The World Academy of Rusyn Culture has a good site on the language called Rusyn by its speakers and sometimes Ruthenian in English (or “western Ukrainian” by those who do not recognize it as a separate language):

The language territory where Carpatho-Rusyn dialects are spoken coincides with the historical territory of *Carpathian Rus’, which in terms of present-day boundaries is located within southeastern Poland (the *Lemko Region), northeastern Slovakia (the *Prešov Region), most of the *Transcarpathian oblast of Ukraine (*Subcarpathian Rus’), and a small corner of north-central Romania (the *Maramureş Region). Rusyn is also spoken in a few scattered communities in northeastern Hungary and among emigrants from Carpathian Rus’ who settled in the *Vojvodina and Srem regions of present-day Yugoslavia and far eastern Croatia and in the United States and Canada…

The difficulty in classifying Carpatho-Rusyn dialects stems largely from the fact that individual dialect territories experience an overlapping of numerous isoglosses. In other words, certain linguistic features typical of one area encroach into other areas; determining where to draw a boundary between these territories in the process of defining and classifying the dialects thus becomes difficult. Another difficulty in classification is related to the fact that the dialects have in the past and continue to be influenced by numerous sociolinguistic or extralinguistic factors from the larger world in which Rusyns live, whether in Ukraine, Slovakia, Poland, Romania, Hungary, Yugoslavia, the United States, or Canada. When attempting a synchronic description of the language system of dialects and in classifying them, researchers must consider the larger linguistic and cultural worlds in which dialects function. The structure and function of the dialects must be described in connection with the languages with which they are in contact.

A nice find by Christopher Culver, who also posts about a projected Indogermanische Grammatik that was begun in 1968 by Kuryłowicz, “was subsequently continued by Watkins, Cowgill, and Mayrhofer, and is nowhere near completion… I wonder what the oldest perpetually unfinished project is in Indo-European linguistics.” So which will appear first, this or The Last Dangerous Visions?


  1. I think I also heard somewhere that Andy Warhol’s parents were in fact Rusyns from Slovakia. Some places in the literature they’re described as Slovaks or even Czechoslovakians, which is obviously less accurate.

  2. Watkins et al should publish what they have -I’m sure I’m not the only one who wants to get hold of that book. Same goes for unpublished parts of Wackernagel’s Altindische Grammatik.
    BTW, have you come across any on-line materials on classical (15-17th cent) Ruthenian?

  3. If you google “ruthenian language” you’ll find whatever I turned up when doing this post.

  4. Here’s another one (a new language in between Belarusan, Polish and Rusyn). It’s called Svoja, tentatively:
    (On the bottom of the page you’ll find a sample of the language, a short story from Graham Greene translated into Svoja.)

  5. That sample of Svoja reads awfully like Russified Ukrainian. The divergence between nationality and ethnicity has long been observed, and yet, in each instance there is an attempt to make this somehow news-worthy: “An unprecendented find shakes the linguistic community! A creole discovered in a region between two other languages!”

  6. The Ruthenians are a Slavic group that neither the Russians nor the Ukrainians have been able to absorb. They seem to be very independent minded. They were part of Czechosloavia before World War II but were still unhappy in the union despite the fact that they shared a common Roman Catholic religion with the Czechs and Slovaks. The Ruthenians are given some credit along with the Poles and the Hungarians, for stopping the Mongol invasions of Europe in the 13th century but I don’ know all the details.
    The Romanian dialects of nearby Bucovina and northern Moldavia (in the Carpathians) are also interesting. They diverge quite a bit from standard Romanian and have even more Slavonic (especially Russian) influences. These Romanians, however, seem to share a common Carpathian regional culture with the Ruthenians.

  7. I can only regret that “Ruthenian” is used mostly in the narrow sense of “Carpatho-Ruthenian” to the detriment of a broader meaning, “related to, or originating in Rus’.” In other words, russky/rus’ky as used in the 19th century and earlier.
    LH, you must have disabled comments to the Gorgoniev post to stress its title, “That’s my language: keep out!”

  8. Wimbrel: “That sample of Svoja reads awfully like Russified Ukrainian.”
    Since I heard it spoken on a few occasions, I can share my subjective opinion on how it sounds. It sounds like normal Belarusan, but with strong Ukrainian accent and Polish intonations. Just my IMHO. 😉
    As for the identity, that’s exactly, the problem. Those people from Eastern Poland are something like Belarusans, but they can’t fully identify with the official language of Belarus (not speaking about the political system or society values).

  9. I covered Svoja here.
    Alexei: Dammit, I hate when I do that! (Sometimes when I’m publishing a post I accidentally hit “Close comments” instead of “Save.”) Thanks for alerting me — I was wondering why it hadn’t attracted any comments! In general, I only close comments on old posts that are getting spammed, so if you can’t comment on a new one, please do let me know.

  10. Sorry, I know this isn’t directly related to language, but would my (original) family name, Ruthino(w)ski, mean “from Ruthenia”? My grandfather emigrated from Poland to the US.

  11. Sure it’s language-related, and it’s an excellent question, but I’m afraid I don’t know. Anyone?

  12. Re: Ruthinowski
    It probably is a Polish habitational name related to Ruthenia. The eastern part of the Polish province of Galicia was also called “Rusyn” or “Ruthenia’ (a Latinized form) in former times. Most of the Ruthenians living there were absorbed by Polish settlers who came there in the 17th and 18th centuries. The area we generally speak of as Ruthenia today is in the western Ukraine stradling the borders of Slovakia, Hungary and Romania. Since it was previously part of Poland, Austria, Czechoslovakia and even Hungary (1939-1944) permanent control by the Ukraine is by no means assured.

