M. Yarmolinska

Yi. Mosenkis





The origin of the Ukrainian language is a complex and very difficult problem, not only linguistic but also (as the origin of each language) extra-linguistic. During two centuries from the formation of comparative linguistics in 1810s, the Ukrainian glottogenesis was a subject of studies of Mykhailo Maksymovych, Mykhailo Hrushevskyi, Agathangel Krymskyi, Stepan Smal-Stotskyi, Ivan Ohienko, Leonid Bulakhovskyi, Yurii Sheveliov, Oleksii Stryzhak, Hryhorii Pivtorak, Oleksandr Tsaruk etc. in Ukrainian linguistics, Aleksei Shakhmatov, Fedot Filin etc. in Russian linguistics.

The Ukrainian glottogenesis problem is closely related to the ‘Old Rus language’ problem. The latter is not closely related to our subject of euphony, but suggested ‘Old Rus language’/’common East Slavic language’ contrasts with the absent of ‘common West Slavic language’ and ‘common South Slavic language’. If the ‘Old Rus language’ really existed, then its vowel system closely resemble Proto-Slavic one until the ‘fall of reduced vowels’ which is discussed below. Similarly, Vladimir Georgiev underlined close similarity of Proto-Slavic and Old Slavonic languages. In other words, from the view of euphony the ‘Old Rus’ vocal system, including reduced vowels, was not strongly different from the Proto-Slavic vowel system.   

These problems had political aspect from the mid-XIX century (Mikhail Pogodin’s ‘hypothesis’ of Ukrainian as non-related to Kyivan Rus, criticized by Mykhailo Maksymovych) to the late XIX – early XX century (when Aleksei Sobolevskii revived Pogodin’s ‘hypothesis’) and to the present. Many ideas on the origin of the Ukrainian language formed as answers to opponents in the political-related linguistic discussions from the Mykhailo Maksymovych time.  

The problem of Ukrainian language euphony is very popular in journalistic publications but its detailed scientific investigation remains necessary. Traditionally the question was studied synchronically as a feature of the modern Ukrainian language or, more correct, sound sequence of the Ukrainian speech (oral and then written and then regulate). However, only diachronic analysis of the euphony features gives us a possibility to propose a model of the euphony formation. If euphony is among the most typical features of the Ukrainian language, then the phenomenon is very important for the reconstruction of the Ukrainian language formation.  

Basic characteristic of famous Ukrainian language euphony is its relation to the CVCV-structure of the sequence of phonemes (C – consonant, V – vocal). Among other Slavic languages, the structure is most typical to Ukrainian. Speech alternations of u/v, i/j, z/zi/iz etc. in prepositions and prefixes are main material for the structure. Only diachronic approach gives a possibility to explain these alternations. They trace to the reduced vowels (short i and u) which disappeared or turned into ‘full’ e and o in different positions during the Kyivan Rus time. These reduced vowels were earlier included in the Proto-Slavic vowel system which was ruled by the ‘open syllable law’. This phonetic law represented main sound feature of the Proto-Slavic language. The time of its appearance – late Proto-Slavic (major position) or early Proto-Slavic (minor position) – is discussed. The feature is absent in the Baltic languages as the closest genealogical branch to the Slavic one (but a feature similar to that is in Proto-Germanic).   

The similarity between CVCV-structures in Proto-Slavic and modern Ukrainian leads us to suggest a surviving of some Proto-Slavic articulation features in modern Ukrainian (more than in other Slavic languages). The most acceptable extra-linguistic explanation of the idea is a coincidence of Proto-Slavic and Ukrainian language areas: the same people kept their phonetic (articulatorical) habits. The coincidence must be confirmed archaeologically. Indeed, the area of the Kyiv culture (suggested latest Proto-Slavic archaeological culture) coincided with the area of the Ukrainian language formation, and the final dated of the Kyiv culture and the Proto-Slavic language are the same.

