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#10 - JRL 8482 - JRL Home
Date: Fri, 3 Dec 2004
From: Andreas Umland <andreumland@yahoo.com>
Subject: JRL #8480: Antonova on Ukrainian and Russian languages

I would like to comment on JRL #8480 of 3 December 2004: #14 Mosnews.com, December 2, 2004, "On Salo, Prince Igor, And Being a Hyphenated Ukrainian." By Maria Antonova. Mrs Antonova asserts, among many other things, in her short article:

"The difference between Russian and Ukrainian languages, for example, is smaller than the difference between the Bavarian and Saxon dialects of German."

Anybody somewhat familiar with the languages and dialects in question here would know that this comparison is misleading. The statement may, paradoxically, be a documentation of what Mrs Antonova laments in her article: the poor understanding that many Russians have of Ukrainian culture and language.

Mrs Anotonova's comparison is, plainly, useless because Russian and Ukrainian are not dialects of a living language, as is the case with Bavarian/Saxon and German. Mrs Antonova's is, in fact, a ridiculous statement because Ukrainian and Russian are two quite different languages - as even foreigners to both countries, not knowing either of them recognize immediately when hearing both languages.

There are, to be sure, similarities. But as an illustration of these similarities, an, at least somewhat, apt comparison would be that between German and Dutch, on the one side, and Russian and Ukrainian, on the other. In a similar way that many Germans do not understand Dutch, but many Dutch people understand German easily, most Russians do not understand Ukrainian while most Ukrainians understand Russian. Bavarians and Saxons do understand - though also make fun of - each other and have the same (high German) written language. Moreover, the alphabets of Ukrainian and Russian are, it seems to me, even less similar to each other than the alphabets of Dutch and German.

The problem here is not Ukrainian pettiness about their "dialect," as Mrs Antonova's article seems to imply, but Russian ignorance (if not arrogance) towards their Eastern Slavic "brothers" and "sisters."

I suspect that Russian fundamental misunderstandings of Ukraine such as these are a major reason for Russia's erratic behaviour in relation to Ukraine, especially recently. How should one understand, for instance, Putin's statement that Ukraine is a Russian-speaking country? To continue the (mis?-)comparisons: Putin's statement seems to me much worse than, say, Bush claiming that Canada is an English-speaking country, or Schrder announcing that Switzerland is a German-speaking country.

If Russia is so manifestly disinterested in, and does not understand as basic things as these about, Ukraine, Russians should not be surprised that Ukrainians are turning West.

Z povagoyu,
Andreas Umland
St. Antony's College Oxford