ANALYSIS: The status of Ukrainian military terminology
by Stephen D. Olynyk
With the break-up of the Soviet Union, the emergence of the independent Ukrainian state and the adoption of Ukrainian as the official language, a radically new period began in the field of Ukrainian military terminology.
Unlike the countries of the Warsaw Pact, which under Communist rule retained and developed their native military terminology, Ukrainian members of the Soviet armed forces were forced to use the Russian language of command and communication, and were prevented from developing any semblance of Ukrainian military terminology.
The post-Soviet Ukrainian armed forces formed in 1991 were composed of former Soviet army groups that had been stationed in Ukraine as a second strategic echelon of the Soviet Union's line of defense again the West. These groups were composed of various nationalities, primarily Ukrainians and Russians. While warrant officers and enlisted personnel were in the majority Ukrainian by nationality, the officer corps contained a high percentage of ethnic Russians. This proportion was even higher in the general officer ranks.
A large number of ethnic Ukrainian officers did not have a good command of the Ukrainian language due to no fault of their own. Military terminology can be used successfully only when its users fluently speak the language in question. So, one of the first tasks that faced the new Ukrainian military leadership after the formation of the armed forces of Ukraine was to initiate a program of study of the Ukrainian language. The program, however, was neither comprehensive nor mandatory.
Directive No. 10 of the minister of defense of Ukraine, "On Learning the Ukrainian Language in the Armed Forces of Ukraine," issued by then Minister of Defense Col. Gen. Kostiantyn Morozov on May 15, 1992, stated the following: "Ensuing from the Declaration On State Sovereignty of July 16, 1989, and in accordance with the Law of the Ukrainian SSR of October 28, 1989, titled 'On Languages in the Ukrainian SSR,' I direct that ... the study of the Ukrainian language be organized on voluntary basis in accordance with appropriate programs."
In another directive, dated December 13, 1993, Minister of Defense Morozov reported that at the end of 1992, that is one year after independence, there were 2,556 Ukrainian language study groups in the armed forces of Ukraine and the total number of military personnel studying the Ukrainian language on a voluntary basis was over 50,000 (presumably mostly officers). The armed forces of Ukraine at that time numbered over 600,000.
In a directive on August 25, 1993, Gen. Morozov noted that teaching of the Ukrainian language in the military was not being adequately implemented. In 1994 Gen. Morozov's successor, Minister of Defense Gen. Vitalij Radetsky, similarly noted in his report to the Collegium of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine that the Ukrainian language teaching program in the armed forces was still unsatisfactory.
Even today, due to lack of funds, there is only one national military newspaper, Narodna Armia (a publication of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine), three regional military papers of local or specialized nature, and only one professional military journal, Armia Ukrainy. This paints a sad picture of the status of the Ukrainian language in Ukraine's armed forces, which negatively affects the effort to introduce the Ukrainian language in command and communication.
The development of Ukrainian military terminology in recent years has taken at least two forms: official and unofficial. The unofficial effort has been either academic or purely private. If there was anything in common between these two approaches, it was that their participants shared in the spiritual uplift and sense of euphoria that prevailed in practically all sectors of life in Ukraine during the first year of Ukraine's independence.
The official program was undertaken by both the legislative and executive branches of the Ukrainian government. Almost immediately after the declaration of independence, the Verkhovna Rada began to codify the organization and the status of Ukrainian military institutions by passing basic national security and defense legislation, whose contents reflected Ukrainian military-related expressions and terms.
The law "On the Armed Forces of Ukraine" provided that in Ukraine's armed forces, the Ukrainian language will be used in accordance with existing legislation. However, the implementation of the cited language law has been slow, at best, and it has not been welcomed by many of the armed forces' Soviet-educated officers. With the country's economic situation going from bad to worse over the subsequent two years, this initial enthusiasm all but disappeared.
When speaking of developing Ukrainian military terminology (i.e., not just the introduction of the Ukrainian language into the military), we come across three schools of thought on the subject.
The first school of thought is those who can be called the "purists" or "traditionalists." This approach emphasizes making military terminology reflect native Ukrainian as much as possible by purging terms of foreign origin or derivation and replacing them, wherever feasible, with their Ukrainian equivalent taken from the Ukrainian usage of centuries past (especially the Ukrainian Kozak period and the period of brief Ukrainian independence in the years of 1918-1920).
Thus, for example, if we take the simple term "battalion" (originally of French derivation), in Ukrainian, to members of this school, it should be "kurin" - a term used by the Ukrainian Kozaks as far back as the 15th century (if not earlier), adopted by Ukrainian national military units during 1917-1920, and by subsequent military units. Traditionalists are especially opposed to wide adoption or continuation of usage of terms used by tsarist Russian and, later, Russian-speaking Soviet armed forces, even though many of these terms may have been of foreign origin (especially German or French).
The second school of thought is the "school of reasonable compromise." This school proposes the adoption or adaptation of terms of foreign origin or derivation based on their general usage and international acceptance.
Thus, if we take the word "kurin" again, the advocates of compromise would argue that most European countries use the term "battalion," and it would be advantageous for Ukrainians to do the same. But when they come to a purely Russian term, like "rota" (company), they suggest the traditional Ukrainian term "sotnia." They put forth a reasonable argument that in this modern world no one is an island and that military terminology, just like terminology in other professional fields, is influenced by the languages and usage of other countries, especially of the more advanced states.
The third school of thought is the exact opposite of the first in that it advocates a wholesale adoption of military terms used in the former Soviet armed forces. Needless to say, members of this school are products of the Soviet military educational system, former Soviet army career officers or scholars who have little if any sympathy for the Ukrainian language.
