The Vanishing Galician Accent and How it Lingers in the Diaspora

Please go to my new website Forgotten Galicia to read this post. Click here.

The vocabulary (which I wrote about here and more recently here) and accent of the diaspora community in North America (specifically the community that descended from the third wave of immigration (1940s-50s), many of which came from Galicia) differs somewhat from the vocabulary and accent heard today in western Ukraine. In the diaspora this vocabulary and accent remained rather stagnant while in Ukraine due to various factors (such as Russification and just due to the natural evolution of languages), the language, both its vocabulary and the sound, has changed. Thus the language spoken in Galicia before WWII has been better preserved in the diaspora than it has in Ukraine (in western Ukraine it can be heard only a little in rural areas/from the oldest generation.)

The Ukrainian Historical and Educational Center of New Jersey has on its website historical audio recordings where the early 20th century Galician dialect and accent can be heard very well, for example, in a lecture by a noted Ukrainian-American lawyer, journalist, and community activist Semen Demydchuk: 

"While the lecture is interesting for its content, it is also a fascinating linguistic document. Demydchuk speaks with a very strong dialect characteristic of early 20th century Galicia, an accent which has practically vanished in Ukraine, but which can still be heard occasionally in a more diluted form among descendants of some Ukrainian immigrants in the US and Canada. Notable phonological features include the substitution of "e" for "y" and the addition of "w" to the genitive adjectival ending "-oho" (so that "syn'oho" - "[of the] blue [one]" - would sound like "sen'ohow")."


As an American who has lived in Ukraine for several years now, I have noticed several other features of the language spoken by Ukrainians in the third wave diaspora community and how it differs from that which I hear in Ukraine. Thus below are some of my observations on the pronunciation, stress, and accent of Ukrainians in North America. (I'm not a linguist so these are just my observations and not a linguistic study. And I'm not getting into the history of the language and its changes — rather I just want to point out some of the characteristics of the diasporan sound.)

First of all, there is a difference in stress, which changes the sound of the language. In the diaspora we tend to put the stress on the first syllable in certain categories of words (a characterstic of south-western Ukrainian dialects) while in Ukraine today it is standard to have the stress on a latter syllable.

Here are some examples:

Verbs - the stress is on the root of the word while in Ukraine it is on the ending
бУла - булА
кАжу - кажУ
лЮблю - люблЮ
рОблю - роблЮ
повЕрнуся - повернУся

Other examples where the stress is at the beginning
пИтання - питАння
нАчиння - начИння
гОдин - годИн
РОсія - РосІя
пОдушка - подУшка
трУскавки - трускАвки
балАґан - балагАн
Олег - ОлЕг

Examples where the diasporan stress is on a latter syllable
в середИні - в серЕдині
надворІ - надвОрі
на табОрі - в тАборі
добрИй день - дОбрий день

Extra й sound
We pronounce the words "дванадцять," "тринадять," and so on with an extra "й" sound so that it sounds like "дванайдцять." Today this is heard only among the older generation in western Ukraine, particularly in villages (and thus one of the reasons people tell me I sound like their grandparents). It's been quite difficult for me to drop the "й" sound so I've continued to do this.

W sound
Another feature is the substitution of "w" for "v." For example, I usually hear in the diaspora "Львів" pronounced "L'viw" and "мавпа" pronounced "mawpa" while in Ukraine they are pronounced with a distinct "v" - "L'viv" and "mavpa." The "w" sound is more common in Polish. For example, in Polish "monkey" is "małpa" which is pronounced "mawpa." (The Polish letter "ł" is pronounced like "w.")

Another substitution is "w" for "l"; for example, the word "сказала" I've heard pronounced "skazawa." However, as opposed to the substitution for "v" which I hear from many diasporians, I only heard this from a few representatives of the oldest generation.

СЬ and Ц sounds
In the diaspora, "сь" and "ц" are pronounced a bit differently than in Ukraine (something else heard in the recording posted above).

Our "сь" sounds more like "шь" (e.g., "Ковальшька" instead of "Ковальська")
Our "ц" sounds more like "чь"  (e.g., "танчьі" and "бабчьа" instead of "танці" and "бабця")

I think this is still somewhat present among the older generation in the villages of Galicia. But I wonder if this is also an influence of English.

And now after living in Ukraine for several years and getting used to the sound of the language in Ukraine, this is this first thing I notice when I hear Ukrainian-Americans speak Ukrainian.

Г sound
Foreigners and some diasporans (like me) have a hard time with the letter "г" as it has a different sound from the English "h." I have no idea whether this letter was pronounced differently in Galicia at one point or whether this is just an influence of English. In Polish, however, they also don't have the Ukrainian "г" sound.

I wrote about this in my first post about the diasporan language, but will include it here too. Since the letter "ґ" was banned under the Soviet Union, today it's very rare to hear this letter used in Ukraine. Though it's starting to come back in certain words. In the diaspora we always had this letter and so the sound is more common. For example, in the following words (which in Ukraine are said with a "г"):

Ф (П, КВ, ХВ, Х)
Just as the letter "ґ" is more common in the diasporan language, so is the letter "ф."

фляшка - пляшка
картофля - картопля
Стефан - Степан

фасоля - квасоля

фіртка - хвіртка

шуфляда - шухляда
футро - хутро

Another difference that can be heard in the diaspora (and in some dialects in western Ukraine) is "и" in place of an "і" in certain endings.

