Ukraine flag with text: Ukraine in Engllish by English with STephen

Word Stories: Ukraine in English

This is the transcript for the English with Stephen podcast episode about words in English that come from Ukraine.

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Hello and welcome to English with Stephen. The podcast that gives you everything you need to learn English in under 10 minutes.

From time to time, I take a look at different language communities around the world and examine the words that English has borrowed, or taken, from them. I looked at English words that came from Brazil, India, and Poland in previous episodes. If you are interested in them, you can find them on my site, or on any podcast app.

Today, I am going to look at a country that has been in the news all over the world for the last few weeks: Ukraine.

After this.

I’m sure that, like me, you have watched the news over the last few weeks in horror and disbelief at the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The images and stories of normal people standing against the military power of a madman in Moscow create feelings of pride and fear. Pride that ordinary people have the strength to do extraordinary things. Fear for what might happen to those ordinary people.

There is not much that I can do to help, sitting here thousands of kilometres away. I am an English teacher and podcaster. I am ordinary, just like those people trying to stop the tanks entering their cities.

It is not much. In fact, it is far too little. But I thought I would look at some of the things that Ukraine has given to the English language.

The word ‘Ukraine’ is first recorded in a text from the year 1187. It was used to talk about the ‘outskirts’ of a kingdom in the area. ‘Outskirts’ refers to the area at the edge, or nearly outside, a city or country. For example, London is a big city, but there are many people who live close to, but outside the city. They might travel into London every day for work or just go into the city on the weekend for cultural activities. We can see these people live in the ‘outskirts’ of London.

So the area that we know of today as Ukraine was originally the outskirts of a kingdom called the Peryslav Principality. Later on, it was the borderlands, again similar to ‘outskirts’ of the Polish Kingdom.

Another word that comes from Ukraine is really very surprising, given the problems they are facing today.

A long time ago, back in the 9th century, Northern Europe was dominated by the Vikings. Yes, it’s those Vikings again. If you have listened to many of my previous episodes you will have heard me talk a lot about how the Vikings affected both English culture and the English language.

Well, it wasn’t just the English who they were attacking.

They also travelled all over Europe, following the rivers and either creating new towns and cities or taking over other already existing towns and cities. One such group of Vikings were called the Rus.

This Rus group of Vikings conquered the city of Kyiv and created a kingdom there. They ruled for about 200 years until the 11th century. There were lots of wars and invasions that meant various people in that part of Europe moved all around at different times. Eventually, this group that called themselves the Rus ended up around modern-day Moscow. Over time, and after lots of wars, these people created a country and a kingdom which we call Russia.

So the name for Russia comes from the Vikings, via Ukraine. In one way, I suppose you could say that Russia belongs to Ukraine, and not the other way around as Putin seems to think.

In a previous episode, I talked about how the language of Poland influenced English. In that episode, I mentioned a wonderful soup called Borsch, which is made with beetroot. There has been a lot of cross-cultural links between Poland and Ukraine down the centuries, indeed for a long time they were part of the same Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. This means it is sometimes not clear where some words, and foods, originated. There is a very good chance that Borsch originated in Ukraine instead of Poland.

Probably the most famous food to come from Ukraine is Chicken Kyiv. Chicken Kyiv is a fillet of chicken rolled around some butter which then has a coating of breadcrumbs. Stuffed chicken is a very popular dish in both Russia and Ukraine, so it is not clear exactly where this dish originated. However, there is a story that it was first popularised in the Continental Hotel in Kyiv at the beginning of the 20th century.

By the way, for all my life I have spelt the city of Kyiv as Kiev. It is only during the last few weeks that I learned that this is the Russian spelling and that the Ukrainian spelling is Kyiv. I am using the Ukrainian spelling for the transcript for this episode which you can find on my site Most restaurants that sell Chicken Kyiv used the traditional Russian spelling. However, there is a move from many restaurants to also change their menus to use the Ukrainian spelling.

As a kid, when reading about history, I often heard about the Cossacks. They were this group of strong soldiers who fought on horses and were able to win almost any fight, even if they were in the minority. The Cossacks were important in the Seven Years’ War, The Crimean War and the Napoleonic Wars. The Cossacks came from a large area that is today in Ukraine and parts of Russia. They are especially associated with Crimea, a part of Ukraine that was invaded by Russia in 2014.

Originally, these Cossacks lived on the Steppe. The steppe is a geographical feature. It describes a large, flat land with no trees. There is a lot of grass and in the winter it can be very cold. The Steppe can be found in South-East Europe and across Asia. Nobody is quite sure where the word Steppe originates. It was first used by a German in the 1600s and it was borrowed directly from Russian or Ukrainian.

The Steppe has been important for the history of humanity for a lot of reasons. Not only do we get the Cossacks emerging from the Steppe, but further to the east, the Mongols, that group of people who eventually dominated most of China, Asia and Eastern Europe, started life on the Steppe in Mongolia.

There is a theory that another group of people also came from the Steppe and had an enormous impact not just on English, but on many languages.

The theory is that there was, about 6, 000 years ago, a group of people called the Yamaya culture. Due to technological and cultural advances, this group of people emigrated away from their homeland and spread all over Europe and parts of Asia. As they moved, they took their language with them.

This language is called Proto-Indo-European. And this is the mother of many, many languages that are spoken today. Most European languages evolved from this original language. English and all the Germanic languages came from it, as did all the languages that originated from Latin. Greek and Celtic languages, the Slavic languages and extinct languages such as Hittite all came from this original language.

But it isn’t just European languages. Persian languages such as Farsi came from this mother language, as did Sanskrit and other Indian languages such as Bengali and Hindi.

Is your language on this tree?

In total, about 3.2 billion people, or 46% of the world’s population, speak a language that evolved from this Proto-Indo-European language.

The existence of this Proto-Indo-European language is not really an issue among linguists. What is at issue is where these people lived. There are a few theories, but the most common theory is that they lived on the Steppe in the area we know today as Ukraine.

If this is true, then Ukraine has had a huge effect not just on English, but on language and humanity.

In the future, I am hoping to talk more about this old, but oh so important language. I would like to look at how and why it spread across the world and eventually gave us English.

That’s almost everything from me. You can find a transcript for this episode, as well as all the past episodes of this podcast, on my site I will also post some links and images relating to this episode on my site as well. Remember, it is English with Stephen, that’s S T E P H E N,

You can also find all the episodes to this podcast on any podcast app like Spotify, Apple Podcasts or Google Podcasts.

I hope to speak to you next week. Thank you for listening and Slava Ukraini

Useful Links

The story behind the word ‘Ukraine‘.
The story behind the name of ‘Chicken Kyiv

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