East Slavic languages

The East Slavic languages constitute one of three regional subgroups of Slavic languages, currently spoken throughout Eastern Europe, Northern Asia, and the Caucasus. It is the group with the largest numbers of speakers, far out-numbering the Western and Southern Slavic groups. The existing East Slavic languages are Belarusian, Russian and Ukrainian;[2] Rusyn is considered to be either a separate language or a dialect of Ukrainian.[3]

The East Slavic languages descend from a common predecessor, the language of the medieval Kievan Rus' (9th to 13th centuries). All these languages use the Cyrillic script, but with particular modifications.

East Slavic
Eurasia (Eastern Europe, Northern Asia, and the Caucasus)
Linguistic classificationIndo-European
Early form
ISO 639-5zle
Lenguas eslavas orientales
Distribution of the East Slavic languages


East Slavic Languages Tree en

East Slavic Languages Tree en


The East Slavic territory shows a definite linguistic continuum with many transitional dialects. Between Belarusian and Ukrainian there is the Polesian dialect, which shares features from both languages. East Polesian is a transitional variety between Belarusian and Ukrainian on the one hand, and between South Russian and Ukrainian on the other hand. At the same time, Belarusian and Southern Russian form a continuous area, making it virtually impossible to draw a line between the two languages. Central or Middle Russian (with its Moscow sub-dialect), the transitional step between the North and the South, became a base for the Russian literary standard. Northern Russian with its predecessor, the Old Novgorod dialect, has many original and archaic features. Due to being under the influence of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth for many centuries, Belarusian and Ukrainian have adopted several influences from Polish, a West Slavic language as a result. Ruthenian, the mixed Belarusian-Ukrainian literary language with Church Slavonic substratum and Polish adstratum, was together, with Middle Polish an official language in Belarus and Ukraine until the end of the 18th century.


sound Letters
Russian Belarusian Ukrainian
/ʲe, je/ е е є
/e/ э э е
/i, ʲi/ и і і
/ji/ ї
/ɨ/, /ɪ/ ы ы и
/ʲo/ ё ё ьо


