Monday, November 09, 2009


In my post on Samizdata about visiting Chernobyl, I use the Latinised form of Russian rather than Ukrainian spellings of place names - for instance Chernobyl and Kiev rather than Chornobyl and Kyiv - as these were the forms in use at the time of the disaster and these remain the names most commonly used outside the Ukraine and are hence likely to be the forms most familiar to my readers. Since the Chernobyl disaster, Ukraine has become an independent nation and has adopted Ukrainian rather than Russian as its official language, and this change has included encouragement of foreigners to use Latin transliterations of Ukrainian rather than Russian spellings of local place names. When a Latin script is used locally, one now sees Chornobyl and Kyiv. However, the world outside still tends to use the Russian forms.


AlanL said...

The eastern slavic languages are an absolutely classic case of a language being a dialect with a flag and an army. Quite possibly *the* classic case.

Eastern Ukraine is historically the heartland of Rus and has a large Russian-speaking population . My wife - Russian - has worked in Kiev and says she can generally understand what's being said unless people are deliberately playing "confuse the Russian".

Western Ukraine - catholic not orthodox, and historically more in the Lithuanian/Polish/Austro-Hungarian than the Muscovite spheres of influence, is probably a quite different ballgame.

My uninformed guess would be Belorussian's differences from Russian are even more marginal.

My wife also says Russian has no significant dialects or regional accents. Which would easily explained by the most of the current Russian-speaking zone being the product of relatively recent colonisation from a single fringe dialect zone - Muscovy - with the other dialects now being the "different languages" Ukrainian and Belorussian.

Michael said...

It seems to happen a lot with the Slavic languages, and not just the eastern ones. We have the whole Serbian/Bosnian/Croatian thing - have the Montenegrans started insisting they speak a different language yet? And we have Bulgarian/Macedonian, too. And of course there is Czech and Slovak. (In my experience Czechs and Slovaks seem to be able to understand Poles most of the time, too, but how much of that is due to language similarity and how much to cultural exposure, I do not know).

And I could bring up Hindi and Urdu, too, I suppose.

AlanL said...

... on the other hand, the south and north "German" dialects strike me as way further apart than any English regional versions - or probably, any neighbouring pair of Slavic languages. Although one only hears full-blown Bayerisch out in the country these days, and almost everybody is bilingual in Bayerisch and Hochdeutsch

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