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Инфоурок / Математика / Конспекты / Language Contact: The Analysis of Ukrainian-Russian Mixed Language
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Language Contact: The Analysis of Ukrainian-Russian Mixed Language




Language Contact: The Analysis of Ukrainian-Russian Mixed Language

Abdureim I. Abdurashytov

Near East University

Project in ELT

17 June 2014


Ukraine is a bilingual country; well-educated people usually speak either pure literary Russian or Ukrainian. However, in different strata of the population (e.g. street vendors, laborers, farmers etc.), people speak a mixture of the two languages that leans towards either Russian or Ukrainian. This phenomenon is commonly referred to as “Surzhyk” (Seals, n.d.).

The word Surzhyk can be used not only as a linguistic term. According to Bilaniuk, this word initially was used in mill industry for a mix of rye and wheat from which poor quality bread was made (as cited in “Surzhyk”, 2002). Surzhyk also indicated a person of blended ethnic origin (Bersand, 2001). Nowadays, however, in Ukraine linguists apply this term in linguistics that refer to disobedience, unawareness or violation of the rules of the Ukrainian or Russian languages (Bernsand, 2001, p.40). The article by Bilaniuk and Melnyk (2008) explained that, the hybrid language known as ‘’surzhyk” appeared when Ukrainian peasants were interacting with Russian speaking environment; a process which had been closely related to the modernization of Ukrainian society.

The aim of the current study is to provide an overview of the phenomenon of code-mixing among bilingual (Russian/Ukrainian) speakers of Ukraine, which appears to be a result of extended periods of social and cultural interaction. The review will be lead by the following questions: What historical, social and political factors have triggered the emergence of the “Surzhyk” in Ukraine? What is the sociolinguistic positioning of a “Surzhyk” speaker in the society?

The Ukrainians emerged as a nation at the time of Kievan-Rus’ from the 9th to the mid-thirteenth centuries (Bilaniuk & Melnyk, 2008). However, Wilson states that some historians believe that modern Russia and Belarus also trace their origins to Kievan-Rus’ (as cited in Bilaniuk & Melnyk, 2008). After the breakdown of Kievan-Rus’, territories of the current Ukraine was divided among different empires. Initially, the western regions fell under Polish administration, after it belonged to Austro-Hungarian Empire, whereas the eastern region was exclusively ruled by Russian Empire (Bilaniuk & Melnyk, 2008). Therefore, “Ukrainian territories were largely under the rule of non-Ukrainian ethno-linguistic regimes (or belonging to any other modern national unit such as “Russia”, “Poland”, or “Lithuania”)” (Bilaniuk & Melnyk, 2008, p.347). It worth to be mentioned that, western side were able to use and to develop to some degree the Ukrainian language in public life and education, in spite of the fact that it subjected to some limitations and belonged to the lower classes (Zhurzhenko, 2002). In contrast, the eastern regions were totally restricted to the Russian language. According to Zhurzhenko, “Ukrainian languages were strictly limited. Publication of books, journals and newspapers was restricted; schooling in Ukrainian was prohibited; and the language of juridical system and the local administration was Russian” (p. 4). In addition to that, Hrycak, Ivanyts’ka, Kubajchuk and Masenko state that, in the eastern regions the Ukrainian language was viewed as a dialect and labeled as a “Little Russia” (as cited in Bilaniuk & Melnyk, 2008). Under these circumstances, we may state that throughout the history, the Ukrainian language was exposed to different laws that controlled the language and, that the Ukrainian language development in eastern and western territories had two different outcomes. This can be seen in the current language practices.

In the earlier part of the twentieth century, all territories of Ukraine were incorporated to the Soviet Union as the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. Inhabitants of Ukraine especially in the western region encountered numerous radical changes in terms of linguistic identity as well as ethnic identity as a consequence of the political campaign of “Russification” (Seals, n.d.). During this campaign non-Russian speakers were encouraged to abandon their language and culture, and thus comprehensively switch to the Russian language and culture.

According to Zhurzhenko (2002), the official ideology of internationalism in the USSR encouraged inter-republic migration and cross-ethnic marriages. The Soviet leadership encouraged ethnic Russians to relocate to Ukrainian lands and supported Ukrainians moving to the eastern and northern territories of Russia. These factors plus the continuing reduction of teaching in Ukrainian led to a change in the balance that did not favor Ukrainian speakers, but rather it led to a hidden russification. (p. 9)

In addition, this campaign embraced not only ethnic Russians but all eastern Slavs (Russians, Ukrainians and Belarusians) (Seals, n.d.).

