|Nativename:||Russian: Русский язык|
|States:||Russia, minorities in countries of the former Soviet Union, San Javier (Uruguay), Tulcea County (Romania), emigrant communities around the world, notably Israel.|
|Speakers:||primary language: about 164 million |
secondary language: 114 million (2006)
total: 278 million
|Script:||Cyrillic (Russian variant)|
(Gagauzia and Transnistria)
(7 rural communes in Tulcea and Constanţa counties)
Crimea (Ukraine) (de facto)
Abkhazia (claimed by Georgia) (co-official)
South Ossetia (claimed by Georgia) (co-official)
|Agency:||Russian Language Institute  at the Russian Academy of Sciences|
Russian (Russian: русский язык, transliteration: ,) is the most geographically widespread language of Eurasia, the most widely spoken of the Slavic languages, and the largest native language in Europe. Russian belongs to the family of Indo-European languages and is one of three (or, according to some scholars, four) living members of the East Slavic languages, the others being Belarusian and Ukrainian (and possibly Rusyn, often considered a dialect of Ukrainian).
Written examples of Old East Slavonic are attested from the 10th century onwards. Today Russian is widely used outside Russia. Over a quarter of the world's scientific literature is published in Russian. Russian is also a necessary accessory of world communications systems (broadcasts, air- and space communication, etc). Due to the status of the Soviet Union as a superpower, Russian had great political importance in the 20th century. Hence, the language is one of the six official languages of the United Nations.
Russian distinguishes between consonant phonemes with palatal secondary articulation and those without, the so-called soft and hard sounds. This distinction is found between pairs of almost all consonants and is one of the most distinguishing features of the language. Another important aspect is the reduction of unstressed vowels, which is somewhat similar to that of English. Stress, which is unpredictable, is not normally indicated orthographically though, according to the Russian Language Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, an optional acute accent (Russian: знак ударения) may, and sometimes should, be used to mark stress (such as to distinguish between otherwise identical words or to indicate the proper pronunciation of uncommon words or names).
Russian is a Slavic language in the Indo-European family. From the point of view of the spoken language, its closest relatives are Ukrainian and Belarusian, the other two national languages in the East Slavic group. In many places in eastern Ukraine and Belarus, these languages are spoken interchangeably, and in certain areas traditional bilingualism resulted in language mixture, e.g. Surzhyk in eastern Ukraine and Trasianka in Belarus. An East Slavic Old Novgorod dialect, although vanished during the fifteenth or sixteenth century, is sometimes considered to have played a significant role in formation of the modern Russian language.
The vocabulary (mainly abstract and literary words), principles of word formations, and, to some extent, inflections and literary style of Russian have been also influenced by Church Slavonic, a developed and partly adopted form of the South Slavic Old Church Slavonic language used by the Russian Orthodox Church. However, the East Slavic forms have tended to be used exclusively in the various dialects that are experiencing a rapid decline. In some cases, both the East Slavic and the Church Slavonic forms are in use, with many different meanings. For details, see Russian phonology and History of the Russian language.
Russian phonology and syntax (especially in northern dialects) have also been influenced to some extent by the numerous Finnic languages of the Finno-Ugric subfamily: Merya, Moksha, Muromian, the language of the Meshchera, Veps, et cetera. These languages, some of them now extinct, used to be spoken in the center and in the north of what is now the European part of Russia. They came in contact with Eastern Slavic as far back as the early Middle Ages and eventually served as substratum for the modern Russian language. The Russian dialects spoken north, north-east and north-west of Moscow have a considerable number of words of Finno-Ugric origin.  Over the course of centuries, the vocabulary and literary style of Russian have also been influenced by Western/Central European languages such as Polish, Latin, Dutch, German, French, and English.
According to the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California, Russian language is classified as a level III language in terms of learning difficulty for native English speakers, requiring approximately 780 hours of immersion instruction to achieve intermediate fluency. It is also regarded by the United States Intelligence Community as a "hard target" language, due to both its difficulty to master for English speakers as well as due to its critical role in American world policy.
The Russian language is primarily spoken in Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus, and, to a lesser extent, the other countries that were once constituent republics of the USSR. 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 and superior status was reserved for Russian. Following the break-up of 1991, several of the newly independent states have encouraged their native languages, which has partly reversed the privileged status of Russian, though its role as the language of post-Soviet national intercourse throughout the region has continued.
