Sulyma, Mykola

Sulyma, Mykola [Сулима, Микола], b 15 August 1892 in Huliai-Pole sloboda, Zmiiv county, Kharkiv gubernia, d 1955 in Ukhta, Komi Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic, RSFSR. Linguist, specializing in the study of the literary Ukrainian language of the 19th and 20th centuries. Upon graduating from the Historical-Philological Department of Kharkiv University in 1918, Sulyma spent eight years working as a teacher of Ukrainian in various schools and tekhnikums in Kharkiv. Simultaneously, he was a lecturer at Kharkiv Institute of People's Education (from 1921) and a graduate student at the Scientific Research Institute for the Study of Ukrainian (from 1922), whose scholarly staff he later joined. In the 1920s and early 1930s, he worked as a professor at the Linguistics Department of Kharkiv Institute of People's Education, where, apart from the Ukrainian language, he also taught Latin and Greek. From 1929 he directed the Section for the Study of Modern Ukrainian at the Kharkiv branch of the Scientific Research Institute of Linguistics.

He was arrested (in 1932), during one of the several waves of Stalinist terror, and incarcerated for almost a year in a Kharkiv prison. Upon his release, he resumed his professional work, but very soon after that was dismissed for ‘having attempted to steer the development of Standard Ukrainian in a bourgeois nationalist direction.’ Following the publication of a scathing article by Petro Horetsky and Illia Kyrychenko, entitled ‘Nationalist Sabotage in the Syntax of Modern Ukrainian’ (1934), in which he was accused of ‘propagating Ukrainian bourgeois nationalism in the field of syntax,’ Sulyma fled from Kharkiv to Sevastopol. He worked for some time as a professor at the Department of Ukrainian Studies of the Crimean Pedagogical Institute.

He was arrested for a second time after the Second World War and was initially condemned to death for his alleged anti-Soviet activities. He was subsequently partially pardoned and had his sentence commuted to a term in a labor camp, which he served in the GULAG Spask Prison Colony in Karaganda oblast, Kazakhstan. Although partially ‘rehabilitated’ after Joseph Stalin’s death in 1953, he was not allowed to return to Ukraine and spent the last years of his life in an Ukhta old age home.

Sulyma was one of the first standardizers of the Ukrainian language in the 1920s. As a member of the State Commission for the Regulation of Orthography (1925–7) he contributed to the creation of the standardized Ukrainian spelling of 1928. Himself a partisan of the so-called ‘moderate purism’ (as apposed to ‘radical purism’), Sulyma outlined his general views on the standardization of the Ukrainian language in his book entitled Ukraïns'ka fraza. Koroten'ki nacherky (The Ukrainian Way of Speaking: A Brief Outline, 1928), where he identified ‘the most characteristic’ features of Ukrainian as reflected in Standard Ukrainian. His ideas were based on a conviction that Standard Ukrainian can properly develop only when it is rooted in the living language of the people, as illustrated in ethnographic materials and in the literary works of classic Ukrainian writers. Accordingly, he published several extensive articles on the language of Taras Shevchenko, Lesia Ukrainka, Arkhyp Teslenko, Mykola Khvylovy, and other writers, in such popular magazines as Chervonyi shliakh and Pluzhanyn. During the same period of the late 1920s, he also wrote a number of articles for leading pedagogical journals, such as Shliakh osvity and Radians’ka osvita (Kharkiv), or for the specialized journal Chervona presa, in which he discussed the contemporary language usage of teachers and postsecondary students, as well as the language of the press. His assessment of this language usage was quite critical in the light of the standardization processes then underway. Sulyma was also the author of a lecture course on the history of Standard Ukrainian and of a textbook on Ukrainian dialectology that was the first publication of this kind in Ukraine. Both of these studies appeared under one cover in his book Istorychnyi kurs ukraïns'koï movy (A Course in the History of the Ukrainian Language, 1928).

As far as his methodology is concerned, Sulyma remained faithful to the tradition of the Kharkiv Linguistic School initiated by Oleksander Potebnia and based on the historical comparative approach. This methodology is clearly evident in Sulyma’s numerous studies of syntactic and stylistic matters (in the first place, in his Ukraïns'ka fraza. Koroten'ki nacherky).

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Natalia Karikova (translated by Serhii Vakulenko)

[This article was updated in 2022.]

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