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Russian language

East Slavic language originating in European Russia

Top 10 Russian language related articles

русский язык[note 1]
Pronunciation[ˈruskʲɪj jɪˈzɨk] ( listen)
Native toRussia
RegionRussian-speaking world
Native speakers
150 million (2012)[1]
L2 speakers: 110 million (2012)[1]
Early form
Cyrillic (Russian alphabet)
Russian Braille
Official status
Official language in
Recognised minority
language in
Regulated byRussian Language Institute[25] at the Russian Academy of Sciences
Language codes
ISO 639-1ru
ISO 639-2rus
ISO 639-3rus
Linguasphere53-AAA-ea < 53-AAA-e
(varieties: 53-AAA-eaa to 53-AAA-eat)
Areas where Russian is the majority language (medium blue) or a minority language (light blue)
States where Russian is an official language (dark blue) or spoken as a first or second language by 30% or more of the population (teal)

Russian (русский язык, tr. russkiy yazyk) is an East Slavic language native to the Russians in Eastern Europe. It is an official language in Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and is used widely throughout the Caucasus, Central Asia, and to some extent in the Baltic states.[26][27] Russian belongs to the family of Indo-European languages, one of the four living members of the East Slavic languages alongside, and part of the larger Balto-Slavic branch.

Russian was the de facto language of the Soviet Union until its dissolution on 26 December 1991.[28] Russian is used in an official capacity or in public life in all the post-Soviet nation-states. Large numbers of Russian speakers are residents of other countries like Israel and Mongolia.

Russian is the largest native language in Europe, and the most geographically widespread language in Eurasia.[29] It is the most widely spoken of the Slavic languages, with over 258 million total speakers worldwide.[30] Russian is the seventh-most spoken language in the world by number of native speakers and the eighth-most spoken language in the world by total number of speakers.[31] The language is one of the six official languages of the United Nations. Russian is also the second-most widespread language on the Internet, after English.[32]

Russian is written using the Cyrillic script; it distinguishes between consonant phonemes with palatal secondary articulation and those without, the so-called soft and hard sounds. Almost every consonant has a hard or a soft counterpart, and the distinction is a prominent feature of the language. Another important aspect is the reduction of unstressed vowels. Stress, which is unpredictable, is not normally indicated orthographically[33] though an optional acute accent may be used to mark stress, such as to distinguish between homographic words, for example замо́к (zamók – a lock) and за́мок (zámok – a castle), or to indicate the proper pronunciation of uncommon words or names.

Russian language Intro articles: 29


Russian is an East Slavic language of the wider Indo-European family. It is a descendant of the language used in Kievan Rus', a loose conglomerate of East Slavic tribes from the late 9th to the mid 13th centuries. From the point of view of spoken language, its closest relatives are Ukrainian, Belarusian, and Rusyn,[34] the other three languages in the East Slavic branch. In many places in eastern and southern Ukraine and throughout Belarus, these languages are spoken interchangeably, and in certain areas traditional bilingualism resulted in language mixtures such as Surzhyk in eastern Ukraine and Trasianka in Belarus. An East Slavic Old Novgorod dialect, although it vanished during the 15th or 16th century, is sometimes considered to have played a significant role in the formation of modern Russian. Also Russian has notable lexical similarities with Bulgarian due to a common Church Slavonic influence on both languages, and because of later interaction in the 19th and 20th centuries, Bulgarian grammar differs markedly from Russian.[35] In the 19th century (in Russia until 1917), the language was often called "Great Russian" to distinguish it from Belarusian, then called "White Russian" and Ukrainian, then called "Little Russian".

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 Russified 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.

Over the course of centuries, the vocabulary and literary style of Russian have also been influenced by Western and Central European languages such as Greek, Latin, Polish, Dutch, German, French, Italian, and English,[36] and to a lesser extent the languages to the south and the east: Uralic, Turkic,[37][38] Persian,[39][40] Arabic, and Hebrew.[41]

According to the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California, Russian is classified as a level III language in terms of learning difficulty for native English speakers, requiring approximately 1,100 hours of immersion instruction to achieve intermediate fluency.[42] 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 and its critical role in U.S. world policy.