In Latvia its official recognition and legality in the classroom have been a topic of considerable debate in a country where more than one-third of the population is Russian-speaking, see Russians in Latvia. Similarly, in Estonia, Russophones constitute 25.6% of the country's current population and 58.6% of the native Estonian population is also able to speak Russian. In all, 67.8% of Estonia's population can speak Russian.
In Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, Russian remains a co-official language with Kazakh and Kyrgyz respectively. Large Russian-speaking communities still exist in northern Kazakhstan, and ethnic Russians comprise 25.6 % of Kazakhstan's population.
A smaller Russian-speaking minority in Lithuania has represented less than one-tenth of the country's overall population. Nevertheless, more than half of the population of the Baltic states are able to hold a conversation in Russian and almost all have at least some familiarity with the most basic spoken and written phrases. As the Grand Duchy of Finland was part of the Russian Empire from 1809 to 1918, and a number Russian speakers have remained in Finland. There are 33,400 Russian speakers in Finland, amounting to 0.6% of the population. 5000 (0.1%) of them are late 19th century and 20th century immigrants, and the rest are recent immigrants, who have arrived in the 1990s and later.
In the twentieth century, Russian was widely taught in the schools of the members of the old Warsaw Pact and in other countries that used to be allies of the USSR. In particular, these countries include Poland, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Albania and Cuba. However, younger generations are usually not fluent in it, because Russian is no longer mandatory in the school system. It is currently the most widely-taught foreign language in Mongolia and has been compulsory in Year 7 onward as a second foreign language since 2006. 
Sizable Russian-speaking communities also exist in North America, especially in large urban centers of the U.S. and Canada such as New York City, Philadelphia, Boston, Los Angeles, Nashville, San Francisco, Seattle, Toronto, Baltimore, Miami, Chicago, Denver and the Cleveland suburb of Richmond Heights. In the former two, Russian-speaking groups total over half a million. In a number of locations they issue their own newspapers, and live in ethnic enclaves (especially the generation of immigrants who started arriving in the early sixties). Only about a quarter of them are ethnic Russians, however. Before the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the overwhelming majority of Russophones in North America were Russian-speaking Jews. Afterwards the influx from the countries of the former Soviet Union changed the statistics somewhat. According to the United States 2000 Census, Russian is the primary language spoken in the homes of over 700,000 individuals living in the United States.
Significant Russian-speaking groups also exist in Western Europe. These have been fed by several waves of immigrants since the beginning of the twentieth century, each with its own flavor of language. Germany, the United Kingdom, Spain, France, Italy, Belgium, Greece, Brazil, Norway, Austria and Turkey have significant Russian-speaking communities totaling 3 million people. Australian cities Melbourne and Sydney also have Russian speaking populations, with the most Russians living in south-east Melbourne, particularly the suburbs of Carnegie and Caulfield.
Two thirds of them are actually Russian-speaking descendants of Germans, Greeks, Jews, Azerbaijanis, Armenians or Ukrainians, who either repatriated after the USSR collapsed or are just looking for temporary employment.
Recent estimates of the total number of speakers of Russian:
|Source||Native speakers||Native rank||Total speakers||Total rank|
|G. Weber, "Top Languages",|
3: 12–18, 1997, ISSN 1369-9733
|World Almanac (1999)||145,000,000||8 (2005)||275,000,000||5|
|SIL (2000 WCD)||145,000,000||8||255,000,000||5–6 (tied with Arabic)|
|CIA World Factbook (2005)||160,000,000||8|
Russian is the official language of Russia. It is also an official language of Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, an unofficial but widely spoken language in Ukraine and the de facto official language of the unrecognized country of Transnistria and partially recognized countries of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Russian is one of the six official languages of the United Nations. Education in Russian is still a popular choice for both Russian as a second language (RSL) and native speakers in Russia as well as many of the former Soviet republics.
97% of the public school students of Russia, 75% in Belarus, 41% in Kazakhstan, 25% in Ukraine, 23% in Kyrgyzstan, 21% in Moldova, 7% in Azerbaijan, 5% in Georgia and 2% in Armenia and Tajikistan receive their education only or mostly in Russian. However, the corresponding percentage of ethnic Russians is 78% in Russia, 10% in Belarus, 26% in Kazakhstan, 17% in Ukraine, 9% in Kyrgyzstan, 6% in Moldova, 2% in Azerbaijan, 1.5% in Georgia and less than 1% in both Armenia and Tajikistan.
