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Is Russian a Germanic Language? Unique Features of the Russian Language

Russian and German have similar features because both languages belong to the Indo-European Language Family.

The Indo-European language family contains many languages that are distinctly different, yet all languages in this family evolved from an ancient language called Proto-Indo-European.

Indo-European Languages are divided into 8 sub-branches. These are 

  •   Hellenic (Greek)
  •   Indo-Iranian (Indo-Aryan, Iranian, Nuristani)
  •   Italic (Romance)
  •   Celtic
  •   Germanic
  •   Armenian
  •   Balto-Slavic (Baltic and Slavic)
  •   Albanian
Indo-European Languages and its 8 sub-branches.

Armenian, Albanian, Celtic, and Greek have their sub branches and others are grouped into 4 major sub-branches (Germanic, Italic, Balto Slavic, and Indo-Iranian).

Russian is not a Germanic Language, Russian a Slavic Language.

Major Slavic Languages are Russian, Ukrainian, Polish, Czech, and Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian.

Whereas the most spoken Germanic Languages are English, German, Dutch, Swedish, and Afrikaans.

Germanic languages have some grammatical similarities with Russian because they share a common ancestry and are in the Indo-European language family.

Click to check my other articles on Germany. I also linked them all at the end of this article.

Map of Germanic Languages in Europe. Photo Source

Is Russian a Germanic language?

Russian is part of the Slavic language family, also known as Slavonic languages. Hence, Russian is not a Germanic language.

Russian, along with Germanic and Slavic language groups, are all subdivisions of their parent family, the Indo-European languages. 

While Slavic languages share several similarities with each other, Russian itself is very different from Germanic languages.

Yet, Russian and German are distantly related due to both originating from the Indo-European language family.

Indo-European Language Family Slavic Branch Source

This ancestral link between languages is very important, even though you may not notice it when learning. Yet, being in the same language family helps you understand another language.  

Let me explain…

As a Turkish native speaker, English was hard for me even though English is ranked among the easiest languages to learn.

Because the logic of the language and the grammar is different from your mindset. 

For this reason, the Russian language grammatically and logically shares much more with all Germanic languages than Turkish, Chinese, or Japanese. 

Additionally, Germanic Languages and Russian have some common words due to cultural relations. 

For a detailed list of Languages Similar to German read my guide “Languages similar to German: Explained By a Local

All you need to know about Slavic languages

Slavonic languages, also commonly called Slavic languages, are a branch of the Indo-European language family.

It is believed that Slavic languages stem from a proto-language named Proto-Slavic, which used to be spoken more than 2500 years ago.

Slavic languages form the second most common language group in Europe. The most common one is the Germanic language family, followed by the third most common, the Romance languages.

Today, Slavic languages are natively spoken across Central and Eastern Europe, the Balkans, and Western Siberia to Russia’s far East. 

Additionally, there are several minorities scattered across the world speaking a Slavic language, of which Russian is probably the most famous one.

With more than 315 million speakers worldwide, Slavic languages make up the biggest ethnolinguistic group in Europe.

Slavic languages can further be divided into 3 branches:

  • The East Slavic branch includes Russian, Ukrainian, and Belarusian. 
  • The West Slavic Branch includes Czech, Slovak, Polish, and others. 
  • The third branch is the South Slavic branch, further subdivided into Eastern and Western groups, including Bulgarian, Macedonian, Serbian, Croatian, Bosnian, and more.
Slavic Language Family Tree and its Evolution Source

Experts believe there may have been a North Slavic branch, but more evidence is needed.

Slavic languages within the same branch share a fair amount of mutual intelligibility, due to which its speakers are partially able to understand each other. 

But communicating with Slavic speakers across their branches can become quite difficult because of the large variety of languages and dialects.

Slavic languages share more similarities and characteristics than any other language group making them pretty homogenous. 

Until the 10th century, they were just different dialects of Common Slavic, maintaining a very similar vocabulary from language to language. 

