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Ukrainian vs Russian

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Poll Question: Is Ukrainian a dialect of Russian
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Fazla
Hexaglot
Senior Member
Italy
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166 posts - 255 votes 
Speaks: Italian, Serbo-Croatian*, English, Russian, Portuguese, French
Studies: Arabic (classical), German, Turkish, Mandarin

 
 Message 9 of 44
26 April 2010 at 9:58pm | IP Logged 
Chung wrote:
It is indeed a language but it actually DOES have much to do with the differences in vocabulary, phonology and morphology. In addition, the differences present observable or testable barriers to mutual intelligibility and both Russians and Ukrainians admit that to learn each other's language requires at least some effort or even classes. There's also some indirect demonstration of this conclusion when you notice that both Russians and Ukrainians are ambiguous about the status of "Surzhyk" and tends to be deprecated by both groups because of its "impure" or "mixed" characteristics.

What we CAN say however is that both Old Russian and Old Ukrainian likely arose as dialects of "Old East Slavic". In that sense both languages are thus dialects but it's dubious or perhaps even chauvinistic when stating that one of these modern languages is the dialect of the other.


So...judging by your last phrase I guess you agree with what I said? Saying what is a language and what a dialect, is chauvinistic and quite unuseful as it won't change a single thing. That differences between languages and dialects are linked to differences in grammar, vocabulary etc. is undisputable, but the one and only true, empiric, meaning that it can be attested by everyone, criterion is that peoples decide what is the language they speak and how it should be called...

Different grammars and vocabulary are not the cause of the different classification between "language" and "dialect" but the cause of WHY some people call their language X rather than Y. Those are only some of the factors that shape the true criterion: people's feelings about the language they speak.

Quote:
On Fazla's assertion: If the most important criterion were merely the feelings or beliefs of the speech community involved, then we could perversely overturn professional linguists' findings that American and British English are variants of English rather than separate languages just because non-professional American and British citizens each would have lobbied or claimed to speak different languages just because they said so or "felt that way". Their feelings and political will about the classification of languages does not mean that they are necessarily correct nor have they reached practical conclusions for the speech communities involved or outsiders who wish to study these languages/variants/dialects/idiolects.


I don't have much to add except... exactly, we indeed could do that if Americans called their language "American". And noone could argue that that is English... (I mean, they could, but to no avail). If we are not speaking about what a language SHOULD be, but about what a language IS, than people's feelings are indeed the one and only true criterion. In the US, people saw no reason to call their language something else rather than "English". But there are tons of reasons why BCMS are officially separate languages, why a Moroccan and an Iraqi, even if they can't understand eachother when they use theirs everyday speech, still both say they speak Arabic, and 1000 other cases which as I see you are fully aware of.

Quote:
However it's because of the capriciousness of politics and emotions that lead to the striking instances where Bosnian, Croatian, Montenegrin, Serbian are deemed to be separate languages (despite the virtual lack of mutual unintelligibility and trivial linguistic differences between them) while Cantonese, Mandarin, Min, Hakka and Wu are considered dialects of a Chinese language (despite the degree of mutual unintelligibility and significant linguistic differences between them).


Again, all this time I am speaking about the real world and about the real situation. I am not saying that this criterion is just, I am saying what the criterion that differentiates is.

What is the point of arguing whether Ukrainian is a dialect or a language, if Ukrainians decided that it is a separate language? What, if we say it's a dialect people will think it's more similiar to Russian than it would have been if we classified it as a "language" ? Anyone that is into languages, knows that doesn't make any sense. I repeat for the last time, I am not saying it SHOULDN'T make sense, I am saying it DOES NOT make sense in our real world. The differences between dialects and languages, all of them, have been shaped by people's feeings, good or bad, only.
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Chung
Diglot
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 Message 10 of 44
27 April 2010 at 12:46am | IP Logged 
Fazla wrote:
Chung wrote:

It is indeed a language but it actually DOES have much to do with the differences in vocabulary, phonology and morphology. In addition, the differences present observable or testable barriers to mutual intelligibility and both Russians and Ukrainians admit that to learn each other's language requires at least some effort or even classes. There's also some indirect demonstration of this conclusion when you notice that both Russians and Ukrainians are ambiguous about the status of "Surzhyk" and tends to be deprecated by both groups because of its "impure" or "mixed" characteristics.

