Etymological spelling

Etymological spelling. A system of spelling based not on contemporary pronunciation (phonetic spelling), but on the principle of preserving the traditional notation of words, regardless of subsequent changes in pronunciation. Viewed synchronically, etymological spelling is characterized by the preservation of the same spelling of a morpheme regardless of its changing pronunciation in different inflexional positions (eg, pot—potu [sweat, nominative–genitive singular] for the pronunciation pit—potu). Since pronunciation changes with time, all spellings gradually become etymological. The phonetic spelling introduced by Saint Cyril in the 9th century to denote the words of the Church Slavonic language had already become historical when it was introduced in Ukraine through Christian writings in the 10th century. With the exception of the sporadic deviations of individual authors and the introduction of the Hrazhdanka alphabet in the first half of the 18th century, the Cyrillic orthography preserved its historical-etymological character in Ukraine well into the first half of the 19th century. At this time reforms were introduced in the direction of phonetic spelling (the Kulishivka [Panteleimon Kulish's spelling], with modifications by Borys Hrinchenko, and the Zhelekhivka [Yevhen Zhelekhivsky's spelling] in Galicia and Bukovyna). In 1821 and 1841 Mykhailo Maksymovych promoted etymological spelling as the standard writing system for the Ukrainian language (Maksymovychivka), but it caught on only in Galicia and Bukovyna, where it was used in schools until 1893. (Russophile publications used this spelling to the end of the 1930s, and it was used to this time as well in Transcarpathia in the form of the Pankevychivka.) The resistance to the adoption of etymological spelling was closely related to the political struggle for the independence of Ukraine, with its inherent fight against Russophilism, and with its attempts to introduce the vernacular and themes from the life of the common people into Ukrainian literature.

George Yurii Shevelov

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

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