The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Slavic Languages

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The Encyclopedia Americana
Slavic Languages
Edition of 1920. See also Slavic languages on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

SLAVIC LANGUAGES. The Slavic languages form a separate group of the Indo-European languages and are more nearly related to the Lettish, Lithuanian and Prussian, with which they are frequently mentioned as the Balto-Slavic languages. Their original habitat before the period of migration in the 4th century and the original tongue from which they have sprung are still a subject of speculation. The origin of the word “Slav” which first makes its appearance among Syrian and Byzantine writers some time before the 9th century is equally undetermined. It certainly is not to be derived from slava, “fame” nor from slovo, “word,” as assumed by some Slavic scholars, but must, with greater probability, be connected with the Low Latin sclavus, “slave,” since Spanish Goths and Arabs received the great bulk of their slaves and eunuchs from Russia, and “eunuch” is in Late Greek Kolobos, asklabos.

The first Slavic tongue to be fixed by writing was the one adopted in the 9th century by the proto-apostles Cyril and Methodius, of the neighborhood of Saloniki, in their missionary work in Pannonia and Moravia, but it is still an unsettled question whether this original speech was Bulgarian or of the Moravian variety, hence the multiplicity of names for it, such as “Old Bulgarian, Old Slovenian, Pannonian.” From the fact that it became the liturgical language for all those Slavs who received their Christianity from Constantinople it is also called “Church Slavic.” It contains a considerable number of Germanic words and an exceedingly large number of Greek words in its vocabulary, especially such as refer to religious matters. In grammatical structure it is more primitive than any other Slavic language preserved to us, for it has an aorist in the verb and a dual both in the noun and the verb, and the earliest documents which have come down to us show unmistakably the presence of nasal sounds, now quite lost in all but the Polish and an occasional Bulgarian dialect. On account of these ancient characteristics, Church Slavic is put at the basis of Slavic philology, but it would be a mistake to assume that this Church Slavic is the primitive tongue from which the other Slavic languages are derived. (For the further history of Church Slavic see Russian Language) .

The Russian literary tongue contains a greater proportion of Church Slavic elements than any other related language, which is the result of the important part the Church Slavic played in Russia as a means for literary expression. The history of the Russian language in modern times is treated separately, but here must be mentioned the fate of the Ruthenian or Little Russian, especially since through the separation of the Ukraine it is likely to gain new importance. It is a distinct group of the Russian dialects, which in the 18th century received literary polish under Kotlyarevski, and since produced the great poet Shevchenko and the storywriter Kvitka-Ovsyanenko. In the 19th century its literary activity was carried away from the Ukraine, where it had its origin, to Galicia, where at the universities of Lemberg and Czernowitz it was permitted to develop freely. But here it fell under German and Polish influence and almost led to the formation of a separate language, inaccessible to the Ukranians, who drew similarly upon the Russian dictionary for its new formations. The Ruthenian papers in the United States, nearly all of them of Ukranian origin, write in a curious mixture of Great and Little Russian. Now the formation of the Ukraine may change the aspect of the literary Ruthenian once more. The modern Bulgarian is phonetically very close to the Church Slavic, but grammatically it has departed from it more than any other Slavic language. It has lost practically all declensional forms and thus stands to the others in very much the same relation that English bears to the other Germanic tongues. The oldest document of the Bulgarian vernacular does not go beyond the 14th century, but it was only in the forties of last century that the first grammar of the spoken tongue was written down by an American, Elias Riggs, after which it was used, at first almost exclusively by American missionaries, in the translation of textbooks. Since then it has fallen, for its vocabulary and style, under the influence of the Russian literature.

The Serbo-Croatian language consists of three dialect groups which are distinguished by the word used for “what?” which is respectively shto, cha and kay. The first, considered to be the most elegant, is found in Serbia, Bosnia, Herzegovina and the Litoral; the second is spoken in northern Dalmatia, on the islands, in Sofia and the adjoining territory of Croatia; while the third is the vernacular of northwestern Croatia. The Greek Catholic Serbians used in the Middle Ages the Church Slavic for literary purposes, but this Church Slavic was permeated by Serbian exactly as it was Russianized in Russia. Only at the end of the 15th century was the spoken dialect of Ragusa and the Litoral used for literary works, and under the influence of the Italian it reached in the 16th century its highest development and that period is known as the golden age of Serbo-Croatian literature. In the 16th and 17th centuries, the kay dialect of Croatia gained predominance. The literary form of the language remained unsettled until the thirties of the 19th century, when Gaj put the shto dialect of Ragusa at the base of his diction and called it Illyric, in order not to offend any one by the choice of a local name. Meanwhile the Serbian, Vuk Karadzich, had been using the spoken Serbian in his writings. At the present time the Serbo-Croatian is divided into the Croatian of the Roman Catholics, written with Latin characters, and the Serbian of the Greek Catholics, written in a variety of the Russian alphabet. The two literary norms differ in a number of dialectic varieties, but there has been a tendency to bring the two together, at least the Serbian schoolbooks print about one-fourth of Croatian matter, and the Croatians give a similar amount to stories of Serbian authors. The Slovenians of Styria, Carinthia, Carniola and northern Istria, nearly all of them Protestants, have since the 17th century used their variety of the Serbo-Croatian as a separate literary language, and developed a beautiful literary norm, especially in the 19th century under the poet Preshern, out of a dialect of southern Carniola.

