I wonder how many words in Ukrainian are considered similar (having the same roots and/or understandable) to Russian?

For example here is a lexical similarity index for English. How is Ukrainian similar in lexicon to Russian?

Is there any research regarding this?

  • 1
    I can only say from experience that they're similar. I can understand most of Ukrainian TV shows like Ukraine's Got Talent just from knowing Russian. Part of this is that when the words differ, they tend to differ consistently. Of course, I can't speak Ukrainian, just understand it. (only one person's experience, so I'd say not worth an answer)
    – Jeutnarg
    Commented Aug 2, 2017 at 16:45
  • 1
    A Ukrainian told me, you could start at the eastern border with Russia, and head west in Ukraine towards Poland. Residents from each village could speak to residents from the next village without issue, but the first village couldn't talk to the last, without a translator...
    – user1089
    Commented Aug 2, 2017 at 20:21
  • 4
    lol, @Jeutnarg, Ukraine's Got Talent is bilingual TV show... you can go to any rural area (especially on Ukraine's west) to know that your Russian knowledge is useless Commented Aug 4, 2017 at 16:33
  • 2
    @RomanAnanyev I can tell the difference between Ukrainian and Russian, and I was referring to the parts of that show which are in Ukrainian. And yes, it would be harder to understand Ukrainian in a village, but also in any situation where I didn't know the topic of conversation.
    – Jeutnarg
    Commented Aug 4, 2017 at 16:56
  • 1
    @Yola, sure. Still, Jeutnarg's impression is quite interesting (for me). I got different responses from native Russian speakers about whether they could understand Ukrainian ("mostly yes", "it depends" and "mostly no") — probably it depends on person's background and speech context. If Jeutnarg is not a native Russian speaker, but learned Russian (and can understand specific Russian-Ukrainian bilingual TV-show just from knowing Russian) — it's quite intriguing.
    – Sasha
    Commented Aug 5, 2017 at 11:55

4 Answers 4


Map had maded by Stephan F. Steinbach on work of Tyščenko.

The Lexical Distance Map of European languages based on Tyščenko’s work. Here is an article on Ukrainian from Tyždenj about this.

And a difference in vocabulary between Ukrainian and Russian languages is 38 lexical edits here.

For comparison: a difference between English and Dutch languages is approximately the same — 37 lexical edits.

Related links—blog Alternative Transport by Stephan F. Steinbach who updated the diagram

Similar questions

  • 1
    So, if we drew 100 random words, 38 wiould have different roots? Are сберегательньій and ощадний considered different? What about words like комп'ютер, топологія, did they participate in the reseach?
    – Yola
    Commented Aug 2, 2017 at 18:09
  • We actually don't use diacritics in transliteration :) So the surname would be written Tyshchenko instead
    – scadge
    Commented Aug 3, 2017 at 8:36
  • This talk section on Wikipedia might also be of some help: Talk:Mutual intelligibility#Russian, Ukrainian and Belarusian.
    – ata_zh
    Commented Aug 3, 2017 at 13:13
  • 1
    @Follower Very interesting! Just to make it complete, I'd also add the link to the site where this diagram was initially presented: alternativetransport.wordpress.com/2015/05/04/… . One may also found interesting the post where diagram author rebut criticism over Tyscchenko's methodology: alternativetransport.wordpress.com/2017/03/08/…
    – Volo
    Commented Aug 9, 2017 at 20:24
  • 1
    @Scadge there're different ways to transliterate words. I suppose that Follower just uses the most convenient one. Regardless the official rules.
    – P. Vowk
    Commented Aug 19, 2017 at 8:55

Follower has a great answer. I am no linguist, but I'd like to contribute two points based on my observations.

  1. Any two languages that have an alphabet will have huge similarities as many new words and technical terms, like 'computer', are introduced just by spelling the same pronunciation with a different alphabet. If both languages are not tonal, it also makes them very similar. So if you compare Ukrainian to Russian on a scale with other European languages, 62% similarity might be about correct. If you factor in Asian languages, similarity between Ukrainian, Russian and other European languages would be much higher. If you can read an unknown word and don't have to sign it with tones for it to be understood by others, it is already a huge similarity.

