Saturday, March 29, 2014

Ukrainian and Russian Languages

I took Russian in college, 40-odd years ago, but all I remember is the alphabet and scraps of grammar and vocabulary. My impression of Ukrainian's relationship to Russian is what the Relationship of Southern and Standard American English would be if the South had seceded and decided to spell everything slightly differently, and make words like "poke" and "sody pop" and other regionalisms the standard words, and regard dialectal formations like "He knowed what I wanted, but he done something different" standard grammar.

Anyhow, this chart might clarify it all a little. The Slavic languages are mostly very close together, which is not the sort of thing we're used to, because English has no relatives that close except the Frisian languages, which are very tiny. Anything closer is just considered a dialect of English. As for our most closely related large language, Dutch, here's this paragraph translated into Dutch:

Hoe dan ook, deze grafiek is het misschien verduidelijken allemaal een beetje. De Slavische talen zijn meestal heel dicht bij elkaar, dat is niet het soort wat we gewend zijn, omdat Engels geen bloedverwanten die sluiten met uitzondering van de Friese taal, die zeer klein zijn. Iets dichter wordt slechts beschouwd als een dialect van het Engels. Als voor onze meest verwant grote taal, het Nederlands, hier is deze paragraaf vertaald in het Nederlands:

(I used Google Translate, so there are probably flaws)

If you try, you can match up some words, but without the English, you probably couldn't make any of it out, so there basically is no mutual intelligibility.

This contrasts with the very close Slavic languages, especially the Russian/Ukrainian/Belorussian group.

This is a reprint from Robert Lindsay's fascinating blog.

Mutual Intelligibility Chart for the Slavic Languages

Look at how close they are!

This chart is based on lexicostatistics. The best way to do this is with a Swadesh-215 list with borrowings included. You really need to include borrowings when testing mutual intelligibility (MI) because borrowings are frequently used in conversation, and with MI, you are testing whether or not people can understand each other. A Swadesh-215 list is better because more similarities will show up than with a Swadesh-100 list, and there is no need to limit your words when testing MI because people don’t limit their speech to simple vocabulary, except in this slum where I live.

As you can see, once you start getting over 90% cognates (see Ukrainian-Belorussian and Czech-Slovak) you are very close to the same languages. At the very least, you have two very closely related languages, and I do believe that Belorussian is separate from Ukrainian and Czech is separate from Slovak and MI tests show this to be true (MI 82% between Czech and Slovak).

Note that MI is apparently lower between Belorussian and Russian than between Belorussian and Ukrainian. That is interesting because many Russian nationalists say that Belorussian is a Russian dialect. Note also that Bulgarian and Macedonian, often said to be one language, have fewer cognates than between Czech and Slovak. Based on this chart, Bulgarian and Macedonian surely appear to be separate languages, as far apart as Polish and Slovak.

Note how close both Czech and Slovak are to Polish and Slovenian! Note also how close Serbian is to Slovenian and Macedonian.

It is also interesting how close Upper and Lower Sorbian are to each other. I wonder what the MI is like between them.

It is really amazing how closely related the Slavic languages are to each other.

1 comment:

  1. English has a huge Romance lexicon that other Germanic languages don't, so it's really unique among Germanic languages, and it should be no surprise that there is so little MI between English and, say, Dutch. Treating English as a Romance language, though, I think would be lots of MI, even with Romanian with its strong Slavic influence. Steven Lytle

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