Of course, there are variations among each of the three schools.
The practical result of the dispute and debate among these groups can be seen in current field manuals. In 1992, the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine had appointed a commission to prepare drafts of field manuals (or military regulations). They prepared these drafts in the Russian language, drawing heavily on the Soviet army's model. The Ministry of Defense requested the Lviv-based lexicographic group (Yakymovych, et al.) to translate these regulations into Ukrainian.
How much of the terminology in that draft was changed (i.e., Ukrainianized) is not known by this author, although its general content can be described as reflecting the second school of thought. It did not fully satisfy either the Ukrainian "purists" or the advocates of Soviet-era terminology. Perhaps for this reason, among others, these manuals are still called "Temporary (or preliminary) Field Regulations." They cover four major areas: Internal Service; Garrison and Guard Duty; Disciplinary Regulations; and Formations and Drill. They were published in the fall of 1993, but the controversy over what will be or should be the final version of these manuals has yet to be resolved.
In the meantime, as mentioned earlier, some effort to develop Ukrainian military terminology has been made in the private sector. Several Russian-Ukrainian military dictionaries, some very modest in content and size, are known to have been published privately. (Among them are: O. O. Lisna, Rosiisko-Ukrainskyi Viiskovyi Slovnyk, 1st ed., Kyiv, 1992; M. M. Obraztsova, H. D. Temko, I. M. Shorokhov and Iu. O. Chuvaieva, Rosiisko-Ukrainskyi Viiskovyi Slovnyk, Odesa, 1993; A. Panibudlaska and B. Kantselaruk, Rosiisko-Ukrainskyi Slovnyk Viiskovykh terminiv; M.V. Tsybulenko [ed.], Rosiisko-Ukrainskyi Styslyi Dovidnyk Viiskovykh Terminiv, Kyiv, 1992; Kratkii Russko-Ukrainskii Slovar Artileriiskikh Terminov, Chernivtsi, 1993).
A serious effort at developing terminology is being made by the group of Lviv lexicographers that prepared the original draft field manuals. This group, under the editorial leadership of Bohdan Yakymovych, prepared and in 1995 published an up-to-date Russian-Ukrainian military dictionary of over 32,000 words (A. Buryachok, M. Demskyi, B. Lakymovych, Rosiisko-Ukrainskyi Slovnyk dlia Viiskovykiv, Lviv, 1995). They are also working on a Ukrainian Military Encyclopedic Dictionary of 10,000 entries. This group is closer to the first school of thought, the "purists."
Specialized army manuals also are being published, for example the newly issued manual for the rocket forces titled "Artillery Course for the Armed Forces of Ukraine" (Ministerstvo Oborony, Tsentralne' Upravlinnia Viisk i Artylerii, Kurs Pidhotovky Artylerii ZSU, Kyiv, Ministerstov Oborony 1995).
It must be remembered that military terminology, like terminology in any other professional field (medicine, science and engineering) is a precise form of communication. There is not much room for making errors or for miscommunicating. In many situations, especially on modern battlefields where speed and accuracy in communication is one of the contributing factors to victory or defeat, miscommunication can result in the loss of life. An officer and a soldier have to be certain that they speak the same language and use the same terminology. Orders must be clearly transmitted and correctly understood. Clarity comes with long training and practice in common usage, and is habit-forming so that terminology becomes second nature.
Work is being done on Ukrainian military terminology, but progress is very slow for several reasons: the controversy over proper terminology and usage has not been resolved and probably will not be anytime soon. Aside from a lack of consensus on what should be proper Ukrainian military terminology, there is still strong resistance from the Soviet-trained and educated officers to accepting new Ukrainian terminology to which they are not accustomed.
It is not unusual to hear such expressions as "Komu eto nuzhno? (Who needs this?) From time to time, polemic articles on this subject appear, (e.g., A. Smirnov, "Komu Nuzhny Takiie Komandy?" [Who needs such commands?], Narodna Armiia, November 19, 1992 and Colonel I. Postrybaylo's, "Ne Nuzhny Slovesnye Igry" [We Do Not Need Word Games], Narodna Armiia, December 22, 1992).
Then there is also the problem of informal military communication (military slang, like American "Pentagonese"), which is not published anywhere, but which develops over time through usage and tradition, and is commonly used in the daily life and the work of the military.
Increased psychological resistance to the introduction of Ukrainian military terminology and to Ukrainian as the language of command within the armed forces of Ukraine is due also to the erosion of euphoria about Ukraine's independence and its envisioned benefits. There is growing disenchantment among officers about their economic condition and social status, which has made the choice of military terminology, at best, a secondary issue for them. The only hope for more rapid progress in the language area is improvement in the national economy in general and in the living conditions for officers in particular. There is also an expectation that, in the long run, the new graduating classes of junior lieutenants from Ukrainian-language military schools will add support to the wider use of proper Ukrainian military terminology in the Ukrainian armed forces.
For ardent advocates of Ukrainian military terminology, it is also an issue of major political significance because that is the key to re-making the former "Group of Soviet Forces in Ukraine" into a truly "Ukrainian Army."
Stephen D. Olynyk is a retired U.S. Army colonel, now working as an independent consultant on national security. He spent one year (1994) in Kyiv as an adviser to the Parliament and the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine, and continues to serve as a consultant. He has lectured at the Academy of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, to which he also serves as a regular consultant, and is the author of many articles on military subjects.
Copyright © The Ukrainian Weekly, February 23, 1997, No. 8, Vol. LXV
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