- formerly Ruthenian languageSlavic language spoken by about 41 million people in Ukraine, Poland, Slovakia, Russia, and in enclaves around the world.Only about three-quarters of Ukrainians are first-language speakers of Ukrainian, but there are millions of first-language speakers in Russia, Belarus, and the Central Asian republics. Ukraine's premodern literary language was Church Slavonic (see Old Church Slavonic language). Ukrainian was one component in the chancery language of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, which also mixed Church Slavonic, Belarusian, and Polish. With the fall of the Zaporizhzhya Cossacks in the 18th century, Ukrainian speakers were stateless and the status of the language, thought of as peasant speech by the nobility, was low. The language and orthography (using a form of the Cyrillic alphabet) were gradually standardized in the 19th century.
* * *East Slavic language spoken in Ukraine and in Ukrainian communities in neighbouring Belarus, Russia, Poland, and Slovakia. Ukrainian is a lineal descendant of the colloquial language used in Kievan Rus (10th–13th century). It is written in a form of the Cyrillic alphabet and is closely related to Russian and Belarusian, from which it was indistinguishable until the 12th or 13th century. Ukrainian resembles Russian less closely than does Belarusian, though all three languages are in part mutually intelligible.After the fall of Kievan Rus in the 13th century, the dialectal characteristics that distinguish Ukrainian from its sister languages emerged, but for many centuries thereafter the language had almost no literary expression owing to Ukraine's long political subordination. It was not until the end of the 18th century that modern literary Ukrainian emerged out of the colloquial Ukrainian tongue. Like Belarusian, the Ukrainian language contains a large number of words borrowed from Polish, but it has fewer borrowings from Church Slavonic than does Russian.
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