The Ukrainian Language

The history of Ukrainian language: divided into the history of the spoken language and the literary language. From the 10th to the 13th centuries the basic literary language of Kievan Rus' was Church Slavonic. 14th to 18th centuries mixture of popular, foreign and church influences which produced the literary language for the 17th century. After a period of decline the latter half of the nineteenth century saw the reconstruction of the literary language based on the popular language. The spoken language has no periods. The time at which Ukrainian became a distinct language is disputed but have occurred some time around the break up of the Kievan state. Of course its development as a separate language began to evolve before this.

The Cyrillic script which is used by Serbs, Bulgarians and Eastern Slavs is said to have been developed by Clement, a disciple of Saint Cyril. Before this we find no evidence of writing in Ukraine, yet this does not mean that writing did not exist. Early documents, from the 11th century, have illuminated letters, geometric, floral and animal designs within the initial letter of some words. Much of this was modeled upon Greek writing and presentation. In the 13th century the squarer form of the early letters began to gain softer curves and less attention was paid to the artistic ornamentation. In the 16th century the trend toward curves in the letters resulted in cursive writing and this became dominant in the 17th century. Under Tsar Peter I writing was reformed. A distinct written and printed type appeared, punctuation was applied to writing, letters were joined in writing and writing was divided into words. Previously printed documents had periods separating the words. The nations using this script, including Ukraine, introduced their own special characters to meet the needs of their language.

The oldest national emblem in Ukraine is the trident used on Volodymyr the Great's coins, coat of arms and seals. This emblem became hereditary of the whole royal house and was the most popular symbol until the 12 century when the image of Saint Michael supplanted it. The trident remained in ecclesiastical heraldry. In 11918 the trident was adopted by the Ukrainian National Republic. The figure of Saint Michael was among the highest insignia of the Ukrainian Cossack State. At the end of the 13th century the last royal coat of arms of medieval Ukraine was blue with a gold lion, which was adopted in civic heraldry. The Zaporozhian Cossack arms show a Cossack bearing a musket. Each Hetman had a family coat of arms as did the families which were ennobled.

The Ukrainian national anthem " Ukraine has not yet perished" originated as a poem published in 1863.

The basis for later Ukrainian culture began in the Neolithic period. the domestication of cattle in this period gave rise to a specialized economy. Cultivation of plants also began at this time. And the rich development of folk art and craft traditions began to form.

Some of the customs of the people originated in pre-Christian religion and philosophy, while many center upon the church holidays and family life. Strong ties to the extended family or Clan and to preceding ancestors has its basis in pre-Christian times. Traditional knowledge of the people included an extensive knowledge of astronomy, herbal medicine and of course animal husbandry and agriculture. The culture of the modern period still shows characteristics of a principally oral culture.

Pottery, embroidery and Easter eggs are at the forefront of Ukrainian folk art because of their artistic level and symbolic significance.

The Greeks were the first to make literary references to the people of pre-Slavic Ukraine. The Cimmerians. Beginning in the 6th century B.C. many Greek colonies were established along the north shore of the Black Sea. The neighboring people of Ukraine were exposed to the culture and economic activity of these colonies. The Scythians, who arrived in the 7th century, established a powerful state between the Don and the Dniester rivers. Economic, cultural and political links were established with the Greeks.

In the 4th century Ukraine was settled by Sarmatians from the 1st century B.C. to the 3rd century A.D. Ukraine invaded by Germanic tribes. In the 4th century the Ostogoths ruled the area until their power was destroyed by invading Huns.

In the early centuries of the Christian era Slavic tribes began to settle in the area. These tribes were agriculturalists with fortified "horodyshcha" at the center their settlements. They engaged in trade with Arab merchants who have left us written record of these people. Trade with Byzantium was also important. Over time a trade route developed between the Scandinavians and the Byzantines. This was to have important repercussions on the political development of Ukraine. In the 9th century Norman Princes took over the power of the local tribal leaders and the Kievan state began to form.

The political structure of Kievan Rus' was a blending of monarchic, aristocratic and democratic elements. Under the Grand Prince of Kiev were territorial princes , the boyar councils (duma) and the town assemblies. The prince was expected to provide justice, order and protection. Governors were appointed to rule distant areas. The prince relied on the duma for advice and support. The town assembly had its roots in early tribal councils. It was called when the need to express public opinion arose. Topics of discussion included war, royal succession, appointments to office and the negotiation of treaties. The assemblies could comment on policy but not form its own laws. The merchant class tended to dominate these assemblies.

Before 988 religion was based on a number of gods representing the forces of nature and on the worship of ancestors. The acceptance of Christianity had an immense impact on the culture of Kievan Rus'. With Christianity being transmitted through Byzantium the influence was Greek in character. Architecture, the system of writing and various crafts show this influence. The famous cathedral St. Sophia was built in 1037.

See Also


  1. ^ Swyrich, Archive materials
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