Russian language Classification articles: 36

Standard Russian

Feudal divisions and conflicts, and other obstacles to the exchange of goods and ideas that ancient Russian principalities have suffered from before and especially during the Mongol yoke, strengthened dialectical differences and for a while prevented the emergence of the standardized national language. The formation of the unified and centralized Russian state in 15th and 16th centuries and the gradual (re)emergence of a common political, economic, and cultural space have created the need for a common standard language. The initial impulse for the standardization came from the government bureaucracy for the lack of a reliable tool of communication in administrative, legal, and judicial affairs became an obvious practical problem. The earliest attempts at standardizing Russian were made based on the so-called Moscow official or chancery language, during the 15th to 17th centuries.[43] Since then the trend of language policy in Russia has been standardization in both the restricted sense of reducing dialectical barriers between ethnic Russians, and the broader sense of expanding the use of Russian alongside or in favour of other languages.[43]

The current standard form of Russian is generally regarded as the modern Russian literary language (современный русский литературный язык – "sovremenny russky literaturny yazyk"). It arose in the beginning of the 18th century with the modernization reforms of the Russian state under the rule of Peter the Great, and developed from the Moscow (Middle or Central Russian) dialect substratum under the influence of some of the previous century's Russian chancery language.

Mikhail Lomonosov first compiled a normalizing grammar book in 1755; in 1783 the Russian Academy's first explanatory Russian dictionary appeared. During the end of the 18th and 19th centuries, a period known as the "Golden Age", the grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation of the Russian language was stabilized and standardized, and it became the nationwide literary language; meanwhile, Russia's world-famous literature flourished.

Until the 20th century, the language's spoken form was the language of only the upper noble classes and urban population, as Russian peasants from the countryside continued to speak in their own dialects. By the mid-20th century, such dialects were forced out with the introduction of the compulsory education system that was established by the Soviet government. Despite the formalization of Standard Russian, some nonstandard dialectal features (such as fricative [ɣ] in Southern Russian dialects) are still observed in colloquial speech.

Russian language Standard Russian articles: 6

Geographic distribution

Competence of Russian in countries of the former Soviet Union (except Russia), 2004

In 2010, there were 259.8 million speakers of Russian in the world: in Russia – 137.5 million, in the CIS and Baltic countries – 93.7 million, in Eastern Europe – 12.9 million, Western Europe – 7.3 million, Asia – 2.7 million, Middle East and North Africa – 1.3 million, Sub-Saharan Africa – 0.1 million, Latin America – 0.2 million, U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand – 4.1 million speakers. Therefore, the Russian language is the seventh-largest in the world by number of speakers, after English, Mandarin, Hindi-Urdu, Spanish, French, Arabic and Portuguese.[44][45][46]

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, and in many former Soviet republics. Russian is still seen as an important language for children to learn in most of the former Soviet republics.[47]


Percentage of people in Ukraine with Russian as their native language according to 2001 census (in regions).

In Belarus, Russian is a second state language alongside Belarusian per the Constitution of Belarus.[48] 77% of the population was fluent in Russian in 2006, and 67% used it as the main language with family, friends, or at work.[49]

In Estonia, Russian is spoken by 29.6% of the population according to a 2011 estimate from the World Factbook,[50] and is officially considered a foreign language.[48] School education in the Russian language is a very contentious point in Estonian politics, but as of 2019 promises have been given that such schools will remain open in the near future.[51]

In Latvia, Russian is officially considered a foreign language.[48] 55% of the population was fluent in Russian in 2006, and 26% used it as the main language with family, friends, or at work.[49] On 18 February 2012, Latvia held a constitutional referendum on whether to adopt Russian as a second official language.[52] According to the Central Election Commission, 74.8% voted against, 24.9% voted for and the voter turnout was 71.1%.[53] Starting in 2019, instruction in Russian language will be gradually discontinued in private colleges and universities in Latvia, and in general instruction in Latvian public high schools.[54][55]

In Lithuania, Russian has no official or any legal status, but the use of the language has some presence in certain areas. A large part of the population, especially the older generations, can speak Russian as a foreign language.[56] However, English has replaced Russian as lingua franca in Lithuania and around 80% of young people speak English as the first foreign language.[57] In contrast to the other two Baltic states, Lithuania has a relatively small Russian-speaking minority (5.0% as of 2008).[58]

In Moldova, Russian is considered to be the language of inter-ethnic communication under a Soviet-era law.[48] 50% of the population was fluent in Russian in 2006, and 19% used it as the main language with family, friends, or at work.[49]

