Russian is an Eastern Slavic language
closely related to Belarusian and Ukrainian. Russian is spoken by
288 million people in the Russian Federation, as well as Belarus,
Ukraine, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Moldova, and Bulgaria.
It is the state language of the
Russian Federation, one of the official languages of the United
Nations Organization, and a medium of interethnic communication in
some countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).
Russian is written in the Cyrillic alphabet, which was introduced to
the 10th century and was based on the Greek alphabet.
In its modern
Cyrillic Russian alphabet
exists since 1918. In ancient Russia two distinct languages were in
use: Church Slavonic and Old Russian. The former was a liturgical
language based on Old Bulgarian. The latter was used for business
correspondence and for literary and historical works, as well as in
the daily life of the people. Byzantine books were fairly common in
Kievan Rus, and with them came a considerable enrichment of the
Russian vocabulary with Greek-based words.
By the end of
the 16th century, the first Slavic grammars appeared, and in the
first quarter of the 18th century, during the reign of Peter the
Great, the Russian language was transformed by the introduction of
German, Dutch, French and Polish words, especially in scientific and
technical works. During the 18th century a significant growth of
industry, science and culture occurred, and the Russian empire
strengthened and expanded considerably. This period also proved a
crucial stage in the development of Russian as a national language.
In the early
19th century the language’s final formation was aided by the poet
Pushkin, whose works helped to diffuse modern Russian among tens of
thousands of readers. Pushkin was the first in the line of the great
Russian writers who brought renown to Russian literature and
included such authors as Nikolai Gogol, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Leo
Tolstoy, and Anton Chekhov.
By the middle
of the 19th century a growth occurred in the publication of
Russian-language as well as Church Slavonic dictionaries. In
1863-1866 the linguist and ethnographer Vladimir Dahl published his
famous four-volume “Dictionary of the Living Russian Tongue” that
documented the lexical richness and diversity of the Russian
language. The dictionary contained around 200,000 words, including
local dialects and various professional terms, as well as around
30,000 sayings and proverbs.