East Slavic languages
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The East Slavic languages constitute one of three regional subgroups of Slavic languages, currently spoken in Eastern Europe. It is the group with the largest numbers of speakers, far out-numbering the Western and Southern Slavic groups. Current East Slavic languages are Belarusian, Russian, Ukrainian, and Rusyn (a small language spoken in Eastern Slovakia, South Eastern Poland, Eastern Hungary and South Western Ukraine and regarded by many as a Ukrainian dialect).
- Indo-European languages
 Current status
All these languages are nowadays considered to be separate languages in their own right, though in the 19th century it was usual to call Ukrainian ("Little Russian") and Belarusian ("White Russian") dialects of one common "Russian" language (the most prestigious dialect of which was called "Great Russian"). Despite the vast territory occupied by the East Slavs, their languages are astonishingly similar to one another, with transitional dialects in border regions.
The history of the East Slavic languages is a very 'hot' subject, because it is interpreted from various political perspectives by the East Slavs "like all mortals, wishing to have an origin as ancient as possible" ("sicut ceteri mortalium, originem suam quam vetustissimam ostendere cupientes"), as Aeneas Sylvius observed in his Historia Bohemica in 1458.
Therefore, a crucial differentiation has to be made between the history of the East Slavic dialects and that of the literary languages employed by the Eastern Slavs. Although most ancient texts betray the dialect their author(s) and/or scribe(s) spoke, it is also clearly visible that they tried to write in a language different from their dialects and to avoid those mistakes that enable us nowadays to locate them.
In both cases one has to keep in mind that the history of the East Slavic languages is of course a history of written texts. We do not know how the writers of the preserved texts would have spoken in every-day life, let alone how an illiterate East Slavic peasant spoke to his family.
 History of the literary languages
|History of the East Slavic literary languages|
|History of Ukrainian||History of Belarusian||History of Russian|
| Preliterary period|
(c. until 9th/11th c.)
|East Slavic dialects of the Proto-Slavic language|
| Old period|
(c. 9th/11th to 14th c.)
|Old East Slavic|
| Middle period|
(c. 15th to 18th c.)
| Modern period|
(c. from 18th/19th c.)
After the conversion of the East Slavic region to Christianity the people used service books borrowed from Bulgaria, which were written in "Old Bulgarian" or Old Church Slavonic. They continued to use this language, or rather a variant thereof, usually called (Middle) Church Slavonic, not only in liturgy, but also generally as the language of learning and written communication. This left a large imprint even on the rare secular texts.
Throughout the Middle Ages (and in some way up to the present day) there existed a duality between the Church Slavonic language used as some kind of 'higher' register (not only) in religious texts and the popular tongue used as a 'lower' register for secular texts. It has been suggested to describe this situation as diglossia, although there do exist mixed texts where it is sometimes very hard to determine why a given author used a popular or a Church Slavonic form in a given context.
 History of the dialects
|History of the East Slavic dialect groups|
|History of Ukrainian||History of Belarusian||History of Russian|
|Preliterary||East Slavic dialects of the Proto-Slavic language|| Nov-|
|11th c.|| Halych/|
|Dialect classification and periodization according to Yury Šerech [= Shevelov], Problems in the formation of Belorussian, New York 1953 (= Word: Journal of the Linguistic Circle of New York, vol. 9, supplement, monograph no. 2), p. 93.|
The first divergence among the Old East Slavic texts is evident during the 12th century, during the era of Kievan Rus', i.e. some texts can be linguistically located to areas that are now in Russia, Ukraine or Belarus. This leads many Russian scholars to speak of the existence of a separate Russian language as early as the 12th century.
 Mutual Influences
 Old Belarusian
 Old Belarusian and Russian
By the sheer number of the printed books, the Old Belarusian of the 16th-17th surpassed the contemporary Great Russian (Muscovite). It is sometimes considered, although contended, too, that the even the printing tradition in 16th cent. Muscovy had been initiated either by Skaryna during his visit to Moscow (c.1520s) or by another Belarusian printer, Peter from Mstsislaw (Belarusian: Пётр Мсціславец); c.1564), together with Muscovite Ivan Fyodorov.
