The Russian language is written in a Cyrillic alphabet. This alphabet was first used during the 10th century. Although no evidence exists, it is believed a runic alphabet may have been used prior to adoption of the Cyrillic alphabet. The modern Russian alphabet consists of 33 letters:
There are five vowels. The letters written for vowels depend on how the preceding consonant is vocalized. Two letters are voiceless and indicate hard and soft signs to assist with pronunciation.
Peter the Great simplified the letters in 1708 to their current modern shape with the introduction of his "civil script" and removed some letters that were not appropriate to the Russian language. He also eliminated diacritics marks. This effectively separated Russian from Church Slavonic.
Spelling was irregular in the two centuries following Peter the Great's reform. Yakov Karlovich Grot attempted to reconcile inconsistencies with his standard textbook in 1885. Until the Russian Revolution of 1917, Grot's work was considered the authority. His fundamental principles are still endorsed today.
Spelling is currently based on the reform of 1918, which removed four letters, and codification of 1958. A proposed reform in the late 20th century was unsuccessful and not adopted. Russian spelling rules are complex.
Maybe the most controversial aspect of the 1918 reform was the elimination of the letter "yat". Its original distinct phonetic sound gradually mutated to the sound value of the letter "e" by 1750 and a long history of reformation proposals ensued. The elimination of yat became a political symbol with Russians refusing to discontinue it in spelling and proponents of yat vocal in support. The regime eventually forced a complete eradication of yat.
Russian spelling is a combination of phonetics (speech sounds), morphology (patterns of word formation based on inflection, derivation and composition), etymology (the history or origin of a word) and grammar. As with most languages, there are inconsistencies and controversies.
Russian phonetics is rooted in Common Slavonic. Modification of Common Slavonic phonetics occurred by 1400 with significant changes.
Russian grammar contains three components assumed over the centuries: firstly, the vernacular, based on the Moscow dialect; secondly, Church Slavonic, an official language of Russia during the Moscow period; and, thirdly, a Western European style adopted during the Empire period.
The Russian syllables have a vowel as the nucleus and consonant clusters before and after the vowel. Consonant clusters may consist of a maximum of 4 letters.
Punctuation was revised in the 17th and 18th centuries based on French and German practices.
An acute accent (´) is sometimes used to distinguish between words with the same spelling but different meanings where the context does not make it apparent. Further uses of the acute accent are to aid in pronunciation and indicate the stressed word in a sentence. The acute accent is compulsory in dictionaries and children's books.
Heavy stress on words and moderate pitch variation are employed when speaking the Russian language.
An exact count of Russian words has not been determined. However, Academic Dictionary, I Edition, published 1794, noted 43,257 words. The word count increased to a high of 195,844 in 1882 and dropped to 163,293 in Lopatin's Dictionary of 2000.
Russian is most often transliterated using the Latin alphabet due to the scarcity of Cyrillic alphabet keyboards outside of Russia.