What writing system(s) does this language use?
The Russian alphabet is based on the Cyrillic writing system. Legend says that two Byzantine brothers, Cyril and Methodius, created it using letters of the Greek and Hebrew alphabets in the 9th century. Cyrillic script has changed much with time, even more than the Latin script we use. In fact, modern Russians are not able to read a three-hundred-year-old book in Russian. This is not only because the language has changed, but also because they are not able to recognize many letters. The last big change of Russian script happened in 1918, and the alphabet has remained the same since.
There are a total of thirty-three letters in the modern Russian alphabet. Two of these letters do not have an actual sound; they simply change the sound of other letters in words. The Cyrillic alphabet goes as follows:
How many people speak this language?
Russian is the native language for about 145 million people. There are also about 110 million who speak it as a secondary language.
Where is this language spoken?
Russian is, of course, spoken in Russia (click here to learn about Russia). It is widely spoken in Belarus (click here to learn about Belarus) and eastern Ukraine. For many years Russia was a part of a larger association called the Soviet Union. In 1991 the Soviet Union separated into several separate countries. Many of these countries, such as Latvia and Estonia, still use Russian for communication between people who speak different languages (like English in other parts of the world). There are also permanent Russian-speaking settlements in the Norwegian territory of Svalbard (Spitsbergen), which was acquired from Russia. Russian is known as what is called Lingua Franca in the countries where it remains in use regardless of whether or not a large ethnic Russian population resides there.
Russian is also spoken by the communities of Russian emigrants in the U.S.A., Israel, Germany, and many other countries.
What is the history of this language?
The Russian language belongs to the group of languages that are called Slavic. These languages have many commonalities, some of which are similar word roots and similar grammar. It is for this reason why scientists think that all Slavic languages originated from one Protoslavic language, that people spoke a long time ago (before 1000 A.D.). As time passed, the language spread, and people in different countries began to speak it differently. It is considered that Russian became a separate language in 14th – 15th centuries.
As Russia changed with time, so did the language. Major events in Russian history brought new features to language and literature. Aleksandr Sergeevich Pushkin is considered the "father" of modern literary language. He chose to write books using the way that people spoke instead of using old fashioned grammar and vocabulary like the other authors of his time. Though the Russian language is very flexible and ever-changing, Pushkin’s language stays the base and the standard of classic style.
Russian literature is well known in the West. Possibly you've heard the names of Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Nabokov, Brodsky. But not many people know that there are lots of wonderful children’s books in Russia.
Aleksandr Sergeevich Pushkin (1799 – 1837) is one of the greatest Russian poets. He wrote books both for grown ups and for children. When he was a child, his nanny, Arina Rodionovna, told him many beautiful folk fairy tales. When he grew up, he wrote down these fairy tales in poem form. The plot of The Tale of the Dead Princess and the Seven Knights is a lot like the Snow White story. In The Tale of Tsar Saltan, when the tsar chooses one of three sisters to be his queen, the others get jealous and tell lies about her. The queen and her son are sent to a faraway island, where a fairy princess helps the young prince to reunite with his father. These books became classics of Russian Children’s literature, and every child in Russia knows them by heart, just like you know Mother Goose rhymes.
Lev Nikolaevich Tolstoy (1828 – 1910), the author of War and Peace, is probably the most well-known Russian writer in the West. He wrote books for children too. He was very compassionate towards peasant people, and tried to help them as much as he could. He opened a school for peasant children and wrote the textbooks for it himself. He also wrote three very beautiful books about his own young years: Childhood, Boyhood, and Youth.
A lot of interesting children’s books were written in Russian in the 20th century. Korney Ivanovich Chukovsky wrote fairy tales about Bad Robber Barmaley and Kind Doctor Aibolit, Moidodyr who makes all kids wash up in the morning, and evil Tarakanishe (the Huge Roach) that terrorizes all the animals in the forest. Samuil Yakovlevich Marshak wrote Tale of a Silly Mouseling and Cat’s house. Nikolai Nosov wrote a series of books about the adventures of Neznaika (Dontknow) and his friends, living in the happy Flower city.
What are some basic words in this language that I can learn?
(try to speak ye out as one sound.)
- Привет (Privyet) - Hello (informal)
- Здравствуйте (Zdrastvuytye) - Hello (formal)
- Как дела? (Kak dela?) - How are you?
- Меня зовут... (Menia zovut) - My name is...
- Давай дружить! (Davay druzhit!) - Let's become friends!
- До свидания! (Da svidaniya) - Goodbye!
- Я тебя люблю! (Ya tebya lyublyu) - I love you!
- Спасибо! (Spasiba) - Thank you!
- Пожалуйста! (Pajalusta) - Please, you are welcome!
What is a simple song/poem/story that I can learn in this language?
Try to learn this little poem by Agnia Barto:
Уронили мишку на пол,
Оторвали мишке лапу.
Всё равно его не брошу —
Потому что он хороший.
It sounds like this:
Ooronili mishkoo na pol,
Otorvali mishke lapoo,
Vsyo ravno evo nye broshoo —
Pahtomoo shto on horoshiy.
And that means:
Teddy bear was dropped on the floor,
Teddy bear's paw got torn off.
But I will never leave him —
Because he is good.
Introduction • Glossary • Authors and Contributing • Print Version