Russian Language History

The Russian language is an East Slavic language, meaning that the origin of Russian comes from the Indo-European family. Speaking Russian holds similarities to other East Slavic languages like Ukrainian, yet it is distinct in many ways. To learn how Russian grew into the language we know, we must follow the history of the Russian language from its conception to the modern day.

This article will take you on this journey through the history of the Russian language. We start at the origin of Russian around 5000 years ago, and you’ll discover how the Russian language evolved, how other languages influenced it, and how the Russian writing system was developed. You’ll also learn how neighbouring countries started speaking Russian and the historical milestones that shaped the language.

You’ll continue through the history of the Russian language to the present day. Today, Russian is the eighth most spoken language globally, with around 160 million native speakers and 60 million second-language speakers. As expected, some of the largest Russian-speaking populations are in Russia. Yet countries such as Ukraine, Belarus, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Bulgaria also speak Russian.

In fact, the Russian language is the most geographically widespread in all of Eurasia and the most widely spoken of the Slavic languages. It is also one of the six official languages of the United Nations. Furthermore, Russian is still growing as the world becomes more universal. Over 38 million people are learning Russian around the world! But how did this happen? Let’s travel back to the origin of the Russian language to find out.

Russian Language Origin

The Russian language origin dates back to the 14th century. Before this time, people in what is now modern-day Russian weren’t speaking Russian – they were speaking Old East Slavic. This is the closest documented relative to Russian used by the East Slavic tribes for centuries. The dialect spoken in the region was Old Church Slavonic, which evolved into Church Slavonic.

Church Slavonic became the dominant literary language used for religious texts. It remained the official language in Russian until the 18th century, despite the Russian language emerging by the late 1500s. Russian was characterised by a significantly expanded vocabulary, adopting words from Polish and German. Several native words also replaced words inherited from Slavic ancestors.

The political reforms of Peter the Great in the 18th century marked another turning point in the history of the Russian language. The Russian alphabet was reformed, and blocks of vocabulary were integrated into the language from Western Europe. There were also attempts to make a new literary language that compromised between Church Slavonic and Western European languages.

Modern “Russian Language”

The Russian language origin we know today arose in the 19th century. After the notable efforts of many literary figures, the works of Russian poet Pushkin formed the foundation for modern Russian literature. Literature flourished as a result. Examples include the works of authors like Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Chekhov, and Nabokov, which have gained immense popularity across the globe.

The Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 was another key milestone in the history of the Russian language. In response to the political upheaval, Russian underwent a spelling reform that added new political terminology and abandoned the principle of politeness. The language now had its modern appearance, literacy became almost universal, and more people were speaking Russian.

In 1990, Russian became the official language of all Soviet Union states: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Estonia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Lithuania, Russian Federation, Tajikistan, and Ukraine. But after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, the language status was contended. As a result, many countries initiated policies on derussification. However, many people still speak Russian in these countries today, some of which use Russian as an official language.

Alphabets & Writing System

The Russian language origin started with Old Church Slavonic. This language initially used the Glagolitic alphabet. However, two missionaries named Constantine and Methodius were tasked to translate Old Church Slavonic scriptures into a new alphabet that more people could understand. They used the Cyrillic alphabet, which replaced the Glagolitic alphabet in the 9th century.

Old Church Slavic remained the dominant literary language until the reign of Peter the Great in the 17th century. He encouraged authors to use a literary style closer to their spoken language. With many people speaking Russian, the Russian language started appearing in writing. Russian texts used an adapted form of the Cyrillic alphabet, first appearing in texts in the 10th century.

As the history of the Russian language continued, so did the evolution of its writing system. The modern form of the language came after the Communist Revolution in 1917. Archaic letters left the Russian alphabet as part of its modernisation. After the reformation, Russian reached the level we know today. The modern Russian alphabet is a variant of the Cyrillic alphabet and contains 33 letters.

Russian Language Geographic Distribution

The Russian language origin traces back to modern-day Russia, where it holds the official language status today. There are approximately 138 million Russian-speaking people in the country. It is also the official language of Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan, and an unofficial lingua franca in many former Soviet Union countries, with almost 220 million total speakers in Europe.

The language was brought to these countries from Russian while under Soviet rule. After the USSR collapsed, around 25 million Russians found themselves outside of Russia. They accounted for 10% of the population of post-Soviet states and ensured the language continued after the dissolution of the USSR. Many of these Russians became refugees and moved further through Europe, bringing the Russian language to countries such as Germany, Georgia, and Finland.

Russian is also spoken in the US. Looking at the history of the Russian language, it was first brought to the Americas in the 18th century when Russian explorers arrived in Alaska. Russia also went through a period of colonisation, taking the language to Africa. It does not hold official status on the continent today, but it is still home to many Russian-speaking people.

Russian Translation Services

From the Russian language origin to the present day, Russian has become a dominant world language. It is widely spoken and the most spoken language in Europe. As the world becomes more globalised, Russian is one of the most sought-after language translations.

At Renaissance Translations, we offer high-quality Russian translations services in many language combinations. Our Russian-speaking translators are experts in their field with an extensive understanding of the history of the Russian language and its cultural significance. They have experience in multiple industries, including business, energy & mining, engineering, medicine, and more.

Get in touch to discuss your Russian translation with one of our friendly project managers. Alternatively, request a quote by clicking here.