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About Belarusian Language

The Belarusian language, or the Belarusan (Беларуская мова, BGN/PCGN: byelaruskaya mova, Scientific: belaruskaja mova, łac.: biełaruskaja mova) is the language of the Belarusian people and is spoken in Belarus and abroad, chiefly in Russia, Ukraine, and Poland. Prior to Belarus gaining its independence from the Soviet Union in 1992, the language was called "Byelorussian" or "Belorussian" (in accordance with the ethnicity and country names: Byelorussians, Byelorussia, the latter being a transliteration from the Russian language). It belongs to the group of the East Slavic languages, and shares many grammatical and lexical features with other members of the group. Its predecessor was the Old Belarusian language.

According to the 1999 Belarus Census, the Belarusian language is declared as a "language spoken at home" by about 3,686,000 people (36.7% of the population)[6] as of 1999. Upon the second Belarus census question related to language, about 6,984,000 (85.6%) of Belarusians declared it their "mother tongue". Other sources put down the "population of the language" as 6,715,000 in Belarus and 9,081,102 in all countries.

The Belarusian language is the official language of Belarus, along with Russian.

Phonology

The phoneme inventory of the modern Belarusian language consists of 45 to 54 phonemes: 6 vowels and 39 to 48 consonants, depending on how they are counted. Usually, the number is given as 39, which excludes the nine geminate consonants as "mere variations". Sometimes, rare consonants are also excluded, thus bringing the quoted number of consonants further down. The number 48 includes all consonant sounds, including variations and rare sounds, which may have a "phonetic" meaning in the modern Belarusian language.

Alphabet

The Belarusian alphabet is a form of the Cyrillic alphabet, which was first used for the Old Church Slavonic language. The modern Belarusian form was determined in 1918, and consists of thirty-two letters. The Glagolitic script had been used, sporadically, until 11th or 12th century. In the past Belarusian has also been written in the Belarusian Latin alphabet (Łacinka / Лацінка) and the Belarusian Arabic alphabet.

There exist several systems of romanizing (transliterating) written Belarusian text; see Romanization of Belarusian.

Grammar

Standardized Belarusian grammar in its modern form was adopted in 1959, with minor amendments in 1985. It was developed from the initial form set down by Branislaw Tarashkyevich (first printed in Vilnius, 1918). Historically, there had existed several other alternative standardized forms of Belarusian grammar.

Dialects

Besides the literary norm, there exist two main dialects of the Belarusian language, the North-Eastern and the South-Western. In addition, there exist the transitional Middle Belarusian dialect group and the separate West Palyesian dialect group.

The North-Eastern and the South-Western dialects are separated by the highly conventional imaginary line Ashmyany–Minsk–Babruysk–Homyel, with the area of the Middle Belarusian dialect group placed on and along this line.

The North-Eastern dialect is chiefly characterised by the "soft sounding R" (мягка-эравы) and "strong akanye" (моцнае аканне), and the South-Western dialect is chiefly characterised by the "hard sounding R" (цвёрда-эравы) and "moderate akanye" (умеранае аканне).

The West Palyesian dialect group is more distinct linguistically, close to Ukrainian language in many aspects, and is separated by the conventional line Pruzhany–Ivatsevichy–Telekhany–Luninyets–Stolin.

History

The modern Belarusian language was redeveloped on the base of the vernacular spoken remnants of the Old Belarusian language, surviving on the ethnic Belarusian lands in the 19th century. The end 18th century (the times of the Divisions of Commonwealth) is the usual conventional borderline between the Old Belarusian language and Modern Belarusian language stages of development.

By the end 18th century, the (Old) Belarusian language still enjoyed some popularity among the smaller nobility in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (GDL). Jan Czeczot in 1840s had mentioned that even his generation’s grandfathers preferred speaking (Old) Belarusian.[12] (According to A. N. Pypin, the Belarusian language was still being spoken here and there among the smaller nobility during the 19th century. The Belarusian, in its vernacular form, was the language of the smaller town dwellers and of the peasantry. It had been the language of the oral forms of the folk lore. The teaching in Belarusian was conducted mainly in the schools run by the Basilian order.

The development of the Belarusian language in the 19th century was strongly influenced by the political conflict in the territories of the former GDL, between the Russian Imperial authorities, trying to consolidate their rule over the "joined provinces" and the Polish and Polonised nobility, trying to bring back its pre-Partitions rule (see also: Polonization in times of Partitions).

One of the important manifestations of this conflict was the struggle for the ideological control over the educational system. The Polish and Russian language were being introduced and re-introduced in it, while the general state of the people's education remained poor until the very end of the Russian Empire.

Summarily, the 1800s–1820s had seen the unprecedented prosperity of the Polish culture and language in the former GDL lands, had prepared the era of such famous "Belarusians by birth – Poles by choice," as Mickiewicz and Syrokomla. The era had seen the effective completion of the Polonization of the smallest nobility, the further reduction of the area of use of the contemporary Belarusian language, and the effective folklorization of the Belarusian culture.

Due both to the state of the people's education and to the strong positions of Polish and Polonised nobility, it was only since the 1880s–1890s, that the educated Belarusian element, still shunned because of "peasant origin", began to appear in the state offices.

In 1846, ethnographer Shpilevskiy prepared the Belarusian grammar (using Cyrillic alphabet) on the basis of the folk dialects of the Minsk region. However, the Russian Academy of Sciences refused to print his submission, on the basis that it had not been prepared in a sufficiently scientific manner.

Since mid-1830s, the ethnographical works began to appear, the tentative attempts of study of language were uptaken (e.g., Belarusian grammar by Shpilevskiy). The Belarusian literature tradition began to re-form, basing on the folk language, initiated by the works of Vintsent Dunin-Martsinkyevich. See also: Jan Czeczot, Jan Barszczewski.

In beg. 1860s, both Russian and Polish parties in Belarusian lands had begun to realise that the decisive role in the upcoming conflicts was shifting to the peasantry, overwhelmingly Belarusian. So, a large amount of propaganda appeared, targeted at the peasantry and prepared in the Belarusian language. Notably, the anti-Russian, anti-Tsarist, anti-Orthodox "Manifest" and the newspaper "Peasants' Truth" (1862–1863) by Kalinowski, the anti-Polish, anti-Revolutionary, pro-Orthodox booklets and poems (1862).

The advent of the all-Russian "narodniki" and Belarusian national movements (end 1870s – beg. 1880s) renewed interest in the Belarusian language (see also: Homan (1884), Bahushevich, Yefim Karskiy, Dovnar-Zapol'skiy, Bessonov, Pypin, Sheyn, Nosovich). The Belarusian literary tradition was renewed, too (see also: F. Bahushevich). It was in these times that F. Bahushevich made his famous appeal to Belarusians: "Do not forsake our language, lest you pass away" (Belarusian: Не пакідайце ж мовы нашай, каб не ўмёрлі).

In course of the 1897 Russian Empire Census, about 5.89 million people declared themselves speakers of the Belarusian language.

The end of the 19th century however still showed that the urban language of Belarusian towns remained either Polish or Russian and in the same census towns exceeding 50000 had Belarusian speakers of less than a tenth. This state of affairs greatly contributed to a perception that Belarusian is a "rural" and "uneducated" language.

However the census was a major breakthrough for the first steps of the Belarusian national self-conscience and identity, as it clearly showed to the Imperial authorities, and the still strong Polish minority that the population and the language was neither Polish nor Russian.

 

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