  13. Thank you for the information about the name Ruthinoski. I’ve always been curious because I can find no record of that name except for the two families that emigrated to Eastern Long Island (one with “w” and one without) Friends in Poland can find no record of the name.

  14. Daniel Downer says

    I believe my great grandfather was Ruthenian. He was dark skinned, had black hair, and immigrated to the US. His surname was something that sounded like “Kurakavish”. I know there is a Polish name that is similar “Kurkowicz”, but would this be a Ruthenian name?

  15. I know this is an old thread, but I’ve since been told by a distant family member that my family’s original name was Litwinowski, which somehow got changed from Litwinowski to Retvanowski to Ruthinowski/Ruthinoski, so the family is not likely to be Ruthenian after all.

    Thanks for all your help, though. It’s great to have a forum like this.

  16. Thanks for the follow-up!

  17. Since this thread I hadn’t previously seen has reopened, let me note that the U.S. Census Bureau classifies, or did, Rusyns as Russians. In We the People, the government atlas of US ethnicities, there is, iirc, some half-hearted defense of this “decision,” which obviously rather ought to be called “clueless bureaucratic guess.” (These are the same people who disallowed “Scotch-Irish” as a self-designation in the belief it connoted mixed heritage, thus greatly inflating the number of Irish-Americans in the South.)

  18. Wow, that’s unbelievably stupid.

  19. Here is useful list of all nationalities and ethnic groups mentioned in answers to the all-Russian census of 2002.

    Very democratic system, though it can be a bit difficult to decypher replies sometimes.

    For example, does anybody know who the hell are the Каран`ыныльо people?

    Or на бэйэенин?

    Or мых абдыр?

  20. Don’t know about the others, but the мых абдыр are the Rutuls.

  21. Thanks. Na beienin are the Negidals.

    But Karan’ynyl’yo are still a mystery

  22. Googling yields easy answers (but be sure to google “бэйенин” without the second э).

    Каран`ыныльо = коряки.
    На бэйенин = негидальцы, also see the link above.
    Мых абдыр = рутульцы.

  23. Found them at last. It’s one of the names used by Koryak people

    077. Коряки (алюторцы, алутальу, апокваямыло, апукинцы, войкыпало, воямпольцы, каменцы, карагинцы, караныныльо, нымыланы, олюторцы, чавчувены, чавчыв): 8743

  24. J. W. Brewer says is recent U.S. census ancestry data. “Carpatho Rusyn” is apparently now an acceptable answer (or category – I assume they aggregate a couple different synonyms and spelling variants into one line for reporting purposes), but the numbers are low enough that presumably a lot of people who could plausibly give that answer are slotted in elsewhere. More people (approx 3.2M) report “Scotch-Irish” than “Russian,” even though “Russian” may have a lot more false positives by slotting in people whose ancestors were understood in their place of origin to be something other-than-Russian. The largest such group, of course, is probably Ashkenazic-Americans, where the commendable American strong political taboo against the government officially keeping track of people’s religions leads to messy data because of the resultant inability to conceptualize Ashkenazim as an ethnic group that was and is distinct from “Poles,” “Russians,” “Lithuanians,” etc. both in the old country and in the U.S. (I used to have an Ashkenazic work colleague who told his kid “Austria” when the kid asked about country of ancestry for some school project, which seemed like such a random answer — i.e. the family did not sit around the dinner table basking in self-conscious Austrianness — that the next day at school he got muddled and thought he was of Australian descent, with some sort of hilarity ensuing.)

    The other night my older daughter asked me for some more complicated school project for a full list of all countries her ancestors had come from and I gave her a list which ended up (with a maximalist/splitting approach*) with thirteen entries, which I used as an opening to explain to her that her true ethnicity was basically “American” because nowhere in the Old World would such an assortment of people have come together and had common descendents.

    *Ambiguity because of some ancestors from parts of Europe where the national boundaries have moved around rather a lot over the last few centuries and also because of what to do with lines of ancestry where the first port of arrival in the New World was not the present-day U.S. but the relevant bit of family sojourned in Canada or Cuba for a generation or two before arriving in the Promised Land.

  25. Another interesting name is капучины.

    No, it has nothing to do with Cappuccino friars. It turns out that this is one of the names used by Bezhta people of Daghestan,

  26. A good one – идн. This is of course Yiddish word Yidn – Jews. Other names used by various Jewish groups include

    бани исроил, дживут бухари, джугут, иври, исроэл, яхуди, яхудои махали

    and даг-чуфут, джуфут, джухут

  27. Speaking of “Austrian,” I seem to recall that the same atlas regarded all people listing their ancestry as simply “Austrian” to be ethnically German, thereby inflating that figure too. J. W. Brewer’s comment suggests that the Census Bureau responded to criticism of that book, which is I think about 30 years old now.

  28. J. W. Brewer says

    One problem is that the underlying data is all self-reporting – two Ashkenazic-American families could have emigrated from the same shtetl in Hapsburg-ruled Galicia on the eve of WW1 and one set of grandchildren answers the question “Austrian” and another “Polish,” with both answers being not-implausible. But there’s no obvious better way to do it, other than develop of a sense of where the fuzziness is concentrated. (Presumably by contrast comparatively few people who tell the U.S. census their ancestry is “Norwegian” lack ancestors who fit the narrowest possible definition of Norwegianness anyone could argue for.)

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