According to the 2010 census in Russia, Russian language skills were indicated by 138 million people (99.4% of the respondents), while according to the 2002 census – 142.6 million people (99.2% of the respondents).[59]

In Ukraine, Russian is seen as a language of inter-ethnic communication, and a minority language, under the 1996 Constitution of Ukraine.[48] According to estimates from Demoskop Weekly, in 2004 there were 14,400,000 native speakers of Russian in the country, and 29 million active speakers.[60] 65% of the population was fluent in Russian in 2006, and 38% used it as the main language with family, friends, or at work.[49] On 5 September 2017, Ukraine's Parliament passed a new education law which bars primary education to all students in any language but Ukrainian.[61] The law faced criticism from officials in Russia.[62][63]

In the 20th century, Russian was a mandatory language taught in the schools of the members of the old Warsaw Pact and in other countries that used to be satellites of the USSR. According to the Eurobarometer 2005 survey,[64] fluency in Russian remains fairly high (20–40%) in some countries, in particular those where the people speak a Slavic language and thereby have an edge in learning Russian (namely, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Bulgaria).

Significant Russian-speaking groups also exist in Western Europe. These have been fed by several waves of immigrants since the beginning of the 20th century, each with its own flavor of language. The United Kingdom, Germany, Finland, Spain, Portugal, France, Italy, Belgium, Greece, Norway, and Austria have significant Russian-speaking communities.


In Armenia, Russian has no official status, but it is recognized as a minority language under the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities.[48] 30% of the population was fluent in Russian in 2006, and 2% used it as the main language with family, friends, or at work.[49]

In Azerbaijan, Russian has no official status, but is a lingua franca of the country.[48] 26% of the population was fluent in Russian in 2006, and 5% used it as the main language with family, friends, or at work.[49]

In China, Russian has no official status, but it is spoken by the small Russian communities in the northeastern Heilongjiang province.

In Georgia, Russian has no official status, but it is recognized as a minority language under the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities.[48] Russian is the language of 9% of the population according to the World Factbook.[65] Ethnologue cites Russian as the country's de facto working language.[66]

In Kazakhstan, Russian is not a state language, but according to article 7 of the Constitution of Kazakhstan its usage enjoys equal status to that of the Kazakh language in state and local administration.[48] The 2009 census reported that 10,309,500 people, or 84.8% of the population aged 15 and above, could read and write well in Russian, and understand the spoken language.[67]

In Kyrgyzstan, Russian is a co-official language per article 5 of the Constitution of Kyrgyzstan.[48] The 2009 census states that 482,200 people speak Russian as a native language, or 8.99% of the population.[68] Additionally, 1,854,700 residents of Kyrgyzstan aged 15 and above fluently speak Russian as a second language, or 49.6% of the population in the age group.[68]

In Tajikistan, Russian is the language of inter-ethnic communication under the Constitution of Tajikistan and is permitted in official documentation.[48] 28% of the population was fluent in Russian in 2006, and 7% used it as the main language with family, friends or at work.[49] The World Factbook notes that Russian is widely used in government and business.[50]

In Turkmenistan, Russian lost its status as the official lingua franca in 1996.[48] Russian is spoken by 12% of the population according to an undated estimate from the World Factbook.[50] Nevertheless, the Turkmen state press and websites regularly publish material in Russian and there is the Russian-language newspaper Neytralny Turkmenistan, the television channel TV4, and there are schools like Joint Turkmen-Russian Secondary School.

In Uzbekistan, Russian is the language of inter-ethnic communication.[7][8][9] It has some official roles, being permitted in official documentation and is the lingua franca of the country and the language of the elite.[48][69] Russian is spoken by 14.2% of the population according to an undated estimate from the World Factbook.[50]

In 2005, Russian was the most widely taught foreign language in Mongolia,[70] and was compulsory in Year 7 onward as a second foreign language in 2006.[23]

Russian is also spoken in Israel. The number of native Russian-speaking Israelis numbers around 1.5 million Israelis,[71] 15% of the population.[72] The Israeli press and websites regularly publish material in Russian and there are Russian newspapers, television stations, schools, and social media outlets based in the country.[73] There is an Israeli TV channel mainly broadcasting in Russian with Israel Plus. See also Russian language in Israel.

