Ukrainian spelling reform: Back to 1928?

Author : Natalia Hryhorieva

Source : 112 Ukraine

New edition of Ukrainian spelling might return the Ukrainian language to the norms of 1928 or the so-called Skrypnykivka
11:41, 5 September 2018


This eventful summer would be marked by one unforgettable event. In mid-August, the National Commission on Spelling has introduced a draft new edition of Ukrainian spelling into public discussion. By September 15, 2018, everyone can send his comments and propositions.

Immediately, a wave of indignation, criticism, and luck has appeared. Someone believes that nothing needs to be changed because many still cannot learn the old rules; someone is defending the project. And, there are those for whom language issues are not on time.

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Iryna Farion (far right politician and philologist, known for her xenophobic calls, member of Ukraine’s far-right Svoboda party; Farion was involved in major scandal over language issues –as a regional Lviv deputy, she has criticized children in kindergarten for having “wrong” Russian-styled names – ed.) called this project "a project of compromise, dualism, full schizophrenic uncertainty." In her opinion, it is necessary to return to the norms of 1928 (During the period of Ukrainization in Soviet Ukraine, the 1927 International Orthographic Conference was convened in Kharkiv. At the conference a standardized Ukrainian orthography and method for transliterating foreign words were established, a compromise between Galician and Soviet proposals, called the Kharkiv Orthography, or Skrypnykivka, after Ukrainian Commissar of Education Mykola Skrypnyk. It was officially recognized by the Council of People's Commissars in 1928 and adopted by the Ukrainian Diaspora. – Ed.).

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Experts at the same time explain that the project was developed "on the basis of the tradition of Ukrainian spelling taking into account the latest language phenomena."

In general, again we face this language issue, the "stumbling block" and "rock of offense."

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I have familiarized myself with this project and I can say that I 90% agree with it. I believe that the authors hold a reasonable compromise: on the one hand, much is taken from the Kharkiv spelling of 1928, and on the other hand, copying these rules completely, to put it mildly, is wrong. Even though this was the last purely Ukrainian spelling and it was concluded by eminent and respected linguists. After all, this is not a static phenomenon. She is constantly undergoing change. And it is not about a violent Russification here. For 90 years our country has witnessed many events that have somehow affected the language. It is impossible to neglect this in any way.

There should be no compromises in the implementation of language policy, that is, one state language, no bilingualism, education only in Ukrainian. Germany, where more than one million Turks live, has no Turkish school. Children study in German schools and speak their own language at home. Some schools offer Turkish as a foreign language. In France, during the French Revolution, it was forbidden to keep records in French. Today, the fine for a song, documentation or signage is not in French, amounts to 750 to 570 thousand euros. We also have a lot of loopholes in order not to learn the language. It is important not to make any compromises. A girl from China, who decided to go to Kyiv for study, opened an encyclopedia, read that there is the Ukrainian language, which (logically!) is used in Ukraine. She was studying Ukrainian for a year she, and after she came here, it turned out that all the textbooks (Soviet-style textbooks, I mean) were published in Russian. And she did not understand Russian. She had a real cognitive dissonance!

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In general, you need to create the conditions under which a person who does not know the language will not be able to learn it.

As Farion says, when it comes to "dualism," everything is clear here.

Defending the new project and responding to those who advocate the introduction of Skrypnykivka, I would like to bring such arguments.

You can often hear that if people in Donbas and Crimea spoke Ukrainian, then nothing would happen there.

Let me disagree with this.

Knowledge of language is not a guarantee of patriotism. Unfortunately, we know a lot of examples when Ukrainian-speaking citizens of the western regions did actions which, to put it mildly, were far from patriotism.

Yes, of course, this is an element and a factor in the national security of the country. Just like mathematics is the queen (and, probably, the servant) of all the sciences, because math per se is not necessary to anyone, and the language cannot exist exclusively "for the sake of language".

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"To understand Japanese, one must think in Japanese," says the hero of “Shōgun” novel by James Clavell. And this phrase contains more than just knowledge of the language. Here we will allow one more small comparison. Now many people are fond of yoga, namely physical exercises. But yoga is a whole system of philosophical and spiritual practices. Without this, physical exercises simply remain the same.

Language is not only a means of communication but also a special principal in the intellectual, spiritual and cultural field (folklore, music, literature, etc.). Of course, and this also does not give "a 100% guarantee of patriotism," but at least significantly reduces the place for maneuvering for other people's ideas and other people's heroes.

A number of historians believe that the main reason for separatism in Donbas is "hybrid identity": many of them still cannot decide for themselves, Russians or Ukrainians. On the one hand, the native language of their grandparents was Ukrainian. On the other hand, artificial Russification, borderline, close economic and family ties with the Russian Federation do not allow them to finally identify themselves as Ukrainians.

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Therefore, one of the tasks of the teacher of the Ukrainian language is not only to teach the language but also through it to open the rich spiritual heritage of Ukraine, which will allow to form and strengthen national consciousness and to "refresh" the national memory.

Current teachers of the Ukrainian language (even the younger generation) have mastered their profession, not on the basis of Skrypnykivka spelling. Therefore, if you listen to its current apologists and implement this system, there will be complete confusion. Tell me who knows this Skrypnykivka writing today (some books are still translated into Ukrainian Skrypnykivka, for example Roman Tysa has translated Antonio Gramsci, Franz Fanon, Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Karl Kautsky, Rosa Luxemburg, etc. into Skrypnykivka – ed.)? Who will translate a huge array of materials into "new-old-Ukrainian"? Who will teach all the new rules? And, most importantly, when? After all, no one cancels the educational process at schools, and teachers will have to combine their training with students' learning, that is, to teach what they have not yet fully absorbed.

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And the last thing here. Among let us remember the odious Valuev Circular of 1863 (a large portion of the publications – religious, and literature used for school training – in the Ukrainian language was forbidden, however, this circular has put the reason for the growing number of textbooks in Ukrainian, and beginner-level books in Ukrainian with "the Poles' political interests" and the "separatist intentions of some of the Little Russians" – Ed.).

Therefore, the rules of spelling, in our opinion, are a wise compromise. So that nobody has any temptation to say: "It turns out that Valuev is right."

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