Russian-language schooling is also available in Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania, but due to recent education reforms (whereby the government pays a substantial sum to a school to teach in the national language), the number of subjects taught in Russian has been reduced at the high school level. The language has a co-official status alongside Romanian in the autonomies of Gagauzia and Transnistria in Moldova, and in seven Romanian communes in Tulcea and Constanţa counties. In these localities, Russian-speaking Lipovans, who are a recognized ethnic minority, make up more than 20% of the population. Thus, according to Romania's minority rights law, education, signage, and access to public administration and the justice system are provided in Russian alongside Romanian. In the Autonomous Republic of Crimea in Ukraine, Russian is an officially recognized language alongside with Crimean Tatar, but in reality, is the only language used by the government, thus being a de facto official language.
Despite leveling after 1900, especially in matters of vocabulary, a number of dialects exist 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.
The northern Russian dialects and those spoken along the Volga River typically pronounce unstressed clearly (the phenomenon called okanye/оканье). East of Moscow, particularly in Ryazan Region, unstressed and following palatalized consonants and preceding a stressed syllable are not reduced to (like in the Moscow dialect), being instead pronounced as in such positions (e.g. несли is pronounced as, not as) - this is called yakanye/ яканье; many southern dialects have a palatalized final in 3rd person forms of verbs (this is unpalatalized in the standard dialect) and a fricative where the standard dialect has . However, in certain areas south of Moscow, e.g. in and around Tula, is pronounced as in the Moscow and northern dialects unless it precedes a voiceless plosive or a pause. In this position is lenited and devoiced to the fricative, e.g. друг (in Moscow's dialect, only Бог, лёгкий, мягкий and some derivatives follow this rule). Some of these features (e.g. a debuccalized or lenited and palatalized final in 3rd person forms of verbs) are also present in modern Ukrainian, indicating either a linguistic continuum or strong influence one way or the other.
The city of Veliky Novgorod has historically displayed a feature called chokanye/tsokanye (чоканье/цоканье), where and were confused. So, цапля ("heron") has been recorded as 'чапля'. Also, the second palatalization of velars did not occur there, so the so-called ě² (from the Proto-Slavonic diphthong *ai) did not cause to shift to ; therefore where Standard Russian has цепь ("chain"), the form кепь is attested in earlier texts.
Among the first to study Russian dialects was Lomonosov in the eighteenth century. In the nineteenth, Vladimir Dal 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 (Диалектологический атлас русского языка), was published in three folio volumes 1986–1989, after four decades of preparatory work.
The standard language is based on (but not identical to) the Moscow dialect.
See main article: Russian alphabet. Russian is written using a modified version of the Cyrillic (кириллица) alphabet. The Russian alphabet consists of 33 letters. The following table gives their upper case forms, along with IPA values for each letter's typical sound:
See main article: Russian orthography.
Russian spelling is reasonably phonemic in practice. It is in fact a balance among phonemics, morphology, etymology, and grammar; and, like that of most living languages, has its share of inconsistencies and controversial points. A number of rigid spelling rules introduced between the 1880s and 1910s have been responsible for the latter whilst trying to eliminate the former.
The current spelling follows the major reform of 1918, and the final codification of 1956. An update proposed in the late 1990s has met a hostile reception, and has not been formally adopted.
The punctuation, originally based on Byzantine Greek, was in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries reformulated on the French and German models.
According to the Institute of Russian Language of the Russian Academy of Sciences, an optional acute accent (Russian: знак ударения) may, and sometimes should, be used to mark stress. For example, it is used to distinguish between otherwise identical words, especially when context doesn't make it obvious: замо́к/за́мок ('lock'/'castle'), сто́ящий/стоя́щий ('worthwhile'/'standing'), чудно́/чу́дно ('this is odd'/'this is marvelous'), молоде́ц/мо́лодец ('attaboy'/'fine young man'), узна́ю/узнаю́ ('I shall learn it'/'I am learning it'), отреза́ть/отре́зать ('to cut'/'to have cut'); to indicate the proper pronunciation of uncommon words, especially personal and family names (афе́ра, гу́ру, Гарси́а, Оле́ша, Фе́рми), and to express the stressed word in the sentence (Ты́ съел печенье?/Ты съе́л печенье?/Ты съел пече́нье? - 'Was it you who ate the cookie?'/'Did you eat the cookie?'/'Was the cookie your meal?'). Acute accents are mandatory in lexical dictionaries and books intended to be used either by children or foreign readers.
