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Russian (русский язык, transliteration: russkiy yazyk, Russian pronunciation: [ˈruskʲɪj jɪˈzɨk], meaning 'Russian language') is the most geographically widespread language of Eurasia, the most widely spoken of the Slavic languages, and the largest native language in Europe. Russian belongs to the family of Indo-European languages and is one of three (or four including Rusyn) living members of the East Slavic languages. Written examples of Old East Slavonic are attested from the 10th century onwards. The language is one of the six official languages of the United Nations.
Russian distinguishes between consonant phonemes with palatal secondary articulation and those without, the so-called soft and hard sounds. This distinction is found between pairs of almost all consonants and is one of the most distinguishing features of the language. Another important aspect is the reduction of unstressed vowels, which is somewhat similar to that of English. Stress, which is unpredictable, is not normally indicated orthographically though an optional acute accent (знак ударения) may, and sometimes should, be used to mark stress (such as to distinguish between otherwise identical words or to indicate the proper pronunciation of uncommon words or names).
Russian is a Slavic language in the Indo-European family. From the point of view of the spoken language, its closest relatives are Ukrainian and Belarusian, the other two national languages in the East Slavic group. In many places in eastern and southern Ukraine and throughout Belarus, these languages are spoken interchangeably, and in certain areas traditional bilingualism resulted in language mixture, e.g. Surzhyk in eastern Ukraine and Trasianka in Belarus. An East Slavic Old Novgorod dialect, although vanished during the fifteenth or sixteenth century, is sometimes considered to have played a significant role in the formation of the modern Russian language. The next closest relatives are the West Slavic languages, especially Polish and Slovak; next are the South Slavic languages, but Bulgarian especially has somewhat different grammar.
The vocabulary (mainly abstract and literary words), principles of word formations, and, to some extent, inflections and literary style of Russian have been also influenced by Church Slavonic, a developed and partly adopted form of the South Slavic Old Church Slavonic language used by the Russian Orthodox Church. However, the East Slavic forms have tended to be used exclusively in the various dialects that are experiencing a rapid decline. In some cases, both the East Slavic and the Church Slavonic forms are in use, with many different meanings. For details, see Russian phonology and History of the Russian language.
Russian phonology and syntax (especially in northern dialects) have also been influenced to some extent by the numerous Finnic languages of the Finno-Ugric subfamily: Merya, Moksha, Muromian, the language of the Meshchera, Veps, et cetera. These languages, some of them now extinct, used to be spoken in the center and in the north of what is now the European part of Russia. They came in contact with Eastern Slavic as far back as the early Middle Ages and eventually served as substratum for the modern Russian language. The Russian dialects spoken north, north-east and north-west ofMoscow have a considerable number of words of Finno-Ugric origin. Over the course of centuries, the vocabulary and literary style of Russian have also been influenced by Western and Central European languages such as Polish, Latin, Dutch, German, French, and English.
According to the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California, Russian is classified as a level III language in terms of learning difficulty for nativeEnglish speakers, requiring approximately 780 hours of immersion instruction to achieve intermediate fluency. It is also regarded by theUnited States Intelligence Community as a "hard target" language, due to both its difficulty to master for English speakers and its critical role in American world policy.
The Russian language is primarily spoken in Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, an unofficial but widely spoken language in Ukraine,Latvia and Estonia and, to a lesser extent, the other countries that were once constituent republics of the USSR. During the Soviet period, the policy toward the languages of the various other ethnic groups fluctuated in practice. Though each of the constituent republics had its own official language, the unifying role and superior status was reserved for Russian, although it was declared the official language only in 1990. Following the break-up of the USSR in 1991, several of the newly independent states have encouraged their native languages, which has partly reversed the privileged status of Russian, though its role as the language of post-Soviet national discourse throughout the region has continued.
