Welcome to the UCLA Ukrainian program!

Created by A.Kudyma



Ukrainian is the declared national and official language of the newly independent republic of Ukraine. Approximately 83 percent of the inhabitants in Ukraine are native speakers for a total of 43.5 million (Grimes 1992); another 1.5 million speakers live in Poland. (Ukrainian speakers in the north and west of Poland were transferred there after World War II to replace the Germans who had been repatriated.) Small communities (less than 500,000 each) of Ukrainians live in Canada and the northeastern United States, where there are continuing efforts to maintain the use of Ukrainian.


diaspora (including some 900,000 in the United States and over a million in Canada), where there are continuing efforts to maintain the use of Ukrainian.

Together with Belarusian and Russian, Ukrainian belongs to the East Slavic group of the Slavic branch of the Indo-European language family. The Slavic group has three main subdivisions: South Slavic, West Slavic, and East Slavic. The three East Slavic languages share a common linguistic history.

The major dialectal divisions within Ukrainian are regionally based. The number of major dialect groups varies between two and four. Most authors recognize three dialect groups, there are, however, slight variations in naming these groups. Some linguists describe the three groups as Northwest Ukrainian, Southwest Ukrainian, and Eastern Ukrainian. Others (see Voegelin and Voegelin 1977) recognize three major groups but refer to them as Southeastern, Northern, and Western. Still others (for example, Voegelin and Voegelin 1977) recognize just two main dialect groups: Eastern and Western. The dialects of Ukrainian do not differ extensively from one another and are mutually intelligible.

Ukrainian is written in the Cyrillic alphabet.

Ukrainian has six vowel phonemes and a consonantal system of thirty-two phonemes. Although some consonants are phonemically palatalized, front vowels allophonically palatalize other consonants. Stress is moveable and can occur on any syllable.

Like other Slavic languages, Ukrainian is a richly inflected language. Nouns that are feminine, masculine, and neuter are declined in several declensions (masculine consonant-final stems; mostly feminine (y)a-stems, feminine consonant-final stems neuter o-stems, neuter e-stems, and neuter –ia stems). Adjectives are declined for gender, number, and case. The six inflectional cases are nominative, accusative, genitive, dative, instrumental, prepositional; there is also a vocative form. Case and number distinctions are combined in the form of a single affix. Ukrainian also distinguishes between masculine animate and inanimate nouns.

Verbs are marked for first, second, and third persons, singular and plural, thus independent personal pronouns are used only for emphasis. The aspectual distinction between perfective (completed action) and imperfective (durative or on-going action) is fundamental. Many perfective forms are constructed using particles prefixed to the infinitive and a number of imperfective ones are formed using infixes.

In syntax, main verbs agree in person and number with their subjects. Adjectives precede the noun they modify. One of the prominent features of the system of agreement is a high degree of redundancy: the same gender and number information may be repeated several times in the sentence.

Word order is grammatically free with no particular fixed order for constituents marking subject, object, possessor, etc. However, the neutral order is Subject-Verb-Object. The inflectional system takes care of keeping the syntax clear. As in other Slavic languages, pragmatic information and considerations of topic (what the sentence is about, or old information) and focus (new information conveyed by the sentence) is important in determining word order. Constituents with old information precede constituents with new information, or those that carry most emphasis.


There are ongoing efforts, above all among Ukrainian intellectuals, to solidify the position of Ukrainian as the national and official language of Ukraine, in particular to minimize the use and prestige of Russian. (This problem does not exist in Western Ukraine, where the language is used regularly on an everyday basis), There is a strong modern literary tradition and the written language is used in all aspects of government and public life.


Ukrainian developed a rich oral tradition during the struggles for national liberation against Poles, Tatars, and Russians. This tradition contributed to the standardization of Ukrainian in the course of the nineteenth century. The first printed books in an older ("bookish") Ukrainian appeared towards the end of the sixteenth century, while the first book in modern standard Ukrainian was published in 1798. A major contribution to the development of the literary language was the work of Taras Shevchenko (1814–1861), Ukraine's national poet.

The use of Ukrainian as a written language was prohibited in the Eastern (or Russian) part of Ukraine during the last thirty years of the nineteenth century ( Campbell 1991). The Tsarist government did not encourage the development of Ukrainian as a separate language. In fact, Ukraine was not recognized as a separate cultural area and the language was referred to as Little Russian and was deemed to be a dialect of Russian (Comrie 1981). It was only after the revolution of 1905 that publication in Ukrainian was finally permitted. Widespread use of Ukrainian as a written language and in education dates from the establishment of the Ukrainian Republic after World War I, although Russian continues to exert pressure on the language to this day.

                                                                                           By professor Roman Koropeckyj, UCLA


Ukrainian language profile

By professor Roman Koropeckyj

Open House

Come to 305 Humanities Building any time between 1:00-2:00 p.m. on Wednesday, October 1st.