One argument in support of mass relocation to Ukrainian lands by Russians could be seen in census data of 1926, which indicates that approximately 30-31 million people lived in the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. However, during the World War II that had taken approximately 10 million lives of Ukrainians, in 1959 the population of Ukraine rose up to 42 million people. Such a huge growth was just possible due to mass immigration of Russian people (Olszanski, 2012).

With the declaration of the independence in 1991, the Ukrainian language was made as an official language of Ukraine. However, despite gaining independence, Russia still has a huge influence on Ukraine’s internal language policy. The recent events of individual states (i.e. Crimea, Abkhazia, South Osetia and Transnistria) declaring independence to later join Russian Federation is a very lively example of this continuing influence (“Russia parliament”, 2008; Hayward & Rockett, 2014). Under the pretence of defense the ethnic Russians as well as Russian language in Ukraine, the Russian Federation have deployed their troops in the Russian speaking region and gradually annexed the Crimean Peninsula. We can notice how the Russian Federation dictates the positioning of the Russian language in different countries.

Russian language is the main at communication in Ukraine, which has led to variance between the declared official language and everyday language used by people. For instance, Ukrainian language is predominantly used in the Western part of Ukraine, whereas in the East and South, Russian is dominant. As stated in the surveys carried out by the Kyiv Institute of Sociology (KIIS) in the 8-year period around 1992-2000, 39% of the participants said that they spoke in Ukrainian only with their family members. However, the number of speakers using the Russian language in the same enviroment has increased up to 36%. When compared to the proportion of self-declared ethnic Russians (22, 1%), the proportion of Russian speakers suggest that people from Ukrainian ethnic backgrounds are also speaking Russian within their families. At the same time, the rest of participants (up to 30%) claimed to use either Ukrainian or Russian in their family enviroment depending on the situation (Bernsand, 2001).This shows that the nation-state identification is decreased. The Russian language gradually displaces the core Ukrainian language. This can be seen as a result of the extended interaction with the Russian/Soviet state, which has triggered the Russian language to impact all Slavic countries (i.e. Ukraine, Belarus, Bulgaria, Czech Republic etc.). It also signifies that new Ukrainian government could not manage to conduct radical reform in favor of Ukraine language. This can be due to administrative capacities, which were too weak. Thus, attempts to promote the Ukrainian language have not met with success. hello_html_5c323614.png

In order to provide a clear understanding of the role of these two languages in Ukraine, we should scrutinize some linguistic terms. The “state language” of Ukraine is the Ukrainian language, which is consequently expected used in all domains. However, since the Russian language is the dominant language in the South and the East of the country, it is declared as a “regional language” (Olszanski, 2012). In other words, the regional languages are introduced in some parts of administrations, courts and schools as equal to the state language. According to Article 10, the Ukrainian is the state language; however it also states that In Ukraine, the free development, use and protection of Russian, and other languages of national minorities of Ukraine, is guaranteed. In addition to that, Article 53 of the Ukrainian Constitution emphasizes Citizens who belong to national minorities are guaranteed in accordance with the law the right to receive instruction in their native language or to study their native language in state.” This law is not an exception for Russian only. Other regional languages are also taught and used on a daily basis in other parts of the county too. For example, in Crimea, there are Crimeantatars, Greeks and Moldavians, who are recognized as ethnic minorities who have the right to teach and learn their own linguistic codes in schools. Thus, in Ukraine, Russian language is considered to be a “regional language” and Ukrainian is acknowledged as the “state language.”

Due to the fact that the Russian language was enforced among post-Soviet space, in many non-Russian regions, a diglossic situation took place. According to Bilaniuk, in Ukraine, for example during USSR the Russian language was viewed as the High variety and associated with “centrality, better and higher education, high culture, and strength, whereas Ukrainian was the Low variety and was seen as “provincialism, lower education, unculturedness and weakness” (as cited in Seals, n.d.). However, at the present time new language policy of the Ukrainian government states that, “The state language of Ukraine is the Ukrainian language. The State ensures the comprehensive development and functioning of the Ukrainian language in all spheres of social life throughout the entire territory of Ukraine” (Article 10).

Ukraine de facto is a bilingual society. As Kramar (2012) pointed out, survey by the Razumkov Centre indicates that about 21.5 % of the people are hesitant to decide whether Russian or Ukrainian is their mother tongue. This phenomenon especially takes place in the South at 25.5% and the East at 32.2%. According to Olszanski (2012), “long-term co-existence of the two languages has the characteristics of asymmetrical bilingualism” (p.12). However, Russian- Ukrainian bilingualism may result in establishment of Russian-speaking monolingualism.

