Oleksandr Potebnia, born September 22, 1835, on his family's khutir near Havrylivka (now Hryshyne), Poltava gubernia, died December 11, 1891, in Kharkiv. Linguist, folklorist, and literary scholar; from 1875 a corresponding member of the Russian Imperial Academy of Sciences. He studied law, history, and philology at Kharkiv University (Ph D, 1874). In the early 1860s he was active in the Ukrainophile Kharkiv Hromada, wrote a Ukrainian primer for Sunday schools, and took part in folklore expeditions in Poltava and Okhtyrka counties. In 1874 he was appointed professor of Russian language and literature at Kharkiv Historical-Philological Society (1877-90) and was a member of the Czech Scientific Society (from 1887). In the 1880s he began a Ukrainian translation of Homer's Odyssey.
As a linguist Potebnia specialized in four areas: the philosophy of language, the historical phonetics of the East Slavic languages, etymology, and Slavic historical syntax. His major works on the philosophy of language are Thought and Language, From Notes on Russian Grammar, and Language and Nationality.
Regarding language as an individual's or a nation's only possible means of perceiving the world and of thinking, Potebnia .protested vehemently against denationalization in general and the Russification of Ukrainians in particular, and equated this process with spiritual and intellectual disintegration.
Potebnia viewed the history of a language as the history of its dialects and used the concept of phonetic law, although he often tried to find a psychological basis for the concept.
From the 1870s Potebnia concentrated on the study of the historical syntax of the Slavic languages against a comparative Indo-European background.
Potebnia was far ahead of his contemporaries. In 1945 Institute of linguistics was named after Potebnia. Collections of his works on accentology (1973) and esthetics and poetics (1976, 1985) have been published.