Overview of the Russian Language

The Russian language is the official language of the country of Russia. Russian is also widely spoken in the former Soviet Republics and in the former Warsaw Pact countries of Eastern and Central Europe, where many people learn Russian as a second language in schools. In addition, Russian is one of the official languages of the United Nations (along with English, Spanish, French, Chinese and Arabic).
Russian belongs to the East Slavic branch of the Slavic subfamily of Indo-European languages. Other languages in this group include Belorussian and Ukrainian. Linguists believe that the Slavic languages have retained the features of the original Proto-Indo-European language to a much greater extent than have the Germanic and Romance languages. The spoken Slavic languages show a great deal of similarity to each other, although some are written in the Cyrillic alphabet and others in the Latin alphabet.

Russian is written in the Cyrillic alphabet, which is believed to have been introduced by the Greek missionaries Cyril and Methodius in the 9th century. The Cyrillic alphabet is based on the Greek alphabet, with the addition of several letters borrowed from Hebrew to represent sounds that do not exist in Greek.

The original written language in those early times was called Old Church Slavonic. The first documents written in Russian, rather than Old Church Slavonic, date back to the 11th century. By the 13th century, there were noticeable differences between Russian and Ukrainian; and by the 16th century, Belorussian appears as a separate language.

Russian Vocabulary

Many Russian vocabulary words have entered the English language-- politburo, vodka, borshcht, tsar, steppe, and tundra, to name just a few.

As you are learning Russian vocabulary, you will notice some words that bear a resemblance to English. But be on your guard against false resemblances! For example, the Russian word replica means "report" or "stage cue." The word is actually means "from" in Russian! And the Russian word sam is pronounced just like the English word "some," but means "by himself."

Formal and Informal Address in the Russian Language

There are two forms of address in the Russian language, the polite second person plural vy and the familiar second person singular ty. It is considered rude to use the familiar form when first meeting someone, unless the person you are addressing is a small child. Always use the polite form of address until you are invited to switch to the familiar. An invitation to do so is a sign that your friendship has reached a warmer, more intimate level.