Russian is also spoken as a second language by a small number of people in Afghanistan.[74]

In Vietnam, Russian has been added in the elementary curriculum along with Chinese and Japanese and were named as "first foreign languages" for Vietnamese students to learn, on equal footing with English.[75]

North America

The language was first introduced in North America when Russian explorers voyaged into Alaska and claimed it for Russia during the 18th century. Although most Russian colonists left after the United States bought the land in 1867, a handful stayed and preserved the Russian language in this region to this day, although only a few elderly speakers of this unique dialect are left.[76] In Nikolaevsk, Alaska Russian is more spoken than English. 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, Spokane, Toronto, Baltimore, Miami, Chicago, Denver, and Cleveland. 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 1960s). Only about 25% of them are ethnic Russians, however. Before the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the overwhelming majority of Russophones in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn in New York City were Russian-speaking Jews. Afterward, the influx from the countries of the former Soviet Union changed the statistics somewhat, with ethnic Russians and Ukrainians immigrating along with some more Russian Jews and Central Asians. According to the United States Census, in 2007 Russian was the primary language spoken in the homes of over 850,000 individuals living in the United States.[77]

In the second half of the 20th century, Russian was the most popular foreign language in Cuba. Besides being taught at universities and schools, there were also educational programs on the radio and TV. However, starting January 2019 the Cuban television opens an educational program devoted to the Russian language. This project is fully entitled to be called an anticipated one, because the Russian – Cuban collaboration is a strategic direction actively developed as more and more young people are interested in the Russian language, the Education navigator informs. The Havana State University has started a bachelor's specialization called the Russian Language and the Second Foreign Language. There is also the Russian language department, where students can scrutinize e-books without internet connection. Additional courses on the Russian language are open at two schools of the Cuban capital city.[78] An estimated 200,000 people speak the Russian language in Cuba, on the account that more than 23,000 Cubans who took higher studies in the former Soviet Union and later in Russia, and another important group of people who studied at military schools and technologists, plus the nearly 2,000 Russians residing in Cuba and their descendants.

Russian language Geographic distribution articles: 78

As an international language

Russian is one of the official languages (or has similar status and interpretation must be provided into Russian) of the following:

The Russian language is also one of two official languages aboard the International Space StationNASA astronauts who serve alongside Russian cosmonauts usually take Russian language courses. This practice goes back to the Apollo-Soyuz mission, which first flew in 1975.

In March 2013, it was announced that Russian is now the second-most used language on the Internet after English. People use the Russian language on 5.9% of all websites, slightly ahead of German and far behind English (54.7%). Russian is used not only on 89.8% of .ru sites, but also on 88.7% of sites with the former Soviet Union domain .su. The websites of former Soviet Union nations also use high levels of Russian: 79.0% in Ukraine, 86.9% in Belarus, 84.0% in Kazakhstan, 79.6% in Uzbekistan, 75.9% in Kyrgyzstan and 81.8% in Tajikistan. However, Russian is the sixth-most used language on the top 1,000 sites, behind English, Chinese, French, German, and Japanese.[79]

Russian language As an international language articles: 30


Russian dialects in 1915
  12. Northern Russian dialect with Belarusian influences
  13. Sloboda and Steppe dialects of Ukrainian
  14. Steppe dialect of Ukrainian with Russian influences

Russian is a rather homogeneous language, in dialectal variation, due to the early political centralization under Moscow's rule, compulsory education, mass migration from rural to urban areas in the 20th century, and other factors. The standard language is used in written and spoken form almost everywhere in the country, from Kaliningrad and Saint Petersburg in the West to Vladivostok and Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky in the East, the enormous distance between notwithstanding.

Despite leveling after 1900, especially in matters of vocabulary and phonetics, a number of dialects still exist in Russia. Some linguists divide the dialects of Russian 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 (or Middle), and Southern, with Moscow lying in the Central region.[80][81] All dialects are also divided into two main chronological categories: the dialects of primary formation (the territory of Muscovy roughly consists of the modern Central and Northwestern Federal districts) and secondary formation (other territories where Russian was brought by migrants from primary formation territories or adopted by the local population). 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 /o/ clearly, a phenomenon called okanye (оканье).[81] Besides the absence of vowel reduction, some dialects have high or diphthongal /e⁓i̯ɛ/ in place of Proto-Slavic *ě and /o⁓u̯ɔ/ in stressed closed syllables (as in Ukrainian) instead of Standard Russian /e/ and /o/.[81] Another Northern dialectal morphological feature is a post-posed definite article -to, -ta, -te similarly to that existing in Bulgarian and Macedonian.[81]

