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Review of  The Rusyn Language

Reviewer: Stephen Spencer Robinson
Book Title: The Rusyn Language
Book Author: Stefan M. Pugh
Publisher: Lincom GmbH
Linguistic Field(s): General Linguistics
Language Documentation
Subject Language(s): Rusyn
Issue Number: 21.2865

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AUTHOR: Pugh, Stefan M.
TITLE: The Rusyn Language
SUBTITLE: A Grammar of the Literary Standard of Slovakia with Reference to Lemko
and Subcarpathian Rusyn
SERIES TITLE: Languages of the World/Materials 476
YEAR: 2009

S. Spencer Robinson, The Ohio State University


''The Rusyn Language: A Grammar of the Literary Standard of Slovakia with
Reference to Lemko and Subcarpathian Rusyn'' by Stefan M. Pugh is a descriptive
grammar of Rusyn (sometimes called Ruthenian). In his book, Pugh describes the
Prešov dialect of Rusyn. This book is the first grammar of Rusyn in English plus
the first grammar of the Prešov dialect in any language. The book is written for
linguists, but one does not need to be a Slavist or even know another Slavic
language to follow Pugh's commentary (although most of the words in Rusyn are
not transliterated, so familiarity with the Cyrillic alphabet is necessary).
This grammar is based on Pugh's own fieldwork and Rusyn grammars of other Rusyn

One important piece of background information about Rusyn is that its status as
an independent language is disputed. Rusyn belongs in the East Slavic language
branch (along with Belorussian, Russian, and Ukrainian), and is spoken by Rusyns
in Central Europe. Rusyns have never had their own country, which may help
explain why Rusyn is considered to be a dialect of Ukrainian and not a separate
language. However, as Magocsi (1995) discusses, Rusyns began a concerted effort
to distinguish themselves from other Slavs in Poland, Slovakia, and Ukraine in
the late 1980s (the Rusyn linguistic distinction (known as Ruthenian) goes back
much farther, but I will not discuss it here). Despite this movement and its
prior history, there are few willing to recognize Rusyn as an independent
language (cf. Shevelov 1993:996, who considers Rusyn to be a ''standard
independent microlanguage,'' but discusses it within the context of Ukrainian,
and Sussex and Cubberly 2006:6, who note that although Magocsi (1992) proclaimed
the birth of a new Slavic literary language (i.e., Rusyn), this ''declaration has
not so far been matched by wider recognition outside the Rusyn area''). Neither
Comrie and Corbett (1993) nor Sussex and Cubberly (2006), which are both major
works describing the Slavic languages, give more than a cursory mention to
Rusyn. Nevertheless, Rusyn has been declared a minority language in Slovakia in
the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages that was signed and
ratified in 2001 and implemented in 2002 (Mercator: par. 1). Pugh does not delve
into the argument in his book, but treats Rusyn as a separate language.

Although Rusyn belongs in the East branch of Slavic language development, it has
been under intense contact from West Slavic languages. Pugh says that, with the
publication of this book, grammars for four Rusyn dialects exist: Lemko,
Subcarpathian, Vojvodina, and Prešov (9-10). Slovak is the West Slavic language
that has had the most influence on Prešov Rusyn due to its geography (Prešov is
located in Slovakia), while Polish has had a significant influence on the Lemko
variety. Thus, many features have been borrowed from these languages into the
dialects that are used in their respective regions. This and other language
change factors have led to variation within Rusyn itself.

The book is divided into seven chapters: introduction, orthography and
phonology, declensional morphology, verbal morphology, the adverb, morphosyntax
and syntax, and sample texts. It also contains a short afterword. The
introduction gives a brief historical background of the Rusyns' language and
history and the different dialects of Rusyn. In addition, it gives a sketch of
the geopolitical situation that those trying to preserve Rusyn find themselves
in (in Slovakia, Slovak is the dominant language and is widely spoken among
Rusyns). The orthography and phonology chapter outlines the articulatory
features of the vowels and consonants as well as the Rusyn writing system that
uses the Cyrillic alphabet. This chapter also discusses consonant alternations
and mutations and other phonetic features of Rusyn such as final consonant
devoicing and assimilation. This section is one of the shortest sections, but it
still gives a full view of these systems in Rusyn. The declensional morphology
chapter discusses nouns, adjectives, pronouns, and expressions of quantity
(ordinal and cardinal numerals, fractions, etc.). This chapter also includes an
introductory description of how Rusyn grammatical cases are used. The verbal
morphology chapter presents the various verbal stems and their conjugations in
both past and non-past along with brief discussion of aspect and mood. This
chapter devotes a lot of space to the stress patterns that are found in each of
the stem patterns, and is one of the longest chapters. The adverb chapter is
very short. It includes adverbs of time, manner, etc. The chapter on
morphosyntax and syntax provides more information on case usage in Rusyn. Pugh
describes the cases that verbs and prepositions govern and the cases that occur
following numbers. This chapter also discusses coordinating and subordinating
conjunctions as well as a short description of word order in Rusyn. The final
section has several sample texts both in Rusyn and English with morphological
glossing. The afterword describes some of the challenges Pugh faced in gathering
material for this grammar and discusses some of the work that still needs to be
done to gain a full understanding of linguistic diversity in the language of the