Isoglosses Northern
Standard Russian
(Moscow dialect)
Belarusian Ukrainian Examples
of unstressed /o/ (akanye)
no yes[n 1] no[n 2]
pretonic /ʲe/ (yakanye) /ʲe/ /ʲi/ /ʲa/ /e/[n 3] R. земля́ /zʲiˈmlʲa/,
B. зямля́ /zʲaˈmlʲa/,
U. земля́ /zeˈmlʲa/
Proto-Slavic *i /i/ /ɪ/[n 4] R. лист /ˈlʲist/,
B. ліст /ˈlʲist/,
U. лист /ˈlɪst/
Proto-Slavic *y /ɨ/
stressed CoC /o/ /i/[n 5][n 6] R. ночь /ˈnot͡ɕ/,
B. ноч /ˈnot͡ʂ/,
U. ніч /ˈnʲit͡ʃ/
Proto-Slavic *ě /e̝~i̯ɛ~i/ /e/ R. се́мя /ˈsʲemʲa/,
B. се́мя /ˈsʲemʲa/,
U. сі́м'я /ˈsʲimja/
Proto-Slavic *c /t͡s/[n 7] /t͡s, t͡sʲ/
Proto-Slavic *č /t͡ɕ/[n 8] /t͡ʂ/ /t͡ʃ/ R. час /ˈt͡ɕas/,
B. час /ˈt͡ʂas/,
U. час /ˈt͡ʃas/
"time (of day)"
Proto-Slavic *skj, zgj /ɕː/,[n 9] /ʑː/ /ʂt͡ʂ/, /ʐd͡ʐ/ /ʃt͡ʃ/, /ʒd͡ʒ/
soft dental stops /tʲ/, /dʲ/[n 10] /t͡sʲ/, /d͡zʲ/ /tʲ/, /dʲ/ R. де́сять /ˈdʲesʲitʲ/,
B. дзе́сяць /ˈd͡zʲesʲat͡sʲ/,
U. де́сять /ˈdesʲatʲ/
Proto-Slavic *v /v, f/ /w/ /v/
[v, w]
[β, w]
R. о́стров /ˈostraf/,
B. во́страў /ˈvostrau̯/,
U. о́стрів /ˈostriw/
/f/ (including devoiced /v/) /f/[n 11] /x~xv~xw~xu̯/
Prothetic /v~w~u̯/ no[n 12] yes
Proto-Slavic *g /ɡ/ /ɣ/ /ɦ/
Hardening of final soft labials no yes
Hardening of soft /rʲ/ no yes partially
Proto-Slavic *CrьC, ClьC,
CrъC, CrъC
/rʲe/, /lʲe/,
/ro/, /lo/
/rɨ/, /lʲi/,
/rɨ/, /lɨ/
/rɪ/, /lɪ/,
/rɪ/, /lɪ/
Proto-Slavic *-ъj-, -ьj- /oj/, /ej/ /ɨj/, /ij/ /ɪj/
Proto-Slavic adj. end. *-ьjь /ej/ /ij/,[n 13] /ej/ /ej/[n 14] /ij/ /ɪj/, /ij/
Proto-Slavic adj. end. *-ъjь /oj/ /ɨj/,[n 13] /oj/ /oj/[n 15] /ɨj/ /ɪj/
Loss of the vocative case no yes[n 16] no
3 sg. & pl. pres. ind. /t/ /tʲ/ /t͡sʲ/ /tʲ/ R. ду́мают /ˈdumajut/,
B. ду́маюць /ˈdumajut͡sʲ/,
Uk. ду́мають /ˈdumajutʲ/
"(they) think"
Dropping out
of 3 sg. pres. ind.
no yes
3 sg. masc. past ind. /v~w~u̯/[n 17] /l/ /v, w/ R. ду́мал /ˈdumal/,
B. ду́маў /ˈdumau̯/,
U. ду́мав /ˈdumaw/
"(he) thought"
2nd palatalization in oblique cases no yes R. руке́ /ruˈkʲe/,
B. руцэ́ /ruˈt͡se/,
U. руці́ /ruˈt͡sʲi/
(locative or prepositional case)


  1. ^ Except for the Polesian dialect of Brest
  2. ^ Except for the Eastern Polesian dialect
  3. ^ Consonants are hard before /e/
  4. ^ Except for some dialects
  5. ^ In some Ukrainian dialects C/o/C can be /y~y̯e~y̯i~u̯o/
  6. ^ In some Ukrainian dialects PSl *ě can be /e̝~i̯ɛ/
  7. ^ Can be /s/ in South Russian
  8. ^ Can be /ɕ/ in Southern Russian
  9. ^ Can be /ɕt͡ɕ/, /ʂː/
  10. ^ In Russian light affrication can occur: [tˢʲ] , [dᶻʲ]
  11. ^ In some Northern Russian sub-dialects /v/ is not devoiced to /f/
  12. ^ Except for восемь "eight" and some others
  13. ^ a b Only unstressed, Church Slavonic influence
  14. ^ Stressed, unstressed is usually reduced to [ʲəj]
  15. ^ Stressed, unstressed is usually reduced to [əj]
  16. ^ New vocative from a pure stem: мам, пап, Машь, Вань etc.
  17. ^ In the dialect of Vologda


When the common Old East Slavic language became separated from the ancient Slavic tongue common to all Slavs is difficult to ascertain, though in the 12th century the common language of Rus' is still referred to in contemporary writing as Slavic.

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 or scribe 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 everyday life.

Influence of Church Slavonic

After the conversion of the East Slavic region to Christianity the people used service books borrowed from Bulgaria, which were written in Old Church Slavonic.[4] The Church Slavonic language was strictly used only in text, while the colloquial language of the Bulgarians was communicated in its spoken form.

