region); lemkivsˈkўj jazўk /лемківськый язык/ (Lemkos); ruska bešeda, bačvansˈky rusky jazyk /руска бешеда, бачвански руски язик/ (Serbian Bačka and Srem and in Croatia); rusinský/ rusnacˈkyj (Cz); Subcarpathican (Eng.); Das Russinische (Germ.).
Geographical distribution: Carpatho-Rusyn is a Slavic “microlanguage” spoken in the area known as Subcarpathian rus’ (geographically, along the Carpathian Mountains), a region located within the borders of Ukraine, Poland, Romania, Hungary and Slovakia. Since the 18th c., there is a Rusyn population in Vojvodina (Serbia) and Srem (Croatia).
Official Status: Recognized as a minority language in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania, Poland, Hungary, and Serbia.
Language Status Situation: endangered/ unsafe.
The number of speakers: ~ 70000 (official statistics), the number of Carpathian Rusyns according to an expert estimate reaches up to 1.8 million [Magocsi 2016; 22, cited in Plišková 2017; 4].
“Carpatho-Rusyn” is a general term to describe four Rusyn standard languages, developed from the dialects in the countries where it is spoken (Poland, Ukraine, Slovakia, Serbia, and Croatia). The codification process, advised by the First Congress of the Rusyn language, is based on the principles of the language building on the Rhaeto-Romansh model. For a more detailed historical review, see [Danylenko 2020].
Writing system: Cyrillic/ Latin.
- Phonemic opposition of i - и- ы /i/ - /ɪ/ - /ɨ/, e.g. вiл “ox” - вил “he wounded” - выл “he howled”.
- Parallel use of two endings for the 1sg. Pres: nesti/ nesu “i carry”, etc.
- Compound past tense formed with participle + auxiliary verb.
Dialectal groups: There are four varieties of Rusyn: Prešov Rusyn, Lemko-Rusyn (Poland), Subcarpathian Rusyn (Ukraine), Pannonian Rusyn, or Yugoslav Rusyn (Vojvodina). Based on the atlases of the Ukrainian, there are 4 sub dialectal groups within Transcarpathian and Prešov Rusyn:
- The Maramoroš dialects.
- The Borzhava dialects.
- The Uzh dialects.
- The Verkhovyna dialects.
Also, there are 6 smaller dialectal groups in East Slovakia.
Selected Bibliography: Danylenko A. (2014). Between an imagined language and a codified dialect. Acta Slavica Iaponica 35, 135–145. | Danylenko, Andriy, “Carpatho-Rusyn”, in: Encyclopedia of Slavic Languages and Linguistics Online, Editor-in-Chief Marc L. Greenberg. Consulted online on 26 August 2020 First published online: 2020. | Pugh S.M. The Rusyn Language. A Grammar of the Literary Standard of Slovakia with Reference to Lemko and Subcarpthian Rusyn | Vaňko, J. (2007). The Rusyn language in Slovakia: between a rock and a hard place. International Journal of the Sociology of Language, 2007(183). doi:10.1515/ijsl.2007.005.
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Blažek V. (2020). Classification of Slavic Languages: Evolution of Developmental Models, Slavia Occidentalis: https://doi.org/10.14746/so.2020.77.3.
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