Origin of Russian Language

The Slavic people migrated from Poland to Russia in the 6th century CE. Traveling West, they populated the land all the way to the river Elbe and as far south as the Adriatic Sea.  Eventually, they populated most of the Balkans. As the population spread further apart, the Western, Southern and Eastern regions formed their own Slavonic language groups.

How the Language Evolved

The Eastern Slavonic language group changed over time, eventually becoming Russian, Belorussian, and Ukranian. The grammar in the Slavonic languages remained similar, permitting the three groups to share a common written language. This shared language, used only in writing, was called Old Church Slavonic.  Old Slavonic’s alphabet, also known as the Cyrillic alphabet, was created in the 9th century by Constantine, who based it on the Greek alphabet with an additional twelve letters for uniquely Slavic sounds.

The first Cyrillic letters were neatly written in large letters called ustay. Over time, script letters evolved.  By the 18th century, the alphabet was restructured to remove archaic references to Greek sounds.  Additional unused letters were removed in 1918 resulting in the modern Russian language.

Transition to Modern Russian

Old Church Slavonic was used as the primary written language until the mid-eighteenth century.  At this point, the language was further modified. High Style Church Slavonic was created to write poetry and to discuss theology. Middle Style was used for scientific writing and prose. Low Style was intended to be used for writing private mail or humor. The Middle Style, a language which shared aspects from the East Slavonic and the Church Slavonic, is the language which eventually developed into the modern Russian language. As of the 19th century, this dialect became the official Russian language.

The Russian language continued to evolve; however, as the educational system became more uniform across the land, changes became less frequent. Literacy soared to nearly 100 percent of the population, permitting huge populations from vastly different cultural backgrounds to communicate more easily.

Russian Language Today

Over one hundred and fifty million people speak Russian as a first language and over sixty million speak it as a second language, making it one of the principal Slavic languages.  Russian is also one of the six official languages of the United Nations.

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