In Latvia its official recognition and legality in the classroom have been a topic of considerable debate in a country where more than one-third of the population is Russian-speaking (seeRussians in Latvia). Similarly, in Estonia, Russophones constitute 25.6% of the country's current population and 58.6% of the native Estonian population is also able to speak Russian. In all, 67.8% of Estonia's population can speak Russian. Command of Russian language, however, is rapidly decreasing among younger Estonians (primarily being replaced by the command of English). For example, if 53% of ethnic Estonians between 15–19 claim to speak some Russian, then among the 10–14 year old group, command of Russian has fallen to 19% (which is about one-third the percentage of those who claim to have command of English).
In Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, Russian remains a co-official language with Kazakh and Kyrgyz, respectively. Large Russian-speaking communities still exist in northern Kazakhstan, and ethnic Russians comprise 25.6% of Kazakhstan's population.
Those who speak Russian as a mother or secondary language in Lithuania represent approximately 60% of the population of Lithuania. Also, more than half of the population of theBaltic states speak Russian either as foreign language or as mother tongue. As theGrand Duchy of Finland was part of the Russian Empire from 1809 to 1918, and a number of Russian speakers have remained in Finland. There are 33,400 Russian-speaking Finns, amounting to 0.6% of the population. Five thousand (0.1%) of them are late 19th century and 20th century immigrants or their descendants, and the rest are recent immigrants, who have arrived in the 1990s and later.
In the twentieth century, Russian was widely taught in the schools of the members of the old Warsaw Pact and in other countries that used to be allies of the USSR. In particular, these countries include Poland, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Albania and Cuba. However, younger generations are usually not fluent in it, because Russian is no longer mandatory in the school system. According to the Eurobarometer 2005 survey,though, fluency in Russian remains fairly high (20–40%) in some countries, in particular those where the people speak a Slavic language and thereby have an edge in learning Russian (namely, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Bulgaria). It is currently the most widely taught foreign language in Mongolia, and has been compulsory in Year 7 onward as a second foreign language since 2006.
Russian is also spoken in Israel by at least 750,000 ethnic Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union (1999 census). The Israeli press and websitesregularly publish material in Russian. Russian is also spoken as a second language by a small number of people in Afghanistan (Awde and Sarwan, 2003). According to a BBC report from October, 2009, Afghan refugee children are learning Russian in school. If they return to Afghanistan, this may create a small population of second-language Russian speakers there, as well.
Sizable Russian-speaking communities also exist in North America, especially in large urban centers of the U.S. and Canada, such as New York City,Philadelphia, Boston, Los Angeles, Nashville, San Francisco, Seattle, Spokane, Toronto, Baltimore, Miami, Chicago, Denver and the Cleveland suburb ofRichmond Heights. In a number of locations they issue their own newspapers, and live in ethnic enclaves (especially the generation of immigrants who started arriving in the early sixties). Only about a quarter of them are ethnic Russians, however. Before the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the overwhelming majority of Russophones in North America were Russian-speaking Jews. Afterwards, the influx from the countries of the former Soviet Unionchanged the statistics somewhat, with ethnic Russians and Ukrainians immigrating along with some more Russian Jews. According to the United States 2000 Census, Russian is the primary language spoken in the homes of over 700,000 individuals living in the United States.
Significant Russian-speaking groups also exist in Western Europe. These have been fed by several waves of immigrants since the beginning of the twentieth century, each with its own flavor of language. Germany, the United Kingdom, Spain, Portugal, France, Italy, Belgium, Greece, Brazil, Norway, and Austria have significant Russian-speaking communities totaling 3 million people. Australian cities Melbourne and Sydney also have Russian speaking populations, with the most Russians living in southeast Melbourne, particularly the suburbs of Carnegie and Caulfield. Two thirds of them are actually Russian-speaking descendants of Germans, Greeks, Jews, Azerbaijanis, Armenians or Ukrainians, who either repatriated after theUSSR collapsed, or are just looking for temporary employment.
Russians in China form one of the 56 ethnic groups officially recognized by mainland China.
