Ukrainian as foreign: Exclamations!

There is an interesting phenomenon we keep observing in classes of Ukrainian as foreign. A student will master grammar and lexicon, even near a native speaker in pronunciation, and yet the language does not sound natural. Why does that happen? Exclamations! A topic neglected by students and coursebook authors alike. However, exclamations are specific to every language and have a significant part in conveying emotions and attitudes. Moreover, even among exclamations you can come across “false friends of a translator”, so, as you can imagine, hilariousity ensues.

Without further ado, let’s investigate the case of exclamations in Ukrainian.

The first category would be emotional exclamations:

You can show your surprise by saying “овва!” [ov:a]. Did you accidentally spill some tea? Instead of the English “oops!” you might say “ой” [oj] or a highly multifunctional “отакої!” [o-ta-ko-jee]. The latter is mostly used to express negative surprise.

If you regret a missed opportunity or your many misfortunes, sigh “ех” [eh:], “ох” [oh:], “на жаль” [na zhal’] or “шкода” [shkodA]. A long “aaa...” will suggest you just remembered or realized something. (For native speakers of German: not “achja”, which in some Ukrainian dialects means “yes”.)

Say “еге ж” [eghezh] to a friend you agree with completely or a slightly more emotional and ironical “так отож!” [tak otozh]. To get someone's attention, give a shout: “агов!” [aghov].

Of course, exclamations are a very colloquial part of a language and not to be used in formal situations. That goes especially to expressing strong negative opinions, in other words – swearing. While international curse words gradually take over Ukrainian, authentic mild ones can still be heard:

You can describe an unacceptably chaotic situation as “це казна-що!” [tse kazna shcho]. To wish an ill-doer to get all sorts of unwelcomed things in life, say “хай йому всячина” [haj jo-moo vs’a-chy-na] or “трясця” [tr’a-sts’a].

As for onomatopoeia (google it!) things might seem a bit weird here too:

The sound of knocking on a door we imitate as “тук-тук” [took-took]. Ukrainian dogs say “гав-гав”[gav-gav], cats – “мяу-мяу” [m’aoo-m’aoo]. To call a cat, say “киць-киць-киць” [kyts’-kyts’-kyts’] (though it rarely works :)). And in Ukrainian villages people wake up to a “кукуріку” [kookoor’eekoo] of a rooster.

The list is endless, and you will enrich your exclamations vocabulary (if that is your goal) bit by bit through immersing yourself into Ukrainian literature as well as everyday communication.

And don’t forget that you can always find help and guidance in the bewildering world of Ukrainian or Russian language learning here at ALMA School!