It is worth noting, that not only the literature in Old Belarusian, but also the Orthodox literature in Church Slavonic, if printed in GDL, had been met with certain suspicion and even with hostility in the contemporary Muscovy, being perceived as «spoiled by the Latin and Polish influences» and highly «un-Orthodox». It had come to book-burnings, e.g., in c.1530 (books of Skaryna) and in 1627 (books of Greek-Catholic author Trankvilion-Stawravyetski). In 1627 and in 1672, there had been decrees issued, forbidding buying or owning books «of Lithuanian [Old Belarusian] print».
 Old Belarusian and Polish
According to Karskiy, the contemporary Belarusian vernacular had 65 words assimilated from the Polish language. However, in the Old Belarusian literary tradition, especially in the 16th-17th centuries, there had been much more of Polonisms. By the 17th cent., the numerous Polonisms had entered even the Orthodox texts. The main causes for that were:
- State promotion of the Catholic Church over the Orthodox Church.
- Gradual strengthening of the Polish administration.
- Gradual transition to the Polish language in the administrative and judicial use.
 Old Belarusian and Ukrainian
Karskiy and, next, Bulakhovskiy had pointed out that the «Belarusian-Ukrainian language sameness» isn’t reflecting some drive for the preservation of some ancient ethnical traditions, but rather an outcome of the complicated inter-relations of three proto-nations in the 13th-14th – 17th-18th centuries.
The common features of the Belarusian and Ukrainian phonetics and morphology in the 14th–17th centuries were:
- changing of the hard «л» to the «ў» in some positions;
- hardening of the «ж», «ч», «ш», «щ»;
- developing of the affricate «дж», taking the place of the Proto-Slavonic «дј»;
- doubling of the consonants in «consonant-ј-vowel» positions;
- hardening of the labials in the ends of the words and before the «ј»;
- loosing of the syllabic nature of the «и» and «у», when not stressed or after the vowels;
- changing of the (Old Russian) participles, ending with «-а», «-я» with the adverbial participles, ending with «-учи», «-ючи», «-ачи», «-ячи».
There are other phonetical and grammatical similarities, originating in the historical (Old) Belarusian and Ukrainian languages mutual influence, e.g., the stressing of the noun preferred in the «preposition+noun» etc.
In the Old Belarusian literary language, the Ukrainisms had been known to occur since the 15th cent., in the form of the reduction of YERI to I. The Ukrainisms had been encountered mainly in the literary artifacts based on the Old Ukrainian sources, e.g., in «Камянецкая Чэцця-мінея» (1489). Still more of the Ukraininisms had been entering the Old Belarusian literary forms in the 1st half of the 17th cent., esp., after the transferring of the centre of the Orthodox printing and publishing from Vilnius to Kiev. Notable in this aspect are:
- Мазырскі спіс «Александрыі» (1697).
- Маскоўскі (беларускі) спіс «Дыярыуша Філіповіча» (1638–1648).
- Сматрыцкі «Евангелле вучыцельнае» (1616).
- Сматрыцкі «Казанне пахавальнае» (1620).
 See also
- Slavic languages
- South Slavic languages
- West Slavic languages
- Old Church Slavonic language
- Belarusian language
- Russian language
- Rusyn language
- Ukrainian language
|East Slavic||Belarusian | Old East Slavic † | Old Novgorod dialect † | Russian | Rusyn (Carpathians) | Ruthenian † | Ukrainian|
|West Slavic||Czech | Kashubian | Knaanic † | Lower Sorbian | Pannonian Rusyn | Polabian † | Polish | Pomeranian † | Slovak | Slovincian † | Upper Sorbian|
|South Slavic||Banat Bulgarian | Bulgarian | Church Slavic | Macedonian | Old Church Slavonic † | Serbo-Croatian (Bosnian, Bunjevac, Croatian, Montenegrin, Serbian) | Slavic (Greece) | Slovenian|
|Other||Proto-Slavic † | Russenorsk † | Slavoserbian † | Slovio|
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