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Hosting organisations
Uni Klagenfurt - Institut für Slawistik
Responsible persons
ao. Univ.-Prof. i.R. Dr. Tilmann Reuther

Hybridization from two sides: Ukrainian-Russian and Russian-Ukrainian Code Mixing in the context of the (socio)linguistic situation in southern Ukraine along the Black Sea coast

The Ukraine is a multilingual state, with a predominantly bilingual constellation: Ukrainian and Russian. Ukrainian is strong in the West, and Russian dominates in the East and in the South of the Ukraine. The Central Ukraine holds an intermediate position. Ukrainian and Russian, two structurally closely related languages, function as donor languages for a mixed code called Surzhyk. The specific point with the Ukrainian-Russian mixed code is that it may exist in two variants, reflecting the history of the country.

”Prototype Surzhyk” stems from the times of Russian political and social dominance in the Ukraine: From the 1860-ies in Tsarist times and from the 1930-ies in Soviet times people adapted themselves to a Russian-speaking environment. This “old” Surzhyk has developed in a way resembling so called ‘dialect levelling’ on the basis of Ukrainian. Though still quite variable, a certain stabilisation of this mixed code is observed, since adults started to speak Old Surzhyk between themselves and with their children in informal communication over several generations. The second variant of mixed code, here called “Neo-Surzhyk”, is of younger origin. It evolved with people who used to practise mainly Russian, but - due to the Ukrainian language politics after 1990 - had at least partially to turn to Ukrainian. Neo-Surzhyk thus has a Russian base and is expected to occur – most probably along with Old Surzhyk - in the South of the Ukraine (and in the East, now inaccessible for systematic research).

The central research question of our project with an innovative contact-linguistic dimension is the following: Is there a clear differentiation between two mixed codes based on the same two closely related donor languages? Or is there a gradual transition between groups of speakers with different sociodemographic backgrounds?

The research hypotheses of our project are:

  • Grammatically, Old Surzhyk and Neo-Surzhyk can be differentiated mainly on quantitative grounds with cluster differences between speakers (for example as to the spread of inflectional endings).
  • Lexically, there are clear differences: prevailing Ukrainian vs. prevailing Russian lexemes.
  • As to sound patterns, Old Surzhyk and Neo-Surzhyk are different structurally.
  • Neo-Surzhyk is more variable than Old Surzhyk.

The alternative to these hypotheses is that there are no two distinct Surzhyks but rather a continuum between a strongly Ukrainian-like and a strongly Russian-like Surzhyk, in combination with sociodemographic differentiations on multiple levels.

The methodological approach of the project consists in an innovative corpus linguistic description, combined with analytical methods of quantitative variationist sociolinguistics, correlated with sociodemographic data. In addition to that, in-depth interviews on individual “Sprachbiographien” (linguistic biographies) will be conducted and analysed qualitatively, in order to correlate quantitative findings with qualitative data.

Tilmann Reuther (AAU Klagenfurt, FWF Lead) and Gerd Hentschel (University Oldenburg, DFG Partner), D-A-CH-Joint Project