  2. Ukrainian and Russian languages utilize different mimic muscles when spoken. So the same word spoken by a native Ukrainian speaker and a native Russian speaker will sound very different. Russian requires very rigid and tense mimic, while Ukrainian is more relaxes, similar to English in a way. When I lived in the US, it was remarkable to see how native Ukrainian speakers would easily switch between Ukrainian and English and lose their accent in several years, while for native Russian speakers pronouncing English words without sharp consonants and deep vowels was a huge slog. Most have strong accents after decades of living in the US.

I don't know of any research to back up these two observations so feel free to criticize them in comments or edit my answer. I find the topic of language similarities fascinating!

  • -1, sorry. #1 is a pure theoretical thought, and StackExchange sites do not encourage ideas based on "the common sense". #2 (muscles) has no proofs. The phonetics does not study "muscles", however it studies organs of speech and articulation. Yet again, an anecdotal evidence could be fine if it were backed with some credible references, researches, etc. — but it is not. Commented Aug 9, 2017 at 22:46
  • 2
    @bytebuster Thanks for your feedback. You are right that my answer is probably out of scope. It was mostly for me to challenge my thoughts and see what other people think about it. Commented Aug 10, 2017 at 0:45
  • 2
    Your post would become quite on-topic if it answered the question (vocabulary and lexicon comparison between the two languages), providing with numbers and other evidence, likewise the adjacent answer does. In this case, your thoughts and logical explanation would support the answer, and the entire post would benefit from this. This Q has high ratio of views, so your answer would quickly gain upvotes then. But first you need improving your answer! :) Commented Aug 10, 2017 at 1:19

The intelligibility level (percent) depends not only on the lexical distance percent but also (and to large extent) on the orthographic distance (for written intelligibility) which is the percent of the changed letters between the pairs of cognates or partial cognates with completely the same meaning in the total amount of the letters of the longest of two (partial) cognate words. Often there may be bigger amount of letters and signs than in the longest words if therr are so-called "insertions". The same method is used for the spoken (phonetic dustance) but insted the national alphabet letters there are sounds of the International phonetic alphabet (and there may be very close sounds and their change would be not like 1 ball but as 0,5 ball or less. It is called in the some linguistic branches as "Normalized Levenshtein distance). So, the pairs from Swadesh list like Russian "ног" (legs in genitive case) and and Ukrainian " ніг" differs in spelling in 33% (big distance) and in pronuncuarion - basically in 66 % - very big phonetic distance which can lead in not complete understanding (if the context is confusive, incomprehensive or allows parralel translation). Also, big role there may plays sintax and grammar distance. The second issue is the definition of the word "common vocabulary". Actually there is not an unequivocal view between linguists (for example it was noticed by the Soviet linguists Arapov and Herz in 1970-s ) And there are two these extremities in linguists.

  1. The non-cognates are only these words which have different roots till the root of the Proto-Indo- European or the other proto-languages. But, for example, all European languages would probably have in this case unusually big percent of cognates. Still there is need to look for complete false cognates like Russian "швирять" (to throw) and Ukrainian "жбурляти" (old form шпурляти which are occasionally similar to the Russian word). The representative of this approach was for example the Russian linguist Starostin, but he acknowledged non-cognacy in a words' meaning in the Swadesh list. Still, I have seen more "radical" presentatives of this view between the authors of the some linguistic publications whichvare accesible in the Internet . And Swadesh list calculation is at odds with this approach because the Ukrainian чоловік which is husband and male person cannot match the Russian человек in the demanded 100 % exact meaning of the English Swadesh list word "person".
  2. Unequivocally cognates (common vocabulary) - representatives (partial or complete) these linguists Istvan Fodor, Icidore Dyen, Kirschen Peust, Robert Lawrence Trask, Johanne Mattice-List and others. According to the approach, cognates (relatives) is those which not only have the same root, but:

A) They are inherited from a Proto-language but not borrowed from any language including this proto - language or "third" Slavic or non-Slavic language. So, the pairs like "всегда - завжди", "враг - ворог", "сахар - цукор" are non-cognates.