Overall this book presents a detailed account of the features in Prešov Rusyn,
and it also showcases where Rusyn still shows its East Slavic roots in
conjunction with other Slavic languages (in particular Ukrainian). Where there
are discrepancies between the East Slavic tendencies and those of Rusyn, Pugh
shows which features can be explained through contact with Slovak (including
structural and extensive lexical borrowings, such as the spelling of the numeral
штирï /štirji/ 'four' agreeing with Slovak (cf. Ukrainian чотири /čotiri/
'four') (95)), those that have resulted from areal co-developments with Slovak
(e.g., similarities between Slovak and non-Prešov varieties in cardinal numbers
(96)), and those that are unique to Rusyn (like the formants used to make
ordinal numbers from the hundreds (99)). As a side note, the fact that all these
examples can be found in the numeral system gives credence to Pugh's assertion
that ''one could probably (or should) devote an entire book to [numbers in
Rusyn]'' (103).

Another important feature of this book is that certain aspects of the Prešov
dialect are presented along with corresponding and diverging features in the
Lemko, Subcarpathian, and Vojvodina dialects of Rusyn. These comparisons follow
the majority of subsections within each chapter and are marked with a smaller
font to assist the reader in recognizing them. Thus, those interested in a
different variety of Rusyn or in comparing the four varieties will find that
this book can assist them greatly despite being primarily written with the goal
of describing the Prešov variety.

Those who are interested in accentology will find the in-depth discussion of the
verbal stress system extremely useful. In his discussion, Pugh not only presents
the conjugations of the various verb stems, but also shows the stress patterns
(and exceptions) common to each particular type. This is one of the best
features of this book.

The last chapter in the book contains sample texts (about 10 pages worth), which
is rather unusual for a descriptive grammar of a language in this family.
However the variety of texts Pugh includes gives readers the opportunity to see
Rusyn in actual use in different registers.

One of the few faults that readers might find with this book is that Pugh fails
to provide glosses for Rusyn words at times. For those familiar with other
Slavic languages, this will not pose an insurmountable obstacle, but for those
who do not know other Slavic languages, it might be frustrating to encounter
this lack of clarity. This volume also lacks an index, which would help readers
locate specific items, but the table of contents does provide a reasonable guide
to navigating the sections.

This book also has an abundance of spelling errors. However, this is the first
edition of the book and the errors do not detract from the careful research that
Pugh has invested to make this book comprehensible to a variety of audiences.
Thus, they are only a slight nuisance that will most likely be remedied in
possible subsequent editions.

The final section of the book is a bit odd since Pugh poses the question of what
might have been had World War II not come about and destroyed the relatively
large stable Rusyn language continuum that existed in the First Republic of
Czechoslovakia. He speculates that perhaps Rusyn would be a vibrant, thriving
language now instead of one that is still in the nascent stages of defining a
literary standard and struggling with low numbers of speakers. He seems to be
wearing his heart on his sleeve, which is out of place in a descriptive grammar.
However, he only devotes a page to this aside.

The few deficiencies of this volume, however, are easily overlooked when
compared with its strengths. It will serve as a high standard for subsequent
work on Prešov and the other dialects of Rusyn as well as a useful description
of Rusyn for linguists interested in its structure and features.


Comrie, Bernard and Greville G. Corbett (eds.) (1993) The Slavonic Languages.
New York: Routledge.

Magocsi, Paul R. (1995) ''The Rusyn Question.'' In Political Thought. No. 2-3 (6),

Magocsi, Paul R. (1992) ''The Birth of a New Nation, or the Return of an Old
Problem? The Rusyns of East Central Europe.'' Canadian Slavonic Papers. 34(3):

Mercator: European Research Centre on Multilingualism and Language Learning.
''Minority Language Education in Slovakia.'',
accessed on July 9, 2010.

Shevelov, George Y. (1993) ''Ukrainian.'' In The Slavonic Languages. Eds. Bernard
Comrie and Greville G. Corbett. New York: Routledge, 947-998.

Sussex, Roland and Paul Cubberly (2006) The Slavic Languages. New York:
Cambridge University Press.

Spencer Robinson is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Slavic and East European Languages and Literatures at The Ohio State University. His research interests include Slavic languages, corpus linguistics, grammaticalization, and negation.