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Post Did the Mongol Invasion Cause the Fragmentation of East Slavic Languages?
Created by John Eipper on 11/19/23 2:39 AM

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Did the Mongol Invasion Cause the Fragmentation of East Slavic Languages? (Bruce Acker, USA, 11/19/23 2:39 am)

I have some thoughts/questions about Alice Whealey's post of November 18th.

First, I wonder whether the East Slavs in the areas that now comprise Ukraine, Belarus and (western) Russia really spoke the same language and had a unified culture prior to the Mongol invasion. It seems more likely that they had many regional variations that eventually coalesced into what in the modern world became Russian, Ukrainian, and Belarussian. It's possible that the elites communicated in a common language, especially in writing, but it seems more likely that local languages were quite different and perhaps mutually unintelligible, sort of like the significant differences among the languages spoken by the people who eventually came to identify as Han Chinese.

The notion of a common East Slavic language neatly fits the Russian narrative that the East Slavs are all one people and should therefore naturally want to be allied with Moscow. I don't have a strong enough background in history or linguistics to be able to speak with authority on this question, but it seems like this notion deserves interrogation.

I also wonder whether Russia's expansion into Eastern Asia "would never have happened without the Mongol conquest." My understanding is that an increasingly powerful Muscovite/Russian polity was hungry for the resources of the territory in and beyond the Urals. Of course, as they expanded, the Russians faced resistance from local populations, which created security problems on the expanding periphery.

I've been wondering why China does not seem to have designs on the huge amounts of territory ceded to Russia in the Treaties of Aigun (1858) and Peking (1860) during the "century of humiliation." In addition to the practical matter that nuclear-armed Russia would be a formidable foe, it makes sense, as Alice Whealey points out, that these areas were not generally inhabited by people that today identify as Han.

Just some thoughts about the very interesting recent posts on WAIS, which I continue to find very informative as a passive reader from the periphery.

JE comments: Bruce Acker is a veteran Russia and China hand--and also, as WAISers may remember, my roommate during a summer in Leningrad-St Petersburg in 1985. Great to hear from you, Bruce!

I'm also a language guy without much background in historical linguistics, but couldn't we draw an analogy between the Slavic and Romance languages?  We know comparatively little about Proto-Slavic due to its lack of a written record, but specialists believe that the regional differences were mutually intelligible at least until the 6th century. This is roughly the same time frame as the geographical fragmentation of Latin.

My point here is that nobody would identify the French and the Spanish as a "common people," as Putin has argued with regards to speakers of Ukrainian.  We could return to the classic distinction between a language and a dialect:  the former has an army and a navy (and now, missiles and drones).

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