Recent estimates of the total number of speakers of Russian
| Source || Native speakers || Native rank || Total speakers || Total rank |
| G. Weber, "Top Languages", |
3: 12–18, 1997, ISSN 1369-9733
| 160,000,000 || 8 || 285,000,000 || 5 |
| World Almanac (1999) || 145,000,000 || 8 (2005) || 275,000,000 || 5 |
| SIL (2000 WCD) || 145,000,000 || 8 || 255,000,000 || 5–6 (tied with Arabic) |
| CIA World Factbook (2005) || 160,000,000 || 8 || |
Russian is the official language of Russia, although it shares the official status at regional level with other languages in the numerous ethnic autonomies within Russia, such as Bashkortostan, Tatarstan, and Yakutia. It is also an official language of Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and the de facto official language of the unrecognized country of Transnistria and partially recognized countries of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Russian is one of the six official languages of the United Nations. Education in Russian is still a popular choice for both Russian as a second language (RSL) and native speakers in Russia as well as many of the former Soviet republics. Russian is still seen as an important language for children to learn in most of the former Soviet republics.
Ninety-four percent of the school students of Russia, 75% in Belarus, 41% in Kazakhstan, 20% in Ukraine, 23% in Kyrgyzstan, 21% in Moldova, 7% in Azerbaijan, 5% in Georgia and 2% in Armenia and Tajikistan receive their education only or mostly in Russian. The percentage of ethnic Russians is 80% in Russia, 10% in Belarus, 36% in Kazakhstan, 27% in Ukraine, 9% in Kyrgyzstan, 6% in Moldova, 2% in Azerbaijan, 1.5% in Georgia and less than 1% in both Armenia and Tajikistan.
Russian-language schooling is also available in Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania. However, due to recent high school reforms in Latvia (whereby the government pays a substantial sum to a school to teach in the national language), the number of subjects taught in Russian has been reduced in the country. The language has a co-official status alongside Romanian in the autonomies of Gagauzia and Transnistria in Moldova. In the Autonomous Republic of Crimea in Ukraine, Russian is recognized as a regional language alongside with Crimean Tatar. According to a poll by FOM-Ukraine, Russian is the most widely spoken language in Ukraine by a small margin. However, despite its widespread usage, pro-Russian Crimean activists complain about the (mandatory) use of Ukrainian in schools, movie theaters, courts, on drug prescriptions and its use in the media and for government paperwork.
Despite leveling after 1900, especially in matters of vocabulary, a number of dialects exist in Russia. Some linguists divide the dialects of the Russian language into two primary regional groupings, "Northern" and "Southern", with Moscow lying on the zone of transition between the two. Others divide the language into three groupings, Northern, Central and Southern, with Moscow lying in the Central region. Dialectology within Russia recognizes dozens of smaller-scale variants. The dialects often show distinct and non-standard features of pronunciation and intonation, vocabulary and grammar. Some of these are relics of ancient usage now completely discarded by the standard language.
The northern Russian dialects and those spoken along the Volga River typically pronounce unstressed /o/ clearly (the phenomenon called okanye/оканье). East of Moscow, particularly inRyazan Region, unstressed /e/ and /a/ following palatalized consonants and preceding a stressed syllable are not reduced to [ɪ] (like in the Moscow dialect), being instead pronounced/a/ in such positions (e.g. несли is pronounced [nʲasˈlʲi], not [nʲɪsˈlʲi]) – this is called yakanye/ яканье; many southern dialects have a palatalized final /tʲ/ in 3rd person forms of verbs (this is unpalatalized in the standard dialect) and a fricative [ɣ] where the standard dialect has [ɡ].
However, in certain areas south of Moscow, e.g. in and around Tula, /ɡ/ is pronounced as in the Moscow and northern dialects unless it precedes a voiceless plosive or a pause. In this position /ɡ/ is lenited and devoiced to the fricative [x], e.g. друг [drux] (in Moscow's dialect, only Бог[box], лёгкий [lʲɵxʲkʲɪj], мягкий [ˈmʲæxʲkʲɪj] and some derivatives follow this rule). Some of these features (e.g. a debuccalized or lenited /ɡ/ and palatalized final /tʲ/ in 3rd person forms of verbs) are also present in modern Ukrainian, indicating either a linguistic continuum and/or strong influence one way or the other.
