Is Ukrainian a language or a dialect of the Russian language?

Is Ukrainian a language or a dialect of the Russian language?

Photo: IENS

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Ukrainian and Russian languages ​​share a common ancestor
  • However, their current spoken forms are different enough that linguists consider them separate languages.
  • The answer to the question of whether Ukrainian is a language or a dialect depends on the end of the war

Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine started, the number of people studying Ukrainian Tongue on Duolingo, a language learning platform, grew by more than 500%.

Interestingly, there is a long-standing controversy over the Ukrainian and Russian languages. While part of the population considers Russians and Ukrainians as “one people” and claims that Ukrainian is just a dialect of Russian, the other part claims that Ukrainian is a separate language.

Is Ukrainian a language or a dialect?

Well, there is no clear answer to the question.

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Many linguists base their determination of language or dialect on whether or not people who speak them can understand each other, said Joshua Holzer, assistant professor of political science at Westminster College.

If two people speak different dialects of the same language, they can probably understand each other.

However, if two people speak different languages, they probably won’t be able to understand each other.

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According to this definition, Czech and Slovak; and Indonesian and Malay are different dialects of the same languages.

Serbian is written with a variant of the Cyrillic alphabet, like Russian, while Croatian uses a form of the Latin alphabet, like English. However, many linguists consider Serbian and Croatian to be dialects of the same language.

However, political scientists do not consider the difference between a language and a dialect on the basis of mutual comprehensibility – it is based on politics.

For example, even though the spoken forms of Hindi and Urdu are strikingly similar, the governments of India and Pakistan say they are different languages.

Max Weinreich, a Yiddish scholar, popularized the idea that “a language is a dialect with an army and a navy”. This means a government can promote the idea that a dialect is a different language even though they are quite similar in linguistic terms, Holzer noted.

For example, Maldova insists that Maldovan, which is almost identical to Romanian, is a separate language. According to Article 13 of the Moldovan Constitution, the official language of the country is Moldovan and not Romanian.

Likewise, a language with an army and a navy can call other languages ​​its simple dialects.

For example, the official language of the People’s Republic of China is Standard Chinese, or simply “Chinese” and is sometimes – controversially – referred to as Mandarin.

In Hong Kong, Cantonese is widely spoken but is often treated as a dialect of “Chinese”. But spoken Mandarin and Cantonese are not mutually intelligible.

The Chinese government has long promoted a program of linguistic unification to create a common means of communication for the country, but also to minimize the linguistic and cultural differences that exist between the different communities.

Television and radio professionals can be fined for using incorrect pronunciation.

Local speech forms are being phased out as teaching aids in schools across China to promote Mandarin.

Is Ukrainian a dialect of Russian or a separate language?

Linguistically, Ukrainian and Russian are about as different as French and Portuguese.

French and Portuguese are descended from Latin but over the years they have diverged enough that understanding each other is difficult.

Similarly, Ukrainian and Russian share a common ancestor, but their current spoken forms are different enough that linguists consider them separate languages.

However, from a political point of view, the fate of Ukrainian as a dialect or language will partly depend on the end of the Russian-Ukrainian war, Holzer said.

He explained that while Ukraine remains an independent country that considers Ukrainian a separate language, it is a separate language.

However, if Russia ends up controlling the whole country, so the idea that Ukrainian is nothing more than a simple dialect of Russian can be promoted to reinforce Ukraine’s diminished status as part of Russia .

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Sylvester L. Goldfarb