Russian Language: Characteristics and Quirks

el idioma ruso, sus características y sus curiosidades

As well as being the language of the tsars and famous artists such as Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Pasternak and Prokofiev, Russian is the native language of the inhabitants of the Russian Federal Republic and one of the six official languages of the UN along with Arabic, Chinese, English, French and Spanish.

Where is Russian spoken? 

There are some 300 million people in the world who speak Russian; 170 million consider it their mother tongue and of these, 119 million are Russian citizens. 

Russian is the official language of countries such as Belarus, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan and is very widely used in Ukraine, some areas of Georgia, Estonia and Latvia. The face that it is so widespread is due to the existence of the old Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), dissolved in 1991, which was comprised of 15 republics (some had their own national or regional language or dialect). 

Linguistic characteristics of Russian 

Russian is the only Slavic language belonging to the Indo-European language family that has some very marked linguistic features: 

1. It is a mainly phonetic language (the words are pronounced how they are written). 

2. It uses the Cyrillic alphabet that can be written in uppercase, lowercase or Cyrillic cursive. 

3. It has 5 vowel sounds and 37 consonant sounds. 

4. The word order in a phrase is changeable. 

5. It doesn’t use articles. Word order, use of plurals, demonstrative pronouns, etc. are used to express whether a noun is definite or indefinite. 

6. It has 6 declensions for nouns, pronouns, demonstrative adjectives and ordinal numbers that tend to be declined according to the number and gender. 

7. Verbs agree with the subjects in person and number (present tenses) or in number and gender (past tenses). 

8. Russian uses three genders: masculine, feminine and neutral. Speakers need to know the gender of each noun given that it affects the endings of other words in the phrase due to the use of declensions.

Interesting facts about Russian 

As well as being the fourth most spoken language in the world (258 million speakers), it is a language full of quirks which not everyone is familiar with: 

The colour blue and Russian 

Russian has more expressions referring to the shades of blue than most other languages. In fact, it divides these shades into light (голубой) and dark (синий). This is even more interesting if we consider that some languages don’t even distinguish between blue and green. 

Russian is the language of space 

If you want to become an astronaut, you’ll have to learn Russian (as hard as it may seem) and that’s because Russian is known as the language of space and is one of the requirements to work with NASA. 

Roscosmos (Russian Federal Space Agency) is the second largest space agency in the world after NASA. But that’s not all. Did you know that astronauts have to travel in a Russian spacecraft, Soyuz (“Union” in Russian), to reach the International Space Station, where the majority of components and systems are in Russian? 

Russian is considered one of the richest, most complex languages in the world 

Russian is widely perceived as a difficult language, and with reason. 

Russian grammar is very complex—it’s relatively easy to gain basic knowledge of the language, but very complicated to acquire professional proficiency. This isn’t specific to foreign language speakers; it’s even challenging for Russian native speakers to understand literary language, for example. 

The verb “to be” is only used in the past and future 

As strange as it may seem, the verb “to be” is only used in the past and future tenses. 

For example, to say “I am a translator”, in Russian you would say “I translator”. 

No native Russian words begin with “A” 

All Russian words that begin with “A” are loanwords from other languages. 

The Russian language is made up of half a million words… 

However, only some 2,500 are used frequently. The large number of words in the Russian language is the result of the variations that arise from declensions. 

There are Russian words with three “E’s” in a row 

For example, “змееед” (snake eagle) and “длинношеее” (long-necked). 

The number 1 can be plural 

The number one (один) has a plural form that means “only”. 

Length of words in Russian 

It is common for Russian words to have more than 10 letters, some even have more than 20 (perhaps even more than in German). 

There are even words that are 38 letters long! 

Surnames in Russian vary according to gender 

Names in Russian are made up of a name, surname and a patronymic name, which is the father’s name ending in -ovich for sons and -ovna for daughters. For example, if a father has a son and a daughter, the son’s patronymic name will be Ivanovich, and the daughter’s, Ivanova. 

As you will gather from reading this article, the characteristics and quirks of Russian make it a “difficult” language to learn and translate. That’s why it’s always advisable to turn to a professional translation agency when working with documents in this language to avoid translation and communication errors