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Russian - interesting facts

 

Russian - русский язык, is the mother tongue for about 150 million people, about 2.5% of the world's population, which places it 8th in the world in terms of the number of native speakers. It is also the most widely used language in Europe. Russian is also the second language for many citizens (about 100 million) of the countries of the former Soviet Union, serving as a lingua franca.

Russian is an official language in Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Belarus, as well as in several regions of the former Soviet Union, such as Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Crimea.

Russian belongs to the group of East Slavic languages. It is written in Cyrillic, created at the end of the 9th century, based on the Greek alphabet. Russian originates from the Old Russian language (its basis in turn was the Old Church Slavonic language), from which Ukrainian and Belarusian languages were also created in the fourteenth century.

Unlike many modern languages, Russian does not show much dialectal diversity in Russia itself. Such a state of affairs resulted from the Russian authorities' centralisation policy and the forced migration of the population from the countryside to the cities in the 20th century. There are two main groups of regional dialects: northern and southern.

The norms of the Russian language are regulated by the Institute of the Russian Language, which is part of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Russian is the official language of many international institutions and organizations, including the United Nations, the OSCE, the International Criminal Court, the Eurasian Economic Union and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.

Russian lexicon contains a lot of borrowings from European languages, including Polish. Examples of Polishisms include the following words: полковник [colonel] – colonel, кролик [rabbit] – rabbit and петрушка [petrushka] – parsley.

In Russian, the accent is moving, and differences in the expressive accent sometimes result in differences in meaning. For example, the phrase “I am paying” means “I am paying”, while “I am crying” means “I am crying”.

In Russian, there are two equivalents of blue: синий [seeniy] – navy blue and голубой [goluboy] – light blue. Accordingly, studies have shown that native Russian speakers are better at distinguishing shades of blue than native English speakers.

достопримечательности [availability] is one of the most difficult words to pronounce. It means tourist attractions.

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The Richness of Russian Literature

With its profound thematic depth, distinctive narratives, and unique characterisation, Russian literature has made an indelible contribution to world literature. Its prominence came to the fore during the 19th century, a period often referred to as the Golden Age of Russian literature. The work of classic authors like Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoevsky, and Anton Chekhov is globally recognised for the exploration of humanity's core dilemmas, philosophical insights, and stark realism.

Tolstoy’s "War and Peace" and "Anna Karenina" are seminal works in the realist novel, exploring intricate facets of society, politics, morality, and existential crises. With masterpieces like "Crime and Punishment" and "The Brothers Karamazov", Dostoevsky probed the depths of human psychology, raising profound moral and philosophical questions.

Anton Chekhov revolutionised the short story and drama genres with his subtle storytelling and exploration of character and mood. His plays, including "The Cherry Orchard" and "Three Sisters", remain staples of international theatre.

The 20th century saw the rise of new literary movements. The introspective modernist works of Virginia Woolf and James Joyce paralleled the innovations of Russian writers such as Vladimir Nabokov. The Russian tradition of social critique continued with the dystopian works of Yevgeny Zamyatin and the satirical novels of Mikhail Bulgakov.

Russian literature’s influence has transcended borders and time, resonating with readers worldwide due to its universal themes of human experience. It has inspired countless authors, fostered cross-cultural exchange, and continues to contribute to the global literary dialogue.

Cyrillic, the Russian alphabet

The Cyrillic script, used in the Russian alphabet, was developed during the late 9th century AD in the First Bulgarian Empire. It is traditionally attributed to the two Byzantine brothers, Saints Cyril and Methodius, who were tasked with spreading Christianity among the Slavic tribes. The modern Russian alphabet consists of 33 letters, the world's most widely used alphabetic writing system after the Latin script. Cyrillic, unlike the Latin alphabet, includes special letters to represent unique Slavic sounds. It's the basis for many alphabets in Eurasian languages, including Ukrainian, Bulgarian, Serbian, and many others in Russia's numerous ethnic groups.

Soft and hard pronunciation

Russian is the language in which the phenomenon of soft and hard pronunciation of consonants occurs. Soft pronunciation refers to the situation when the consonant is pronounced with an additional element of "palatalization", which is an important element of Russian phonetics. 

Wealth of diminutives

In Russian, diminutives and bolds are often used to refer to names, nouns, or adjectives. This phenomenon, similar to Polish, shows the close affinity of both languages and makes it easier for Poles to learn Russian to acquire these expressive forms. Diminutives and bulges are common in everyday communication and literature, and their understanding allows for deeper immersion in Russian culture.

The impact of Russian on English

The Russian language has significantly contributed to English, particularly in politics, literature, science, and culture. While the total number of Russian loanwords is relatively small compared to other languages, the borrowed words tend to be distinct and specific.

The political vocabulary has been influenced by Russian, especially during the Soviet era. Terms like "soviet", "comrade", "perestroika", and "glasnost" have become known globally due to their historical significance. "Tzar" or "czar", an imperial title, is often used metaphorically in English to denote someone in power.

The world of literature, too, has been enriched by Russian. "Dostoevskyian", named after the renowned author Fyodor Dostoevsky, implies a certain psychological depth and complexity. The famous fictional character "Dr. Zhivago" symbolises a soulful and romantic figure facing the harsh realities of life.

Russian influence is evident in science and technology, with words like "sputnik", a satellite and a fellow traveller.

Cultural terms also play a significant role in Russian loanwords. "Babushka", "samovar", "balalaika", and "vodka" are just a few examples that paint a vivid picture of Russian culture and traditions.

Language exchange is not just about words but also ideas and concepts. Therefore, Russian influence on English extends beyond mere vocabulary and provides English speakers with a broader cultural and conceptual understanding of the world.

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Your Essential Russian

 

English

Russian

yes да (da)
no нет (njet)
please пожалуйста (pożalujsta)
thank you спасибо (spasiba)
I'm sorry извините (izwinite)
good morning добрый день (dobryj dzień)
good evening добрый вечер (dobryj wieczier)
goodbye спокойной ночи (spakoynoj notszi)
good night до свидания (do swidania)
hi привет (priwiet)
how are you?  Как дела? (Kak diela?)
well Спасибо, хорошо (Spasibo, horoszo)
My name is... Меня зовут  (Mienia zawut)
I don't understand Я не понимаю (Ja nie panimaju)

 

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