Moreover, numerous Slavic languages have preserved a lot of morphology of their ancestor Proto-Slavic which again contributes to the parallels.

SUGGESTED READING: Is Spanish a Germanic Language? Romance vs Germanic Languages

Countries where Russian is Official or Widely Spoken Source

What language is Russian derived from?

Being an East Slavic language of the Indo-European language family, Russian is a descendant of an East Slavic tribe’s language that was spoken from the late 9th to the mid-13th century.

This East Slavic tribe was situated in Kievan Rus’, a loose federation under the reign of the Rurik dynasty consisting of East Slavic, Baltic, and Finnic people. 

Today’s modern nations of Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine recognize Kievan Rus’ as their cultural ancestors.

Also, since Russian belongs to the broader Indo-European languages and shares cultural ties with other European nations, its vocabulary and literary style have been influenced by Central and Western European languages, including Latin, Greek, Dutch, German, French, and Italian. 

Other languages more to the south and east also show significant traces in the modern Russian language. These include Uralic, Turkic, Persian, Arabic, and Hebrew.

Considering spoken languages, Ukrainian and Belarusian are closest to Russian.

How old is the Russian language?

The foundations of the Russian language can be traced back to about 4000-6000 years ago.

At that time, the Indo-European language was beginning to split into various dialects due to numerous communities moving away from their homeland into the now-known regions of Southwest Russia and Ukraine.

With the Slavic tribes remaining in Eastern Europe, they created their own language, identified as Proto-Slavonic, which separated into three branches, including Eastern, Southern, and Western, around 500 AD.

Over time, further divisions led to the birth of 3 distinctive and independent languages – Russian, Ukrainian, and Belarussian. 

Click to read: What do German people look like? (a German Explains)

Who discovered the Russian language?

Languages don’t get discovered by persons but rather evolve from humans’ natural desire to communicate and other existing influences that further develop into the final language.

The Russian language was formed by several key factors, including Old Church Slavonic, which was used by Russian Orthodox Christians, and the modernization of the Russian state under the rule of Peter the Great in the 18th century.

Meanwhile, several non-Slavic European languages contributed extensively to the Russian vocabulary.

Then again, the 19th-century Russian poet and “father of Russian literature,” Aleksandr Pushkin is renowned for developing Russian literature to its most refined form and greatly influencing the Russian language with his rich vocabulary and creations of calques.

Aleksandr Pushkin introduced almost every European literary genre as well as a considerable number of European writers. 

Aleksandr Pushkin’s high degree of linguistic expertise brought foreign influences and natural speech, ultimately resulting in modern poetic Russian.

The Russian Alphabet

The Russian alphabet originated from the Cyrillic alphabet, primarily used for Old Church Slavonic.

Cyrillic is derived from the Greek uncial script, and the Cyrillic alphabet has been the Russian language’s written form since the 10th century.

Over time, some modifications in the alphabet were made to further enhance and simplify it.

Now, the modern Russian alphabet comprises 33 letters, consisting of 20 consonants (⟨б⟩, ⟨в⟩, ⟨г⟩, ⟨д⟩, ⟨ж⟩, ⟨з⟩, ⟨к⟩, ⟨л⟩, ⟨м⟩, ⟨н⟩, ⟨п⟩, ⟨р⟩, ⟨с⟩, ⟨т⟩, ⟨ф⟩, ⟨х⟩, ⟨ц⟩, ⟨ч⟩, ⟨ш⟩, ⟨щ⟩), 10 vowels (⟨а⟩, ⟨е⟩, ⟨ё⟩, ⟨и⟩, ⟨о⟩, ⟨у⟩, ⟨ы⟩, ⟨э⟩, ⟨ю⟩, ⟨я⟩), a semi-vowel  (⟨й⟩), and 2 modifier letters (⟨ь⟩ and ⟨ъ⟩).

Is Russian difficult to learn? Differences Between English

Russian is one of the most difficult languages to learn not only in Europe alone but also in the whole world.

Besides its complexity and unusual grammar, the Cyrillic alphabet is usually enough to scare people away from learning.