What we CAN say however is that both Old Russian and Old Ukrainian likely arose as dialects of "Old East Slavic". In that sense both languages are thus dialects but it's dubious or perhaps even chauvinistic when stating that one of these modern languages is the dialect of the other.


So...judging by your last phrase I guess you agree with what I said? Saying what is a language and what a dialect, is chauvinistic and quite unuseful as it won't change a single thing. That differences between languages and dialects are linked to differences in grammar, vocabulary etc. is undisputable, but the one and only true, empiric, meaning that it can be attested by everyone, criterion is that peoples decide what is the language they speak and how it should be called...


There's a subtle difference here. We can argue that both Russian and Ukrainian are ultimately dialects (but NOT of each other) by virtue of having arisen from Old East Slavonic. However to say that modern Ukrainian is a dialect of modern Russian, or vice-versa is a lot less defensible, not to mention borderline chauvinistic.

Fazla wrote:

Different grammars and vocabulary are not the cause of the different classification between "language" and "dialect" but the cause of WHY some people call their language X rather than Y. Those are only some of the factors that shape the true criterion: people's feelings about the language they speak.


To be honest this appeal to feelings sounds like one of the reasons I had read given by Croatian nationalists about why they insist that Croatian is a separate language rather than a variant of Neo-Shtokavian on the same level as the standard Bosnian, Montenegrin and Serbian variants. Basically it's boiled down to: "because we said so". It has an air of finality but its strength is vulnerable to objective or more cool-headed analysis and observation. Saying "just because we said so" can work well with children who don't question things, but adults are a different story.

I find that the deference to native speakers should be applied with caution. It's one thing for outsiders to defer to native speakers on mundane matters of usage or "correct" grammar/pronunciation in the target language. However, deferring to native speakers on how they classify or view their language can lead to conclusions that diverge from practical or scientifically-proven conditions. For instance, the recent thread about whether English should be classified as Romance or Germanic brought out sentiments that some native speakers of English actually believe that English should be classified as a Romance language rather than a Germanic one (despite the conclusions of professional linguists who have demonstrated the validity of classifying English as Germanic). Along the same vein, if you were to defer to native speakers about the status of Scots, you would have a very ambiguous picture full of emotional and non-scientific pronouncements/judgments. You would be better off digging up the analyses and monographs done by professional linguists and see that classifying Scots eludes black-and-white pronouncements of Scots being only an English dialect or only a separate Germanic language.

You're probably aware that the Serbian linguist Ranko Bugarski noted that Serbo-Croatian had a strong external unity but a weak internal unity (i.e. outsiders treated Serbo-Croatian as one because of the practical implication that using the "western variant" would have the same communicative value as speaking the "eastern variant" or vice-versa, not to mention that many western academics on Slavonic linguistics have been doing analysis on Serbo-Croatian (you can't necessarily analyze "Serbian" properly without some reference to "Bosnian", "Croatian" or even "Montenegrin"). Outsiders didn't carry the emotional baggage piled onto the language because of religion, politics or historical grudges. On the other hand the weak internal unity showed up especially when nationalist Croats viewed Serbo-Croatian as being non-existent while nationalist Serbs viewed Croats as using nothing more than Ijekavian Serbian rather than Serbo-Croatian) (Fazla, you probably know the background on what happened in Yugoslavia, but I'm putting it here so that others can make some sense of this post).

Fazla wrote:
Chung wrote:

On Fazla's assertion: If the most important criterion were merely the feelings or beliefs of the speech community involved, then we could perversely overturn professional linguists' findings that American and British English are variants of English rather than separate languages just because non-professional American and British citizens each would have lobbied or claimed to speak different languages just because they said so or "felt that way". Their feelings and political will about the classification of languages does not mean that they are necessarily correct nor have they reached practical conclusions for the speech communities involved or outsiders who wish to study these languages/variants/dialects/idiolects.


