LINGUIST List 14.324

Fri Jan 31 2003

Sum: Ukrainian/Belorussian Written Language

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  1. Daniel Buncic, Sum: Terms for Old Ukrainian/Old Belorussian

Message 1: Sum: Terms for Old Ukrainian/Old Belorussian

Date: Thu, 30 Jan 2003 15:55:41 +0100
From: Daniel Buncic <d.buncicuni-bonn.de>
Subject: Sum: Terms for Old Ukrainian/Old Belorussian

Dear linguists,

In issue 14.35 (Linguist 14.35) I posted a query on nationally neutral
linguistic terms for the common written language used by the ancestors
of Ukrainians and Belorussians, which they themselves called
''prostaja mova'' ('simple language'), ''ruskaja mova'' ('language of
the Rus') or even just ''slovenskaja mova'' ('Slavonic language').

I have been waiting for quite some time for possible late answers before
writing my summary. All the same, I received only four replies from Stefan
Dyla, Olga Panic, Marian Sloboda, and Martin Stegu.

The only new alternative was provided by Marian Sloboda, who in his MA
thesis uses the Czech term "litevskorusky jazyk" (something like
'Lithuania-Russian') to denote this language. In Czech, this term may
work all right. However, if one tries to translate it into English,
one still has the problem with the word "Russian", which implies a
continuity between that language and Modern Russian, which does not
exist. In this sense, the term is not better than the traditional
Russian "zapadnorusskij" ('West Russian'), which implies that this is
just a dialect group of Russian, consisting of "belorusskij" ('White
Russian', i.e. Belarusian) and "malorusskij" ('Little Russian',
i.e. Ukrainian).

Marian Sloboda also adds that "in Belarusan, too, there is the
opposition 'rus'kaya' vs. 'rasiyskaja' (mova)." However, as far as I
know, Belarusian "rus'ki" means just 'Russian', and "rasijski" is
parallel to the Russian adjective "rossijskij" derived from "Rossija"
('Russia'), meaning 'Russian' in a political sense. (This distinction
is quite comparable to "English" vs. "British".)

Another example I have only just found is the Russian adjective
"prostomovnyj", which I encountered in Michael Moser's article "Chto
takoe 'prostaja mova'?" (in: Studia Slavica Academiae Scientiarum
Hungaricae 47.3-4 (2002), p. 221-260). It is coined from the word
''prostaja mova'' ('simple language') used by the 16th/17th century
writers themselves. However, as Moser himself points out, this term
is not applicable to the chancery language of earlier periods.

The most popular word in western literature without doubt is
"Ruthenian" (German "ruthenisch", French "ruthene"), which was already
used in a linguistic context by Antoine Martel, who died in 1931 (La
langue polonaise dans les pays ruthenes: Ukraine et Russie Blanche
1569-1667, Lille 1938). This term is explicitly advocated by Stefan
M. Pugh (Testament to Ruthenian: A linguistic analysis of the
Smotryc'kyj variant, Cambridge/Mass. 1996). However, Olga Panic,
Stefan Dyla and Marian Sloboda point out that this term is ambiguous,
too, because it is also commonly used for the language that Ethnologue
refers to as "Rusyn"
(http://www.ethnologue.com/show_language.asp?code=RUE, thanks for this
link to Stefan Dyla and Marian Sloboda). My personal view is that
there are enough words to use for this small language ("Rusyn" in
English; "russinisch" in German; "rusinski", "karpatorusinski" and
"lemkowski" in Polish according to Stefan Dyla). Consequently, it
would be practicable to restrict the term "Ruthenian" to the common
written language of the ancestors of Belarusians, Ukrainians - and
Rusyns, too.

Stefan Dyla gives a lot of links to show that in Polish the most
popular term to refer to "the official language of the Grand Duchy of
Lithuania" is "starobialoruski" ('Old Belorussian'). This is quite
logical, as the centre of that Grand Duchy was in Vilnius, i.e. in the
north of the western East Slavonic territory, where nowadays
Belorussian is spoken (at least by those few people relevant to
dialectologists). However, this is just the problem, not the solution,
as modern Belarusians use this term to prolong their national history
into the past, which is not adequate, because the Grand Duchy of
Lithuania was clearly pre-national.

Martin Stegu gives another instance of national reinterpretation of
the past in the Slavic world, the term "Old Bulgarian" for what we
usually call "Old Church Slavonic". On the other hand he points out
that in order to avoid a statement about the nationality of a
language, Slavs often use expressions like "our language" (e.g. in
former Yugoslavia in order to refer to what was formerly called
Serbocroatian and now Serbian/Croatian/Bosnian/Montenegrin). By the
way, in the former Soviet Union expressions like these are often used
for items of Soviet or post-Soviet culture, e.g. in the name of the TV
program "nashe kino" ('Our cinema', 'Our movies'). Unfortunately, this
strategy only works if the deixis is clear and all people involved in
the communication belong to the category in question. So, a
Belorusian, Ukrainian or Rusyn might write of "our language of the
16th century", but I as a German cannot write "their language" or
anything like that.

Consequently, inspite of its possible ambiguity, the only politically
correct term for the language in question is "Ruthenian", and in the
Slavonic languages one has to employ various strategies to find
similarly acceptable terms, some of which I have already enumerated in
my query:

 - ''Ukrainian-Byelorussian'' and similar hyphen terms;
 - Russian ''rus'kij'' (vs. ''russkij'')
 - Ukrainian ''rus'kyj'' (vs. ''rosijs'kyj'')
 - Polish ''ruski'' (vs. ''rosyjski'')
 - Czech "litevskorusky"
 - Russian "prostomovnyj"
 - ''Ruthenian'' as a foreign word in Slavonic languages
 (Russian ''rutenskij'' etc.)

Thanks to all who have responded!

Daniel Buncic
=============================================
Bonn University Seminar of Slavonic Philology
Lennestr. 1, D-53113 Bonn
Homepage: http://www.uni-bonn.de/~dbuncic/
=============================================
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