Iazychie and Surzhyk: Mixing Languages and Identities in the Ukrainian Borderlands

  • Andrii Danylenko


There are several concepts in Ukrainian sociolinguistics that seem to be better off classified as spooky, scary terms. Among them are iazychie and surzhyk1 referring to linguistic hybrids routinely castigated in both public and scholarly discourse in today’s Ukraine. To take iazychie as defined in the Encyclopedia of the Ukrainian Language, published by the O. Potebnia Institute of Linguistics jointly with the Institute of the Ukrainian Language of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, it is conceived of as ‘an artificial bookish language’, based on Old Church Slavonic and western Ukrainian dialects. At the time of the formation of literary Ukrainian on vernacular foundations in the nineteenth century, the use of this mix was allegedly anachronistic, thus hindering the development of language norms (Muromtseva 2000: 745). The term surzhyk refers to modern vernacular Ukrainian, permeated with ‘unmotivated’ Russian elements (borrowed as a result of heavy Ukrainian-Russian interference); to fight against this mix might be one of the major goals in the fostering of the norms of the Ukrainian language (Lenets’ 2000: 616).


Eighteenth Century Early Nineteenth Century Literary Language Slavic Language Language Ideology 
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