Thursday, September 17, 2009

Sukhomlinsky or Sukhomlyns'kyi?

I have received a grant from the Ukrainian Studies Foundation in Australia, to travel to the Ukraine to conduct research into the educational legacy of Vasily Sukhomlinsky/Vasil' Sukhomlyns'kyi. You may wonder why I give two spellings for his name. (If you are not interested is such linguistic niceties, please skip this posting and move on the next one.) I "discovered" Sukhomlinsky through my study of the Russian language, and the form "Sukhomlinsky" is a transliteration from Russian. Sukhomlinsky was famous throughout the Soviet Union in his own lifetime, and many of his books and articles were published in Russian. His most famous work "My Heart I Give to Children", was translated into English by Holly Smith and published by Progress Press, the major foreign language publisher in the Soviet Union, in 1981. An earlier compilation was published in English in 1977 under the title "Sukhomlinsky on Education". In my thesis and my book, I adopted the spelling of Sukhomlinsky's name which had been used in these publications: "Vasily Aleksandrovich Sukhomlinsky".

However, Sukhomlinsky was not Russian, but Ukrainian, and although both Russian and Ukrainian use the cyrillic alphabet, they are two distinct languages. In Ukrainian Sukhomlinsky's name looks different, and the transliteration is also different: "Vasyl' Oleksandrovych Sukhomlyns'kyi". Because of the precedent that has been set, I have continued to write "Sukhomlinsky" in my web resources, but out of respect for his Ukrainian origins I have felt compelled to mention the alternative spelling as well. I ask forgiveness of any Ukrainians who feel I should change my usage to Sukhomlyns'kyi, but point out that there are many possible other variants as well, as there is no single standard system of transliteration into English for either Russian or Ukrainian. In the interests of continuity (and also because it seems to me easier to read and write) I will continue to use Sukhomlinsky for the time being, though I may discuss this issue with Sukhomlinsky's daughter while I am in Ukraine this October.


  1. I agree with you that "Sukhomlinsky" is the most practical transliteration. Although the "i" in the middle should, ideally be a "y", I think most non-Ukrainians would probably then not know that the "y" should be pronounced with a broad "i" (as in "hit"), and the "y" on the end should then be pronounced as the "ea" in Ealing.

  2. I would like to add to my previous comment, that although I think "Sukhomlinsky" is fine as a practical transliteration, I strongly oppose the use of "Vasily" — this is a Russification of his christian name, and he was Ukrainian, not Russian. A correct transliteration should be "Vasyl'" (with the softening sound «'» as mentioned above), or better still "Vasyl" (again the most practical transliteration).

  3. Postscript - after a lot of thought, I now slightly revise my earlier comments and now propose that the BEST transliteration should be:

    Vasyl Sukhomlynsky

    I think this is as close as one could practically get to the Ukrainian, and is also the spelling favored by the Ukrainian Government. See for example: the Government Portal page on famous Ukrainian people.