The city of Veliky Novgorod has historically displayed a feature called chokanye/tsokanye(чоканье/цоканье), where /tɕ/ and /ts/ were confused. So, цапля ("heron") has been recorded as 'чапля'. Also, the second palatalization of velars did not occur there, so the so-called ě² (from the Proto-Slavonic diphthong *ai) did not cause /k, ɡ, x/ to shift to /ts, dz, s/; therefore where Standard Russian has цепь ("chain"), the form кепь [kʲepʲ] is attested in earlier texts.
Among the first to study Russian dialects was Lomonosov in the eighteenth century. In the nineteenth, Vladimir Dal compiled the first dictionary that included dialectal vocabulary. Detailed mapping of Russian dialects began at the turn of the twentieth century. In modern times, the monumental Dialectological Atlas of the Russian Language(Диалектологический атлас русского языка [dʲɪɐˌlʲɛktəlɐˈɡʲitɕɪskʲɪj ˈatləs ˈruskəvə jɪzɨˈka]), was published in three folio volumes 1986–1989, after four decades of preparatory work.
- Balachka a dialect, spoken primarily by Cossacks, in the regions of Don, Kuban and Terek.
- Fenya, a criminal argot of ancient origin, with Russian grammar, but with distinct vocabulary.
- Surzhyk is a heavily russified variety of Ukrainian. It is used by a large portion of the population of Ukraine, especially in the eastern and central areas of the country.
- Trasianka is a language with Russian and Belarusian features used by a large portion of the rural population in Belarus.
- Quelia, a pseudo pidgin of German and Russian.
- Runglish, Russian-English pidgin. This word is also used by English speakers to describe the way in which Russians attempt to speak English using Russian morphology and/or syntax.
- Russenorsk is an extinct pidgin language with mostly Russian vocabulary and mostly Norwegian grammar, used for communication between Russiansand Norwegian traders in the Pomor trade in Finnmark and the Kola Peninsula.
Russian is written using a modified version of the Cyrillic (кириллица) alphabet. The Russian alphabet consists of 33 letters. The following table gives their upper case forms, along with IPA values for each letter's typical sound:
Older letters of the Russian alphabet include <ѣ>, which merged to <е> (/je/) or /ʲe/); <і> and <ѵ>, which both merged to <и> (/i/); <ѳ>, which merged to <ф> (/f/); <ѫ>, which merged to <у> (/u/); <ѭ>, which merged to <ю> (/ju/ or /ʲu/); and <ѧ>/<ѩ>, which later were graphically reshaped into <я> and merged phonetically to/ja/ or /ʲa/. While these older letters have been abandoned at one time or another, they may be used in this and related articles. The yers <ъ> and <ь> originally indicated the pronunciation of ultra-short or reduced /ŭ/, /ĭ/.
Because of many technical restrictions in computing and also because of the unavailability of Cyrillic keyboards abroad, Russian is often transliterated using the Latin alphabet. For example, мороз (“frost”) is transliterated moroz, and мышь (“mouse”), mysh or myš’. Transliteration is commonly used by those who live outside Russia, although it is now being used less and less often by Russians because of the extension of Unicode character encoding, which now incorporates different alphabets ranging from Latin to Hindi.
The Russian alphabet has many systems of character encoding. KOI8-R was designed by the government and was intended to serve as the standard encoding. This encoding is still used in UNIX-like operating systems. Nevertheless, the spread of MS-DOS and Microsoft Windows created chaos and ended by establishing different encodings as de-facto standards, with Windows-1251 became a de facto standard in Russian Internet and e-mail communication. A number of encoding conversion applications were developed. \ "iconv" is an example that is supported by most versions of Linux,Macintosh and some other operating systems. Most implementations (especially old ones) of the character encoding for the Russian language are aimed at simultaneous use of Latin and Russian characters only and do not include support for any other language. Certain hopes for a unification of the character encoding for the Russian alphabet are related to the Unicode standard, specifically designed for peaceful coexistence of various languages, including even dead languages. Unicode also supports the letters of the Early Cyrillic alphabet, which have many similarities with the Greek alphabet.
