Day of Ukrainian writing: how the Ukrainian language has developed since the times of Kievan Rus

The Day of Writing and Language is celebrated in Ukraine. Now the Ukrainian language, according to various estimates, is spoken by up to 45 million people in the world; it is one of the three Slavic languages ​​in terms of the number of speakers and is one of the thirty most common languages ​​in the world.

history of the holiday

The Day of Ukrainian Writing and Language is annually celebrated on November 9, the day of memory of the Monk Nestor the Chronicler.

The holiday was established by the President of Ukraine Leonid Kuchma by decree No. 1241/97 of November 6, 1997. Traditionally, since 2000, a radio dictation of national unity has been taking place on this day.

How did the Ukrainian language come about?

There are several hypotheses about the origin and formation of the Ukrainian language. It is believed that Ukrainian was formed on the basis of the Proto-Slavic and Old Russian languages. The vocabulary of the modern Ukrainian language is based on the Proto-Slavic lexical fund, as well as the words of Old Russian (it is also called Old Ukrainian and Old Eastern Slavic) and its own origin.  

Doctor of Philology Konstantin Tishchenko notes that Ukrainian reflects the formation of Ukrainians as an ethnos, which occurred in the VI-XVI centuries as a result of the merger of dialects of three Slavic tribes – Polyans, Drevlyans and northerners with the participation of the Iranian-speaking and Turkic-speaking steppe population.

Baptism of Vladimir the Great, fragment from the  Radziwill Chronicle, 15th century.

Be that as it may, writing on the territory of Ukraine (by that time – Kievan Rus) spread with the introduction of Christianity in 988. The preachers of Christianity in the Slavic lands, Saints Cyril and Methodius, together with their disciples, streamlined the Slavic alphabet and translated the Gospel.

The Old Slavonic written language, which came to Kievan Rus with Christianity, combined the linguistic features of the Macedonian, Moravian and Bulgarian dialects. In Russia, he began to absorb local dialects. The texts of religious content were the least influenced by these dialects. In secular documents, their influence was stronger. This is how the Old Russian language developed in parallel.

Peresopnytsia Gospel – a manuscript monument of the old Ukrainian language, XVI century.

After the collapse of Kievan Rus, the Old Ukrainian language (Ruska Mova) became the language of office work and literature in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania until the 17th century, until it was supplanted by Polish.

In 1619, the “Slavic Grammar” (“Grammar Slavic Regular Sѵntaґma”) by Meletiy Smotritsky was published. The author was the first in Slavic studies to compile a complete course of the Church Slavonic language. Since that time, Kiev has become a spelling legislator for all Slavic peoples. In his “Grammar” Smotrytsky introduced the letter “ґ”, which corresponded to the Ukrainian pronunciation.

How did the modern Ukrainian alphabet come about?

In 1708, by order of the Russian Tsar Peter I, the ancient Cyrillic alphabet was replaced by a new “citizen”, and the Cyrillic alphabet was allowed to be used only for church publications. The Ukrainian spelling was forcibly added to the Moscow one. This influenced all further Ukrainian literature.

The appearance of “Aeneid” by Ivan Kotlyarevsky in 1798 marks the final formation of the Ukrainian language as a literary one. But Kotlyarevsky still used the old Cyrillic alphabet with the influence of “civilian”.

In 1818, the writer and linguist Oleksiy Pavlovsky published the first printed grammar of the living Ukrainian language in Ukrainian linguistics – “The Grammar of Little Russian Nation”. The spelling of Pavlovsky was supported with some changes in their works by the writers Grigory Kvitka-Osnovyanenko and Pyotr Gulak-Artemovsky.

One of the earliest versions of the Ukrainian alphabet is “kulishovka”. The writer, ethnographer and linguist Panteleimon Kulish collected and widely popularized the spellings of his predecessors. Together with the scholar Ivan Pulyui and the writer Ivan Nechuy-Levytsky, he made the first complete translation of the Bible into Ukrainian.

Fight against the Ukrainian language

The Valuevsky circular and the Emsky decree, published in 1863 and 1876, respectively, were a big blow to the Ukrainian literary language. Thus, the Emsky decree banned the Ukrainian language in the church, music, theatrical sphere and printing, including it was impossible to import books in the Ukrainian language from abroad into the territory of the Russian Empire. Also, the Emsky decree prohibited public speaking in Ukrainian.

Russian Emperor Alexander II, who pursued a policy of tough Russification. 

In 1908-1909 the “Dictionary of the Ukrainian language” was published under the editorship of Boris Grinchenko. “Grinchenkivka” collects the knowledge and practice of writers of the XIX century and the entire Ukrainian people.

The matter of the Ukrainian spelling itself became important during the period of the Ukrainian revolution. In 1917, the Central Rada instructed the professor of Kiev University Ivan Ohienko to compose short rules of Ukrainian spelling and write the corresponding grammar for secondary schools. In 1919, his work “The Main Rules of Ukrainian Spelling” was published – it was the first complete system of Ukrainian spelling.

Soviet period

Fragment from the brochure “Dialectical classification of Ukrainian dialects” by Vsevolod Gantsov, 1923.

In 1928, in Soviet Ukraine, People’s Commissar for Education Nikolai Skrypnyk approved a new spelling, which was worked on by more than fifty famous linguists. “Skrypnikovka”, or Kharkiv spelling, combined the Galician and Dnieper traditions of the Ukrainian language. In 1938, “Skrypnikovka” was abolished as “nationalist”, and the Ukrainian language was brought closer to Russian.

New era of the Ukrainian language

On May 22, 2019, a new edition of the “Ukrainian spelling” was adopted, in which some points of the “Kharkov” spelling were returned.

Let us remind you that this year the Ukrainian writer Yuriy Andrukhovych became the author and reader of the radio dictation of national unity . According to the writer, the text of the dictation is the beginning of his future novel.

(c)MRPL.CITY 2021

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