As Kramar (2012) pointed out, in Ukraine bilingualism is generally an interim step towards russification. In 1992-2010, the blending of bilingualism in favour of the Ukrainian language, something that would make perfect sense in the Ukrainian state, has only been seen in the West of the country where the share of bilingual people shrank almost threefold, from 19% to 6%, due to an increase of Ukrainian-speakers. Meanwhile, other regions are undergoing russification. Only 1% of the 5% of bilinguals eventually switched to Ukrainian in Central Ukraine compared to 4% who opted for Russian. In the South, 1% of bilinguals became Ukrainian speakers while 9% switched to Russian. As a result, the share of those who speak Russian at home has grown from 43% to 54% in the South and from 56% to 64% in Eastern Ukraine (para. 3).

We may assume that granting full right to the Russian language within Ukraine may serve as a tool of destruction of symbolic attribute and put Ukrainian speaking community under the threat.

It might be worth mentioning that there has not been much hostility between Russian and Ukrainian speakers until recently. Hatred tends to emerge among people when the speakers of one language feel alienated when surrounded by people who speak another language. Sometimes you hear a conversation where one person was speaking Russian and the other Ukrainian, and both did not even seem to realize that they were speaking two different languages (“Languages of Ukraine”, 2014).

The analysis of bilingualism in Ukraine is further complicated by the fact that many people switch frequently between languages or speak mixed language varieties known as surzhyk. Co-existance of the two mutually intelligible languages in the same area provided good conditions for development of the mixed language variety. Code-mixing is a well-known phenomenon which can be seen in different countries. For example: Woolhiser points out trasianka, the mix of Belorussian and Russian in Belarus (as cited in Bilaniuk, 2005). Another example of mixed languages is Spanglish, the mixture of English and Spanish in the United States (Bilaniuk, 2005); or according to Franceschini Italoschwyz, the mixture of Italian-Swiss-German in Switzerland (as cited in Bilaniuk, 2005).

Bilaniuk (2005) provides a typology containing five main categories of Surzhyk. The first category is urbanized peasant Surzhyk, which took place when Ukrainian peasants moved to cities in order to find work, and also willing to speak more prestigious Russian language. The second category is a village dialect Surzhyk, where the local dialect possessed features of both Ukrainian and Russian languages. She pointed out that, this especially can be seen in northeastern and eastern Ukraine. The third category is Sovietized Ukrainian surzhyk. She further explained that, this phenomenon occurred due to Stalinist’ russification policy of the 1930s, during which, the Ukrainian speakers were forced to abandon their language and switch to Russian language. Bilaniuk referred to a fourth category, namely urban bilinguals’ Surzhyk. She explained that, the speakers of Ukrainian and Russian constantly flip back and forth between two languages, and thus borrow the words from one into the other. The fifth category is post-independence Surzhyk. This appeared when “Ukrainian received the status of a single state-language in 1989” (Zhurzhenko, 2002, p.9). According to Bilaniuk, this category primarily attributed to the Russian native speakers who made an effort to speak the Ukrainian language and consequently substitute Russian words and phrases because of insufficient language background in Ukrainian.

Kyiv Institute of Sociology provides the data which indicates that, around 15% of the people in Ukraine use Surzhyk as a means of communication. In the eastern of Ukraine 9.6% of the population were found to communicate in Surzhyk, whereas in the West it is used by 2.5% of the population. When it comes to Southern part of Ukraine it is more than 12.4%.

Among linguists there is no exact agreement on when linguistic violation becomes a surzhyk. However, according to Bersand (2001), “there is a general agreement among Ukrainian linguists on this point: what differentiates surzhyk from other non-standard language varieties in Ukraine (slang, criminal jargon, territorial dialects) is the fact that it oversteps the Ukrainian-Russian language boundary” (p.40). Flier and Bilaniuk further explain that, Surzhyk is a phenomenon where the grammar of the Ukrainian language- morphology, syntax, phonology and lexicon affected by Russian items which are not exist in the Standard Ukrainian language (as cited in Kent, 2010). Since Surzhyk considered as disobedience, unawareness or violation of the rules of the Ukrainian or Russian languages, and used by urbanizing Ukrainian peasants (Bersand, 2001). There are negative attitudes towards this phenomenon.

Bilaniuk (2005) delves into this explanation, stating that Surzhyk was mostly seen as the language spoken by lower-class people with a little education. Independence led to a new situation, namely, urban Russian speakers in positions of power speaking what sounded like surzhyk. As a result of the language law, certain government officials were supposed to speak Ukrainian at work and those who did not know Ukrainian well tended to mix Ukrainian and Russian features.