Russian spelling is reasonably phonemic in practice. It is in fact a balance among phonemics, morphology, etymology, and grammar; and, like that of most living languages, has its share of inconsistencies and controversial points. A number of rigid spelling rules introduced between the 1880s and 1910s have been responsible for the former whilst trying to eliminate the latter.
The current spelling follows the major reform of 1918, and the final codification of 1956. An update proposed in the late 1990s has met a hostile reception, and has not been formally adopted. The punctuation, originally based on Byzantine Greek, was in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries reformulated on the French and German models.
According to the Institute of Russian Language of the Russian Academy of Sciences, an optional acute accent (знак ударения) may, and sometimes should, be used to mark stress. For example, it is used to distinguish between otherwise identical words, especially when context doesn't make it obvious: замо́к/за́мок (lock/castle), сто́ящий/стоя́щий (worthwhile/standing), чудно́/чу́дно (this is odd/this is marvelous), молоде́ц/мо́лодец (attaboy/fine young man), узна́ю/узнаю́ (I shall learn it/I am recognizing it), отреза́ть/отре́зать (to cut/to have cut); to indicate the proper pronunciation of uncommon words, especially personal and family names (афе́ра, гу́ру, Гарси́я, Оле́ша, Фе́рми), and to express the stressed word in the sentence (Ты́ съел печенье?/Ты съе́л печенье?/Ты съел пече́нье? – Was it you who ate the cookie?/Did you eat the cookie?/Was the cookie your meal?). Stress marks are mandatory in lexical dictionaries and books for children or Russian learners.
The phonological system of Russian is inherited from Common Slavonic, but underwent considerable modification in the early historical period, before being largely settled around the year 1400.
The language possesses five vowels, which are written with different letters depending on whether or not the preceding consonant is palatalized. The consonants typically come in plain vs. palatalized pairs, which are traditionally called hard and soft. (The hard consonants are often velarized, especially before back vowels, as in Irish, although in some dialects the velarization is limited to hard /l/). The standard language, based on the Moscow dialect, possesses heavy stress and moderate variation in pitch. Stressed vowels are somewhat lengthened, while unstressed vowels tend to be reduced to near-close vowels or an unclear schwa. (See also: vowel reduction in Russian.)
The Russian syllable structure can be quite complex with both initial and final consonant clusters of up to 4 consecutive sounds. Using a formula with V standing for the nucleus (vowel) and C for each consonant the structure can be described as follows:
Clusters of four consonants are not very common, however, especially within a morpheme. Examples: взгляд (/vzglʲat/, "glance"), строительств (/strʌˈʲitʲɛlʲstf/, "of constructions").
| ||Bilabial ||Labio- |
|Dental & |
|Palatal ||Velar |
| Nasal ||hard || /m/ || || /n/ || || || |
|soft || /mʲ/ || || /nʲ/ || || || |
| Plosive ||hard || /p/ /b/ || || /t/ /d/ || || || /k/ /ɡ/ |
|soft || /pʲ/ /bʲ/ || || /tʲ/ /dʲ/ || || || /kʲ/* [ɡʲ] |
| Affricate ||hard || || || /ts/ || || || |
|soft || || || || /tɕ/ || || |
| Fricative ||hard || || /f/ /v/ || /s/ /z/ || /ʂ/ /ʐ/ || || /x/ [ɣ] |
|soft || || /fʲ/ /vʲ/ || /sʲ/ /zʲ/ || /ɕː/* /ʑː/* || || [xʲ] [ɣʲ] |
| Trill ||hard || || || /r/ || || || |
|soft || || || /rʲ/ || || || |
| Approximant ||hard || || || /l/ || || || |
|soft || || || /lʲ/ || || /j/ || |
Russian is notable for its distinction based on palatalization of most of the consonants. While /k/, /ɡ/, /x/ do have palatalized allophones [kʲ, ɡʲ, xʲ], only/kʲ/ might be considered a phoneme, though it is marginal and generally not considered distinctive (the only native minimal pair which argues for /kʲ/ to be a separate phoneme is "это ткёт" (/ˈɛtə tkʲot/, "it weaves")/"этот кот" (/ˈɛtət kot/, "this cat")). Palatalization means that the center of the tongue is raised during and after the articulation of the consonant. In the case of /tʲ/ and /dʲ/, the tongue is raised enough to produce slight frication (affricate sounds). These sounds: /t, d, ts, s, z, n and rʲ/ are dental, that is pronounced with the tip of the tongue against the teeth rather than against the alveolar ridge.
