The Rusyn language (; Carpathian Rusyn: русиньскый язык (rusîn'skyj jazyk), русиньска бесїда (rusîn'ska bes'ida); Pannonian Rusyn: руски язик (ruski jazik), руска бешеда (ruska bešeda)), also known as the Rusnak language (Carpathian Rusyn: руснацькый язык / an older term), is an East Slavic lect, spoken by the Rusyns in several regions of Eastern Europe, and also in the Rusyn diaspora throughout the World.
In the English language, the term Rusyn is recognized officially by the ISO, but some other designations are sometimes also used, derived mainly from exonymic terms such as Ruthenian or Ruthene (, ), that have several wider meanings, and thus (by adding regional adjectives) some specific designations are formed, such as: Carpathian Ruthenian/Ruthene or Carpatho-Ruthenian/Ruthene.
There are several controversial theories about the nature of Rusyn as a language or dialect. Czech, Slovak, and Hungarian, as well as American and some Polish and Serbian linguists treat it as a distinct language (with its own ISO 639-3 code), whereas other scholars (in Ukraine, Poland, Serbia, and Romania) treat it as a Southwestern dialect of Ukrainian.
In terms of geographical distribution, Rusyn language is represented by two specific clusters: the first is encompassing Carpathian Rusyn or Carpatho-Rusyn varieties, and the second is represented by Pannonian Rusyn.
The classification of Rusyn language is linguistically and politically controversial. During the 19th century, several questions were raised among linguists, regarding the classification of East Slavic dialects that were spoken in the northeastern (Carpathian) regions of the Kingdom of Hungary, and also in neighbouring regions of the Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria. On those questions, three main theories emerged:
Those linguistic disputes did not affect the official terminology, used by the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, that actually ruled the Carpathian region. For Austro-Hungarian state authorities, the entire East Slavic linguistic body within the borders of the Monarchy was classified under an archaic and exonymic term: Ruthenian language (German: Ruthenische sprache, Hungarian: Rutén nyelv), that was employed up to 1918.
After the dissolution of Austria-Hungary (1918), the newly proclaimed Hungarian Republic recognized Rusyn regional autonomy in Subcarpathian regions and created, at the beginning of 1919, a department for Rusyn language and literature at the Budapest University.
By the end of 1919, the region of Subcarpathian Ruthenia was appended to the newly formed Czechoslovak state, as its easternmost province. During the next twenty years, linguistic debates were continued between the same three options (pro-Russian, pro-Ukrainian, and local Rusyn), with Czechoslovak state authorities occasionally acting as arbiters.
In March 1939, the region proclaimed independence under the name Carpatho-Ukraine, but it was immediately occupied and annexed by Hungary. The region was later occupied (1944) and annexed (1945) by the Soviet Union, and incorporated into the Ukrainian SSR, which proceeded with implementation of Ukrainian linguistic standards. In Soviet Ukraine, Rusyns were not recognized as a distinctive ethnicity, and their language was considered as a dialect of Ukrainian language. Poland employed similar policies, using internal deportations to move many Eastern Slavs from southeastern to newly acquired western regions (Operation Vistula), and switch their language to Polish, and Ukrainian at school.
After the dissolution of Soviet Union in 1991, modern standards of minority rights where gradually applied throughout the Eastern Europe, thus affecting the attitude of several states towards the Rusyn language. As successors of Yugoslavia, Serbia and Croatia continued to recognize Rusyn language as an official minority language.
Scholars with the former Institute of Slavic and Balkan Studies in Moscow (now the Institute of Slavonic Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences) formally acknowledged Rusyn as a separate language in 1992, and trained specialists to study the language. These studies were financially supported by the Russian Academy of Sciences.
Ukrainian state authorities do not recognize Rusyns as a separate ethnicity, regardless of Rusyn self-identification. Ukraine officially considered Rusyn as a dialect of Ukrainian. In 2012, Ukraine adopted a new law, recognizing Rusyn as one of several minority and regional languages, but that law was revoked in 2014.
It is not possible to estimate accurately the number of fluent speakers of Rusyn; however, their number is estimated in the tens of thousands.
