Regular readers of this blog know that I’m making an effort to learn how to speak and write Russian. This is a long-term project that took a back seat when news of Russia-gate heated up and word of the Chechnya human rights abuses came to light. The mass of scandals and troubles simply took the wind out of the sails of my interest in the language for awhile.
Fortunately, I have a friend in Novgorod who encourages my efforts. Sergei reminded me that Russian Language Day would be a good day to renew my efforts and adjust my study habits. I like his idea, so that’s what I’ll do.
Today is United Nations Russian Language Day. UNESCO chose this day because it’s the birth anniversary of Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin (born June 6, 1799). Pushkin is thought of as the father of modern Russian literature. His works are widely read throughout the world.
The United Nations has more language commemoration days besides Russian. They include the organization’s other working languages: Arabic, Chinese, English, French, and Spanish. In addition to these is Mother Language Day.
My personal interest in the Russian language is rooted in a long time fascination with Russia, itself. When I was a child, the Soviet Union was the officially prohibited land, a taboo nation with a mysterious culture. The arcane alphabet was a large part of this mystery. Because I have a contrarian streak, the forbidden nature of Russia fueled my continued fascination.
In a nutshell, Russian is an Eastern Slavic language. The other branches are Western Slavic and Southern Slavic. Eastern Slavic has three additional divisions, Byelorussian, Ukrainian, and Russian. As is the case with other modern languages, Russian has “pure” native words and words derived from foreign languages.
The Russian Cyrillic alphabet was consciously created in the year 862 by the Thessalonian monks Cyril and Methodius who were sent by the Byzantine Emperor to spread Christianity to the Slavic peoples. There is some controversy about the influence of Coptic and Hebrew in the formulation of the early Cyrillic alphabet, but the influence of Greek is very obvious.
Cyrillic was refined in the 1200s as a result of the “Second Southern Slavic Influence”. It was simplified in the 1700s under reforms ordered by Peter the Great, and was further streamlined into its modern style under the reforms instituted after the Russian Revolution of 1917.
This very abbreviated overview of the Russian language only hints at the many subtleties and fascinating history of both the spoken and written forms of the Russian language.
Knowledge of the Russian language enhances efforts to study the culture and history of Russia, itself.