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. Church Slavonic was a major factor in the evolution of modern Russian, where there still exists a "high stratum" of words that were imported from this language.[5]

Current status

All of these languages are today separate in their own right. In the Russian Empire the official view was that the Belarusian ("White Russian"), Ukrainian ("Little Russian"), and Russian ("Great Russian") languages were dialects of one common "Russian" language (the common languages of Eastern Slavic countries). Over the course of the 20th century, "Great Russian" came to be known as Russian proper, "Little Russian" as Ukrainian and "White Russian" as Belarusian.


  1. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "East Slavic". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  2. ^ Sussex & Cubberley 2006, pp. 79–89.
  3. ^ Dulichenko, Aleksandr The language of Carpathian Rus': Genetic Aspects
  4. ^ Sussex & Cubberley 2006, pp. 63–65.
  5. ^ Sussex & Cubberley 2006, pp. 477–478.

Further reading

  • Comrie, Bernard; Corbett, Greville G, eds. (1993). "East Slavonic languages". The Slavonic languages. London, New York: Routledge. pp. 827–1036. ISBN 0-415-04755-2.
  • Sussex, Roland; Cubberley, Paul (2006). The Slavic languages. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-22315-7.

External links

Belarusian language

Belarusian (; беларуская мова biełaruskaja mova [bʲelaˈruskaja ˈmova]) is an official language of Belarus, along with Russian, and is also spoken in Russia (where it is known as "Western Russian"), Poland and Ukraine.

Before Belarus gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, the language was only known in English as Byelorussian or Belorussian, transliterating the Russian name, белорусский язык Belorusskiy yazyk, or alternatively as White Ruthenian () or White Russian. Following independence, it has acquired the additional name Belarusian.Belarusian is one of the East Slavic languages and shares many grammatical and lexical features with other members of the group. To some extent, Russian, Rusyn, Ukrainian, and Belarusian are mutually intelligible. Its predecessor stage is known as Ruthenian (14th to 17th centuries), in turn descended from Old East Slavic (10th to 13th centuries).

In the first Belarus Census of 1999, the Belarusian language was declared as a "language spoken at home" by about 3,686,000 Belarusian citizens (36.7% of the population). About 6,984,000 (85.6%) of Belarusians declared it their "mother tongue". Other sources, such as Ethnologue, put the figure at approximately 2.5 million active speakers.According to a study done by the Belarusian government in 2009, 72% of Belarusians speak Russian at home, while Belarusian is actively used by only 11.9% of Belarusians. Approximately 29.4% of Belarusians can write, speak, and read Belarusian, while 52.5% can only read and speak it.

In the UNESCO Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger, the Belarusian language is stated to be vulnerable.

East Slavic

East Slavic may refer to:

East Slavic languages, one of three branches of the Slavic languages

East Slavs, a subgroup of Slavic peoples who speak the East Slavic languages

East Slavs

The East Slavs are Slavic peoples speaking the East Slavic languages. Formerly the main population of the loose medieval Kievan Rus federation state , by the seventeenth century they evolved into the Belarusian, Russian, Rusyn and Ukrainian people.

Great Russian language

Great Russian language (Russian: Великорусский язык, Velikorusskiy yazyk) is a name given in the 19th century to the Russian language as opposed to the other two major East Slavic languages: Belarusian ("White Russian") and Ukrainian ("Little Russian"). For instance, Vladimir Dal's monumental dictionary of the Russian language is titled Explanatory Dictionary of the Living Great Russian Language.

In 19th-century Imperial Russia, many scholars did not distinguish between the East Slavic languages spoken within the borders of the Russian Empire. The East Slavic languages were claimed to be mutually intelligible, a position since called into question.

The Great Russian or just Russian language was formed in the Late Middle Ages in the northern Russian principalities under heavy influence of Church Slavonic. As compared to the Great Russian, other Eastern Slavonic languages were termed one-dimensional because they lacked the stratum of high speech derived from the Church Slavonic. For political reasons, the literary Russian language evolved under the significant influence of the Moscow dialect.