Early grammars include Dmytrij Vyslockij's (Дмитрий Вислоцкий) Карпаторусский букварь (Karpatorusskij bukvar') Vanja Hunjanky (1931), Metodyj Trochanovskij's (1935)., and Ivan Harajda (1941). The archaic Harajda's grammar is currently promoted in the Rusyn Wikipedia, although part of the articles are written using other standards (see below).Буквар. Перша книжечка для народных школ. (Bukvar. Perša knyžečka dlja narodnıx škol.)
Apart from these codified varieties, there are publications using a mixture of these standards (most notably in Hungary and in Transcarpathian Ukraine), as well as attempts to revitalize the pre-war etymological orthography with old Cyrillic letters (most notably ѣ, or yat'); the latter can be observed in multiple edits in the Rusyn Wikipedia, where various articles represent various codified varieties.
A soft consonant combination sound [ʃʲt͡ʃʲ] exists more among the northern and western dialects. In the eastern dialects the sound is recognized as [ʃʲʃʲ], including the area on which the standard dialect is based. It is noted that a combination sound like this one, could have evolved into a soft fricative sound [ʃʲ].
Each of the three Rusyn standard varieties has its own Cyrillic alphabet. The table below shows the alphabet of Slovakia (Prešov) Rusyn. The alphabet of the other Carpathian Rusyn standard, Lemko (Poland) Rusyn, differs from it only by lacking ё and ї. For the Pannonian Rusyn alphabet, see Pannonian Rusyn language § Writing system.
The Lemko Rusyn alphabet of Poland has 34 letters. It includes all the Ukrainian letters with the exception of ї, plus ы and ъ.
The Lemko and Prešov Rusyn alphabets place ъ at the very end, while the vast majority of Cyrillic alphabets place it after щ. They also place ы before й, while the vast majority of Cyrillic alphabets place it after ш, щ (if present), and ъ (if present).
In the Prešov Rusyn alphabet, і and ї come before и, and likewise, і comes before и in the Lemko Rusyn alphabet (which doesn't have ї). In the Ukrainian alphabet, however, и precedes і and ї, and the Pannonian Rusyn alphabet (which doesn't have і) follows this precedent by placing и before ї.
In April 2019, a group of linguists (including Aleksandr Dulichenko), supported a proposal that was addressed to the ISO, requesting suppression of the code (rue) and division of Rusyn language in two distinctive and separate languages, that would be named as: East Rusyn language (designating Carpathian Rusyn varieties), and South Rusyn language (designating Pannonian Rusyn varieties). In January 2020, the ISO authorities rejected the request.
In November 2020, the same group of linguists, with some additional support, formulated a new proposal, also addressed to the ISO, requesting recognition of a new language, under the proposed name: Ruthenian language (with additional designation as: Rusnak language). According to their proposal, that designation would represent a specific linguistic variety, that was referred to in their previous proposal (from April 2019) as South Rusyn (otherwise known as Pannonian Rusyn, a term not mentioned in either of two proposals). The request is still under deliberation.
If granted, the pending request from November 2020 would have various implications, both in the fields of ISO classification and terminology. Eventual recognition of the proposed new language would effectively reduce the scope of the present code (rue) to Carpathian varieties of Rusyn language, thus leading to an outcome that was already rejected by ISO authorities in January 2020.
The proposal from November 2020 did not provide an explanation for terminological transition from initially proposed term South Rusyn (2019) to newly proposed terms Ruthenian and Rusnak (2020). Both terms (Ruthenian and Rusnak) that are claimed for the proposed new language (encompassing only Pannonian varieties of Rusyn language), already have much wider and well established meanings, both in historical and scientific terminology. In the field of Slavistic studies, the term Ruthenian language is used primarily as a common exonymic designation for former East Slavic linguistic varieties that were spoken on the territories of modern Belarus and Ukraine during the late medieval and early modern periods, from the 15th up to the 18th centuries.
The other term (Rusnak), that was included in the November 2020 proposal as a requested alternative designation for the linguistic variety spoken by Pannonian Rusyns, also has much wider meaning, since it is used by both Pannonian and Carpathian Rusyns as one of several self-designations for their people and language, thus revealing the lack of basis for the requested reduction of that term to only one of those groups.