For example, in the masculine dative ending (-oви / -ові):

Данилови - Данилові
братови - братові

As well as the genitive ending of certain feminine words (-oсти / -ості, -и / -i):

майбутности - майбутності (as heard in the above recording)
більшости - більшості
крови - крові
любови - любові

Reflexive Pronoun
This isn't directly related to accent, but I'd say it influences the sound of the language. In Galicia it used to be more common to have the reflexive pronoun separate and often before the verb, as is found in Polish. Today, the only phrase that is widespread with this in Ukraine is "як ся маєш?" (how are you?) and "Христос ся раждає" though other variations of this Christmas greeting seem to be more common in Ukraine such as "Христос народився." 

In Ukrainian, the reflexive pronoun usually takes the form of the suffix "-ся" or "-сь" or the pronoun "себе" which comes before the verb.

The three variations (only the second two ways are common in Ukraine):
Як ся почуваєш?
Як себе почуваєш?
Як почуваєшся?

I wouldn't say ся + verb is very common in the diaspora anymore, though still probably more so than in Ukraine (except for in smaller towns and villages in western Ukraine were I still hear it sometimes).


And to underline the fact that the North American Ukrainian diaspora has kept a rather distinct accent, there is a journalist and satirist (“Майкл Щур”) from Kyiv who pretends to be from the Canadian diaspora and so speaks with the "typical" diasporan (old Galician) accent. For example, he шь's his сь's (e.g.,"вші" instead of "всі" and "якішь" instead of "якісь"). He also widely uses the reflexive "сі" and "ся" (e.g., "сі дивити" instead of "дивитися"). His accent can be heard in his news reports which are aired on and which can all be found on YouTube.

Here a few videos of his where his accent is heard:

An interview with Майкл

One of his more recent shows from Hromadske

Ukrainian diasporians of the world unite


  1. Very nice article. Makes me want to study the Ukrainian language.

  2. And don't forget the lexical differences such as the slavic word овочі vs the Germano-Swedish фрукти introduced by Peter the (not so) Great as he tried to assemble a "Rossian" language from the patois in use in Muscovy at the time.

  3. Great article! Any insight to the transition from "Na Zdorovlya" (на здоровля) to "Na Zdorovya" (на здоров'я)? My father always said it the first way, which I figured it was just an old dialect.

    1. Thanks! Don't know about the transition, just know that as you say that it is part of an old dialect to say it with a "л"

  4. A fantastic article. This is the way we still speak Ukrainian today. I hope it never dies out!

  5. "I think this is still somewhat present among the older generation in the villages of Galicia. But I wonder if this is also an influence of English."

    This is the case in here in Brazil too, so it's not English-related.

    1. Oh interesting, thanks for pointing that out!

  6. How about the "ch" sound, instead of the "soft" t, e.g. chocha, instead of tiotia? I thought it was pronounced that way because 2nd and 3rd generation Ukrainian Americans could not pronounce it, since they only spoke English. Turns out it is was those with halychany grandparents.

  7. Diakuiu !!!! Gracias desde Argentina : Oleksa Barenechia

  8. Very nice, indeed!
    Just one point regarding, "Another substitution is "w" for "l"; for example, the word "сказала" I've heard pronounced "skazawa."
    The "L" vs "W" substitution that is heard, has been studied and was identified as a genetic abnormality within certain familial lines of Ukrainians and other Eastern Europeans.
    I had a close friend that had this genetic abnormality and she actually traced it within her family tree.

    1. Very interesting - never thought of that.

  9. I'd like to add the Ukrainian greeting of "dobrYden'" (one word/accent on the Y) and "dObryi den'" (two words/accent on the O).
    The different uses of these two greetings varies by region of familial origin and (unbelievably) by which church functions you are attending. ;-)
    We noticed this even while traveling in Ukraine!
    With my husband's familial heritage being from Halychyna and then my maternal heritage from Volyn' and my paternal from Zaporizhia... we have grown up learning to adjust (on the fly) how we pronounce this and other terms...
    But most of all... the best thing we have learned and embraced, is the respect of each person's uniqueness (not differences) in speech, etc., and that it's the commonalities of Ukrainians (historically) and overall, that unites us.
    It's nice to hear someone speak "your way," but it's even nicer when you hear someone speaking Ukrainian in a crowd of thousands who are NOT speaking Ukrainian! Because in the latter, it doesn't matter if they said, "dobrYden'" or "dObryi den'" all that matters is that they are speaking Ukrainian!

  10. Fascinating reading, my heritage is from Poltava but born in Australia. I can concur that the Galicians living in Western Australia had the same vocabulary, the "w" transposing the "l" or "v" etc. I would like to add a central Ukrainian - cherkassy, vynnytsia, poltava idiosyncrasy. Some examples ходЮ rather than ходжу (I go); сидЮ (I sit) сиджу;
    Other differences Стефан - Степан, картофля - картопля, фляшка - пляшка.
    Some additional reading which refers to the dialects of Ukraine is,

  11. As the archivist at the Ukrainian Historical and Educational Center who was responsible for digitizing and describing the Semen Demydchuk recording, I wanted to thank you for sharing it! I wanted to clarify, though, that there were many Galician accents. Mr. Demydchuk spoke in an accent typical of well-educated individuals from around L'viv. If you had gone further south into (what is now) Ivano-Frankivs'k, or into the hills of the Boiko, Lemko, and Hutsul regions, you would have heard some VERY different speech patterns.

    1. Interesting, thank you for pointing that out!

  12. Thanks for a fun article. I had an opportunity to study in Ukrainian at YCU in L'viv. There were times I was sort of scared to say certain words because I learned Ukrainian from my dear Bob CHa. I loved the experience. Your article brought back so many warm memories of times spent with Bobcha having me speak to her. One day I was angry with her and she said a very poignant thing to me: I yelled why do you always speak to me "po nashemou" but English to my brother? She responded "Because girls are smarter!" Can't beat that dear old Ukrainian logic.!

    1. Haha, nice! I also did the summer school at UCU many years back - great times.

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