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Russian Language Facts

Basic Facts About the Russian language

Russian language belongs to the Indo-European family of languages, Slavic group, East Slavic branch. It was derived from the Old Russian language in 14th-15th centuries, from which Ukrainian and Belorussian languages derived as well. About 250 million people around the world speak Russian, including 180 million people on the territory of the former USSR. The closest relatives of the Russian language are the remaining two East Slavic languages: Ukrainian and Belorussian, Belorussian being the closest (it should be noted that in Belarus, beyond the countryside, people speak only Russian, not Belorussian, so Belorussian is possibly an endangered language). Other relatives include Serbo-Croatian, Macedonian, Bulgarian, Slovene from South Slavic branch and Polish, Czech, Slovak, Upper Sorbian, Lower Sorbian, Polabian (extinct) from West Slavic branch. On the vast territory of Russia you will see almost no dialectal divisions, almost all people speak common literary language, only old people might still use local dialects which vary little from place to place. Russian is rather a synthetic language, not analytic, and being a synthetic language it is flective, not agglutinative, which means that it uses a lot of prefixes, suffixes and flections and it can express in one word what analytic language like English has to use three words for; but unlike agglutinative languages, like Finno-Ugrian and Turkish ones, the same flection might express a lot of different grammatical categories and different flections might express the same grammatical category.

Closely related to Russian are the other East Slavic tongues, Ukrainian and Belarusian. The former is spoken by about 45 million people, mainly in Ukraine and Russia. The latter, which also uses a form of the Cyrillic alphabet, is the tongue of about 8 million persons, most of whom live in Belarus. Because of its large number of speakers and its leading position in the former Soviet Union, Russian is one of the chief languages of the world. Used officially by the United Nations, it is important in scientific writing as well. The great literary works written in Russian also have made the language culturally significant.

Geographic distribution

Russian is primarily spoken in Russia and the other countries that were once constituent republics of the USSR. Until 1917, it was the sole official language of the Russian Empire. During the Soviet period, the policy toward the languages of the various other ethnic groups fluctuated in practice. Though each of the constituent republics had its own official language, the unifying role was reserved for Russian. Following the breakup of 1991, several of the newly independent states have strongly discour aged Russian. It has clung to its role as the language of common intercourse throughout the region. In the face of nationalism and shifting political alliances throughout the CIS, this status may decline in the future.

In the twentieth century, it was widely taught in the schools of the members of the old Warsaw Pact, and in other countries influenced by the USSR.

Russian is also spoken in Israel by 750,000 ethnic Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union (1999 census). The Israeli press and websites regularly publish material in Russian.

Sizable Russian-speaking communities (totaling in the hundreds of thousands) also exist in North America, and, to a lesser extent, in Western Europe. These have been fed by several waves of emigrants since the beginning of the twentieth century, each with its own flavor of language. The descendants of the Russian emigrés, however, have tended to lose the tongue of their ancestors by the third generation.

Official status

Russian is the official language of Russia, and an official language of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. It is one of the six official languages of the United Nations.


Despite levelling after 1900, especially in matters of vocabulary, a large number of dialects exists in Russia. Some linguists divide the dialects of the Russian language into two primary regional groupings, "Northern" and "Southern," with Moscow lying on the zone of transition between the two. Others divide the language into three groupings, Northern, Central and Southern, with Moscow lying in the Central region. Dialectology within Russia recognizes dozens of smaller-scale variants.

The dialects often show distinct and non-standard features of pronunciation and intonation, vocabulary, and grammar. Some of these are relics of ancient usage now completely discarded by the standard language.

Among the first to study Russian dialects was Lomonosov in the eighteenth century. In the nineteenth, Vladimir Dahl compiled the first dictionary that included dialectal vocabulary. Detailed mapping of Russian dialects began at the turn of the twentieth century. In modern times, the monumental Dialectological Atlas of the Russian Language, was published in 3 folio volumes 1986-1989, after four decades of preparatory work.

Pronunciation and Grammar

It is difficult to master Russian pronunciation because the accent is free; that is, it can be placed on any syllable. Thus, there being no set rules for stress, the accent of each word has to be learned separately. In fact, the position of the accent on a given word may vary as the word's case and number change when it is declined. Some words that are spelled alike are distinguished only by a different stress. In addition, no significant differentiation is made between long and short vowels. Grammatically, Russian is highly inflected. The noun has six cases (nominative, genitive, dative, accusative, instrumental, and locative), with an occasional seventh case, the vocative. There are three declension schemes and three genders, masculine, feminine, and neuter. Although the verb has only three tenses (past, present, and future), it is enabled by a feature called aspect to express numerous subtle shades of meaning, some of which cannot be rendered even in English. In addition the Russian verb has five moods and four voices.

Some Facts about Russia

Russia is the general name for the independent, federal republic in eastern Europe and western and northern Asia officially called the Russian Federation.

Official Language - ex-Soviet Union nations (214 million)

Common 2nd language of - West Europe and USA (6 million speakers)

Number of speakers - 220 million (approx)

Origin - Eastern Slavic language developed from migration of some Slavs eastward after 7th Century BC

Alphabet & Scripts - Cyrillic. Alphabet dating from 9th Century AD devised by 2 Greek missionaries (eastern Slavs largely adopted Greek orthodox religion)

Capital - Moscow

Other main cities - St Petersburg

Area (km²) - 17,075,200

Population - 146,001,176

Currency - Ruble

Sources: See S. K. Boyanus, A Manual of Russian Pronunciation (1935); J. Turkevich and L. B. Turkevich, Russian for the Scientist (1959); C. R. Townsend, Russian Word Formation (1968); G. O. Vinokur, Russian Language: A Brief History (tr. 1971); languagehelpers

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General Issues of English to Russian Translation

Tuesday, 2020-09-22, 12:07 PM
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