I with grave (Cyrillic)

I with grave (Ѝ ѝ; italics: Ѝ ѝ) is a character representing a stressed variant of the regular letter ⟨И⟩ in some Cyrillic alphabets, but none (either modern or archaic) includes it as a separate letter.


Kovalchuk (Russian, Ukrainian: Ковальчу́к), Kavalchuk (Belarusian: Кавальчу́к), Kowalczuk (Polish), also transliterated as a German adaptation Kowalchuk (in the North American diaspora), is a common East Slavic surname (one of the most popular in Ukraine). The Kovalchuk name extends back to before 1500 AD in the Kievan Rus.Koval (Коваль) literally translates as forge or blacksmith. The suffix -chuk denoted either a son of, or an apprentice to a blacksmith. It is somewhat similar in commonality to English surname Smith. It is also cognate with very popular Polish surnames Kowalczyk and Kowalski.

In East Slavic Languages, the correct pronunciation would be ko-vahl-CHOOK, but for those living in the West, for example Ukrainian Canadians, the pronunciation ko-WAL-chuk is more common.

Languages of Vojvodina

Languages spoken in the Serbian province of Vojvodina include South Slavic languages (Serbian, Croatian, Bunjevac, Šokac, Macedonian, Slovenian, Bulgarian), West Slavic languages (Slovak, Polish, and Czech), East Slavic languages (Rusyn, Ukrainian, Russian), Hungarian language, Romanian language, German language, Romani language, Albanian language, Chinese language, etc.

List of Balto-Slavic languages

These are the Balto-Slavic languages categorized by sub-groups, including number of speakers.

Predicative verb

A predicative verb is a verb that behaves as a grammatical adjective; that is, it predicates (qualifies or informs about the properties of its argument). It is a special kind of stative verb.

Many languages do not use the present forms of the verb "to be" to separate an adjective from its noun: instead, these forms of the verb "to be" are understood as part of the adjective. Egyptian uses this structure: "my mouth is red" is written as "red my mouth" (/dSr=f r=i/). Other languages to use this structure include the Northwest Caucasian languages, the Thai language, Indonesian, the East Slavic languages, the Semitic languages, some Nilotic languages and the Athabaskan languages. Many adjectives in Chinese and Japanese also behave like this.

In the Akkadian languages, the "predicative" (also called the "permansive" or "stative") is a set of pronominal inflections used to convert noun stems into effective sentences, so that the form šarrāku is a single word more or less equivalent to either of the sentences šarrum anāku "I am king" or šarratum anāku "I am queen".

Russian language

Russian (русский язык, tr. rússkiy yazýk) is an East Slavic language, which is official in the Russian Federation, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, as well as being widely used throughout Eastern Europe, the Baltic states, the Caucasus and Central Asia. It was the de facto language of the Soviet Union until its dissolution on 25 December 1991. Although nearly three decades have passed since the breakup of the Soviet Union, Russian is used in official capacity or in public life in all the post-Soviet nation-states, as well as in Israel and Mongolia.

Russian belongs to the family of Indo-European languages, one of the four living members of the East Slavic languages, and part of the larger Balto-Slavic branch. Written examples of Old East Slavonic are attested from the 10th century onward.

Russian is the largest native language in Europe and the most geographically widespread language in Eurasia. It is the most widely spoken of the Slavic languages, with 144 million speakers in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. Russian is the eighth most spoken language in the world by number of native speakers and the seventh by total number of speakers. The language is one of the six official languages of the United Nations. Russian is also the second most widespread language on the Internet after English respectively.Russian distinguishes between consonant phonemes with palatal secondary articulation and those without, the so-called soft and hard sounds. Almost every consonant has a hard or a soft counterpart, and the distinction is a prominent feature of the language. Another important aspect is the reduction of unstressed vowels. Stress, which is unpredictable, is not normally indicated orthographically though an optional acute accent may be used to mark stress, such as to distinguish between homographic words, for example замо́к (zamók, meaning a lock) and за́мок (zámok, meaning a castle), or to indicate the proper pronunciation of uncommon words or names.