In the Southern Russian dialects, instances of unstressed /e/ and /a/ following palatalized consonants and preceding a stressed syllable are not reduced to [ɪ] (as occurs in the Moscow dialect), being instead pronounced [a] in such positions (e.g. несли is pronounced [nʲaˈslʲi], not [nʲɪsˈlʲi]) – this is called yakanye (яканье).[81][82] Consonants include a fricative /ɣ/, a semivowel /w⁓u̯/ and /x⁓xv⁓xw/, whereas the Standard and Northern dialects have the consonants /ɡ/, /v/, and final /l/ and /f/, respectively.[81] The morphology features a palatalized final /tʲ/ in 3rd person forms of verbs (this is unpalatalized in the Standard and Northern dialects).[81][83] Some of these features such as akanye and yakanye, a debuccalized or lenited /ɡ/, a semivowel /w⁓u̯/ and palatalized final /tʲ/ in 3rd person forms of verbs are also present in modern Belarusian and some dialects of Ukrainian (Eastern Polesian), indicating a linguistic continuum.

The city of Veliky Novgorod has historically displayed a feature called chokanye or tsokanye (чоканье or цоканье), in which /tɕ/ and /ts/ were switched or merged. So, цапля (tsaplya, 'heron') has been recorded as чапля (chaplya). Also, the second palatalization of velars did not occur there, so the so-called ě² (from the Proto-Slavic diphthong *ai) did not cause /k, ɡ, x/ to shift to /ts, dz, s/; therefore, where Standard Russian has цепь ('chain'), the form кепь [kʲepʲ] is attested in earlier texts.

Among the first to study Russian dialects was Lomonosov in the 18th century. In the 19th, Vladimir Dal compiled the first dictionary that included dialectal vocabulary. Detailed mapping of Russian dialects began at the turn of the 20th century. In modern times, the monumental Dialectological Atlas of the Russian Language (Диалектологический атлас русского языкаDialektologichesky atlas russkogo yazyka), was published in three folio volumes 1986–1989, after four decades of preparatory work.

Russian language Dialects articles: 26

Comparison with other Slavic languages

There is a high degree of mutual intelligibility between Russian, Belarusian and Ukrainian, and a moderate degree of it across all modern Slavic languages, at least at the conversational level.[84]

Overview of "Mutual intelligibility" article

Derived languages


A page from Azbuka (Alphabet book), the first East Slavic printed textbook. Printed by Ivan Fyodorov in 1574 in Lviv. This page features the Cyrillic script.

Russian is written using a Cyrillic 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:


Older letters of the Russian alphabet include ⟨ѣ⟩, which merged to ⟨е⟩ (/je/ or /ʲe/); ⟨і⟩ and ⟨ѵ⟩, which both merged to ⟨и⟩ (/i/); ⟨ѳ⟩, which merged to ⟨ф⟩ (/f/); ⟨ѫ⟩, which merged to ⟨у⟩ (/u/); ⟨ѭ⟩, which merged to ⟨ю⟩ (/ju/ or /ʲu/); and ⟨ѧ⟩ and ⟨ѩ⟩, which later were graphically reshaped into ⟨я⟩ and merged phonetically to /ja/ or /ʲa/. While these older letters have been abandoned at one time or another, they may be used in this and related articles. The yersъ⟩ and ⟨ь⟩ originally indicated the pronunciation of ultra-short or reduced /ŭ/, /ĭ/.


Because of many technical restrictions in computing and also because of the unavailability of Cyrillic keyboards abroad, Russian is often transliterated using the Latin alphabet. For example, мороз ('frost') is transliterated moroz, and мышь ('mouse'), mysh or myš'. Once commonly used by the majority of those living outside Russia, transliteration is being used less frequently by Russian-speaking typists in favor of the extension of Unicode character encoding, which fully incorporates the Russian alphabet. Free programs leveraging this Unicode extension are available which allow users to type Russian characters, even on Western 'QWERTY' keyboards.[85]


The Russian alphabet has many systems of character encoding. KOI8-R was designed by the Soviet government and was intended to serve as the standard encoding. This encoding was and still is widely used in UNIX-like operating systems. Nevertheless, the spread of MS-DOS and OS/2 (IBM866), traditional Macintosh (ISO/IEC 8859-5) and Microsoft Windows (CP1251) meant the proliferation of many different encodings as de facto standards, with Windows-1251 becoming a