10 facts about the Russian language

06/06/2021 | Rebecca Twose

Russian is one of the 6 official languages of the United Nations and the 6th of June is celebrated annually as Russian Language Day. Below we have put together 10 facts about the Russian language and culture…

Moscow

There are around 154 million native speakers

According to Ethnologue, there are around 258 million Russian speakers in the world. However, this estimate is likely to be rather high because it factors in many populations that are ancestrally Russian, but they might not speak the language anymore. If you were to only count only native speakers, there are roughly 154 million.

Russian is the eighth most-spoken language in the world

With roughly 154 million native speakers, this makes Russian the eighth most-spoken language in the world after Bengali, Portuguese, Arabic, Hindi, English, Spanish and Chinese.

Russian is the official language in 4 countries

Russian is the official language of Russia, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. It is also considered to be the unofficial lingua franca in Ukraine and many former Soviet countries. These include Azerbaijan, Estonia, Georgia, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

Russian is derived from Old East Slavic

Up to the 14th century, ancestors of the modern Russians spoke dialects of the Old East Slavic language which was related to the dialects of other East Slavs. This spoken tongue and Old Church Slavonic language operated throughout Kievan Rus.

 Russian is the language of space

Along with English, Russian is the language of space. Astronauts have to learn Russian as part of their training and the computer system of the ISS uses both English and Russian.

Some English words are of Russian origin

Interesting examples include bolshevik, cosmonaut, mammoth, pogrom, samovar, sputnik, taiga, tsar, ushanka and vodka.

Russian surnames vary by gender

Russian names consist of a first name, a family name, and a patronymic name, which is the father’s name plus the ending -ovich for a son and -ovna for a daughter. So if a father named Ivan has a son and a daughter, his son’s patronymic name will be Ivanovich and his daughter’s will be Ivanovna.

There are some Russian untranslatable words

Ever met someone who asks a lot of questions? Whether that be at work or through a movie, the Russian language perfectly describes a person who does just that. The untranslatable word ‘Pochemuchka’ refers to someone who asks too many questions.

Russian is written using the Cyrillic alphabet

The Cyrillic alphabet is closely based on the Greek alphabet, with about a dozen additional letters invented to represent Slavic sounds that were not found in Greek. In Russia, Cyrillic was first written in the early Middle Ages.

Russian nouns have genders

In English nouns are gender-neutral, except for nouns that refer specifically to a living creature that has a gender, such as “doe” and “buck”. In Russian, nouns are one of three genders: masculine, feminine, or neuter. Sometimes, the gender of a noun is directly related to the gender of the thing it’s referring to. More often, gender is completely arbitrary, and memorising the words and their genders will often be required. For English-speakers, gender is one of the most complicated language rules to get the hang of, but once you’ve got the gist of it you’re well on your way to mastering Russian grammar!

If you know any more fun facts about the Russian language, let us know in the comments!

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