Rusyn language

Rusyn (; Carpathian Rusyn: русиньскый язык (rusîn'skyj jazyk), русиньска бесїда (rusîn'ska bes'ida); Pannonian Rusyn: руски язик (ruski jazik), руска бешеда (ruska bešeda)), also known in English as Ruthene (UK: , US: ; sometimes Ruthenian), is a Slavic language spoken by the Rusyns of Eastern Europe.

There are several controversial theories about the nature of Rusyn as a language or dialect. Czech, Slovak and Hungarian as well as American and some Polish and Serbian linguists treat it as a distinct language (with its own ISO 639-3 code), whereas other scholars (especially in Ukraine but also Poland, Serbia and Romania) treat it as a Southwestern dialect of Ukrainian.

Ruthenian language

Ruthenian or Old Ruthenian (also see other names) was the group of varieties of East Slavic spoken in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and later in the East Slavic territories of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. The written form is also called Chancery Slavonic by Lithuanian and Western European linguists.Scholars do not agree whether Ruthenian was a separate language, or a Western dialect or set of dialects of Old East Slavic, but it is agreed that Ruthenian has a close genetic relationship with it. Old East Slavic was the colloquial language used in Kievan Rus' (10th–13th centuries). Dialects of Ruthenian slowly developed into modern Belarusian, Rusyn and Ukrainian languages.

Slavic liquid metathesis and pleophony

The Slavic liquid metathesis refers to the phenomenon of metathesis of liquid consonants in the Common Slavic period in the South Slavic and West Slavic area. The closely related corresponding phenomenon of pleophony (also known as polnoglasie or full vocalization) occurred in parallel, in the East Slavic languages.

The change acted on syllables in which the Proto-Slavic liquid consonants *r and *l occurred in a coda position. The result of the change is dependent upon the phonological environment and accents, and it varies in different Slavic languages.

The change has been dated to the second half of the 8th century, before any Slavic languages were recorded in writing. Therefore, the change itself cannot be observed, but it can be inferred by comparing words in different Slavic languages. Evidence of the earlier state of affairs is also preserved in loanwords into and from Early Slavic as well as in cognates in other Indo-European languages, particularly Baltic languages.

Soft sign

The soft sign (Ь, ь, italics Ь, ь; Russian: мягкий знак Russian pronunciation: [ˈmʲæxʲkʲɪj znak]) also known as the front yer or front er, is a letter of the Cyrillic script. In Old Church Slavonic, it represented a short (or "reduced") front vowel. As with its companion, the back yer ⟨ъ⟩, the vowel phoneme that it designated was later partly dropped and partly merged with other vowels.

Yery (Ыы) has the same trill. In the modern Slavic Cyrillic writing systems (all East Slavic languages and Bulgarian and Church Slavic), it does not represent an individual sound but indicates palatalization of the preceding consonant.

It was also used in the Soviet Union in the Latinized Karelian alphabet, made official in 1931 and used until re-Cyrillicization of Karelian in 1937.

Stanislav (given name)

Stanislav or Stanislaus (Latinized form) is a very old given name of Slavic origin, meaning someone who achieves glory or fame. It is common in the Slavic countries of Central and South Eastern Europe. The name has spread to many non-Slavic languages as well, such as French (Stanislas), German, and others.

The feminine form is Stanislava.


Titlo is an extended diacritic symbol initially used in early Cyrillic manuscripts, e.g., in Old Church Slavonic and Old East Slavic languages. The word is a borrowing from the Greek "τίτλος", "title" (compare dated English tittle, see tilde). The titlo still appears in inscriptions on modern icons and in service books printed in Church Slavonic.