I don't have much to add except... exactly, we indeed could do that if Americans called their language "American". And noone could argue that that is English... (I mean, they could, but to no avail). If we are not speaking about what a language SHOULD be, but about what a language IS, than people's feelings are indeed the one and only true criterion. In the US, people saw no reason to call their language something else rather than "English". But there are tons of reasons why BCMS are officially separate languages, why a Moroccan and an Iraqi, even if they can't understand eachother when they use theirs everyday speech, still both say they speak Arabic, and 1000 other cases which as I see you are fully aware of.


However I am sure that if foreigners were told that Britons and Americans insisted that their variants of English are different languages, the Britons and Americans would be greeted by a lot of derision or doubt by those foreigners, not to mention professional comparative linguists of all backgrounds. There are plenty of reasons why BCMS and Arabic are viewed the way that they are today but the reasons are primarily political. When you strip away that political veneer, the situation changes drastically. For a learner or any outsider who has to communicate with these native-speakers who insist on the sanctity or "autonomy" of their "language"/"variant"/"dialect", the political considerations become pointless. Having a foreigner use some educated Modern Standard Arabic on a Lebanese because of the notion that Arabic is unified will find out quickly how sub-optimal that mindset is (hint: learn Levantine Arabic! Not Yemeni Arabic, not Maghrebi Arabic or whatever remaining form of Arabic that exists). In a similar way, it's pointless to advise people who learned what was called "Serbo-Croatian" to learn Montenegrin now from scratch if they're going to Podgorica tomorrow. Different names, but that's all. It's what inside that counts.

Fazla wrote:
Chung wrote:

However it's because of the capriciousness of politics and emotions that lead to the striking instances where Bosnian, Croatian, Montenegrin, Serbian are deemed to be separate languages (despite the virtual lack of mutual unintelligibility and trivial linguistic differences between them) while Cantonese, Mandarin, Min, Hakka and Wu are considered dialects of a Chinese language (despite the degree of mutual unintelligibility and significant linguistic differences between them).


Again, all this time I am speaking about the real world and about the real situation. I am not saying that this criterion is just, I am saying what the criterion that differentiates is.

What is the point of arguing whether Ukrainian is a dialect or a language, if Ukrainians decided that it is a separate language? What, if we say it's a dialect people will think it's more similiar to Russian than it would have been if we classified it as a "language" ? Anyone that is into languages, knows that doesn't make any sense. I repeat for the last time, I am not saying it SHOULDN'T make sense, I am saying it DOES NOT make sense in our real world. The differences between dialects and languages, all of them, have been shaped by people's feeings, good or bad, only.



Ah yes, but even if the Ukrainians were to insist that they were speaking a dialect of Russian, they would face a lot of questions from others who have to use Ukrainian also, not to mention linguists who do comparative Slavonic studies. The problem is that the word "language" has also acquired a rather prestigious sense versus "dialect" in many European languages (e.g. "language" vs. "dialect"; "Sprache" vs. "Mundart"; "langue" vs. "dialecte"; "jazyk" vs. "narečie"; "nyelv" vs. "nyelvjárás" (Hungarian) etc.). As such calling something a "dialect" now implies subordination or somehow a less worthy/prestigious form of communication, especially when considering one modern language to another. If we assume the "popular" meaning of dialect which implies a kind of subordination, then it'd still be incorrect to say that certain modern languages are dialects of each other (e.g. Slovak is not a "dialect" of Czech, German is not a "dialect" of Dutch, Navaho is not a "dialect" of Apache, etc.).

In general, the case of Ukrainian and Russian being separate is not only backed up by political will but also by the findings of professional linguists who've found it suitable or more "elegant" (for lack of a better word) to treat them as separate languages because of the differences, large and small. Remember that Standard Russian as we know it today is based heavily on idiolects used originally in the Principality of Moscow, whereas Ukrainian is based on a composite of idiolects spoken throughout historical Ukraine. When you have modern languages arising from geographically distant groups which were also subjected to different historical or cultural events, it's hard to imagine how the modern languages could not be separated because of their only partial mutual intelligibility, irrespective of the feelings of the people involved. Again, the most that you could say is that Russian and Ukrainian are the result of predecessors which began as dialects from some Old Eastern Slavonic language during the Middle Ages. Any subordination of the modern language would be to that medieval language, not a modern one.

