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Are Russian and Ukrainian Basically the Same Language?

How Similar Are These Two Slavic Languages?


It's a common query from people who aren't familiar with Slavic languages. On the surface, Russian and Ukrainian sound nearly identical. It's not a new idea for countries with comparable languages to influence each other.


In fact, when you look at other countries like the United States and Canada, or Germany and Austria, or even the many different nations scattered around Latin America, you will see that their languages are quite similar or that they speak a dialect of the same language.


So, what about the Ukrainian and Russian languages?


Perhaps you are interested in Slavic languages or, more specifically, in launching a Russian language programme. In any case, knowing how similar the languages of different regions might be is quite useful if you are studying or considering studying Russian.


In short, it's worth knowing how much of it will be translated to Ukraine and the other former Soviet bloc countries.


In any case, before you begin working in the best language learning programme, you should understand what, if anything, distinguishes these two languages.


A Shared History


The origins of Russian and Ukrainian are similar. Both languages are descended from the Indo-European family, specifically from the Eastern Slavic branch.


The languages are said to have split around the 12th - 13th centuries, with Ukrainian being influenced more by Polish and Slovak languages, while Russian was impacted more by Old Church Slavonic.


With his efforts to Westernize the Russian language, Peter the Great managed to further isolate Russian from Ukrainian. At the same time, Ukrainian was outlawed in the Russian Empire, notably in what is now the eastern half of modern-day Ukraine.


Nonetheless, Russian's effect on the Ukrainian language resurfaced when the Soviets propagated Russian throughout the country as a result of the Soviet occupation.


As a result of the Russian Orthographic Reform of 1917–1918, Russian became the predominant language taught in schools throughout the Soviet Union. This aided in the formation of certain modern parallels while also explaining the prevalence of Russian speakers in Ukraine today.


Despite their similar roots, time, history, and politics have all played a role in pushing these languages into divergent branches today.


Alphabets


While Ukrainian and Russian have a basically identical alphabet, this is hardly evidence that they speak the same language.


When you compare English to German or Dutch, you will notice that they are also very similar. This does not imply that an English speaker can effortlessly read Dutch or German.


The languages are easier in certain ways, but far more difficult in others.


And there are enough distinctions to be noticed. The same can be said about the Ukrainian and Russian alphabets.


The following are the four key distinctions between the Russian and Ukrainian alphabets:

  1. Ukrainian alphabet has “Ґ ґ,” “Є є,” “Ї ї,” and “І і.” The Russian alphabet lacks these letters.

  2. The Russian alphabet has “ы,” “Ё ё,” and “ъ.” And in the Ukranian alphabet, these do not exist.

The first impulse could be to remark, "Wait, there are just seven differences?" Consider the Dutch alphabet in relation to the English alphabet. They have the same 26 letters. The only difference is that we pronounce them differently.


And, for a more accurate comparison, consider how different a language like Italian is from English. Despite the fact that their alphabets differ by only five letters, you would not conclude that English and Italian are essentially the same solely on that observation.


Vocabularies


Only over 60% of the vocabulary in these two languages is shared. In terms of language, Ukrainian is closer to Belarusian than to Russian. In other words, the vocabulary gap between Russian and Ukrainian is bigger than the difference between most Romance languages.


While speaking in any of these languages is not impossible, much of the mutual intelligibility relies on where you are in the country.


A Ukrainian who lives close to Russia will comprehend Russian more easily than someone who resides in western Ukraine. The closer you are to the source of another language, the greater its influence on your own.


Similarly, an Italian residing in Northern Italy will comprehend a French speaker better than someone from the south of Italy. This is because several dialects in Northern Italy had previously been exposed to French, making it simpler for the people who live there to understand.


Similarities in Writing


Surprisingly, because Russian and Ukrainian share the same alphabet, with only a few small variations, their written forms are mutually understandable.


That is, a Russian stranger with no prior knowledge of Ukrainian may pick up a text, read it, and mostly understand it. Linguistically, they are around 80% similar in their writing.


Differences in Russian and Ukrainian Grammar


Even if the writing in the two languages is identical, there are several grammatical ideas that differ.

  1. For first-person plurals, Ukrainian uses the -mo suffix.

  2. ‘ is used as an alternative to the hard sign in Ukrainian.


Differences in Pronunciation


The pronunciation of Russian and Ukrainian differs. They may sound the same to non-native speakers and people unfamiliar with the language. However, they are only generally comparable, and only enough for persons who are familiar with the languages to notice.

  • Ukranian has more soft consonants than Russian.

  • Ukrainians pronounce the “o” as “o,” whereas Russians normally pronounce it as a “a.”

  • The Ukrainian letters “И” and “E” are pronounced differently than their Russian counterparts, “Ы” and “Э”.

  • The Russian language lacks a sound for “Г г.”

  • Ukrainian is predominantly a phonetic language. Its pronunciation usually corresponds to its spelling.

It is safe to argue that the similarities in pronunciation between these languages are akin to the similarities between Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese. Some features overlap, but there are enough significant differences to keep things interesting.


Understanding the Difference


Ukrainian and Russian are related in the same manner that Romance languages are. People from Rome can arrive in Paris and interact with difficulties, just as people from Moscow would when speaking with someone in Kiev.


This varies depending on how distant tourists are from major cultural hubs, as different dialects and accents can make understanding difficult. It is also vital to remember that having instruction in any language is quite beneficial.


Although these two languages are close, Ukranian has a deeper linguistic affinity to Polish than it does to Russian. That is not to argue that Ukrainians do not understand or cannot speak Russian. Because Ukraine is a former Soviet republic, many Ukrainians were raised speaking or learning Russian. Today, around 60% of Ukrainians are fluent in the language.


Learning Russian does not imply that you will be able to communicate fluently in Ukrainian. However, the resemblance suggests that after you understand Russian grammar in your foreign language programme, you'll have an easier time reading in Ukrainian, and with practise and study, you'll be able to speak in Ukrainian as well.


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