The Process of Democratization and Puristic Tendencies in Contemporary Ukrainian (1991–2001)

Valerii Polkovsky, University of Alberta

The paper addresses the question of puristic tendencies in Contemporary Ukrainian in the broader general context of democratization (or as the other researchers prefer to call it 'liberalization') of the language. The main focus of the paper is the period of independence though the changes during this period are presented against the background of the previous development of the Ukrainian language.

With perestroika (Ukrainian perebudova) the process of democratization/liberalization of the Ukrainian language began. This period was marked by search for real meanings of words and a refusal to use ideologically correct language. There was strong demand to update the language and to reject stereotypes and cliches. The Ukrainian language has been radically transformed in the post–Soviet period by the disintegration of Soviet newspeak and by the process of Westernization. Linguistic prescriptive norms were seriously loosened in the period I analyze (1991–2001). During the ten–year period the Ukrainian language became urbanized, endeavoring to develop its own slang, informal ways of expression. This period is also marked by strong development of the professional and business lexicon.

Source data is taken from the Ukrainian periodical press, magazines, books and contrasted when necessary against Russian examples.

The aim of the paper is to prove that:

(a) The process of democratization of the Ukrainian language is unfolding with an unprecedented speed (contrary to Alexander Krouglov's statement (1999: 40) about the slow acceptance of linguistic democratization in Ukrainian).

(b) The process of democratization in the Ukrainian language prevails over purist or archaizing tendencies (often puristic processes do not conflict with democratization; when they do so, the process of democratization prevails over them). This is contrary to the same author's statement about a purist or archaizing tendency prevailing over democratization in Ukrainian (1999: 40).

Applying Ryazanova–Clarke & Wade's (1999) approach to the analysis of the lexicon of this post–totalitarian society, I show that by utilization of neologisms, the reorientation of meanings, motivated by social and ideological transformation, the passive and active usage of lexemes and the deideologization of the lexicon, the Ukrainian language is undergoing a rapid process of democratization.

Considering in detail the views of the Lviv school (based on the materials of the annual International Conference on Ukrainian terminology at the L'vivs'ka politexnika University, beginning in 1992), represented mostly by non–linguists such as Volodymyr Perxach, Marija Hanitkevych, Andrij Zeliznyj and their followers in Kyiv (Mykola Koval', Ol'ha Kocherha), I demonstrate their limitation to theoretical discourse, sporadic reflection in dictionaries and impracticality for use in the newspapers and everyday speech.

My paper endeavors to prove that Alexander Krouglov (1999: 45) was wrong regarding the tendencies towards democratization being kept in the background in Contemporary Ukrainian. The puristic tendency in Ukrainian is very important from the point of view of showing alternatives to borrowings for language replenishment.