Ukrainian language in relation to Polish and Russian

Discussion in 'Other Slavic Languages' started by dopehooks, Sep 6, 2013.

  1. dopehooks New Member

    English - Canada
    Okay, I'm struggling to choose between which Slavic language to learn.

    In terms of usefulness and ease of finding things like resources and native speakers, Russian and Polish are by far the best choices in my opinion.

    I like Polish because of it's closer ties with the EU and Western world, Latin alphabet and general geopostion of the country - is great for travel.
    Russian on the other hand easily has 4 times as many speakers, Russian has significant geopolitical usefulness, learning the Cyrillic alphabet would open large portions of the Slavic world up to me.

    Still can't decide though,

    I read online somewhere that to get the best of both worlds (Polish and Russian), I should learn Ukrainian, as it's "Russian grammar with Polish lexicon"...

    This sounds wrong to me, but I have no basis to make such a statement as I don't speak any of these languages. How much truth would those of you who are familiar with these languages say is in this statement?
  2. ryba

    ryba Senior Member

    Hi Dopehooks,

    I'm sure there have been threads related to your question. Oh yes, there have:

    Ukrainian language in relation to Polish and Russian
    Ukrainian/Russian/Polish - mutual intelligibility

    I've been reading and writing a lot in Ukrainian lately and I even got to speak some not so long ago, and, as a native speaker of Polish, I can assure you Ukrainian is lexically very close to West Slavic languages. A Pole with some metalinguistic awareness will quickly learn to effectively communicate in Ukrainian, and neither grammar nor vocab will be much of a hindrance, really. Russian, on the other hand, developed from the easternmost Slavic dialects with a strong Old Bulgarian/Old Macedonian (Old Church Slavonic) influence, which makes its lexicon quite exotic from a Central-European perspective. While I can read Ukrainian and Belarusian fluently, Russian is surprisingly unintellegible to me. And the way Russian syntax (case assignment, especially) works never stops surprising me. So, if you want to learn one language that will serve you as a sort of a Central European lingua franca or starting point for learning another Central European Slavic language, Ukrainian (or Polish or Slovak) is a better choice than Russian, which, in that respect, is "weird" even from a Ukrainian or Belarusian (East Slavic!) perspective.
  3. Duya Senior Member

    Not in WR world
    On the other hand, from my South Slavic perspective (but who was taught Russian in the basic school), both Ukrainian and, to a lesser extent, Polish have a "lexicon quite exotic from a South-European perspective". Particularly Ukrainian, with its sound changes accompanied with phonetic spelling, looks quite alien and puzzling to me. Looking at examples given by Awwal in this post, mutations like "вiн змінився" (compare BCS "on se izmenio") make me say "WTH?!". Sure, intelligibility is further hindered by lack of exposure, as we down here have virtually no opportunity to hear spoken Ukrainian.

    On the other hand, both Russian and Serbo-Croatian drew far more, vocabulary in particular, from OCS than Ukrainian and West Slavic languages, and we had a (limited) number of later borrowings (e.g. izviniti se 'apologize'). Russian etymologic orthography makes it far easier to decipher than Ukrainian; and, maybe it's just me, getting the complex Russian stress right is low on the list of priorities (our own prosody is even more complex than Russian).

    Sorry that I hijacked the thread; I understand that my musings are not particularly relevant for Dopehooks's decision. Still, I thought I could offer an interesting contrast.
  4. dopehooks New Member

    English - Canada
    Thanks! Both your posts are very helpful actually. With all the research that I've been doing online, I'm quickly coming to realize that South Slavic languages share a lot more with Russian than I previously thought. Whereas, West Slavic languages like Polish and Czech have really come to be their own.
  5. iobyo Senior Member

    Bitola, Macedonia
    Belarusian is worse in this respect. Akannye, tsyekannye and dzyekannye make it really hard for a South Slavic speaker to pick up even cognates; ex. вада, у свеце, стагоддзе. Ukrainian is a little easier for us; ex. вода, у світі, століття.
  6. ectuohy Member

    NJ, USA
    North Jersey English (rhotic)
    I'm a native English speaker w/no family roots in any of the relevant countries, and I learned Ukrainian as my first Slavic language. There are indeed many features that Ukrainian (but not Russian) shares with other Slavic languages, from vocabulary (primarily with Polish, as mentioned), but also some grammatical features like the use of the verb "to have," the vocative case, and so on.

    It's true that I can sort of bluff my way through BCS (oddly enough, a Croatian border guard asked me why I had a Polish accent, given my passport!), and can understand written Polish decently well, but the similarities are by no means close enough to get you more than a good head start in any of the other languages without sustained exposure to them.

    Accordingly, I wouldn't recommend Ukrainian unless you in fact plan to spend the most time working in (or on subjects related to) [Western!] Ukraine. Pick the language you think you'll use most, and start with that--then you can later take advantage of the "buy one, get the second at a discount" fun of Slavic languages.
  7. DarkChild Senior Member

    Only in EE you'd be asked such a thing :eek:
  8. ectuohy Member

    NJ, USA
    North Jersey English (rhotic)
    Haha true, one of the reasons why I love the region so much :)

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