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History of Russian
Quick Reference
  ·  Official Language
Ex-Soviet Union nations (214 million)
  ·  Common 2nd language of
West Europe and USA (6 million speakers)
  ·  Number of Speakers
approximately 220 million
  ·  Origin
Eastern Slavic language developed from migration of some Slavs eastward after 7th Century BC
  ·  Alphabet & Scripts
Cyrillic. Alphabet dating from 9th Century AD devised by 2 Greek missionaries (eastern Slavs largely adopted Greek orthodox religion)
With the collapse of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics or Soviet Union as it was more often called in 1991, 14 independent Republics were formed. Russia, or the Russian Federation to give it its full title, covers the majority of the land mass of the former USSR.

All the Republics retain Russian as one of their official languages, alongside the local languages.

The 6th Century AD saw the migration of the Slav people from old Poland. The Slavs expanded westwards to the river Elbe and southwards to the Adriatic Sea. Here they gradually occupied much of the Balkans. By the 10th Century, three Slavonic language groups had emerged, Western, Southern and Eastern.

Eastern Slavonic gave rise to the modern languages known as Ukrainian, Belorussian and Russian. The Slavonic languages retained many features in common especially in grammatical structure, therefore the separate groups were able to use one common written language. This language was known as Old Slavonic or Old Church Slavonic (the language was used in its written form only).

In the 9th Century, two missionaries - Constantine (who on his deathbed took the monastic name Cyril) and Methodius - were required to write down the scriptures in Old Church Slavonic and to preach Christianity to the people of Moravia. Before they set out for Moravia, Constantine invented a Slavonic (now known as the Cyrillic) alphabet. The results of their work contributed greatly to the cultural history of the whole Slav world.

In Russia, Old Church Slavonic remained the written language until the middle of the 18th Century. By this time, the need was felt for a written language which was closer to the educated spoken norm. One Russian polymath M V Lomonosov asserted that there should be 3 styles;

1) High Style - Church Slavonic, to be used for poetics and religion

2) Middle Style - to be used for lyric poetry, prose and science

3) Low Style - to be used in personal correspondence and in low comedy

The Middle Style, which combined features of both East Slavonic and Church Slavonic is the style which came to form the basis of the modern standard language. In the mid-1800s, Standard Russian based on the Moscow dialect became the official language.

Today Russian is the most important of the Slavic languages and is now one of the major languages of the world. It is also one of the official languages of the United Nations. In a recent census, 153 million people listed Russian as their mother tongue and another 61 million indicated they spoke it fluently as a second language.

The number of Russian speakers worldwide could be in the region of 220 million. As a result, 10 per cent of the world's population communicate in Slavonic and of these 60 per cent speak Russian.

Russian is written in the Cyrillic alphabet dating from around the 9th Century. Although at first glance it appears quite different, a number of letters are written and pronounced as in English (A, K, M, O, and T). Whereas other letters are written in the Roman alphabet but are pronounced differently, i.e. Y/y is pronounced 'oo' as in food and X/x is pronounced 'ch' as in the Scottish word 'loch'.

Already you are able to pronounce 'myxa' meaning fly! Furthermore, Russian has no word for 'the', 'a' or 'an' so the word myxa can mean the fly, a fly or just fly.

The Russian language allows a fascinating way of addressing people to whom you have just been introduced. The person's first name is combined with a modified form of his or her father's first name.

If a man's first name is Ivan and his father's first name is also Ivan, you would call him Ivan Ivanovich (Ivan, son of Ivan), and if Ivan had a sister, she would be called Natasha Ivanovna, (Natasha, daughter of Ivan). The -ovich and -ovna suffixes are always appended to the father's first name and not to the mother's.

Did you know?
There are no "primitive" languages. All languages have a system of sounds, words and sentences that can adequately communicate the content of culture.
Russian History
Russian Speaking
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