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Anthology of Modern Slavonic Literature in Prose and Verse/Introduction

< Anthology of Modern Slavonic Literature in Prose and Verse



The distribution of the Slavs in Europe is excellently conjectured by Professor Lubor Niederle, the Czech authority, in the following terms ("Slovanský Svět," p. 2):—

"The primitive Slav race had its nucleus between the Oder and the Dnieper; stage by stage, in prehistoric times, it had reached the Elbe, the Saale, the Danube, the Niemen and the Baltic. It had spread itself over this wide area, partly through the influence of certain geographical conditions, as, for example, the main watercourses and mountains, partly through currents of civilisation, whose effects in the East differed from those in the West; partly also, through the influence of linguistic development. To begin with, the divisions were three in number. The first, to the west of the Vistula and the Carpathians, spread out in a westerly direction beyond the lower Elbe, the Saale and the Bohemian Forest, resulting in those branches of the Slavs known as the Polabians, Pomeranians, Poles and Czechs; the second, whose primitive headquarters lay between the Upper Vistula, the Dniester and the middle Danube, in course of time advanced south of the Carpathians, and while one detachment settled on the Drave, the other, crossing the Save and Danube, penetrated to the Balkan regions and developed into the Slovene, Serbo-Croatian and Bulgarian groups; the third fraction extended in a vast circle from the lower Dnieper basin, and reached the Gulf of Finland, the upper Dnieper and the Volga to the north, the Don to the east, and the lower Danube to the south. This division formed the Russian race, which was further modified within itself under the influence of varying local conditions."

This account deals feasibly with the difficult question of origins. It has the additional advantage of forming a convenient basis upon which to catalogue the modern Slavs. By retaining the three suggested divisions, which may be designated as Western, Southern and Eastern (this being the order in which their origins are dealt with), we arrive at the following statistical arrangement:—


Western Slavs.—Poles, 20 millions.
Western Slavs.—Czechs, 7 millions.
Western Slavs.—Slovaks, 2 millions.
Western Slavs.—Wends, 150 thousand.
Southern Slavs.—Serbo-Croatians, 9 millions.
Southern Slavs.—Bulgarians, 5 millions.
Southern Slavs.—Slovenes, 11/2 millions.
Eastern Slavs.—Great Russians, 65 millions.
Eastern Slavs.—Little Russians (Malo-Russians, Ruthenians or Ukrainians). 31 millions.
Eastern Slavs.—White Russians, 7 millions.


This results in a total of nearly 150 millions, but the figures are, of course, very approximate. It must be remembered, for instance, that political conditions have made the census returns in certain districts somewhat unreliable, and cases are not unknown where Slav populations help to increase German or Magyar totals. Slav authorities themselves have differed greatly, not only in the question of figures, but also in actual classification. Thus, Šafařík, one of the heralds of the Czech revival, writing in 1826, estimated a total of just over 55 million Slavs, among whom he included what he called Bosniaks, Dalmatians and Slavonians. The same authority drew no distinction between the Great and Little Russians, estimated the Ukrainians in Austria at only three millions and had very vague ideas about the Bulgarians. Writing again in 1842, he increased his estimated total to 78 millions.

Several Slav tribes became extinct at an early period, although their former abodes are often revealed in Saxon and Prussian place-names (Pomerania, Prussia. Leipzig and Berlin are examples). Jan Kollár, one of the poets of the Czech revival, refers to some of these lost races in his famous Prologue to "The Daughter of Sláva," written in 1824:—

"Where have ye wandered, dear nation of Slava, that formerly dwelt here,

Drinking now of the Saale, now Pomeranian springs?
Peaceful stock of the Sorbs, and Obotritian offspring,

Where are the Wilzen, and where, grandsons of Uker, are ye?"

The difficulties of classification are almost as great when we come to consider the Slav languages. In 1822, Dobrovský, the practical founder of Slav philology, divided them into 9 different tongues; Šafařík in 1842 proposed 6 languages with 13 dialects; Schleicher in 1865 proposed 8; Miklosich, a prominent Slovene scholar, decided on 9; Jagić, a Croat authority of European reputation, is in favour of 8. The reason for this diversity is that some philologists designate as a language what others will admit only as a dialect. Thus, many Russian authorities are unwilling to treat Ukrainian as a separate language (not altogether justly); Slovaks such as Czambel, with the fatal Slav tendency towards cleavage, insist on a distinct Slovak race (of Southern Slav origin) with a distinct Slovak language (again not altogether justly). Even the Wends who live under German rule in parts of Saxony and Brandenburg, scanty as they are, claim a division into two varying dialects.

However, making all reasonable allowances, we may regard the following as an accurate arrangement:—

Eastern Russian
Little Russian (Malo-Russian,
Ruthenian, Ukrainian
Western Polish
Southern Serbo-Croat

Of these languages, Polish, Czech, Croat and Wendic are written in the Latin alphabet, adapted to their particular phonetic needs by the use of various diacritic signs. The remainder employ the so-called Cyrillic alphabet. This difference of alphabet is the only real distinction between Croat and Serbian. It should be noticed that the Cyrillic alpbabet is not identical in the case of all the languages that use it. Russian, Ukrainian, Serbian and Bulgarian have the bulk of the letters in common: but each language has also a few characters peculiar to itself.

As a whole, the Slav languages are distinguished by striking similarities of structure and vocabulary. The so-called "aspects" of the verb are common to them all; while the numerous noun inflections are lacking only in Bulgarian. This language, it may be added, differs from the rest also by the use of a definite article, which is suffixed to the noun. The same construction exists in two other Balkan, but non-Slav languages, Albanian and Roumanian.

The following lists will give some idea of the degrees of affinity between the chief Slav languages:—

Russian. Polish Czech Serbo-Croat Slovene.
pólnye (full) pełny pln(ý) pun(i) poln(i)
otyéts (father) ojciec otec otac otec
dyen' (day) dzien den dan den (dan)
byedá (woe) biada bída biéda béda
dólgie (long) długi dlouhý dug(i) dolg(i)

These few examples might lead an observer to deduce a closer similarity than would be justified by comparing the languages in the bulk, and taking into account something more than isolated words. Many of the Slavs themselves are apt to exaggerate to the extent to which their languages resemble each other. M. Léger tells of a Slovak who was convinced that his native dialect would be freely understood in Moscow; he was soon disillusioned. V. Hrubý asserts in his "Comparative Handbook of the Slavonic Languages" that he "often had the opportunity of observing how Czech, Polish and Russian workmen conversed readily in their native idioms with Croat pedlars for hours at a time." This is, if anything, slightly overstated.

The fact is, that in spite of many cognate words and constractions, each member of the group has peculiarities of pronunciation and vocabulary which distinguish it often very strikingly from the rest. Thus, Russian with its Tartar elements (found in several everyday words) and fluctuating stress, contrasts with Polish where the stress falls on the penultimate syllable, and where, as in no other modern Slavonic language, two nasal sounds have survived from primitive Slavonic. In Czech again, words have their chief stress on the first syllable, while the vocabulary as a whole is more purely Slavonic than that of the previous two. In general, it will be found that the Slavonic languages of recent development, such as Czech and Slovene, contain fewer words of foreign origin than those whose tradition is more continuous. The reason is, that on the revival of these languages during the early part of last century, the non-Slavonic elements were deliberately eliminated. But even in these languages the native element has, in the last twenty years or so, been modified by an admixture of foreign words derived largely from a study of French literature. This has resulted in numerous pairs of synonyms, which some native scholars are inclined to welcome on the ground that they provide the language with subtler shades of meaning.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1924.

The author died in 1970, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 30 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.