Russian has preserved an Indo-European synthetic-inflectional structure, although considerable leveling has taken place.
Russian grammar encompasses
- a highly synthetic morphology
- a syntax that, for the literary language, is the conscious fusion of three elements:
- a polished vernacular foundation;
- a Church Slavonic inheritance;
- a Western European style.
The spoken language has been influenced by the literary one, but continues to preserve characteristic forms. The dialects show various non-standard grammatical features, some of which are archaisms or descendants of old forms since discarded by the literary language.
The total number of words in Russian is difficult to ascertain because of the ability to agglutinate and create manifold compounds, diminutives, etc. (see Word Formation under Russian grammar). The number of listed words or entries in some of the major dictionaries published during the last two centuries, and the total vocabulary of Alexander Pushkin (who is credited with greatly augmenting and codifying literary Russian), are as follows:
| Work || Year || Words || Notes |
| Academic dictionary, I Ed. || 1789–1794 || 43,257 || Russian and Church Slavonic with some Old Russian vocabulary |
| Academic dictionary, II Ed || 1806–1822 || 51,388 || Russian and Church Slavonic with some Old Russian vocabulary |
| Pushkin opus || 1810–1837 || 21,197 || - |
| Academic dictionary, III Ed. || 1847 || 114,749 || Russian and Church Slavonic with Old Russian vocabulary |
| Dahl's dictionary || 1880–1882 || 195,844 || 44,000 entries lexically grouped; attempt to catalogue the full vernacular language, includes some properly Ukrainian and Belarusian words |
| Ushakov's dictionary || 1934–1940 || 85,289 || Current language with some archaisms |
| Academic Dictionary of the Russian Language || 1950–1965 || 120,480 || full dictionary of the "Modern language" |
| Ozhegov's dictionary || 1950s–1960s || 61,458 || More or less then-current language |
| Lopatin's dictionary || 2000 || 163,293 || Orthographic, current language |
As a historical aside, Dahl was, in the second half of the nineteenth century, still insisting that the proper spelling of the adjective русский, which was at that time applied uniformly to all the Orthodox Eastern Slavic subjects of the Empire, as well as to its one official language, should be <руский> with one <с>, in accordance with ancient tradition and what he termed the "spirit of the language". He was contradicted by the philologist Grot, who distinctly heard the <с> lengthened or doubled.
Proverbs and sayings
The Russian language is replete with many hundreds of proverbs (пословица [pɐˈslovʲɪtsə]) and sayings (поговоркa [pəɡɐˈvorkə]). These were already tabulated by the seventeenth century, and collected and studied in the nineteenth and twentieth, with the folk-tales being an especially fertile source.
History and examples
The history of Russian language may be divided into the following periods.