B) They directly originated from one word-ancestor and language ancestor (so, the words like женщина - жінка, как -як are non-cognates.

C) 100 % same meaning: so, the cognates with the different meaning (богато -багато) or partial cognates with close meaning (люди - людина) are non-cognates)

D)Absence of so-called irregular sound changes in word roots (so он - він, медведь- ведмідь, толкать - штовхати are non-cognates.Irregular sound changes are relatively not frequent and they are the result of the word -formation but not the natural evolutionary sound change like o to i in вол - віл (an ox). For example, Istvan Fodor (Hungary) wrote about loanwords, indirect origin, and the situations when roots "drifted so far apart" in this publication http://www.lllf.uam.es/~clase/acceso_local/IF61Gloto.pdf especially on the pages 320 - 323. Still, there were some not perfect approaches used by I.Fodor in the classification and calculation of common vocabulary noticed by M.V.Arapov, M.M.Herz and I.Dyen.

E) Absence of the irregular sound changes in affixes. So,привичка - звичка (habit) are non-cognates. Some principles of differentiation real cognates from these not complete cognates which are products of the word-formation are shown here: https://pure.mpg.de/rest/items/item_3237641/component/file_3237642/content

But if the latter authors say that for the most of linguist the common root generally is enough, the Richard Lawrence Trask had the opposite view: https://books.google.com.ua/books?id=EHeGzQ8wuLQC&pg=PA146&dq=handbook+of+comparative+linguistics+Robert+Lawrence+Trask&hl=ru&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiZ5uiS8Lj8AhVskosKHSqdCMEQ6AF6BAgEEAI#v=onepage&q=cognates&f=false / It's for example on the page 62 (item -"cognates") ("partial cognates"), page 234("oblique cognates"),page 248("partial cognates").

Mostly, the widespread views and principles in West linguistic concerning cognates-non-cognates are generalized in a book " Математические методы в исторической лингвистике" (the authors are М.В. Арапов, М.М. Херц), which was published in Moscow in 1974 and especially on pages 26 and 57-59. Here are just fragments of this book: https://books.google.com.ua/books/about/%D0%9C%D0%B0%D1%82%D0%B5%D0%BC%D0%B0%D1%82%D0%B8%D1%87%D0%B5%D1%81%D0%BA%D0%B8%D0%B5_%D0%BC%D0%B5%D1%82%D0%BE%D0%B4.html?id=ZwQzAQAAIAAJ&redir_esc=y There is many linguists who are in the middle of two extremities like this Ukrainian linguist K.Tyshchenko (the examples of non-cognates ( called by him as "innovations" in the Swadesh list fragment are written and coloured by him here: https://i.tyzhden.ua/content/photoalbum/2012/10_12/04/tyshenko/tyshenko.pdf on the page 54, in the figure 20. Some principles of defining of words like innovations are shown on the pages 53 and 55 (there is, for example about the metatesis ( a kind of the irregular sound changes in a word's root of Czech word "hmla" (gaze) in the comparisons with the Russian "мгла" (the latter sounds like "mgla).

But the words which have just irregular suffixes and prefixes are not coloured by him as "non-cognates" ( like Belarusian "жывёла" and Russian "животное" (animal), or like Ukrainian "кістка" and Russian "кость" ("bone").


I don't know of anyone who has compared a large set of Russian words with Ukrainian words but theoretically one could compare two dictionaries with tens of thousands of words. Most of the comparisons are between a set of 10 to 200 words. The answer above by @Follower compares such a set of words. Another comparison is elinguistics.net by Vincent Beaufils which compares 18 words and comes up with 4.8 genetic distance:

English    | Ukrainian                 | Russian                    | Points
Death      | -S-M-R-T- Smert' (смерть) | -S-M-R-T- Smjert' (Смерть) | 100,00
Ear        | -V-KH- Vukho (вухо)       | -KH- Ukho (Ухо)            |  50,00
Eye        | -K- Oko (око)             | -K- Oko (Око)              | 100,00
Four       | -CH-T-R- Chotiri (чотири) | -CH-T-R- Chetiri (Четыре)  | 100,00
Hand       | -R-K- Ruka (рука)         | -R-K- Ruka (Рука)          | 100,00
I          | -J- Ya (Я)                | -J- Ja (Я)                 | 100,00
Name       | -M- Imya (ім'я)           | -M- Imja (Имя)             | 100,00
Night      | -N-CH- Nich (ніч)         | -N-CH- Noch (Ночь)         | 100,00
Nose       | -N-S- Nis (ніс)           | -N-S- Nos (нос)            | 100,00
Sun        | -S-N-C- Sontse (Сонце)    | -S-L-N-C- Solnce (Солнце)  |  75,00
Three      | -T-R- Tri (три)           | -T-R- Tri (Три)            | 100,00
Tongue     | -J-Z-K- Yazik (язик)      | -J-Z-K- Jazyk (Язык)       | 100,00
Tooth      | -Z-B- Zub (зуб)           | -Z-B- Zub (зуб)            | 100,00
Two        | -D-V- Dva (два)           | -D-V- Dva (Два)            | 100,00
Water      | -V-D- Voda (вода)         | -V-D- Voda (Вода)          | 100,00
Who        | -KH-T- Khto (хто)         | -K-T- Kto (Кто)            |  88,64
Wind       | -V-T-R- Viter (вітер)     | -V-T-R- Veter (ветер)      | 100,00
You (thou) | -T- Ti (ти)               | -T- Ty (Ты)                | 100,00

Total Points/#words: 1713,64/18 (=95,202/100). This value has to be reverted (100-Result) to get the Genetic distance:

Genetic distance: 4,80
These langages are very closely related!

Period Ukrainian: Year 2000, Period Russian: Year 2000.

  • 5
    Through their analysis rises some questions. (1) Russian "eye" is displayed as "oko". Although Russian does have the word "oko", it's a bit dated/poetic now, modern is "glaz". (At first I thought it knows both words and always takes the closer one, but ru-ab shows "oko-abla".) (2) The /ʲ/ and /j/ after consonants are interpreted the same (though /j/ is a separate consonant in Uk and Ru). But /wu/ and /u/ are interpreted differently. And it follows writing, not pronunciation (солнце SL̸̸NC). (3) It shows Polish as closer to Russian than to Ukrainian, which looks really weird.
    – Sasha
    Commented Aug 22, 2017 at 9:43
  • 2
    BTW, according to this forum post, the same site also tries to provide comparison using Swadesh-Yakhontov list and comparison using complete Swadesh list — but these pages just crash.
    – Sasha
    Commented Aug 22, 2017 at 12:46
  • 2
    Alternative Transport, I talked with the site author via e-mail. If I understand him correctly... Their system is a bit "cheating" to find as much common roots as possible even with small sets of words: they intentionally use dated Russian "око" for "eye" (no synonyms, just "око"), they intentionally use archaic English "thou" instead of "you", they intentionally treat French "nez" (pronounced as /ne/) as -N-Z- (not -N-). In that way their system is strong at finding relations between distant languages, but isn't ideal at determining precise/stable distance between close languages.
    – Sasha
    Commented Aug 25, 2017 at 12:19
  • 2
    So, approximate answers on my 1-2-3 above that I've got in private mailing: (1) they intentionally use dated "око" (no, they don't use synonyms); (2) they intentionally treat /ʲ/ and /j/ after consonant the same; they intentionally treat /wu/ and /u/ in the beginning of the word differently; but they confirm that their treating of солнце as -S-L-N-C- (not -S-N-C-) is a mistake; (3) their system is currently not so good for determining exact distance between close languages, but is better for longer range comparisons.
    – Sasha
    Commented Aug 25, 2017 at 12:23
  • 1
    You can select similar words from both languages, and their lexicon will be 100% equal. Or you can find different words (by using synonimity, or selecting differently-named things), and they will be different. Generally, by manipulating word lists, you can prove any opinion :)
    – PY PY
    Commented Oct 2, 2017 at 18:05

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.