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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

A Word on Words

7 November, 2000 - 00:00

I could not help but be amused at how Kievskie Vedomosti’s gonzo literary critic Oles Buzyna, substantially younger than I and looking in fairly robust health, succumbed to the blows of a crowd of Ukrainian literati whose youngest members seem on the downside of sixty at the very least. Of course, I am all for the writer’s right to criticize Shevchenko, Pushkin, Shakespeare, or the Lord of Hosts, for that matter. Still, the fact remains that if you write about Adam Mickiewicz as a werewolf in Poland, somebody is likely to try to knock your teeth down your throat. There are, as the American Supreme Court found long ago, fighting words, and it seems our critic has found them.

Words matter. Language, after all only a codification of words, does also. This is why I welcome Ivan Drach’s not always tactful efforts to boost the role of the Ukrainian language in the mass media, although I have to admit that the former editor of Kievskie Vedomosti writing in this issue is right: most Ukrainian language print organs are just plain poor, and the local Russian language press is more interesting. Still, I will not pretend that the facts that Zerkalo nedeli now also comes out in Ukrainian as Dzerkalo tyzhnia and the Kievskie Vedomosti now has a weekly digest in Ukrainian do not warm my heart. My old friend Ivan Drach indeed has little power to force anybody to do anything, certainly not to threaten the Russian language, but I consider him to be fighting the good fight.

I also welcome the new Explanatory Dictionary of the Ukrainian Language reviewed in this issue, although I would consider such an adventure a bit adventuresome at a time when the language and those who speak it are caught up in a virtually limitless discourse of what to take from what was so long denied it, the legacy of the linguistic development of the 1920s. I personally suspect that any dictionary of the Ukrainian language complied today will soon become dated as the discourse continues on what kind of language the people who use it decide they want and need. This process is endless. It takes place within every language at all times but here is special because it was artificially interrupted for so long. Only time will tell what creativity will come of it.x

Prof. James Mace, Consultant to The Day