Language/dialect used by H. Skovoroda in his works significantly differs from the modern Ukrainian languages (either literary or speaking). From the point of view of the modern Ukrainian reader it looks more like a mix of the Ukrainian and Russian languages or even as Russian language.

I have heard different claims about what that language was:

  • Russian (see here);
  • old Ukrainian (see here within the infobox);
  • Church Slavonic;
  • mixture;
  • etc.

Assuming that we have original texts of some of his works (and even some autographs) — how can somebody prove that his language was not Russian?

BTW, did he always use the same language (and its the description of it that varies) or different dialects/kinds of language in his works?


1 Answer 1


Skovoroda was writing in a bookish Slavonic language learned in Kyiv Mohyla Academy. It was a direct descendant of Church Slavonic, which is a derivative of Old Bulgarian (which Rus adopted along with Christianity). All educated people of ex-Rus learned it and used it, it was an official language of the Hetmanate state. It was like a Latin for Western Europe in Medieval times.

As per Ukrainian classical writer and researcher Nechuj-Levyckyj, literature Russian language was initially created by Lomonosov, who learned bookish Slavonic in Mohyla Academy. Lomonosov mixed that bookish Slavonic with Moscow city dialect as well as created a lot of terms by himself. That's why it's not surprising that Skovoroda's Slavic language looks more similar to Russian — bookish Slavonic is a base of literary Russian.

Literary Ukrainian, instead, formed by spoken dialects of Ukrainian people, unlike stillborn and bookish Slavonic. Shevchenko, Kotliarevskyj, Nechuj-Levyckyj wrote in that spoken, real language. Many classical authors made fun of people who were trying to seem more educated while using bookish words, which no one used and anyone hardly understood (e.g. "Natalka-Poltavka" and "Konotop Witch" by Kvitka-Osnovjanenko).

As for Skovoroda, I wouldn't call him a Ukrainian author since he never wrote in Ukrainian. Neither would I call him a Russian author for the same reason. Skovoroda was a cosmopolitan (others would say — Medieval-minded) and used international and kinda dead bookish languages: Latin and Slavonic (btw, Shevchenko criticized Skovoroda for that). Good or bad for Skovoroda, idk, but he did no direct input in Ukrainian literature. The Ukrainian translators of his texts did.

  • 1
    hi, thanks for this answer. it would be nice, though, to have a couple of links to the sources you are using for it to be of a good quality according to the demands of ukrainian.SE. i personally would love to see a comparison between the bookish slavonic and the language of Skovoroda conducted by a linguist. would you provide the community with such a comparison, perhaps?
    – P. Vowk
    Apr 19, 2020 at 12:00
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    Feel free to read a foreword by Ushkalov to Skovoroda's compilation: shron1.chtyvo.org.ua/Skovoroda/… — p. 30 mentions sources I noted in my reply. However, I warn everybody that usually Ukrainian linguists are not pure linguists, but activists of social change that would like to make Skovoroda "ours" and try to argue that he used a lot of Ukrainian. He didn't.
    – bebyx
    Apr 19, 2020 at 14:26
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    would you add this source and, probably, Shevelyov's "Prolegomena" to your answer? It would make this answer of a quality and help the rest of the info seekers to go further in the investigation, as it is not yet over, right?
    – P. Vowk
    Apr 20, 2020 at 16:29

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