The Russian language is spoken by roughly 258 million people worldwide. Many speakers live throughout Eurasia. This region stretches from the Ukraine in the west to the Kamchatka peninsula in the east. Russian is an East Slavic language of the Indo-European language family. Originally, the language was spoken in ancient Kievan Rus roughly a thousand years ago. Today, the language serves as both the largest mother language spoken in Europe. It also serves as the most widely spoken Slavic language. Russian further maintains the position of a distant second most popular language on the Internet (as judged by website content) after English (60.8% vs. 8.3%). From Russian, we have gained words like Babushka, Bolshevik, Glasnost, Gulag, Intelligentsia, Mammoth, Sable, and Sputnik.
Russian as a Phonetic Language
To the American ear, the Russian language may sound harsh and tense. However, such views may be due more to Hollywood films than actual reality. For some people, their first encounter with Russian may be in the context of a popular movie. For example, in Rocky IV, Rocky Balboa fights Russian boxing champion Ivan Drago. This film, at least at first, portrays the language uninviting and inaccessible. By the end of the movie, however, language differences no longer matter. The same holds true today. Russian is a phonetic language, one where letters correspond to sounds. As such, Russian has unique beauty, diversity, and richness.
Every June 6th, the world celebrates Russian Language Day. In 2010, the United Nations established language days to annually promote the six recognized languages of the U.N. June 6th was chosen as Russian Language Day. This date honors the birthday of Alexander Pushkin. Many consider this Russian poet to be the father of the modern Russian language. Pushkin, moreover, was also a playwright and novelist. In addition, his lineage contained both Scandinavian and African roots. His great great-grandfather, Abram Gannibal, was born in Africa.
Creation of the Cyrillic Script
The Russian language predates its own alphabet, called Cyrillic script. At the behest of the emperor Michael III, two Byzantine monks created the Slavic alphabet in the 9th century. These monks, Cyril and Methodius, translated Christian texts into the new script. The language developed and grew more complex over the centuries. The language further expanded as a result of the growth of Russian empire under the Tsars. Today, roughly 250 million people use Cyrillic as their official alphabet. Russian language users accounts for half of this number.
Power of Russian Literature
One of the most powerful exports from Russia has been its literature. Russian novelists have contributed books like War and Peace, Crime and Punishment, The Brothers Karamazov, and The Gulag Archipelago. These novels and more have fascinated and enthralled readers around the world for decades. Russian novelists display a stunning depth of narration, story intricacy, and character description. Examples can be found in books by authors like Leo Tolstoy, Fydor Dostoevsky, and Alexander Solzhenitsyn. These novelists capture the difficulties of Russian life in various eras. They also illustrate the challenges of the human condition as a whole.
Endurance of the Russian People
The state of Kievan Rus formed in the 9th century. The Vikings and Slavs founded it along trade routes. This state lasted about 400 years. The Mongols then invaded and stayed for 150 years. The Mongols did not display compassionate diplomacy, therefore Kievan Rus disintegrated. Subsequently, the Russian people threw off the Mongol yoke in the late 1400s. By then, Moscow had developed into the center of political power. Through wars, Tsars, peasant revolts, foreign invasion and imperial expansion, the Russian nation grew. Their borders were invaded by not only the Mongols, but the Poles, the French under Napoleon, and later the Nazis under Hitler.
The Russian people endured repeated cycles of economic upheaval, repression, and war. The Bolshevik revolution ousted the Tsars in 1917. But the Russian people subsequently traded one form of repression for a more brutal one. Under communism, tens of millions of Russians lost their lives through starvation, overwork, torture, and imprisonment. Finally, in 1989, that torturous system of government fell when the Cold War ended. The Russian people rose above these challenging circumstances to produce great works of art, literature, architecture, and more. Perhaps none has been as enduring as the Russian novel. As a result, the Russian people have given the world a simultaneously unforgiving and beautiful depiction of the human condition.