With a landmass that covers two continents, spoken by a nation that used to be made up of 15 constituent republics throughout Europe and Asia, the Russian language is intricately woven with the threads of history, culture, and global interaction.
This native tongue, spanning centuries, has become the lingua franca of several current independent states, becoming a tool of communication over multiple cultures, and becoming a connection to the past and present, both locally and worldwide.
However, what makes Russian so special? And what is its status on the international scene? So let’s break down this fascinating language and find out why the Russian language is one of the most translated languages, widely taught, and spoken around the world.
Over the centuries, Russian has been significantly shaped by various influences, each phase of its development reflecting the socio-political and cultural exchanges of its time.
The Russian language as we know it today first developed from Old East Slavic, the vernacular of the East Slavic tribes. The ecclesiastical texts in Old Church Slavonic laid the early foundations of the language.
It was during the 14th century that marked the gradual transition from a language heavily influenced by Old Church Slavonic to one that began incorporating elements from Polish and German languages. This is helped along by vast cultural and political reforms initiated by figures such as Peter the Great.
The 19th century, particularly highlighted by the works of Alexander Pushkin, heralded the modern era of the Russian language, cementing its status as a potent instrument for literary and intellectual expression.
The political upheaval in 1917 further radicalized Russian into its modern form. The Bolshevik Revolution caused the language to undergo spelling reforms, adding new political terms, and removing politeness markers.
These historical events have transformed Russian into an accessible language, further entrenching its role in Russian society, and forming the tongue that most people use today.
As a prominent member of the East Slavic group of the Indo-European languages, Russian shares its roots with Ukrainian and Belarusian. Before this, their language was called Common- or Proto-Slavonic.
As the speakers of Common-Slavonic settled into various regions, they settled into three distinct locations, and it’s between the separation of these groups and the present day that Russian emerged, along with the Ukrainian and Belarusian languages. Despite having a common ancestry, these languages began to diverge significantly during the late Middle Ages, leading to the distinct linguistic identities we recognize today.
Beyond the borders of the Russian Federation, Russian is also widely spoken in former Soviet republics such as Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan, where it still holds official status.
Even with political shifts following the dissolution of the USSR, Russian remains a key language in other former Soviet Union countries. It remains the de facto language of use, despite not holding “official language” status.
Russian is also spoken in the U.S., brought by Russian explorers into Alaska in the 18th century. Russia also went through a period of colonization, taking the language to Africa. It does not hold official status on the continent today, but it is still home to many Russian-speaking people.
Approximately 250 million people speak Russian around the globe. It has the distinction of being the most spoken Slavic language and the most spoken native language in Europe. This figure not only includes the population within Russia but also encompasses Russian-speaking communities in the former Soviet republics and a widespread diaspora.
Naturally, its originating country, Russia, has Russian as its official language, with around 150 million people using it as their native language. Former Soviet Union states make up around 80 million speakers, while Eastern European countries and the Balkans have around 15 million speakers.
Based on the statistics, the Russian language’s influence and importance on the international stage are clear.
Russian ranks as the fifth most spoken language globally. Russian is also one of the official languages of the United Nations, joining Arabic, Chinese, English, French, and Spanish. Its reach spans continents and countries from Eastern Europe to Central Asia, making it an invaluable language medium in these locations.
Its critical importance in international security and diplomacy also makes the language a key player in the political arena and cultural landscape. Russian also prepares speakers to be active participants in the world economy. Multiple multinational companies operate in Russia, making it a varied job market for both foreigners and locals.
Its literary tradition, enriched by the works of Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, and Chekhov, continues to influence and inspire, while its scientific community contributes significantly to global knowledge. The second-highest number of scientific publications in the world are written in Russian. Astronauts aboard the International Space Station also speak Russian.
Exploring the depths of the Russian language is not just an academic, personal, or professional endeavor, but an opportunity to immerse yourself into the heart of a culture that has shaped the world in a myriad of ways. Its extensive international presence and history make it one of the most in-demand translated languages in various sectors.
Its future is clear in the language world; Russian is here to stay for many years. So if ever you’re in the event of dipping into Russian spaces, reach out to Tomedes for expert language services that broaden your horizons of understanding and engagement.
Raphaella Funelas is a creative writer who graduated from the University of the Philippines Diliman with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Studies, specializing in Language. She likes learning about anything new in any field, and has pursued that interest through a writing career. She always has an ear on the ground for any exciting topics, and an enthusiasm to share any newfound knowledge through her words.