- Kievan period and feudal breakup
- Tatar yoke and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania
- Moscovite period (15th–17th centuries)
- Empire (18th–19th centuries)
- Soviet period and beyond (20th century)
Judging by the historical records, by approximately 1000 AD the predominant ethnic group over much of modern European Russia, Ukraine and Belaruswas the Eastern branch of the Slavs, speaking a closely related group of dialects. The political unification of this region into Kievan Rus' in about 880, from which modern Russia, Ukraine and Belarus trace their origins, established Old East Slavic as a literary and commercial language. It was soon followed by the adoption of Christianity in 988 and the introduction of the South Slavic Old Church Slavonic as the liturgical and official language. Borrowings andcalques from Byzantine Greek began to enter the Old East Slavic and spoken dialects at this time, which in their turn modified the Old Church Slavonic as well.
Dialectal differentiation accelerated after the breakup of Kievan Rus' in approximately 1100. On the territories of modern Belarus and Ukraine emerged Ruthenian and in modern Russia medieval Russian. They definitely became distinct since the 13th century, i.e. following the division of that land between theGrand Duchy of Lithuania, Poland and Hungary in the west and independent Novgorod and Pskov feudal republics plus numerous small duchies (which came to be vassals of the Tatars) in the east.
The official language in Moscow and Novgorod, and later, in the growing Muscovy, was Church Slavonicwhich evolved from Old Church Slavonic and remained the literary language for centuries, until the Petrine age, when its usage shrank drastically to biblical and liturgical texts. Russian developed under a strong influence of Church Slavonic until the close of the 17nth century; afterwards the influence reversed, leading to corruption of liturgical texts.
The political reforms of Peter the Great (Пётр Вели́кий, Pyótr Velíkiy) were accompanied by a reform of the alphabet, and achieved their goal of secularization and Westernization. Blocks of specialized vocabulary were adopted from the languages of Western Europe. By 1800, a significant portion of the gentry spoke French, less often German, on an everyday basis. Many Russian novels of the 19th century, e.g. Lev Tolstoy's (Лев Толсто́й) War and Peace, contain entire paragraphs and even pages in French with no translation given, with an assumption that educated readers would not need one.
The modern literary language is usually considered to date from the time of Aleksandr Pushkin (Алекса́ндр Пу́шкин) in the first third of the 19th century. Pushkin revolutionized Russian literature by rejecting archaic grammar and vocabulary (so called "высо́кий стиль" — "high style") in favor of grammar and vocabulary found in the spoken language of the time. Even modern readers of younger age may only experience slight difficulties understanding some words in Pushkin’s texts, since relatively few words used by Pushkin have become archaic or changed meaning. In fact, many expressions used by Russian writers of the early 19th century, in particular Pushkin, Mikhail Lermontov (Михаи́л Ле́рмонтов), Nikolai Gogol (Никола́й Го́голь), Alexandr Griboyedov (Алекса́ндр Грибое́дов), became proverbs or sayings which can be frequently found even in the modern Russian colloquial speech.
Зи́мний ве́чер IPA: [ˈzʲimnʲɪj ˈvʲetɕɪr]
Бу́ря мгло́ю не́бо кро́ет, [ˈburʲɐ ˈmɡloju ˈnʲɛbɐ ˈkroɪt]
Ви́хри сне́жные крутя́; [ˈvʲixrʲɪ ˈsʲnʲɛʐnɨɪ kruˈtʲa]
То, как зверь, она́ заво́ет, [to kak zvʲerʲ ɐˈna zɐˈvoɪt]
То запла́чет, как дитя́, [to zɐˈplatɕɪt, kak dʲɪˈtʲa]
То по кро́вле обветша́лой [to po ˈkrovlʲɪ ɐbvʲɪˈtʂaləj]
Вдруг соло́мой зашуми́т, [vdruk sɐˈloməj zəʂuˈmʲit]
То, как пу́тник запозда́лый, [to kak ˈputnʲɪk zəpɐˈzdalɨj]
К нам в око́шко застучи́т. [knam vɐˈkoʂkə zəstuˈtɕit]
The political upheavals of the early 20th century and the wholesale changes of political ideology gave written Russian its modern appearance after the spelling reform of 1918. Political circumstances and Soviet accomplishments in military, scientific and technological matters (especially cosmonautics), gave Russian a worldwide prestige, especially during the middle third of the 20th century.