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The Russian Language

The Russian language has many distinctions. It is spoken by 277 million people and the largest native language in Europe. Russian is a member of the Indo-European languages family. It is the most commonly spoken Slavic language and is one of the official languages of the United Nations.

The development of the Russian language can be broken into four periods: Kievan and feudal breakup; Moscow; Empire and Soviet.

Kievan Rus' and Feudal Breakup (up to and including the 14th century BCE)

Kievan Rus' was a medieval state from 800 to 1250 founded by Scandinavian traders. It was located in Kiev and was the predecessor of Russia.

Prior to Kievan Rus', people spoke Old East Slavic dialects with loanwords from Gothic and Old Norse Germanic Languages. Once Kievan Rus' was established, the spoken tongue was supplemented with loanwords from Old Church Slavic and Byzantine Greek. The Mongol invasion in the 12th century further contributed commerce and military Altaic loanwords.

The literary language was Old Church Slavonic. The earliest surviving record of this language is an amphora from approximately 1050. There is evidence children wrote birch-bark letters during the 14th century in the Old Novgorod dialect.

Moscow (15th to 17th century BCE)

The dialect of Moscow emerged as the prominent language spoken as a distinct language. The official language of Russia was a form of Church Slavic (descended from Old Church Slavic). The developing secular language began to invade Church Slavic in spite of standardization attempts during the 1600's.

Polish and German loanwords were adopted into the language. Meanwhile, native words were created to enhance the Moscow dialect.

Despite copious amounts of literature proclaimed heretical and destroyed during this period, early texts still exist. The era of Modern Russian literature began during the 1600's.

Empire (18th to 19th century BCE)

A reform of the alphabet was accomplished under the rule of Peter the Great. Dutch, Latin, French and German words were included in the Russian vocabulary to accommodate Age of Enlightenment philosophies and burgeoning technologies. Greeks words were reformed from Byzantine pronunciation to European. French, and to a lesser extent, German, was spoken by the upper classes.

Church Slavic was the literary language until the reign of Peter the Great. During his rule from 1682 until 1725, Church Slavic gradually became the literary language for religious writings only. All other texts and personal communications were primarily written in a language similar to the spoken language.

Pushkin, with his predecessors, Lomonosov, Derzhavin and Karmzin, created a modern literary language. This language gave consideration to the vernacular and Church Slavonic. It emulated Western Europe style.

Two grammars of the Russian language were published during the mid-1700's. In the 1800's, the standard language in its current modern form was constructed.

Soviet (20th century to present)

Russian underwent a spelling reform in 1918, along with introduction of political terminology and relinquishment of formal speech. Despite concerns about these developments, the political regime and education system ensured the Russian language remained substantially in this form for decades. Differences due to dialects decreased, while literacy increased to encompass the vast majority of the population.

The collapse of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in 1990 had a major impact on the Russian language. English words were adopted and, in some cases, replaced Russian words with exactly the same meaning. The Russian language remains in a constant state of change to this date.