“Ukranian language formerly Ruthenian language: East Slavic language spoken by about 41 million people in Ukraine, Poland, Slovakia, Russia, and in enclaves around the world. Only about three-quarters of Ukrainians are first-language speakers of Ukrainian, but there are millions of first language speakers in Russia, Belarus, and the Central Asian republics. Ukraine’s premodern literary language was Church Slavic. Ukrainian was one component in the chancery language of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, which also mixed Church Slavic, Belorussian, and Polish. With the fall of the Zaporizhzhya Cossacks in the 18th century, Ukrainian-speakers were stateless and the status of the language, thought of as peasant speech by the nobility, was low. The language and orthography (using a form of the Cyrillic alphabet) were gradually standardized in the 19th century.”
Excerpted from: Stevens, Mark A., Ed. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Encyclopedia. Springfield, Massachusetts: Merriam-Webster, 2000.