The State of the Russian Language

Where is Russian spoken? Official language (dark blue) and unofficial (light blue)
Where is Russian spoken? Official language (dark blue) and unofficial (light blue)

I’ve encountered the idea occasionally that learning Russian is a useless endeavor because it is a “dying language”. Proponents of this thesis allege that since the fall of the Soviet Union, Russian has been in decline because no one outside of Russia is forced to learn it anymore.

Of course, there are the cases of the Baltic countries – Estonia comes to mind first. Due to draconian anti-Russian language policies, use of Russian has declined in that country.

And then there are the cases of other post-Soviet countries, such as Belarus and Kazakhstan. In both of these countries, Russian remains an official language. (In fact, in Belarus, the majority of the population speaks Russian in their daily lives.) In Ukraine, Russian is not an official language, but it is very, very widely used and understood.

Anatoly, one of my favorite bloggers, has addressed the state of the Russian language, specifically online. In fact, Russian recently became the internet’s second-most popular language. (English is, of course, the most popular by a long shot.) A certain commenter disagreed with that article, prompting the publication of this article.

What is really interesting is how much the Russian language is used online by Ukrainians. Consider these statistics:

  • On the radio, 3.4% of songs are in Ukrainian while 60% are in Russian.
  • Over 60% of newspapers, 83% of journals and 87% of books are in Russian.
  • 28% of TV programs are in Ukrainian, even on state-owned channels.

In many ways, it seems that Russian is the official language in everything but name.

The individual who disagreed with the first post was not convinced by that second post and felt the need to post a comment saying that machine translators have trouble distinguishing between Russian and Ukrainian. That may very well be true, but what I found objectionable was this Ukrainian sentence:

Дякую тобі, боже, що я не москаль

I know some Ukrainian (even though I usually pretend not to) and if I’m not mistaken, that says “Thank you, God, that I’m not a Moskal.” Moskal is a derogatory word that Ukrainians use for Russians. Maybe I’m being overly sensitive, but couldn’t this commenter have picked a different example sentence in Ukrainian?

So anyway, bottom line: the alleged decline of the Russian language shouldn’t deter you from studying it, because it’s probably not true anyway. And besides, studying Russian will help you understand two other Slavic languages (Ukrainian and Belorussian*) with not too much effort.

*I feel silly asking this, but how do you spell the name of this language in English? I’m so used to seeing it in the Cyrillic alphabet that I’m not sure how to properly write it in Latin characters.


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