Carpatho-Rusyn Heritage: The Rusyn Language

Rusyn National Hymn

Ja Rusyn byl,
Jesm’y budu,
Ja rodylsja Rusynom,
Cestnyj moj rod ne zabudu
Ostanus’ jeho synom!

I was, I am, and will always remain a Rusyn,
I was born a Rusyn,
I shall never forget my honorable heritage,
I shall remain its son.

Carpatho-Rusyns are the people without a country, although their homeland spreads across several modern day Eastern European countries of Slovakia, Poland, Ukraine, Serbia/Croatia and Romania.

They lived and still often live in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains, both on the northern and southern slopes and in the valleys.

The Rusyn language is a Slavic language, but because those who speak it lived over such a wide area, divided geographically and/or politically from each other, several conversational versions of Rusyn existed.

This is one of the best descriptions of Rusyns I’ve come across and it paints quite a clear picture of the influences on the Rusyn culture and language. It was written by Timothy Garton Ash in The Independent, a British newspaper on 6 March 1999:

They live in six states and in none. They are loyal to each of these states, and to none of them. Their language is written in five different versions; in the Cyrillic, but also in the Latin alphabet. Some regard themselves as Ukrainians, others as Slovaks, others again as Poles. Or Romanians. Or Hungarians. Or Yugoslavs. But many insist they are “Rusyns”, or “Carpatho-Rusyns”, or rusnatsi. Or, they throw up their hands and give the ancient answer of the peasant from Europe’s Slavic borderlands: “We’re just from here.”

To complicate matters further, many Rusyns had no education and therefore could neither read nor write, giving rise to a spoken dialects that were never standardized into one unified language.

Even today, when searching for lessons to learn to speak Rusyn, I came across three versions: Let’s Speak Rusyn: Presov Region Edition, Let’s Speak Rusyn: Transcarpathian Edition and Let’s Speak Lemko Rusyn, Lemko Region Edition.

(Each lesson book is available from the Carpatho-Rusyn Research Center, P.O. Box 35, Grand Isle, Vermont 05458-0035.)

The Rusyn Lemkos are found in southern Poland, those in the Presov region are in eastern Slovakia and the remainder of the Rusyn villages would be referred to as located in the Transcarpathian region.

As my grandparents lived near Presov, I will be trying to learn the Presov region Rusyn dialect.

Finding texts written in Rusyn – history, folktales, poetry, etc. –  is not an easy task because there was no official written Rusyn language even as recently as the mid-19th century.

Duolingo has the best description I can find of Rusyn: a dialect of the Ukrainian language but it uses its own form of the Cyrillic alphabet. . .resembles pre-Soviet Ukrainian and has more loanwords from languages such as German, Polish and Hungarian. It is most closely related to the Canadian dialect of Ukrainian. . .

Therefore, it is a vibrant, living language that is quite unlike any language I’ve ever studies.

Another road block in learning Rusyn today is that, being a Slavic language, the Cyrillic alphabet is used. That means another learning curve for me, as I don’t know any Cyrillic letters. In a way, I feel like I’ll be back in kindergarten learning to read and write all over again!

Here are a few (very few) resources to learn about the Rusyn language:

Carpathian-Rusyn Language

Rusyn Language

A Bit About Rusyn – Duolingo

Rusyn Language and Alphabet

Is Rusyn a Distinct Language or a Dialect of Ukrainian?

Here is the sampling of the very few videos I could find online of spoken Rusyn:

Words of Life Ruthenian People

Lemko Language, Lesson 2

Conversation in Carpatho-Rusyn, Pt. 1 – Eastern Slovakia

I will never, ever be fluent in Rusyn, but I would love to build at least a basic vocabulary of words and a few phrases.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.