Which family does Russian belong to?
Pусский язык, russkiy yazyk, also known as the great Russian to distinguish it from the small Russian or Ukrainian and from the White Russian or Belarusian, is the most important of the Slavic languages, spoken as mother tongue by over 100 million people, but also used as a spoken and written language by all inhabitants of Russia, who study it at school since the second elementary class. With the Ukrainian and Belarusian, it forms the Eastern group of the Slavic languages.
Where does Russian come from?
The first literary documents date back to the mid-XI century (Ostromir’s Gospel); the first texts are written in Old Slavonic or Church Slavonic, which spread in Russia together with Glagolitic script first, and Cyrillic then. For a long time Church Slavonic remained the exclusive language of liturgy, religion and the official documents, while the spoken language as well developed, partly on its own and partly modeled by the cultured/written language itself, similarly to what happened to the Romance languages in relation to Latin.
This first phase, known as Old Russian, was centered in Kiev, the capital city of the first strong political formation, and ended with the XV century. In fact, the emergence of Moscow increased the importance of its dialect, first as the language of the Chancellery, and then as the literary language, finally relegating the Church Slavonic to liturgy use.
This second phase, known as Medium Russian (XVI-XVII centuries), marked the final breakthrough of the language of Moscow, which also found its first codification in the Grammar by Smotritzkij (1648) and in the compilation of the first Dictionaries.
A third phase, known as Modern Russian, began with the reign of Peter I the Great (1689-1725), who started Russia 's westernization trend, also as concerned the language: in particular the lexicon was enriched with many terms of the Western languages: German, French and also Italian.
The attempt of M. V. Lomonosov to recover the Church Slavonic did not interrupt the development of spoken Russian, to which Pushkin first, and then the other great writers of the XIX century, further gave complete autonomy and rich expressive possibilities.
What are the main linguistic features of Russian?
The main features that differentiate Russian from the other Slavic languages are:
1.- The passage of short i and u respectively to e and o;
2.- The passage of the original er, or, el, ol, when followed by a consonant, to ere, oro, ele, olo;
3.- Russian keeps a movable accent, which instead has been fixed in other languages on certain syllables;
4 .- It has two numbers (singular and plural, but until the XV century there are traces of a dual), three genders (masculine, feminine and neuter), six cases (Nominative, Genitive, Dative, Accusative, Instrumental, Prepositional) with some remnants of a seventh (Vocative);
5 .- It marks the article, both definite and indefinite;
6 .- In the organization of the verbal system, "aspect" prevails on tense.
The vocabulary has absorbed many foreign elements due to the historical events of Russia: many terms have bee imported from Greek, Latin, Scandinavian, Slavonic, German, French, Italian, Iranian, Mongolian, which have greatly enriched the still overwhelmingly prevailing Slavic heritage.
Today there are three main dialect areas: Northern, Southern and Central. Northern dialects are generally less advanced than the Central-Southern: the main difference between these two areas is the different pronunciation of pre-tonic o, which remains o in the Northern dialects (the phenomenon is called okan'e), while in the Central-Southern dialects it tends to a pronunciation quite close to a (the phenomenon is called akan'e). The literary and cultured language, developing from the central dialect of Moscow, has the akan'è. The dialectal differences are still mainly phonetic, making mutual understanding virtually complete even among speakers of distant regions.
Russian is written with the Cyrillic alphabet; it originally included 43 signs, but it gradually simplified: the last spelling reform, a decree of People's Commissars of October 1918, on the basis of a resolution by the Academy of Sciences, 1917, has led to a list of 32 letters, eliminating those that only accounted for etymological information devoid of practical import. The writing reproduces with sufficient accuracy the phonological features of the spoken language.