It's also not really a matter of being just but of being accurate not just in name but in spirit too. It is true that conventions for defining or naming languages vary but what's the point of being "just" or nominally accurate to placate national feelings if it's potentially misleading or very divergent of what is accurate on a deeper level?

I too don't dispute the role of emotion in designating what is a language and what is a dialect, and native speakers can certainly call things as they want. However, just because they say something, that doesn't mean that it's true or immune to rational questioning or deeper consideration. Thus I do have misgivings about the role that emotion can play on my and others' expectations about various languages.
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1qaz2wsx
Diglot
Groupie
Greece
Joined 3730 days ago

98 posts - 124 votes 
Speaks: Greek*, EnglishC1
Studies: Russian, Albanian

 
 Message 11 of 44
27 April 2010 at 8:27pm | IP Logged 
Dialect or separate language can be a political question.Serbian and Croatian are almost identical but they are considered different languages.So is bulgarian and makedonski which in some cases artifficialy distanced itself from bulgarian with the introduction of serbian words and elements of serbian grammar.In Chinese exist many 'dialects' which are totally unintelligible with each other.Yet they are still considered Chinese,part of the Chinese language.

As far as Ukranian and Russian is concerned,to me Ukrainian looks like rural,colloquial Russian with heavy Polish influences.

Edited by 1qaz2wsx on 27 April 2010 at 9:36pm

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Fasulye
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 Message 12 of 44
27 April 2010 at 9:24pm | IP Logged 
I think that this is a political question. Ukraine and Russia are different countries, so Ukranian and Russian are different languages. Seen from the language structures I cannot estimate it, because I speak neither of the languages. What I heard about these two languages, is that they are closely related and - as I would guess - reciprocally understandable.

Fasulye

Edited by Fasulye on 27 April 2010 at 9:31pm

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GREGORG4000
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United States
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 Message 13 of 44
27 April 2010 at 11:02pm | IP Logged 
I think it would be totally rad if American English and British English were different languages

It would finally mean that English has some closely-related and easy to learn cousin language
1 person has voted this message useful



Chung
Diglot
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Joined 5513 days ago

4228 posts - 8256 votes 
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Studies: Polish, Slovak, Uzbek, Turkish, Korean, Finnish

 
 Message 14 of 44
27 April 2010 at 11:26pm | IP Logged 
Fasulye wrote:
I think that this is a political question. Ukraine and Russia are different countries, so Ukranian and Russian are different languages. Seen from the language structures I cannot estimate it, because I speak neither of the languages. What I heard about these two languages, is that they are closely related and - as I would guess - reciprocally understandable.

Fasulye


I have found that they're about as mutually understandable as standard German and standard Dutch (although differing levels of exposure for the average Ukrainian or Russian can change this).
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Fasulye
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 Message 15 of 44
27 April 2010 at 11:30pm | IP Logged 
Chung wrote:
Fasulye wrote:
I think that this is a political question. Ukraine and Russia are different countries, so Ukranian and Russian are different languages. Seen from the language structures I cannot estimate it, because I speak neither of the languages. What I heard about these two languages, is that they are closely related and - as I would guess - reciprocally understandable.

Fasulye


I have found that they're about as mutually understandable as standard German and standard Dutch (although differing levels of exposure for the average Ukrainian or Russian can change this.


This gives me an idea how mutually understandable they are.

Fasulye
1 person has voted this message useful



Chung
Diglot
Senior Member
Joined 5513 days ago

4228 posts - 8256 votes 
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Studies: Polish, Slovak, Uzbek, Turkish, Korean, Finnish

 
 Message 16 of 44
27 April 2010 at 11:33pm | IP Logged 
GREGORG4000 wrote:
I think it would be totally rad if American English and British English were different languages

It would finally mean that English has some closely-related and easy to learn cousin language


We already have Frisian (if not Scots) as something that'd be rather easy to pick up without resorting to "cheating". Although I could cheekily say that I'm a native of American English but have advanced fluency in Canadian English, and then at least basic fluency in Australian English, British English, South African English and New Zealand English. So far I'd be a hexaglot :-P

(Let's also not get into the fact that I also have strong passive understanding of Indian English and Singaporean English).






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