See main article: Russian phonology.
The phonological system of Russian is inherited from Common Slavonic, but underwent considerable modification in the early historical period, before being largely settled by about 1400.
The language possesses five vowels, which are written with different letters depending on whether or not the preceding consonant is palatalized. The consonants typically come in plain vs. palatalized pairs, which are traditionally called hard and soft. (The hard consonants are often velarized, especially before back vowels, although in some dialects the velarization is limited to hard). The standard language, based on the Moscow dialect, possesses heavy stress and moderate variation in pitch. Stressed vowels are somewhat lengthened, while unstressed vowels tend to be reduced to near-close vowels or an unclear schwa. (See also: vowel reduction in Russian.)
The Russian syllable structure can be quite complex with both initial and final consonant clusters of up to 4 consecutive sounds. Using a formula with V standing for the nucleus (vowel) and C for each consonant the structure can be described as follows:
Clusters of four consonants are not very common, however, especially within a morpheme.
|Dental & |
|rowspan=2 style="font-size: 90%; text-align: left;"||Nasal||hard|
|rowspan=2 style="font-size: 90%; text-align: left;"||Plosive||hard|
|rowspan=2 style="font-size: 90%; text-align: left;"||Affricate||hard|
|rowspan=2 style="font-size: 90%; text-align: left;"||Fricative||hard|
|rowspan=2 style="font-size: 90%; text-align: left;"||Trill||hard|
|rowspan=2 style="font-size: 90%; text-align: left;"||Approximant||hard|
Russian is notable for its distinction based on palatalization of most of the consonants. While do have palatalized allophones, only might be considered a phoneme, though it is marginal and generally not considered distinctive (the only native minimal pair which argues for to be a separate phoneme is "это ткёт"/"этот кот"). Palatalization means that the center of the tongue is raised during and after the articulation of the consonant. In the case of, the tongue is raised enough to produce slight frication (affricate sounds). These sounds: are dental, that is pronounced with the tip of the tongue against the teeth rather than against the alveolar ridge.
See main article: Russian grammar.
Russian grammar encompasses
The spoken language has been influenced by the literary one, but continues to preserve characteristic forms. The dialects show various non-standard grammatical features, some of which are archaisms or descendants of old forms since discarded by the literary language.
See History of the Russian language for an account of the successive foreign influences on the Russian language.
The total number of words in Russian is difficult to reckon because of the ability to agglutinate and create manifold compounds, diminutives, etc. (see Word Formation under Russian grammar).
The number of listed words or entries in some of the major dictionaries published during the last two centuries, and the total vocabulary of Pushkin (who is credited with greatly augmenting and codifying literary Russian), are as follows:
|Academic dictionary, I Ed.||1789–1794||43,257||Russian and Church Slavonic with some Old Russian vocabulary|
|Academic dictionary, II Ed||1806–1822||51,388||Russian and Church Slavonic with some Old Russian vocabulary|
|Academic dictionary, III Ed.||1847||114,749||Russian and Church Slavonic with Old Russian vocabulary|
|Dahl's dictionary||1880–1882||195,844||44,000 entries lexically grouped; attempt to catalogue the full vernacular language, includes some properly Ukrainian and Belarusian words|
|Ushakov's dictionary||1934–1940||85,289||Current language with some archaisms|
|Academic dictionary||1950–1965||120,480||full dictionary of the "Modern language"|
|Ozhegov's dictionary||1950s–1960s||61,458||More or less then-current language|
|Lopatin's dictionary||2000||c.160,000||Orthographic, current language|
(As a historical aside, Dahl was, in the second half of the nineteenth century, still insisting that the proper spelling of the adjective русский, which was at that time applied uniformly to all the Orthodox Eastern Slavic subjects of the Empire, as well as to its one official language, be spelled <руский> with one s, in accordance with ancient tradition and what he termed the "spirit of the language". He was contradicted by the philologist Grot, who distinctly heard the s lengthened or doubled).
