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Dialects. (Map: Ukrainian dialects.) Nowadays classified into two basic groups—the northern (Polisian) and the southern dialects—between which there extends a wide belt of ‘transitional’ dialects, southern dialects on northern foundations (that is, historically northern dialects that were assimilated by southern dialects). The northern boundary of this transitional belt runs along the line WłodawaKamin-Koshyrskyi–the town of Stepan–KyivNizhynHlukhiv; the southern, along the line HrubeshivZhytomyrPereiaslavLubnyRomnySumy. The fundamental difference between the northern and southern dialectal groups lies in the role of accentuation in the transmutation of the old vowels ě, o, and e to the i sound (did from dědъ [old man]; dim from domъ [house]; lid from ledъ [ice]). In the south this change occurred independently of the accent (lislisý [forest]; dimdimký); in the north it took place only under the accent (lies lesý; müst, muost mostkí [bridge]). The same applies to the vowel ’a from the Common Slavic ę (in the northern group, when accented—’a, ja: z’at’ [son-in-law]; when unaccented—e: zetí [pl]). The northern dialectal group is subdivided into the following dialects: the east Polisian (east of the Dnipro River), the central Polisian (between the Dnipro and the Horyn River), the west Polisian (between the Horyn and the Buh River and Lisna River), and the Podlachian dialects. The main differences among them are the varying developments of diphthongs in place of ě, o, e; the appearance of akan'e in east Polisian and dzekan'e and partially ukan'e in central Polisian; and/or morphological similarities with the southwestern dialects (in west Polisian). (See Polisian dialects.)

The southern group of dialects is divided into two subgroups: the more uniform southeastern dialects (central Dnipro dialects, Slobidska Ukraine dialects, and steppe dialects) and the southwestern dialects, which are highly differentiated (the approximate boundary between the two is the line FastivUmanBalta). The southwestern group is composed of the following dialects: South Volhynian dialects, Podilian dialects, Dnister dialects, Sian dialects, Bukovyna-Pokutia dialects, Hutsul dialect, Boiko dialect, Middle-Transcarpathian dialects, and Lemko dialects. The differences among them lie in the preservation of a number of archaisms in the phonetic and word-inflection patterns of the final three (Carpathian) dialects, and in a number of phonetic and morphological innovations in the others. The development of various lexical and phraseological peculiarities in the Carpathian dialects was influenced by the conditions of mountain life, by ancient tribal differences, and by various foreign-language admixtures (Romanian, Slovak, Hungarian, Polish, etc).

Historically, Ukrainian linguistic territory covered two groups of dialects: the northern and the southern. Their boundaries underwent considerable changes as a result of various migrations of the population: there were periodic waves of migration of the steppe inhabitants to the northwest in their flight from the nomadic Pecheneg, Cuman, and Tatar tribes (10th–13th century and 15th century) and their subsequent resettlement in the southeast (14th century, and 16th–19th century); smaller movements of colonization took place in Podlachia (to the north, 13th century), in the Carpathian Mountains (over the mountains to the west, 14th–15th century), in Transcarpathia (the Lemkos to the southeast, 18th century; the Hutsuls to the south, 17th–19th century).

After the Ukrainian literary language (see Standard Ukrainian) stabilized in the 19th century, the use of dialects came to characterize primarily the peasantry. But in the course of the 20th century, with the influence of the church, education, the press, and radio, elements of the literary language began, and continued increasingly, to penetrate even the language of the peasants. This process is most rapid in the areas of phonetics and morphology, slower in syntax and vocabulary; geographically, it is more rapid in suburban and industrial regions, especially among those groups of speakers who most frequently spend time outside the village (youth, men). The opposite influence—of dialects on the standard language—which was substantial as late as the 19th century, has become, since the 1930s–1940s, insignificant.

Systematic study of Ukrainian dialects in their entirety on a truly scholarly foundation was first undertaken by Kostiantyn Mykhalchuk, sometimes called ‘the father of Ukrainian dialectology’ (1877). This work was carried on by Aleksei Sobolevsky (1892), Nikolai Durnovo (Moscow Dialectological Commission, 1915), Ivan Zilynsky (1916, 1933, and, posthumously, 1975), Vsevolod Hantsov (1924), Fedot Zhylko (1955), Yosyp Dzendzelivsky (1965–6), and Tetiana Nazarova (1977). Mykhalchuk's tripartition of the Ukrainian dialects was disputed by Sobolevsky and Durnovo, but, with minor specifications and modifications suggested by Hantsov, Ivan Pankevych, and Zilynsky, it prevailed and is now generally accepted.

Since the early 20th century the collection of dialectal data has been performed on the basis of broadly discussed and published questionnaires, of which the most important were those of Kostiantyn Mykhalchuk and Ahatanhel Krymsky (in Russian) and Mykhalchuk and Yevhen Tymchenko (in Ukrainian, both 1909), Oleksa Syniavsky (1924, 1927), Tymchenko (1925), Mykola Nakonechny (1941), and Borys Larin (1948, 1949).

In the area of compilation of dialectal atlases, some regional atlases were pioneering: Zdzisław Stieber's Atlas językowy dawnej Lemkowszczyzny (Linguistic Atlas of the Ancient Lemko Region, 8 issues, 1956-64) and Yosyp Dzendzelivsky's Linhvistychnyi atlas ukraïnśkykh narodnykh hovoriv Zakarpats'koï oblasti URSR (Linguistic Atlas of Ukrainian Folk Dialects of Transcarpathia Oblast, Ukrainian SSR, lexical only, 2 parts, 1958-60). The atlas of Ukrainian dialects in eastern Slovakia by Vasyl Latta remains in manuscript, as does the three-volume all-Ukrainian atlas edited by Fedot Zhylko and completed by the early 1970s.

The compilation of dialectal dictionaries is underdeveloped in Ukrainian dialectology, as is, to an even greater extent, the publication of such dictionaries. The most important have been P. Lysenko's Slovnyk polis'kykh hovoriv (Dictionary of Polisian Dialects) and Mykhailo Onyshkevych's Slovar' boikovskogo dialekta (Dictionary of the Boiko Dialect; only letters B and K have been published [1966, 1972]). A Hutsul dictionary by Jan Janów and a Transcarpathian one by Ivan Pankevych remain entirely in manuscript. There is no general dialectal dictionary, nor is one in preparation.

The methodology of dialectal studies and descriptions has changed substantially during the last century. From the early, impressionistic approach (eg, in descriptions by Ivan Verkhratsky), dialectologists switched to a concentration on exhaustiveness and precision in phonetic description (eg, in works by Olaf Broch, Ivan Zilynsky, and Maik Yohansen), which was typical of the 1930s and 1940s. The phonemic and structural approach is manifested most clearly in studies by Fedot Zhylko and Liudmila Kalnyn (1973). The linguistic-geographic school is most outspokenly represented in the studies of Petro Buzuk, Vasyl S. Vashchenko (both on the Poltava region), and Ivan Pankevych (1938, for Transcarpathia). Particularly original and influential in Ukrainian dialectology was what may be called the genetic school, which combined attention to features of a given dialect, elements of linguistic geography, and utilization of dialectal material in an attempt at the historical reconstruction of the origin of given dialects and the Ukrainian language as a whole. The founders of this trend were Vsevolod Hantsov and Olena Kurylo; it was later joined by Zilynsky, Władysław Kuraszkiewicz, Tetiana Nazarova, and others.

George Yurii Shevelov

[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 1 (1984).]