02 December 2007

An evocative calendar

The Ukrainian and Russian languages are very similar, but one of the interesting differences between them is in the names of the months. Russian simply uses the same Latin-derived names as most European languages do, adapted to the Russian phonetic system: Yanvar, Fevral, Mart, Aprel, etc. Ukrainian, however, uses names with indigenous Slavic roots, evocative of an earlier time when the cycles of nature loomed much larger in human consciousness. Here are the months, their Ukrainian names, and the literal meanings of those names:

January -- Sichen -- cut
February -- Lyuti -- fierce
March -- Berezen -- birchwood
April -- Kviten -- flowers
May -- Traven -- grass
June -- Cherven -- worms
July -- Lypen -- lime tree
August -- Serpen -- sickle
September -- Veresen -- heather
October -- Zhovten -- yellow
November -- Lystopad -- falling leaves
December -- Hruden -- snowballs

The exact significance of some of these isn't obvious at first glance; the first two refer to the cutting and fierce quality of the freezing-cold winter winds, for example, while August is harvest time and in October the fields turn yellow (the simple blue-and-gold stripes of the Ukrainian flag, by the way, symbolize the fields below the sky). These names are not mere archaisms but remain in use in modern Ukrainian; I remember being initially puzzled by seeing references to Veresen during my trip there.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fascinating how the names of calendar months can reveal so much about a culture.

02 December, 2007 18:42  

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