Bohemia began to use the spoken language for literary purposes as early as the 12th century, and in the 14th century no other Slavic language could vie with it in wealth of expression. John Hus employed it in his theological discussions, and under the influence of the German church poetry a vast number of hymns were written in Bohemian, especially by the Moravian Brethern. There was also a considerable activity in the poetry of the romantic type, in which it also followed German models. Beginning with the 17th century Bohemian fell into desuetude, but, this time again under the influence of German romanticism, Dobrovsky, the father of Slavic philology, in the beginning of the 19th century resuscitated the older language of the Moravian Brethren and since then it has been used for all literary purposes. Unfortunately Bohemian is in poetry handicapped by its accentuation, because, no matter how long a word may be, its accent, as in the unrelated Hungarian, is always on the first syllable, whereas in Russian, Bulgarian and Serbian it is mobile, but in Serbian there are really four melodic accents, which make the language very harmonious and musical.

In the 19th century the Bohemian dialect of the Slovaks in northern Hungary, for which it is claimed that it is a transitional language between Bohemian and Serbian, evolved a separate literature. The writer was fortunate in procuring in 1901 almost a complete set of this rare and quaint literature, amounting to something like 1,800 numbers, for the Harvard Library.

Slovenian and Slovak appeal to a population of less than 2,000,000 each, which makes their existence precarious. There is, however, another Slavic language, called by the Germans Wendish, and in philology Serbo-Lusatian, spoken in Lusatia by but a few hundred thousand people and yet divided into two distinct literatures differing somewhat in their literary norms, that of the Catholics of upper Lusatia and of the Protestants of lower Lusatia. After the Russian, the Polish is the best-developed literary language of the Slavs. It made its appearance in the 14th century, when it fell under Bohemian influence. Like the Bohemian, and unlike the other Slavic languages, Polish appears fixed in form from the beginning. In its vocalism it resembles French on account of its nasal sounds, and Italian on account of its soft consonantal utterance. Many of the consonants have four shades, which demand the addition of two diacritical marks and the use of z in connection with the Latin alphabet employed by it. The accent is nearly always on the penult, as in Italian. At first the literary form fell under the influence of French and Italian humanism, which led to the introduction of a very large Latin vocabulary, while the proximity to Germany led to the popular adoption of an exceedingly large number of German words. Polish literature had its golden age in the 17th century but it is only in the 19th century that it developed a rich literature, especially in poetry, that is comparable with those of the other nations of Europe. The closely allied Kashubian Slovinzian and Polabian languages of East Prussia and Pomerania have been studied philologically, but they have not risen to literary forms. See articles on the languages of this group — Polish, Russian, etc.

Bibliography. — The leading philological periodical for the study of the Slavic languages in general is Jagić's Archiv für slavische Philologie, and of late the whole subject of Slavic philology has been treated in the still unfinished work on Slavic philology by Jagić in the Russian language. The ‘Comparative Dictionary of the Slavic Languages’ by Miklosich is not satisfactory, and his large ‘Comparative Grammar’ is now superseded by Vondrák's work. For the study of Church Slavic we fall back on Leskien and Vondrák, but the historical evolution of Church Slavic still needs an investigation. A large number of Russian monographs deals with various aspects of the Russian dialects. The best dictionaries are those of the Academy, barely begun, and Dal's great ‘Dialect Dictionary.’ The White Russian has been studied by Karski, and we have for it a good dictionary by Nosovich. The Little Russian has been similarly studied by Potebnya and Ogonovski, and a large number of other authors. The Bulgarian dialects have been lavishly investigated in a government publication of bulky proportions, especially by Miletich and Tsonev, and the Serbo-Croatian language has since the days of the founder of the science, Vuk Karadzić, been elaborately treated by native and foreign scholars, and of late a Croatian dictionary on a truly grand scale has been published by Broz-Iveković. The most accessible dictionary for foreigners is the ‘Croatian-German and German-Croatian Dictionary’ by Filipović. Similar studies exist for the Slovenian and Janezić's ‘Slovenian-German and German-Slovenian Dictionary’ will be found very useful for the student. Bohemian was early treated by Dobrovsky. Since then there has appeared the excellent historical grammar by Gebauer and his unfortunately unfinished ‘Old-Bohemian Dictionary.’ The most useful dictionary for the foreigner is Jungmann's. The Slovak has not yet enjoyed a careful study, but the Lower Lusatian has both an excellent grammar and dictionary by Mucke, while both dialects are accessible in the similar works by Pfuhl. Even the Kashubian, Slovinzian and Polabian have found careful investigators in Lorentz, Schleicher, Mucke, Mikkola and others. A monumental ‘Polish-German Dictionary,’ by Linde, appeared in the beginning of the 19th century before Grimm had planned his German Dictionary. Within the last few years a still larger dictionary of the literary language and a great dialect dictionary has been published by the Cracow Academy of Sciences. The best historical grammar is that by Kryński.

Leo Wiener,
Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures, Harvard University.