Russian, Ukrainian and Belarusian Mutual Intelligibility

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thefireoxgirl
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Russian, Ukrainian and Belarusian Mutual Intelligibility

Postby thefireoxgirl » 2018-01-26, 19:40

Hi.

Does anybody know if Russian, Ukrainian and Belarusian are mutually intelligible with each other? I've read several conflicting articles so I don't know if they are or not. Any information would be greatly appreciated!


Thanks!

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Re: Russian, Ukrainian and Belarusian Mutual Intelligibility

Postby linguoboy » 2018-01-26, 21:11

thefireoxgirl wrote:Does anybody know if Russian, Ukrainian and Belarusian are mutually intelligible with each other? I've read several conflicting articles so I don't know if they are or not. Any information would be greatly appreciated!

I think it's important to keep in mind that "mutual intelligibility" is not an either-or thing. It depends on a lot of factors, among them:

  • The amount of exposure each speaker has to the other variety. (For instance, it's frequently the case that a speaker of one language has a lot more opportunities to see and hear the other language than vice versa.)
  • The willingness on the part of each speaker. (For instance, a participant who objects to the use of the other language on political grounds may pretend not to understand it even when they can--or could if they tried to in good faith.)
  • The subject under discussion and the circumstances. (For instance, it may be easier to understand a university lecture than a conversation in a crowded pub--or vice versa. It depends on what the points of similarity are between the two languages.)
So whenever anyone asks, "Are X and Y mutually intelligible?" I always ask, "For which people and in which situations?" This may explain why you're getting such conflicting assessments in the different articles you read.
"Richmond is a real scholar; Owen just learns languages because he can't bear not to know what other people are saying."--Margaret Lattimore on her two sons

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voron
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Re: Russian, Ukrainian and Belarusian Mutual Intelligibility

Postby voron » 2018-01-26, 22:33

Ukrainians and Belarusians understand each other's languages with no problem. Russians, they usually need some adaptation time (and of course they need to be willing to try -- which is not always the case, since many Russians are monolingual and have hardly heard any language than Russian in their lives, so the idea of being able to understand another language, even a related one, is alien to them).

Source: my own observations. I am Belarusian myself, travelled to Ukraine many times, have relatives on both Ukrainian and Russian sides and saw attempts of communication between all parties.

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Re: Russian, Ukrainian and Belarusian Mutual Intelligibility

Postby vijayjohn » 2018-01-27, 18:38

I'm not sure whether this question makes sense, but in Belarus, does familiarity with Belarusian affect how intelligible Ukrainian is? Are there people in Belarus who just don't understand Belarusian? If there are, do these people still understand Ukrainian, or is it harder for them?

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Re: Russian, Ukrainian and Belarusian Mutual Intelligibility

Postby TheStrayCat » 2018-01-27, 18:53

vijayjohn wrote:I'm not sure whether this question makes sense, but in Belarus, does familiarity with Belarusian affect how intelligible Ukrainian is?


I'll leave your last two questions to voron, but this one is a definite yes. Belarusian and Ukrainian is the lexically closest pair among all three so speaking (or even understanding) one is positively correlated with understanding the other. Basically if you do not understand Ukrainian or Belarusian, you're in the same position as somebody living in Russia - that is, you can partially understand them (mostly in written form) but need much more exposure in order to understand everything.

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Re: Russian, Ukrainian and Belarusian Mutual Intelligibility

Postby voron » 2018-01-28, 15:31

vijayjohn wrote:I'm not sure whether this question makes sense, but in Belarus, does familiarity with Belarusian affect how intelligible Ukrainian is?

As TheStrayCat noticed, yes absolutely.

Are there people in Belarus who just don't understand Belarusian?

I think no. It's a compulsory subject at school in all grades (in my school years there were in fact 3 different subjects - Belarusian language, Belarusian literature and Belarusian history, and AFAIK they afterwards introduced Belarusian geography as well), you can hear it on TV and occasionally in the streets (not spoken by people but for example in street performances), and it's sometimes the only language to be used when you have to fill out a form in a public institution -- for example I recently had to renew my password, and the application form was required to be filled out in Belarusian; to put it short, it's present in many spheres of your life an everyone at least understands it passively.

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Re: Russian, Ukrainian and Belarusian Mutual Intelligibility

Postby vijayjohn » 2018-01-28, 15:42

Thanks for your replies, TheStrayCat and voron! :)


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