The Ukrainian language is an Indo-European language, of the Slavic language branch, specifically the East Slavic subgroup. We can trace the Ukrainian language back to the early medieval state of Kievan Rus. Kievan Rus existed as a state from around 880AD to the middle of the 13th century, when the Mongol invasion contributed to the dissolution of the state, but the Ukrainian language remained alive through a strong tradition of folklore and folk song.
There have been many foreign occupations of the country of Ukraine, not only Russia in recent years, but by Lithuania, Poland, and Hungary. However, during most of these rulings, the Ukrainian language system remained unaffected as the primary changes officially made to language were made in reference to the written language. Many people at these times, at various points throughout the 13th century and onwards, could not read or write, and continued to speak the Ukrainian dialect during this time. However, these languages still had a marked effect on the Ukrainian language, though mostly in regards to vocabulary.
Russia gave up control of Ukraine in 1991, with the dissolution of the USSR but, throughout these decades, went through many confusing periods in terms of how they treated the Ukrainian language itself. For some time after the Russian Revolution in 1917, when Russia split up its Empire into several nations, the Ukrainian language was encouraged. Then, in 1933, the Ukrainian language was persecuted, and the Russian government attempted to stamp it out. In 1990 Russia declared that Russian should be the main language for all of its states, which was not met well with speakers of the Ukrainian language as well as other language speakers from other states.
In spite of this adversity, or perhaps because of it, the Ukrainian language remains a strong one in the country to this day. While it has developed many aspects from other countries, there is a fierce sense of nationalism and pride in the fact that their language and country have come through many conflicts and yet remain today.
It is the official language of Ukraine, and has been since 1991 with the dissolution of the USSR, though it is mainly spoken in the Western and Central Ukraine areas. In Kiev, the capital city, the Ukraine language is spoken alongside the Russian language, but the Ukraine language has emerged as a much stronger language in recent years, due to a backlash against the Russian language being used so prevalently after their history of conflict.
For example, the Ukrainian language is overwhelmingly used now in schools and the education system, and is heavily regulated so as to be included in much media and broadcasting as well. However, much of the private media is still owned by Russian companies, and Russian-speaking channels and print media are still the dominant form.
Certain Russian linguists and politicians still claim that the Ukrainian language is in fact a Russian dialect, but it is clear to see from the form and vocabulary of the language that even if this were true perhaps a century ago, it certainly is not the case today. In the latest census, around 67% of the population named Ukrainian as their native language, an increased number from the previous census by 2.8%.
The Ukrainian language uses a Cyrillic alphabet, and not a Latin one. Though there are around 50 million Ukrainian speakers living outside of Ukraine, and yet the Ukrainian language is not spoken by many of these people. Most of the 42 million speakers of the Ukraine language do live in Ukraine itself. However, the Ukrainian language is also a minority language in Croatia, Poland, Romania, Russia, Serbia and Slovakia. The language itself is regulated by the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine.
As a side note, Western speakers often refer to Ukraine as the Ukraine. This is not correct, and the right way to refer to the country of Ukraine is without a “the” prefixing it. This anomaly came about because Ukraine was annexed as part of Russia, and would be referred to as the Ukraine to try and remove Ukraine’s identity as a separate country. Now that Ukraine is independent again, it should simply be referred to as Ukraine.
Why Learn The Ukrainian Language?
Though there are not many native speakers of the Ukrainian language living outside of the Ukraine itself, within the country it is flourishing as a language, with more people speaking it every year. The Ukrainian language is not a dying language, and it has not succumbed to the pressures of the Russian language over the decades. Instead, it is a language that is rich in music and folklore, but also religion.
The main religion of Ukraine is Eastern Orthodox Christianity, and this has been a remarkable influence on the architecture and literature of the country. According to the World Tourism Organization rankings in 2008, Ukraine is in 7th place for the amount of international tourist arrivals, showing that many tourists and travelers are appreciating the country and learning the Ukrainian language.