12 Interesting Facts About the Russian Language

By OptiLingo

What Makes Russian Such a Diverse and Interesting Language?

Russian is a unique language with a diverse origin that sets it apart from the Indo-European languages familiar to most Westerners. However, this rich language has still managed to work its way into the lives of many around the world. Understanding this incredible language opens learners up to a world rich in philosophy and art.

However, it’s also a very challenging language, one that may leave you wondering how to learn Russian grammar for beginners. However, before you start your foreign language program, you should take a look at what makes this language amazing. The more you learn about the language before you begin, the easier it’ll be for you to master it. Here are 12 interesting facts about the Russian language.

Cyrillic Alphabet

Perhaps the most distinguishing feature of the Russian language is its alphabet. While the Latin Alphabet heavily influences Western European languages, the Russian, or the Cyrillic Alphabet, is Slavic based with strong Greek influences, though Latin has played its role in its formation as well.

St. Cyril, a Byzantine missionary who lived during the 9th century, created the Cyrillic alphabet. Its purpose was to translate religious texts into Slavic. Much later on, Peter the Great pushed to Westernize the Russian alphabet slightly during his reign. He also altered the language to make it easier to learn, removing unused words and modernizing some of the letters based off the Latin alphabet.

The modern alphabet has 33 letters. There are 21 consonants and 10 vowels. The remaining two letters do not have a sound. And similarly to Latin-based languages, there are both capital and lower case letters.

The installation of the Soviet Union spread Russian and made it the widespread language it is today. After the Soviet Union came to power, all of its territories learned Modern Russian through its established public education, and even though the Soviet Union no longer exists, Russian still serves as a lingua franca in much of Eurasia.

While many English speakers may find the alphabet shockingly different from the one they are accustomed to, once they start to study the language, they tend to find that the alphabet is one of the easier obstacles to overcome.

1918 Language Reform

The last significant change to the Russian language came as a consequence of the 1917 Revolution. At the beginning of 1918, the Russian language dropped four letters to simplify the language further. Other changes were made as well to make the language easier to spell.

Russian Use Is Widespread

Russian is the 8th most spoken language in the world. There are over 150 million native speakers, and because of the vast expanse of the Soviet Union, there are a total of 260 million people who speak it as a first or second language.

Russian is also an official language of the UN and is the official language of Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan.

Russian Can Be Difficult

Russia is a Category III language. This makes it as difficult to learn as some of the Eastern European languages like Hungarian, Polish, and Czech for native English speakers. However, it does not take as much time to learn as Chinese (Mandarin), Japanese, or Arabic, all category IV languages.

Russian Cognates

The alphabet may look daunting to those who aren’t familiar with it, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t plenty of cognates to help you learn the language. This is because roughly 10 percent of Russian words are similar to English.

  • Алкоголь – alcohol
  • океа́н – ocean
  • Менеджер – manager
  • Аме́рика – America
  • компью́тер – computer

While on the surface those words don’t look anything like how they read, once you familiarize yourself with the pronunciation of the Cyrillic alphabet, you can see how these words are quite similar to their English version. There are plenty of loanwords to be on the lookout for as well.

Russian Genders

There are multiple genders for nouns in Russian. Similar to German, Russian has a masculine, feminine, and neuter genders.

Stress Is Important

Russian speakers need to know which syllables to stress when speaking to natives. Stressing the wrong part of the word can change the entire meaning of the sentence.

Russia and German

Interestingly enough, the Russian word for Germans is “немецкий” (nemetski). It means someone who cannot speak, but it can also be seen as a derogatory term to refer to someone as “ignorant” or “stupid.” Similar to how the Greeks referred to those who could not speak Greek  as “barbarians.”

The word in Greek is bárbaros, meaning babbler. Greeks believed that anyone who could not speak their language “babbled.” The Russians singled out those who could not speak as being, “немецкий.” However, this tended to be mostly Germans who were in the area, and thus, the term stuck.

The Color Blue

In Russian, there are various words for the color blue. English speakers may only see light and dark blues. But Russians are better at differentiating between various shades of blue and have names for them.

The Russian Dictionary

Russian does not have as many words as English. While the English language has over 1,000,000 vocabulary words, Russian has around 200,000. The result of this condensed vocabulary is that many Russian words have multiple meanings.

Russian Family Names

There are three components to Russian names. The first or “given” name is how people refer to the child. Then there is a family name (surname). However, instead of a “middle name” in the Western sense, there’s a “Patronymic” name or a name that is derived from the name of the father. This is created by adding -ovna to the end of the father’s name for the daughter and -ovich to the end of the father’s name for a son.

Russian, the Language of Space

Because U.S. astronauts catch a ride on the Soyuz spacecraft to the International Space Station, they are required to learn basic Russian. The working language for the ISS may be English, but during takeoff and in case of an emergency on the space station, travelers need to speak Russian. This means that astronauts, or cosmonauts rather, need to make sure they enroll in the best Russian language program.

Interested in Learning Russian?

Russian is an incredible language. And while these facts help paint a picture of how amazing this language is, it only begins to scratch the surface. The only way to fully know the language is to start your journey to foreign language fluency with a language program designed to help you succeed. By taking steps to study the language, you will experience firsthand what makes this challenging language beautiful for millions of speakers around the world.