Open syllables were not typical to the Proto-Indo-European language, and their formation in Proto-Slavic might be explained as 1) some typological intra-language phenomenon (a tendency of increase sounding) or 2) a result of possible substrate influence. Good explanation (not description but namely explanation) of the ‘open syllable law’ in (late?) Proto-Slavic is absent in Slavistic linguistic studies. If the ‘law’ was caused only by phonetic typology, the mechanism of its formation (and its absence in Baltic etc.) must be interpreted. If it was a substrate feature then 1) a substrate language with such phonetic feature must be identified and 2) extra-linguistic (archaeological etc.) confirmation for suggested substrate must be proposed.      

Proto-Slavic was simpler in comparison with Baltic, then the model of the Baltic-Slavic relations proposed by Viacheslav Ivanov and Vladimir Toporov should be chosen: Proto-Slavic was a peripheral Baltic dialect initially. Latvian looks like an intermediate link between Lithuanian and Slavic, and a continuum of Lithuanian-Latvian-Slavic dialectal areas might be supposed. Valerii Chekmonas’ ideas of the language simplification as a result of the language contacts (possibly including substrate influences) are very important for the modeling of Proto-Slavic glottogenesis. However, clear archaeological correlates for the substrate model of Proto-Slavic glottogenesis must be proposed.

It must be underlined that the substrate model is not popular among the explanation of the Slavic language formation, in contrast to the modeling of the formation of several other Indo-European language branches (Hittite-Luwian, Tocharian, Indo-Iranian Greek, Celtic, Germanic). Orest Tkachenko underlines that without different substrates Indo-European language branches would not be so different (e. g., in comparison to the Turkic languages). 

According to the Sergei Starostin ‘re-calibrated glottochronology’, the split between Slavic and Baltic language branches occurred in the late second millennium BC. The date coincided with the end of the Trzciniec culture which might be the common ancestor of Baltic and Slavic archaeological cultures. The end of the Trzciniec time is not correlate with possible substrate influence on Slavic (if the influence occurred in early Proto-Slavic time). If the CVCV-feature formed in late Proto-Slavic then it was a Scythian-Sarmatian time, from mid-first millennium BC to mid-first millennium AD.

According to the traditional point of view (contrasted with aforementioned Sergei Starostin’s view), the formation of Proto-Slavic is dated to late 3rd – early 2nd millennium BC. Iurii Mosenkis suggests a role of the Cucuteni-Trypillia language in the formation of the Proto-Slavic CVCV-structure. However, the recent date of the end of the Cucuteni-Trypillia culture (about 2700 BC, according to Mykhailo Videiko) is earlier than one could think previously, and an immediate influence of Cucuteni-Trypillian people of the Proto-Slavic people can be excluded.           

The Cucuteni-Trypillia language might be Hittite-Luwian. This old hypothesis is confirmed now by a comparison of two ‘trees’ – of Indo-European languages and of archaeological cultures. Late Trypillian cultural groups were replaced (in the first half of the third millennium BC) by the bearers of the Middle Dnieper culture (common ancestor of later Indo-Iranian archaeological cultures such as Fatyanovo-Balanovo and then Abashevo) which has clear Indo-Iranian symbols. It was a part of great Indo-European Corded Ware cultural circle. Hittite-Luwian and Iranian (e. g., Avestan) languages have clear CVCV-feature.

Thus, the feature might be formed in (Indo-)Iranian under the Hittite-Luwian influence and then inherited by Proto-Slavic during a long time – from the Sosnytsia culture (or the Sosnytsia variant of the Trzciniec-Komariv culture) to the Scythian-Sarmatian time. Late Trypillians might change their language from Hittite-Luwian to Iranian and then to Proto-Slavic in the Middle Dnieper area. The Ukrainian language euphony traced to the Hittite-Luwian (Trypillian) articulation via Iranian languages.  





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Maryna Yarmolinska, post-graduate student

of the Kyiv National Taras Shevchenko University

Iurii Mosenkis, DrSc


Supervisor-consultant: Dr. Sc. Mykhailo Videiko