Wednesday, 21 October

The right VS left way to write

Today a public discussion of the so-called “new Ukrainian orthography” is coming to a close. The draft of new spelling rules offered for the public discussion by the Ministry of Education has recently made a lot of noise. It touched both professional and political circles. While some members of Ukrainian society fervently fight for the de-Russification of their native language, the others scare voters with a new wave of nationalist harassment on the part of the so-called “khunta”.

Today’s Internet is crawling with critics of the proposed changes to Ukrainian orthography, so I will not dwell upon them. After all, how much time do we need to emphasize on the dullness of the situation when a winner’s head has to be crowned with a laurel wreath [in Ukrainian, “laurel” sounds like /lav‘rovyi/], but the winner himself becomes a laureate [/laure’at/] then?

There are many absurd mismatches in Ukrainian orthography (both current and proposed one). And thank God that Hemingway [pronounced as /kheminhu’ei/]can now become Hemingway [/’hemingwei/] for us, however, Russian Vladimir and Andrey will still be rendered as Volodymyr and Andriy. Is it really a de-Russification? Let the Ukrainian prince be Volodymyr and let the Russian president be Vladimir. Maybe then some Ukrainians will finally realize at the level of speech and writing that we are not “one people”.

It has already been mentioned that the biggest flaw of the new spelling project is its halfness. It proposes changes but does not make them obligatory. It is, as one “Eagle-hen” [Ms. Farion – edit.] once said, a kind of “middle ground”. But there is also another fundamental lack in the initiative offered by the Ministry of Education.

It is the lack of purpose. After all, the language is a separate system, it existed before us and will survive us. Not a language lives in us, but we live in it. Orthography is a butterfly sitting on a sequoia. So we just have to realize that spelling is simply our temporary agreement on the common rules for using a common (literary) language version.

The key word here is community. For the main purpose of orthography is to unify literary language, to create its one-for-all version. To codify. And what does the new project offers? Instead of codification, we get two standards. Everyone will be able to choose their own version. /kheminhu’ei/ will live together with /’hemingwei/. Isn’t it absurd?

If the main function of spelling is, among the other things, to codify the language, then the new project devalues this function. I understand that the project’s authors are afraid of the situation when the introduction of changes will make the majority of Ukrainians illiterate because they will not know how to write correctly.

Then it would be worth talking about the temporality and the transition to the new project. In some twenty years it will still be possible to write /pro’ekt/ (instead of the newly-proposed /pro’jekt/) and /kheminhu’ei/ instead of /’hemingwei/, but from this year forward students and pupils will be taught to write according to the new orthography rules. So in a generation, we will have de-Russified spelling rules and a literate nation.

In general, the project gives the impression of a half-faced one. It seems like the authors would like to force some wise changes but are afraid of criticism or rejection on the part of society. The proposed changes are appropriate, but the desire to blur them with the preservation of old standards is absolutely meaningless. It is better to either change something decisively or do nothing at all.

The new project lacks determination extremely. There are changes but they are too small. There should be more of them. Spelling rules cannot be changed too often, so if we want to reform our writing, then let’s do fundamental changes, hitting on all cylinders.

Only the laziest did not write millions of commas in our sentences. Our punctuation is so complex and confusing, as if it were designed so that children could not learn it, got “F” and began to hate the Ukrainian language.

The number of commas has to be reduced to a minimum, like in the English language, so that the grammar rules could help people become literate, and did not turn the majority of Ukrainians into non-achievers.

We can even have a stab at something holy, like the apostrophe. Do we really need it so bad? Could /’piria/ (feather) instead of /’pirja/ or /pod’viria/ instead of /pod’virja/ destroy our language? Sooner or later, when we switch to Latin script, the apostrophe would no longer be necessary at all.

To cut it short, I absolutely support changes, but I find it absurd to preserve the old standards. If you change something, then do it to a full degree.

Andriy Lyubka

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