As follows from above mentioned, today Surzhyk is not only associated with Ukrainian’s peasants but also can be attributed to the Russian speaking government officials. Thus, it supports Flier’s description, he states that “there are two different systems or codes of Surzhyk, namely, Russian-Ukrainian Surzhyk, a Russian base with a Ukrainian admixture; and Ukrainian-Russian Surzhyk, Ukrainian base with a Russian admixture” (as cited in Kent, 2010).

We can state that Surzhyk creates neither diaglossic situation nor bilingualism. It is not a separate language, but rather a combination of Russian and the Ukrainian languages without any consistent structure. After gaining independence in 1991, Ukrainian speakers have been trying to get rid of Surzhyk and eliminate all negative connotations. They also have been trying to maintain the “purity” of the Ukrainian language, and thus promote its symbolic value. However, this tendency cannot be attributed to the Russian speakers. On the contrary, they easily incorporate Ukrainian items and do not hesitate to use them. We may assume that the Ukrainian speakers of Surzhyk will gradually abandon this phenomenon, whereas the Russian speakers in Ukraine are more likely to develop its use.


Bernsand N., (2001). Surzhyk and national identity in Ukrainian nationalist language ideology. Berliber Osteuropa Info, 17, 38-46.

Bilaniuk L. (2005). Contested tongues: language politics and cultural correction in Ukraine. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Bilaniuk L., & Melnyk S. (2008). A tense and shifting balance: bilingualism and education in Ukraine. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 11(3-4), 340-372. doi:10.1080/13670050802148731

Hayward S., Rockett K. ( 2014, March 2). Crimea crisis: Vladimir Putin given green light for full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine. Mirror. Retrieved May 1, 2014, from http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/world-news/crimea-crisis-vladimir-putin-given-3197616

Kent K. (2010). Language contact: morphosyntactic analysis of surzhyk spoken in Central Ukraine. LSO Working Papers in Linguistics 8, 33-53.

Kramar O. (2012). Russification via bilingualism. The Ukrainian Week. Retrieved April 28, 2014, from http://ukrainianweek.com/Society/47497

Languages of Ukraine. (2014). Retrieved April 28, 2014, from: http://www.tryukraine.com/info/languages.shtml

Olszanski. T. (2012). The languages issue in Ukraine. An attempt at a new perspective. OSW Studies, 40, 5-60.

Russia parliament asks president to recognize S. Ossetia, Abkhazi. (2008, August 25). RIANOVOSTI [Russian News and Information Agency]. Retrieved May 1, 2014, from http://en.ria.ru/russia/20080825/116264611.html

Seal C. (n.d). From Russification to Ukrainisation: A Survey of Language Politics in Ukraine. Retrieved May 18, 2014, from http://www.academia.edu/211157/From_Russification_to_Ukrainisation_A_Survey_of_Language_Politics_in_Ukraine

Surzhyk: The Sociopolitical Significance of Ukrainian-Russian Mixed Language. (2002). Retrived May 11, 2014, from http://www.wilsoncenter.org/event/surzhyk-the-sociopolitical-significance-ukrainian-russian-mixed-language

Ukraine. Verkhovna Rada [the Parliament]. (1996). Constitution of Ukraine. Available at: http://www.legislationline.org/documents/action/popup/id/16258/preview

Verschik A. (2009). Introduction. International Journal of Bilingualism, 13(3), 299-307. doi: 10.1177/1367006909346628

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Краткое описание документа:

Ukraine is a bilingual country; well-educated people usually speak either pure literary Russian or Ukrainian. However, in different strata of the population (e.g. street vendors, laborers, farmers etc.), people speak a mixture of the two languages that leans towards either Russian or Ukrainian. This phenomenon is commonly referred to as “Surzhyk” (Seals, n.d.).


The word Surzhyk can be used not only as a linguistic term. According to Bilaniuk, this word initially was used in mill industry for a mix of rye and wheat from which poor quality bread was made (as cited in “Surzhyk”, 2002). Surzhyk also indicated a person of blended ethnic origin (Bersand, 2001). Nowadays, however, in Ukraine linguists apply this term in linguistics that refer to disobedience, unawareness or violation of the rules of the Ukrainian or Russian languages (Bernsand, 2001, p.40). The article by Bilaniuk and Melnyk (2008) explained that, the hybrid language known as ‘’surzhyk” appeared when Ukrainian peasants were interacting with Russian speaking environment; a process which had been closely related to the modernization of Ukrainian societ

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