THE RUSSIAN LANGUAGE
Unlike the Romance languages to the west, the Russian language is distinct in both sound and structure. Whereas many European dialects are based on Latin, Russian is unique and has twice as many vowels and some extra consonants, endowing it with a melody all its own.
If you’re tired of being in the dark on this interesting and widely used language, here are some fun introductory facts to get you on your way to full-blown Russophilia.
1. WE’RE NOT IN KANSAS ANYMORE, TOTO
The Russian script is called Cyrillic or azbuka, which was developed in the 9th century AD during the First Bulgarian Empire. With entirely novel characters unique to Cyrillic, over 252 million people across Northern Asia and surrounding regions use the script, and it became the third recognised script of the European Union in 2007.
2. A-Z AND THEN SOME
The Cyrillic alphabet has 33 letters; 10 vowels, 21 consonants, and 2 that have no sound. It can be written in capitals, lowercase, and Cyrillic cursive. The vowels have 5 sounds and are written with different letters depending on whether they follow a hard consonant or a soft consonant. Interestingly, the vowel indicates whether the preceding consonant is hard or soft.
3. BLUE, BLUE, AND BLUE
The Russian language has more expressions for shades of blue than most other languages. It splits the descriptions into light shades (голубой) and dark shades (синий). Russian eyes aren’t better at distinguishing shades of blue, but their language appears to be more adept at expressing them. This is interesting as some languages don’t even differentiate between blue or green.
4. RUSSIAN IS THE LANGUAGE OF SPACE
If you want to become an astronaut, you will need to learn to speak Russian. Russian is known as the language of space. Outside of NASA, Roscosmos is the largest space agency in the world. Astronauts need to hitch a ride on the Soyuz docking craft to get to the ISS, where half of the components and systems aboard are in Russian.
5. LOTS OF PEOPLE SPEAK RUSSIAN
Russian is the 8th most-spoken language in the world. 170 million natives speak it, as well as another 130 million from former republics of the defunct Soviet Union. It is one of the three Eastern Slavic languages, with the others being Belarusian and Ukrainian. There are over 100 minor languages also spoken in Russia, such as Tartar, Chechen, Chuvash, Bashir, and Mordvin.
6. SAYING NO TO THE A
Native Russian words generally don’t begin with the letter A/a. When Old Russian was transformed into Modern Russian, a number of phonetic changes occurred. Words beginning with A/a were prefixed with the sound “й”. When a word does begin in A/a, and there are quite a few at the beginning of the dictionary, they are usually appropriated words from other, western languages and are often nouns. Words that have Asian origin often represent objects.
7. MIDDLE NAMES VARY WITH GENDER
Russian middle names are patronymic and vary by gender. The body of the name remains the same, but a gender-specific suffix is added. The suffix ovich or evich is added for boys, and ovna or evna for girls. So, if Mr. Ivan has a son, his middle or patronymic name would be Ivanovich or Ivanevich, and if he has a daughter, it would be Ivanovna or Ivanevna, followed by the surname. Interestingly, surnames only appeared in Russia in the 18th century.
8. DON’T STRESS TOO MUCH
Similar to many East Asian languages, the stress patterns of Russian words can radically change their meaning. The word “я плачу” places stress on the second syllable and means “I am paying“, whereas the word “я плáчу” stresses the first syllable and means “I am crying”.
9. USED AT THE UN
Russian is one of the six official languages used at the United Nations. The others are Chinese, Spanish, French, Arabic, and English. Arabic was added by special request, and the others are the languages of the founding nations.
10. DON’T BE SO TENSE
Unusually, the verb “to be” is generally not used in the present tense when speaking Russian. Instead, it’s typically used to specify the past or future. You will also not hear the words “is” or “am” in a Russian phrase; instead, an adjective, verb, or noun follows the subject. The English sentence “I am a student” literally becomes “I student” in Russian.
WORDS FOR THE RUSSIAN MARKET
Russia has a population of over 170 million people. Runet, the Russian-speaking internet, has over 100 million subscribers and is certainly worth focusing on.