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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.



Historical development and current condition assign two poles in the East Slavic languages - Ukrainian and Russian - with Belarusian as a topologically intermediate step. Traditional grouping is south-western (Belarusian and Ukrainian) vs north-eastern (Russian). Virtually the only phonological feature which unites Russian and Ukrainian is the preservation of soft /r'/, and even that is lost word-finally in Ukrainian. Elsewhere we find Belarusian sharing features with Ukrainian, and to a lesser extent with Russian, reflecting the early north-east/south-west division formed by the intrusion of Lithuania and Polandmarker into the East Slavic area in the fourteenth-seventeenth centuries.

Features in support of the traditional grouping (Ukrainian and Belarusian vs Russian)
  • Phonology (SW first)
  1. Initial i>[i̯] and /u/>[u̯] if unstressed, if the previous word ends in a vowel, and if a single consonant follows
  2. "Tense jers" (before /j/)>y/i (Rus o/e)
  3. g>fricative (ɦ/ɣ) (also South Russian)
  4. d’(dj)> in verbal system only (alternation d~) (Rus d~ž)
  5. /v/>/w/[w/u̯] in specific environments, including final (Rus [v] of [f]): Ukr: prevocalic (except before [i])>[w], before [i]>[v]; Ukr and Bel: post-vocalic and pre-consonantal or pre-pausal>[u̯]
  6. Similarly post-vocalic, pre-consonantal or pre-causal /l/>[u̯], indicating the "darkness" of /l/ (Rus [ɫ])
  7. Loss of soft labials word-finally and before consonants (Russian still soft finally)
  8. Gemination of consonants before -(ь)j-: C’jV>CC’V (loss of /j/ and compensatory consonant length) (Russian still C’jV)
  9. CrъC CrьC ClъC ClьC>CryC ClyC in unstressed syllables (probably via syllabic /r̥/ and /l̥/) (Rus CroC, Cloc)
  10. Stress location more often parallel in Belarusian and Ukrainian than in either with Russian
  • Morphology
  1. Some Russian adjectives have stressed -oj in NomSgMasc (actually the result of the NE phonetic change to the tense jers, see above)
  2. Russian adjectives and pronouns have a GenSgMasc/Neut written (and originally pronounced) "-ogo" which in the modern language is pronounced with a [-v-] (in dialects also [g], [ɣ] or ø)
  • Lexis
Specifically Russian is the presence of a large number of word expressions which originated in Church Slavonic, and which have remained in the language in spite of various movements in favor of the vernacular. Many of these words can be identified by their phonological characteristics, particularly where they exhibit combinations not found in modern standard Russian. Belarusian, and even more Ukrainian, have gone more further towards adapting these words to native phonological patterns, which differentiates their lexis from both the Church Slavonic and the Russian models (contrasting featured are bolded):

Church Slavonic (South Slavic) features in Russian

Non-pleophonic forms:
{| class="wikitable" border="1"

Church Slavonic /žd/ for ESl /ž/:
{| class="wikitable" border="1"

Church Slavonic /šč/ for ESl /č/:
{| class="wikitable" border="1"

Church Slavonic /ra-/ (usually) for /ro/:
{| class="wikitable" border="1"

Church Slavonic prefix forms {so-}, {voz-} for {s-}, {vz-} (/uz/, /z/):
{| class="wikitable" border="1"

Church Slavonic {iz-} for {vy-}:
{| class="wikitable" border="1"

Features not in support of the traditional grouping
Belarusian shows its intermediate nature in a number of parameters on which it is closer to Russian than Ukrainian:
  1. akan’e: confusion of unstressed vowels, shared with Standard, Central and Southern Russian (not Ukr and N-Rus)
  2. ě>/e/ vs Ukr>/i/
  3. The distinction of i and y is retained; Ukr i>y (with new i later)
  4. The palatization opposition is more developed than in Ukrainian


When the common Old East Slavic languagebecame 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 as Slavic.

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 Sylviusobserved in his Historia Bohemicain 1458.

Therefore, a crucial differentiation has to be made between the history of the East Slavic dialectsand that of the literary languagesemployed 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 dialectsand 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 text. 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.

Influence of Church Slavonic

After the conversion of the East Slavic region to Christianity the people used service books borrowed from Bulgariamarker, which were written in 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. 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.

Current status

All of these languages are today separate in their own right. Until the 17th century it was usual to call Belarussian ("White Russian"), Ukrainian ("Little Russian"), Russian ("Great Russian") dialects of one common "Russian" language (the common languages of Eastern Slavic countries). Despite the vast territory occupied by the East Slavs, their languages are astonishingly similar to one another, with transitional dialects in border regions. All these languages use the Cyrillicalphabet, but with particular modifications.


return [Noun]
peredvístja (prefix)
rívnyj (<<></<>em>rov-)
prefix "apart"
zbiráty (<<></<>em>s-b-)

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