The titlo is drawn as a zigzag line over a text. The usual form is short stroke up, falling slanted line, short stroke up; an alternative is like a sideways square bracket: short stroke up, horizontal line, short stroke down.

The titlo has several meanings depending on the context:

One meaning is in its use to mark letters when they are used as numerals. This is a quasi-decimal system analogous to Greek numerals.

A titlo is also used as a scribal abbreviation mark for frequently written long words and also for nouns describing sacred persons. In place of Богъ, for example, Бг҃ъ 'God' was written under the titlo and глаголетъ '[he] speaks' is abbreviated as гл҃етъ. Fig. 3 shows a list of the most common of these abbreviations in current use in printed Church Slavonic. Fig. 2 shows Господь 'Lord' abbreviated to its first letter and stem ending (also a single letter here, in the nominative case). Around the 15th century, titla in most schools came to be restricted to a special semiotic meaning, used exclusively to refer to sacred concepts, while the same words were otherwise spelled out without titla, and so, for example, while "God" in the sense of the one true God is abbreviated as above, "god" referring to "false" gods is spelled out; likewise, while the word for "angel" is generally abbreviated, “angels” is spelled out in “performed by evil angels” in Psalm 77. This corresponds to the Nomina sacra (Latin: "Sacred names") tradition of using contractions for certain frequently occurring names in Greek Scriptures.

A short titlo is placed over a single letter or over an entire abbreviation; a long titlo is placed over a whole word.

A further meaning was in its use in manuscripts, where the titlo was often used to mark the place where a scribe accidentally skipped the letter, if there was no space to draw the missed letter above.


Ukrainian language

Ukrainian (listen) (українська мова ukrajinśka mova) is an East Slavic language. It is the official state language of Ukraine, one of the three official languages in the unrecognized state of Transnistria, the other two being Romanian and Russian. Written Ukrainian uses a variant of the Cyrillic script (see Ukrainian alphabet).

Historical linguists trace the origin of the Ukrainian language to the Old East Slavic of the early medieval state of Kievan Rus'. After the fall of the Kievan Rus' as well as the Kingdom of Galicia–Volhynia, the language developed into a form called the Ruthenian language. The Modern Ukrainian language has been in common use since the late 17th century, associated with the establishment of the Cossack Hetmanate. From 1804 until the Russian Revolution, the Ukrainian language was banned from schools in the Russian Empire, of which the biggest part of Ukraine (Central, Eastern and Southern) was a part at the time. It has always maintained a sufficient base in Western Ukraine, where the language was never banned, in its folklore songs, itinerant musicians, and prominent authors.The standard Ukrainian language is regulated by the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine (NANU), particularly by its Institute for the Ukrainian Language, Ukrainian language-information fund, and Potebnya Institute of Language Studies. The Ukrainian language retains a degree of mutual intelligibility with Belarusian and Russian.

West Polesian microlanguage

The West Polesian microlanguage (native name: Заходышнополіська волода, Zakhodyshnopoliska voloda; Ukrainian: Західнополіська мікромова, Zakhidnopolis'ka mikromova; Belarusian: Заходнепалеская мікрамова, Zakhodniepalieskaya mikramova) or dialect is spoken in Southwestern Belarus, in Northwestern Ukraine and in the bordering regions of Poland. It is also considered a Slavic microlanguage, in effect a transitional language between Ukrainian and the Belarusian.

Its composition is estimated to be 40 percent Ukrainian, 5 percent Belarusian, 5 percent Polish, and 50 percent Polesian.West Polesian dialects are mostly used in everyday speech, though attempts have been made in 1990s by efforts of Nikolai Shelyagovich to develop a standard written language for the dialect.. However, his efforts received almost no support and the campaign eventually melted away. In particular, writer Nil Hilevich and some others spoke against him, claiming threat to the national integrity of Belarus, which was labelled as "Yotvingian separatism".

West Slavic
East Slavic
South Slavic
Separate Slavic
dialects and

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