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In Ukraine, especially Kiev, is it ok, rather than speaking purely in Russian, to speak mainly in Russian but throw in a few words from Ukrainian? Would such a mixture of the two would either confuse the other person, or just strike the other person as odd?

The reason that I'm asking is that there's two main reasons I learn languages: one is to be able to communicate, and the other is "break the ice" and bond better. I'm currently learning Russian for the former, but am considering learning a little Ukrainian vocabulary for the latter.

Also, is it true that native speakers sometimes switch between the two - not as in one person speaks Russian while the other speaks Ukrainian, but that one person switches between Ukrainian and Russian in the same conversation?

  • I think the proper word for this is "суржик". – Iwillnotexist Idonotexist Feb 8 '17 at 1:47
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    @IwillnotexistIdonotexist, actually, I don't think it's surzhyk. Surzhyk — that's when somebody permanently mixes U. and R. languages. The mix is usually not only lexical (few U. words, then few R. and so on), but intertypic: e.g. one may use mostly-R. lexicon with mostly-U. phonetics. If the one speaks in pure R. and then suddenly inserts few purely-U. words, it's something else: a figure of speech, a memory fault, etc — but surely not surzhyk. Maybe theoretically we can call it a surzhyk, but practically surzhyk usually sounds differently. – Sasha Feb 8 '17 at 5:05
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This question seems to have several aspects. Let me reinterpret them one-by-one.

So, you speak mainly Russian with occasionally adding several Ukrainian words, and you'd like to know:

  1. Whether it is grammatical, according to the Ukrainian language rules?
  2. Would it confuse a Ukrainian-only or a Bilingual speaker?
  3. Whether it is safe/accepted on streets of Ukraine?
  4. Whether such mixture makes you a better friend?

Grammaticality

Usually, such mixture is neither grammatical according to both Ukrainian and Russian language rules. The only three actual uses are:

  1. To emphasize the national flavor of an object being discussed, e.g. Russian: пойдем есть пляцки = let's go eat plyatsky (пляцки is one type of national Western-Ukrainian bakery), even if you don't know how to say "let's go eating" in Ukrainian - BTW, it is ходімо їсти;
  2. The speakers are bilingual and they choose the shortest/most expressive way, regardless what language it is;
  3. The speaker is not familiar with one of the languages and uses a word from another one in hope the listener would understand;

Would it confuse someone?

Usually not, unless you use some dialectal word which is not used on the mainland Ukraine, e.g. if you've learned it from someone of the Canadian Ukrainian diaspora.

Is it an accepted way of communication on the streets of Ukraine?

This seems to be a subjective part which is hard to answer specifically. To me, since you are a foreigner and a language learner, it is almost obvious you may miss some word and use a substitute from another language.

Makes you a better friend?

Also subjective, but for me, it is definitely, yes. Because of the recent political events, we have a rise of patriotism, and many people (like myself) who used to be Russian-only speakers at home, start to pay more attention to our language (that's why actually this very site could be created, while two Area51 proposals of mine have died silently).

So, unless you meet an anti-Ukrainian nationalist, throwing several Ukrainian words in your speech may make you bond better. Yet again, it is obvious that a foreigner may not know a word in Ukrainian.

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    I'd say that's totally ok to use Ukrainian names for foods & drinks even if not to emphasize the national flavor of the word. Most Ukrainians will love it and while this may sound a little odd it's also fun and will most definitely help with bonding. For instance, let's go drink some beer which you can translate to Russian as пойдём пить пиво may sound funny if you pronounce пиво as Ukrainians pronounce it (/pɨvo/ or /пыво/) but it may instantly break the ice. – Sergey Kishchenko Feb 8 '17 at 4:39
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    @SergeyKishchenko, yes, and also don't forget that a language learner may misuse a vowel simply due to their accent or mispronunciation. – bytebuster Feb 8 '17 at 4:43
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There's one aspect not covered by other answers.

The ability of human to interpret something often depends on context and assumptions. And the less clear input data is, the more dependency on context and assumptions is.

If you speak Russian not so badly, a listener understands you, is able to notice the moment when you switch to Ukrainian (assuming your Ukrainian words are understandable too) and interprets everything correctly. But if you speak Russian in a way that listener makes great efforts to understand your Russian — his reaction to your switch into another language may be just "WAT???" (because he possibly haven't realized you've done a switch and is still trying to interpret your voice as bad Russian speech).

I.e. if your Russian and these few words you're going to pronounce in Ukrainian are not so bad — your Ukrainian conversational partner will most probably feel honored with your attempts to learn Ukrainian and use it. But if they are too bad — you may just create for him additional problems in understanding you. At least, I'd not try such experiments during an important and urgent dialog. IMHO.

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It's not allowed to use multiple languages in the same speech except you quote something or use a self-name which you don't translate. So it's important to be able to switch between languages but not to mix them if there's no such need.

Indeed there are new mixed languages appearing but they mostly have own rules and phonetics based on their parents' features. If you use two or more languages in the same time mostly it means you don't know or don't want to know all of them.

Surzhyk

Please read this wiki-article about Surzhik (English version), that's how Ukrainians call people speaking two languages at once (mostly Ukrainian with Russian). This kind of speaking is popular among bad-educated class and is not appreciated.

Other languages

Also take a look at Macaronic language to get more info about other languages mixing.

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    Actually, I don't think it's surzhyk. Surzhyk — that's when somebody permanently mixes U. and R. languages. The mix is usually not only lexical (few U. words, then few R. and so on), but intertypic: e.g. one may use mostly-R. lexicon with mostly-U. phonetics. If the one speaks in pure R. and then suddenly inserts few purely-U. words, it's something else: a figure of speech, a memory fault, etc — but surely not surzhyk. Maybe theoretically we can call it a surzhyk, but practically surzhyk usually sounds in different way. – Sasha Feb 27 '17 at 18:10
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Sort of. :) The mixture of the two is called "surzhyk". The surzhyk is, well, surzhyk. Avoid it if you don't want to sound silly or illiterate.

Remember: since Ukrainian and Russian languages are related, you want to speak pure each of these. But hey, if you want to impress your Russian speaking friend from Ukraine, feel free to learn a phrase or two.

  • Actually, I don't think it's surzhyk. Surzhyk — that's when somebody permanently mixes U. and R. languages. The mix is usually not only lexical (few U. words, then few R. and so on), but intertypic: e.g. one may use mostly-R. lexicon with mostly-U. phonetics. If the one speaks in pure R. and then suddenly inserts few purely-U. words, it's something else: a figure of speech, a memory fault, etc — but surely not surzhyk. Maybe theoretically we can call it a surzhyk, but practically surzhyk usually sounds in different way. – Sasha Feb 8 '17 at 5:07
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    If I manage to convince someone I've lived my entire life in the outback of Ukraine as opposed to being a foreigner who's barely studied any Slavic language, I'd consider that an achievement. :) – Andrew Grimm Feb 8 '17 at 7:23
  • @AndrewGrimm you're right. :) You can't just randomly mix Ukrainian words in though. That's not how it works. The best way is to listen to surzhyk speech and try to mock it up phrase by phrase. They also use surzhyk in comedy around here. – Саша Давиденко Feb 9 '17 at 7:54

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