See main article: Russian proverbs and Russian sayings. The Russian language is replete with many hundreds of proverbs (пословица) and sayings (поговоркa). These were already tabulated by the seventeenth century, and collected and studied in the nineteenth and twentieth, with the folk-tales being an especially fertile source.
See main article: History of the Russian language.
See also: Reforms of Russian orthography.
The history of Russian language may be divided into the following periods.
Judging by the historical records, by approximately 1000 AD the predominant ethnic group over much of modern European Russia, Ukraine and Belarus was the Eastern branch of the Slavs, speaking a closely related group of dialects. The political unification of this region into Kievan Rus' in about 880, from which modern Russia, Ukraine and Belarus trace their origins, established Old East Slavic as a literary and commercial language. It was soon followed by the adoption of Christianity in 988 and the introduction of the South Slavic Old Church Slavonic as the liturgical and official language. Borrowings and calques from Byzantine Greek began to enter the Old East Slavic and spoken dialects at this time, which in their turn modified the Old Church Slavonic as well.
Dialectal differentiation accelerated after the breakup of Kievan Rus' in approximately 1100. On the territories of modern Belarus and Ukraine emerged Ruthenian and in modern Russia medieval Russian. They definitely became distinct in 13th century by the time of division of that land between the Grand Duchy of Lithuania on the west and independent Novgorod Feudal Republic plus small duchies which were vassals of the Tatars on the east.
The official language in Moscow and Novgorod, and later, in the growing Moscow Rus', was Church Slavonic which evolved from Old Church Slavonic and remained the literary language until the Petrine age, when its usage shrank drastically to biblical and liturgical texts. Russian developed under a strong influence of the Church Slavonic until the close of the seventeenth century; the influence reversed afterwards leading to corruption of liturgical texts.
The political reforms of Peter the Great (Пётр Вели́кий, Pyotr Velikiy) were accompanied by a reform of the alphabet, and achieved their goal of secularization and Westernization. Blocks of specialized vocabulary were adopted from the languages of Western Europe. By 1800, a significant portion of the gentry spoke French, less often German, on an everyday basis. Many Russian novels of the 19th century, e.g. Lev Tolstoy's (Лев Толсто́й) War and Peace, contain entire paragraphs and even pages in French with no translation given, with an assumption that educated readers won't need one.
The modern literary language is usually considered to date from the time of Aleksandr Pushkin (Алекса́ндр Пу́шкин) in the first third of the nineteenth century. Pushkin revolutionized Russian literature by rejecting archaic grammar and vocabulary (so called "высокий стиль" — "high style") in favor of grammar and vocabulary found in the spoken language of the time. Even modern readers of younger age may only experience slight difficulties understanding some words in Pushkin’s texts, since only few words used by Pushkin became archaic or changed meaning. On the other hand, many expressions used by Russian writers of the early 19th century, in particular Pushkin, Mikhail Lermontov (Михаи́л Ле́рмонтов), Nikolai Gogol (Никола́й Го́голь), Alexandr Griboyedov (Алекса́ндр Грибое́дов), became proverbs or sayings which can be frequently found even in the modern Russian colloquial speech.
Зи́мний ве́чер [Zímnij véčer]
Бу́ря мгло́ю не́бо кро́ет, [Búrä mglóju nébo krójet]
Ви́хри сне́жные крутя́; [Víkhri snéžnyje krutä́]
То, как зверь, она́ заво́ет, [To kak zverj oná zavójet]
То запла́чет, как дитя́, [To zapláčet, kak ditä́]
То по кро́вле обветша́лой [To po króvle obvetšáloj]
Вдруг соло́мой зашуми́т, [Vdrug solómoj zašumít]
То, как пу́тник запозда́лый, [To kak pútnik zapozdályj]
К нам в око́шко застучи́т. [K nam v okóško zastučít]
The political upheavals of the early twentieth century and the wholesale changes of political ideology gave written Russian its modern appearance after the spelling reform of 1918. Political circumstances and Soviet accomplishments in military, scientific and technological matters (especially cosmonautics), gave Russian a worldwide prestige, especially during the middle third of the twentieth century.
The following serve as references for both this article and the related articles listed below that describe the Russian language: