Ruthenian language

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Ruthenian language
Ruthenian literary language
руска(я) мова[1][2] / ruska(ja) mova
Native toEast Slavic regions of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth
ExtinctDeveloped into Belarusian, Ukrainian and Rusyn
Language codes
ISO 639-3

Ruthenian language (Latin: lingua ruthenica, also see other names) is a common exonymic designation for a group of East Slavic linguistic varieties, particularly those that were spoken from the 15th to 18th centuries in the East Slavic regions of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. Regional distribution of those varieties, both in their literary and vernacular forms, corresponded (approximately) to territories of modern states of Belarus and Ukraine. By the end of the 18th century, they gradually diverged into regional variants, that subsequently developed into modern languages: Belarusian, Ukrainian and Rusyn.[3][4][5][6]

In the former Austrian Empire, and also in the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, the same term (German: Ruthenische sprache, Hungarian: Rutén nyelv) was employed continuously (up to 1918) as an official exonymic designation for the entire East Slavic linguistic body within the borders of the Monarchy.[7]

Several linguistic issues, related to this language, are debated among scholars. Those issues include: various questions related to classification of literary and vernacular varieties of this language; issues related to meanings and proper uses of various endonymic (native) and exonymic (foreign) linguonyms (names of languages and linguistic varieties); questions on its relations to modern East Slavic languages, and its relations to the Old East Slavic, that was the colloquial language used in Kievan Rus' (10th–13th centuries).[8]


A fragment from the 1588 codification of Lithuanian law, which regulated the official use of the "rusky" language (рѹскй єзыкь).[9]
Ruthenian Bible Printed by Dr.Francysk Skaryna from the Glorious City of Polatsk
Ruthenian Language Grammar, by Stepan Smal-Stotsky and Theodor Gartner

Since the term Ruthenian language was exonymic (foreign, both in origin and nature), its use was very complex, both in historical and modern scholarly terminology.[10]

Names in contemporary use[edit]

Contemporary names, that were used for this language from the 15th to 18th centuries, can be divided in two basic linguistic categories, the first including endonyms (native names, used by native speakers as self-designations for their language), and the second encompassing exonyms (names in foreign languages).

Common endonyms:

  • Ruska(ja) mova, written in various ways, as: рѹска(ѧ) or руска(ѧ) мова, and also as: рѹс(ь)кй or рус(ь)кй ѧзыкъ. (Old Belarusian: руски езыкъ)
  • Prosta(ja) mova (meaning: the simple speech, or the simple talk ), also written in various ways, as: прост(ѧ) мова or простй ѧзыкъ (Old Belarusian: простый руский (язык) or простая молва, про́ста мова) – publisher Hryhorii Khodkevych (16th century). Those terms for simple vernacular speech were designating its diglossic opposition to literary Church Slavonic.[11][12][13]
  • In the contemporary Russia, it was sometimes also referred to (in territorial terms) as Litovsky (Russian: Литовский язык / Lithuanian). Also by Zizaniy (end of the 16th century), Pamva Berynda (1653).

Common exonyms:

  • in Latin: lingua ruthenica, or lingua ruthena, that renders in English as: Ruthenian or Ruthene language.[14]
  • in German: Ruthenische sprache, derived from the Latin exonym for this language.
  • in Hungarian: Rutén nyelv, also derived from the Latin exonym.

Names in modern use[edit]

East Slavic languages in 1389. Areas with different spoken dialects are shown in different colors. Territories using different written languages are delineated by dashed lines: the green line for the Ruthenian ("западнорусский") and the orange line for the Old-Russian ("старорусский").

Modern names of this language and its varieties, that are used by scholars (mainly linguists), can also be divided in two basic categories, the first including those that are derived from endonymic (native) names, and the second encompassing those that are derived from exonymic (foreign) names.

Names derived from endonymic terms:

  • One "s" terms: Rus’ian, Rusian, Rusky or Ruski, employed explicitely with only one letter "s" in order to distinguish this name from terms that are designating modern Russian.[15]
  • West Russian language or dialect (Russian: западнорусский язык, западнорусское наречие) – terms used mainly by supporters of the concept of the Proto-Russian phase, especially since the end of the 19th century. Employed by authors such as Karskiy and Shakhmatov.[16]
  • Old Belarusian language (Belarusian: Старабеларуская мова) – term used by various Belarusian and some Russian scholars, and also by Kryzhanich. The denotation Belarusian (language) (Russian: белорусский (язык)) when referring both to the post-19th-century language and to the older language had been used in works of the 19th-century Russian researchers Fyodor Buslayev, Ogonovskiy, Zhitetskiy, Sobolevskiy, Nedeshev, Vladimirov and Belarusian researchers, such as Karskiy.[17]
  • Old Ukrainian language (Ukrainian: Староукраїнська мова) – term used by various Ukrainian and some other scholars.
  • Lithuanian-Russian language (Russian: литовско-русский язык) – regionally oriented designation, used by some 19th-century Russian researchers such as: Keppen, archbishop Filaret, Sakharov, Karatayev.
  • Lithuanian-Slavic language (Russian: литово-славянский язык) – another regionally oriented designation, used by 19th-century Russian researcher Baranovskiy.[18]
  • Chancery Slavonic, or Chancery Slavic – a term used for the written form, based on Old Church Slavonic, but influenced by various local dialects and used in the chancery of Grand Duchy of Lithuania.[12][19]

Names derived from exonymic terms:

  • Ruthenian or Ruthene language – modern scholarly terms, derived from older Latin exonyms (Latin: lingua ruthenica, lingua ruthena), commonly used by scholars who are writing in English and other western languages, and also by various Lithuanian and Polish scholars.[20][21]
  • Ruthenian literary language, or Literary Ruthenian language – terms used by the same groups of scholars in order to designate more precisely the literary variety of this language.[5]
  • Ruthenian chancery language, or Chancery Ruthenian language – terms used by the same groups of scholars in order to designate more precisely the chancery variety of this language, used in official and legal documents of the Grand Dutchy of Lithuania.[22]
  • Ruthenian common language, or Common Ruthenian language – terms used by the same groups of scholars in order to designate more precisely the vernacular variety of this language.[23]
  • North Ruthenian dialect or language – a term used by some scholars as designation for northern varieties, that gave rise to modern Belarusian language,[24] that is also designated as White Ruthenian.[25]
  • South Ruthenian dialect or language – a term used by some scholars as designation for southern varieties, that gave rise to modern Ukrainian language.[26][27]

Terminological dichotomy, embodied in parallel uses of various endoymic and exonymic terms, resulted in a wast variety of ambiguous, overlapping or even contrary meanings, that were applied to particular terms by different scholars. That complex situation is addressed by most English and other western scholars by preferring the exonymic Ruthenian designations.[28][29][21]


Linguistic, ethnographic, and political map of Eastern Europe by Casimir Delamarre, 1868
  Ruthenians and Ruthenian language

Daniel Bunčić suggested a periodization of the literary language into:[30]

  1. Early Ruthenian, dating from the separation of Lithuanian and Muscovite chancery languages (15th century) to the early 16th century
  2. High Ruthenian, from Francysk Skaryna (fl. 1517–25), to Ivan Uzhevych (Hramatyka slovenskaia, 1643, 1645)
  3. Late Ruthenian, from 1648 to the establishment of the Ukrainian and Belarusian standard languages at the end of the 18th century

George Shevelov gives a chronology for Ukrainian based on the character of contemporary written sources, ultimately reflecting socio-historical developments: Proto-Ukrainian, up to the mid-11th century, Old Ukrainian, to the 14th c., Early Middle Ukrainian, to the mid-16th c., Middle Ukrainian, to the early 18th c., Late Middle Ukrainian, rest of the 18th c., and Modern Ukrainian.[31]

The ISO process[edit]

In November 2020, a group of linguists formulated a request, that was addressed to the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), claiming the term Ruthenian language for a very specific linguistic variety, that is otherwise known as the Pannonian Rusyn language. The group requested from the ISO to recognize that particular variety as a new language, under the primary name: Ruthenian language (with alternative designation as: Rusnak). The request is still under deliberation.[32]

If granted, that request would have various terminological implications, since the term Ruthenian language already has much wider and well established meanings, both in historical and scientific terminology. In the field of Slavistic studies, it is used primarily as a common exonymic designation for a former East Slavic literary language that was spoken on the territories of modern Ukraine and Belarus during the late medieval and early modern periods, from the 15th up to the 18th centuries.[5] In the former Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, the same term (German: Ruthenische sprache) was employed (up to 1918) as an official exonymic designation for the entire East Slavic linguistic body within the borders of the Monarchy.[7]

Those issues and possible implications were not addressed in the November 2020 proposal.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ж. Некрашевич-Короткая. Лингвонимы восточнославянского культурного региона (историчесикий обзор) [Lingvonyms of the East Slavic Cultural Region (Historical Review)] (in Russian) // Исследование славянских языков и литератур в высшей школе: достижения и перспективы: Информационные материалы и тезисы докладов международной научной конференции [Research on Slavic Languages and Literature in Higher Education: Achievements and Prospects: Information and Abstracts of the International Scientific Conference]/ Под ред. В. П. Гудкова, А. Г. Машковой, С. С. Скорвида. — М., 2003. — С. 150 — 317 с.
  2. ^ Начальный этап формирования русского национального языка [The initial stage of the formation of the Russian national language], Ленинград 1962, p. 221
  3. ^ Frick 1985, p. 25-52.
  4. ^ Pugh 1985, p. 53-60.
  5. ^ a b c Bunčić 2015, p. 276-289.
  6. ^ Moser 2017, p. 119-135.
  7. ^ a b Moser 2018, p. 87-104.
  8. ^ "Ukrainian Language".
  9. ^ "Statut Velikogo knyazhestva Litovskogo" Статут Великого княжества Литовского [Statute of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (Section 4 Article 1)]. История Беларуси IX-XVIII веков. Первоисточники.. 1588. Archived from the original on 2018-06-29. Retrieved 2019-10-25. А писаръ земъский маеть по-руску литерами и словы рускими вси листы, выписы и позвы писати, а не иншимъ езыкомъ и словы.
  10. ^ Verkholantsev 2008, p. 1-17.
  11. ^ Мозер 2002, p. 221-260.
  12. ^ a b Danylenko 2006a, p. 80-115.
  13. ^ Danylenko 2006b, p. 97–121.
  14. ^ Verkholantsev 2008, p. 1.
  15. ^ Danylenko 2006b, p. 98-100, 103-104.
  16. ^ Danylenko 2006b, p. 100, 102.
  17. ^ Waring 1980, p. 129-147.
  18. ^ Cited in Улащик Н. Введение в белорусско-литовское летописание. — М., 1980.
  19. ^ Elana Goldberg Shohamy and Monica Barni, Linguistic Landscape in the City (Multilingual Matters, 2010: ISBN 1847692974), p. 139: "[The Grand Duchy of Lithuania] adopted as its official language the literary version of Ruthenian, written in Cyrillic and also known as Chancery Slavonic"; Virgil Krapauskas, Nationalism and Historiography: The Case of Nineteenth-Century Lithuanian Historicism (East European Monographs, 2000: ISBN 0880334576), p. 26: "By the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries Chancery Slavonic dominated the written state language in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania"; Timothy Snyder, The Reconstruction Of Nations: Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania, Belarus, 1569-1999 (Yale University Press, 2004: ISBN 030010586X), p. 18: "Local recensions of Church Slavonic, introduced by Orthodox churchmen from more southerly lands, provided the basis for Chancery Slavonic, the court language of the Grand Duchy."
  20. ^ Danylenko 2006a, p. 82-83.
  21. ^ a b Danylenko 2006b, p. 101-102.
  22. ^ Shevelov 1979, p. 577.
  23. ^ Pugh 1996, p. 31.
  24. ^ Borzecki 1996, p. 23.
  25. ^ Borzecki 1996, p. 40.
  26. ^ Brock 1972, p. 166-171.
  27. ^ Struminskyj 1984, p. 33.
  28. ^ Leeming 1974, p. 126.
  29. ^ Danylenko 2006a, p. 82-83, 110.
  30. ^ Bunčić 2015, p. 277.
  31. ^ Shevelov 1979, p. 40–41, 54-55.
  32. ^ ISO 639-3: Change Request Documentation: 2021-005


External links[edit]