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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)


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)



Other main cities

St Petersburg

Area (km²)






About the language

Russian belongs to the group of Indo-European languages, and is therefore related to Sanskrit, Greek, Latin, as well as the modern Germanic, Romance, and Celtic languages, including English, French, and Gaelic. Written examples are extant from the tenth century C.E. onwards.

While it preserves much of its ancient synthetic-inflexional structure and a Common Slavonic word base, modern Russian shares a large stock of the international vocabulary for politics, science, and technology. A language of political importance in the twentieth century, it is one of the official languages of the United Nations.


Russian is a Slavic language, in the Indo-European family. Its closest relatives are Ukrainian and Belarusian, the other two national languages in the East Slavic group.

The principles of word-formation, literary style, and, to some extent, inflexions and basic vocabulary, of Russian have been influenced by Church Slavonic, a developed and partly adopted form of the South Slavic Old Church Slavonic language used by the Russian Orthodox Church.

The vocabulary and literary style of Russian has been greatly influenced by Greek, Latin, French, German, and English.

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 (totalling 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 flavour 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.

Derived languages

Russenorsk is a pidgin language combining Russian and Norwegian. Russian sign language allows deaf people to communicate.

History of the Language:

With the collapse of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics or Soviet Union as it was more often called in 1991, fourteen independent Republics were formed. Russia, or the Russian Federation to give it its full title, covers the majority of the land mass of the former USSR.

All the Republics retain Russian as one of their official languages, alongside the local languages.

The sixth century AD saw the migration of the Slav people from old Poland. The Slavs expanded westwards to the river Elbe and southwards to the Adriatic Sea. Here they gradually occupied much of the Balkans. By the tenth century, three Slavonic language groups had emerged, Western, Southern and Eastern.

Eastern Slavonic gave rise to the modern languages known as Ukrainian, Belorussian and Russian. The Slavonic languages retained many features in common especially in grammatical structure, therefore the separate groups were able to use one common written language. This language was known as Old Slavonic or Old Church Slavonic (the language was used in its written form only).

In the ninth century, two missionaries – Constantine (who on his deathbed took the monastic name Cyril) and Methodius – were required to write down the scriptures in Old Church Slavonic and to preach Christianity to the people of Moravia. Before they set out for Moravia, Constantine invented a Slavonic (now known as the Cyrillic) alphabet. The results of their work contributed greatly to the cultural history of the whole Slav world.

In Russia, Old Church Slavonic remained the written language until the middle of the eighteenth century. By this time, the need was felt for a written language which was closer to the educated spoken norm. One Russian polymath M V Lomonosov asserted that there should be three styles;

1) High Style – Church Slavonic, to be used for poetics and religion

2) Middle Style – to be used for lyric poetry, prose and science

3) Low Style – to be used in personal correspondence and in low comedy.

The Middle Style, which combined features of both East Slavonic and Church Slavonic is the style which came to form the basis of the modern standard language. In the mid 1800’s, Standard Russian based on the Moscow dialect became the official language.

Today Russian is the most important of the Slavic languages and is now one of the major languages of the world. It is also one of the official languages of the United Nations. In a recent census, 153 million people listed Russian as their mother tongue and another 61 million indicated they spoke it fluently as a second language.

The number of Russian speakers world-wide could be in the region of 220 million. As a result, 10 per cent of the world’s population communicate in Slavonic and of these 60 per cent speak Russian.

Russian is written in the Cyrillic alphabet dating from around the ninth century. Although at first glance it appears quite different, a number of letters are written and pronounced as in English (A, K, M, O, and T). Whereas other letters are written in the Roman alphabet but are pronounced differently, i.e. Y/y is pronounced ‘oo’ as in food and X/x is pronounced ‘ch’ as in the Scottish word ‘loch’.

Already you are able to pronounce ‘myxa’ meaning fly! Furthermore, Russian has no word for ‘the’, ‘a’ or ‘an’ so the word myxa can mean the fly, a fly or just fly.

The Russian language allows a fascinating way of addressing people to whom you have just been introduced. The person’s first name is combined with a modified form of his or her father’s first name.

If a man’s first name is Ivan and his father’s first name is also Ivan, you would call him Ivan Ivanovich (Ivan, son of Ivan), and if Ivan had a sister, she would be called Natasha Ivanovna, (Natasha, daughter of Ivan). The -ovich and -ovna suffixes are always appended to the father’s first name and not to the mother’s.

History of Russia:

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

In geographical extent Russia is the largest country in the world, spanning two continents and containing more than 100 nationalities.

Early Russian history was dominated by the Slavs until the Mongol invasions of the 13th century. Whilst the invasions themselves were unsuccessful, the aftermath moved control to the Tartars and began a period of economic and population reshaping that saw power move to Moscow.

Following the fall of Constantinople in 1453, Moscow became the "third Rome" and it's new rulers first began to style themselves "Tsar" (from Caesar).

After periods of civil strife and even anarchy, expansion followed under the Romanovs and first Peter and then Catherine the Great.

The growth of the Russian Empire was, however, increasingly punctuated by the growing discontent of the general populace - who bore the brunt of a constant round of foreign wars or invasions coupled with little or no social reform.

This finally came to a head in the Revolution of 1905 and the Bolshevik takeover under Lenin that followed in 1917.

From 1922 until December 25, 1991, the Russian Federation formed the dominating part of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR; or Soviet Union).

The end of the USSR saw the beginning of an ongoing period of dramatic change - economically, socially and militarily.

Most recently, President Putin (who took over following Boris Yeltsin's resignation on December 31st 1999) has strengthened ties with the USA whilst also dealing with continuing problems from break-away republics.

Russia is a member of the UN and is one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. It is also a founding member of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), the voluntary association of former Soviet republics that was formed on the dissolution of the USSR.