A New Slavic Language is Born: The Rusyn Literary Language of Slovakia

A New Slavic Language is Born: The Rusyn Literary Language of Slovakia / Zrodil sa novy slovansky jazyk: Rusinsky spisovny jazyk na Slovensku

Carlton, T R

Paul Robert Magocsi, ed. A New Slavic Language is Born: The Rusyn Literary Language of Slovakia / Zrodil sa novy slovansky jazyk: Rusinsky spisovny jazyk na Slovensku. Classics of Carpatho-Rusyn Scholarship, vol. 8. Orwell, VT: Carpatho-Rusyn Research Center, Inc. East European Monographs No. CDXXXIV. Distributed by Columbia University Press, 1996. Cloth.

The publication under review is completely bilingual; every entry is printed in both English and Slovak, including the title pages. The English portion, pp. i-xv, 1-79) occupies the first half of the volume. The second half in Slovak has its own pagination (pp. i-xiv, 1-68). Between the English and Slovak sections are 15 unnumbered pages reproducing the title pages of significant publications, milestones, in the history of Subcarpathian literacy. These range from a Catechism, 1698, the first printed book intended for Rusyns to a C itanka pro rusin’sky dity, 1994. The purpose of this work was to commemorate an achievement. As such, some of the contributions remind us of the type of speeches one would hear at any ribbon-cutting ceremony.

This applies to the Introduction by Nikita I. Tolstoj, who comments on the development and/or codification of so-called micro-languages among the Slavic speaking peoples. Under the same rubric is the Appendix which includes Nykolaj Ljas , “May the Lord Bless Our Sacret Act” (pp. 65-66); Aleksander Zozuljak, “A Great Event in the Life of the Rusyns” (pp. 67-69); Anna Plis kova, “January 27, 1995-The Day the Rusyn Language was Codified” (pp. 70-74); and Myron Sysak, “Codification and What Next?” (pp. 75-79). These are largely in the nature of triumphal remarks praising one’s friends and condemning one’s adversaries. All four authors thank the Slovak government for its support in furthering the cause of Rusynism. This is interesting, for Slovakia is a small nation and must be mindful of the aspirations of any and all minorities within its borders. Although the days of irredentism in Europe are hopefully dead, it is always preferable that any given minority not identify itself with another nation just over the border.

The villain of the piece is inevitably those of so-called “Ukrainian orientation,” who consider that all forms of East Slavic speech south and west of the Carpathian mountains are dialects of Ukrainian. Therefore, if any other Slavic language (in addition to Slovak) is to be taught in Rusyn area schools, Standard Literary Ukrainian is the best choice. The pro-Ukrainian faction argues that subdividing each of these West Ukrainian dialects into ever smaller units is to carry local loyalties to an extreme. There are libraries full of Ukrainian books in every field, whereas there are no such Lemko libraries. Teaching school children a local dialect is an extra burden which brings with it little or no benefit. However, Zozuljak asks, “How can such people look into their own mothers’ eyes and have any self-respect?” (p. 68). Plis kova refers to “…an intensely fierce propaganda campaign” and “…underhanded tactics which the Ukrainians dreamed up” (p. 70). Sysak opines that broadcast journalists, editors and interviewers are being ridiculous by posing questions in pure literary Ukrainian. Presumably, they “…do this deliberately to poke fun at the people” (p. 78). He believes that Ukrainian is “…a language the people do understand.” I find this very puzzling since even I as a non-native speaker of Ukrainian have no difficulty in understanding anything spoken or written in any of the Carpathian dialects.

The pro-Rusyn side of the debate is firmly convinced that the Rusyns constitute a separate and distinct nationality, and therefore deserve their own codified written language as a matter of right. The other side is heavily burdened with such nonlinguistic factors that Ukrainianization was a communist policy coinciding with collectivization and the liquidation of the Greek Catholic Church.

Of truly scholarly value are the contributions by Aleksander D. Dulic enko, Paul Robert Magocsi and Vasyl’ Jabur. In the first of these (pp. 3-17) Dulicenko gives a thumbnail sketch of all the so-called Slavic micro-languages. This is so to speak a summary of his detailed monograph, Slavjanskie mikro-jazyki: voprosy formirovanija i razvitija (Tallin, 1981). This outline is potentially very valuable for anyone interested in this topic since the 1981 work is relatively rare, with only 600 copies having been published.

Magocsi (pp. 21-47) outlines the history of literacy in the Subcarpathian region. This is a complicated topic, with many competing trends, historic twists and turns, and rival camps. It is quite difficult to be clear and concise when summarizing this history, but Magocsi manages to achieve this.

Jabur’s contribution (pp. 51-61) is also a summary, but of an altogether different sort. He outlines the orthographic and morphological norms for the newly codified Rusyn language. Thus, we see immediately that ten pages can hardly handle a task so large. Nevertheless, from the examples cited, we see that this variety of Rusyn maintains the Proto-Slavic distinction of/i/ vs /y/ spelled u vs bl. The phonetic value of u is closer to that of Ukrainian, not of Russian, that is, IPA 1 not i. Cyrillic i marks the palatalization of a preceding consonant. It is written for Proto-Slavic /e / and for the reflex of Proto-Slavic /o/ and /e/ in newly closed syllables, that is, closed by the loss of a weak jer. Further east in the direction of Uzhorod is attested /o/ > /u/ instead of /i/. The isogloss spearating these two reflexes of /o/ in newly closed syllables coincides more or less with that dividing fixed penultimate stress (to the west) vs. free and mobile stress as in Standard Ukrainian (to the east). This means that the dialectal base for the newly born language is that between the Cirocha River in the east (just north of Snina) to the Poprad River in the west, commonly referred to as Lemko in Ukrainian dialectology.

T.R. Carlton, University of Alberta

Copyright Canadian Assosciation of Slavists Sep-Dec 2002

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