Sobolevsky, Aleksei

Sobolevsky, Aleksei [Соболевский, Алекей; Sobolevskij, Aleksej], b 7 January 1857 in Moscow, d 24 May 1929 in Moscow. (Photo: Aleksei Sobolevsky.) Russian Slavist, linguist, paleographer, and folklorist; member of the Russian (later USSR) Academy of Sciences from 1893. A graduate of Moscow University (1878, 1881) and Kharkiv University (PH D, 1884), he taught at Kyiv University (1882–8) and Saint Petersburg University (1888–1908). A specialist in Old Church Slavonic and the history of the Russian language, he defended the Russian chauvinist concept of a single Russian language divided into a ‘Great Russian’ (including Belarusian) and a ‘Little Russian’ (ie, Ukrainian) dialect. In his books of essays (1884) and lectures (1888, 1891, 1903, 1907) on the history of the Russian language, he described the phonetic features of numerous 12th- to 15th-century manuscripts written in Ukraine. He described them tendentiously as ‘Galician-Volhynian’ and maintained that ‘Great Russian’ was spoken at that time in Kyiv and Chernihiv. In an article on the ‘ancient Kyivan dialect’ (1905) he explained the presence of Galician-Volhynian features in those manuscripts, as well as in the modern northeastern Ukrainian dialects, as the result of ‘in-migration’ of Galicians and Volhynians after the Mongol invasion and the northward ‘out-migration’ of the indigenous ‘Russian’ population. Sobolevsky's revival of the theories of Mikhail Pogodin led to a polemic with Pavlo Zhytetsky, Kostinatyn Mykhalchuk, Aleksandr Pypin, Aleksei Shakhmatov, Vatroslav Jagić, and Ahatanhel Krymsky, who wrote a detailed response (five articles in Kievskaia starina, 1898–9). He was the most important contributor to the historical dialectology of the East Slavic languages. In his books on Russian dialectology (1890, 1911) and in an article on the ‘Little Russian dialect’ (1892), he divided the Ukrainian dialects into archaic northern (including archaic Carpathian) and southern groups. In his etymologies of ethnonyms, hydronyms, toponyms, anthroponyms, and contemporary place-names and surnames in Ukraine and Eastern Europe, he often suggested uncritically a derivation from the Scythian and Sarmatian languages.

Oleksa Horbach

[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 4 (1993).]

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