Especially for English speakers, the Russian language can take a bit longer to learn. The FSI (Foreign Service Institute) declared Russian as a Category 3 language, whereas Category 1 is pretty easy and similar to English, and Category 4 is “Super Hard”.

But what exactly makes the Russian language that challenging for English speakers?

Well, first guess – the Cyrillic alphabet. Although it consists of many new letters and sounds, only around 18% of letters are similar to letters that you already know. 

No new language is a walk through the park, but with the will to learn something new, anything can be mastered, even the Cyrillic alphabet.

English is seriously one of the easiest languages to learn and has no-gender nouns (except if you refer to a living creature with a specific gender, e.g., “buck” or “doe”).

Yet, in Russian, nouns do have genders. And that’s one of the most complicated rules to hold on to.

Furthermore, Russian verbs and nouns are used differently. In English, usually, the verbs indicate the tense, but  Russian verbs mainly indicate if something’s done or not.

Nouns and adjectives are changed as per needs based on their location in a sentence.

Since Russian is a very expressive language, there are certain words with specific functions to make your point clear in a sentence.

That’s why some Russian words don’t have an English translation. You would basically translate the intent rather than the words themselves.

Last but not least, articles are often left out, which may seem weird at first but will settle to normal after a while. Plus, stressing syllables is very important.

That means while you’re learning Russian, you will also have to learn where to stress the syllable and put emphasis when necessary.

But for the good news, Russian phonology is pretty easy, and there’s less sentence structure and fewer prepositions in Russian compared to English. Russian spellings are much easier than English ones due to their very intuitive and phonetic nature.

Russian dialects

The Russian language is divided into three major dialects. These are Northern Russian, Southern, and Central or Middle Russian dialects.

Each dialect features its diverse vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation style. There are also more minor dialects.  

Languages similar to Russian and Mutual Intelligibility of Russian

To make things clearer, first, there are 3 branches of the Slavic language family: East, South, and West.

Languages within the same branch share mutual intelligibility and are, therefore, quite similar to each other. 

For example, Russian, Ukrainian, and Belarusian belong to the East Slavic group, due to which speakers of these languages can understand each other without significant issues, despite slight differences.

However, since all Slavic languages developed from Proto-Slavic, they are somewhat related to each other.

Each Slavic language has its variations in vocabulary, distinguishing it from one another, yet the basis remains the same.

Ukrainian, Belarusian, and Bulgarian are the most similar and closest to Russian.

What makes the Russian language so unique?

Russian is unique in both sound and structure and here’s why:

1. Russian sounds great

While many European languages and dialects have Latin foundations, Russian is exceptionally distinctive, with twice as many vowels and a few extra consonants resulting in a beautiful one-of-a-kind melody.

However, Russian language phonetics is perceived differently.

Some may find the Russian language very attractive and pleasing to the ear, while others say it sounds like English played backward or tuning on an old radio.

2. The Cyrillic Alphabet

We all tend to get a bit confused when we see something written in Russian, right? Some letters seem precisely the same as in English, whereas others appear “backward” like И’s and the Я’s. 

Well, they’re neither N nor R, nor are they backward, but they are entirely different letters that just ended up looking like Latin letters.

Russian’s written form is based on the Cyrillic alphabet invented and named after two brothers, St. Cyril and St. Methodius. 

The alphabet came into being at the end of the 9th century and is used by many countries either fully or with some variations today.

These countries include Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Bulgaria, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.

The Cyrillic alphabet didn’t originate from Latin but instead developed from the Greek alphabet.

Despite this, some Cyrillic characters resemble Latin characters with only slight differences. That is mainly because the Latin alphabet also has Greek roots.

This similarity has sparked a lot of creativity in pop culture, including marketing and memes. 

Cyrillic letters are used to write English incorrectly yet stylishly while ironically hinting at a Slavic connection. 

This writing style is widely known as “Faux Cyrillic”.

For example, “wear” ШԐДЯ, “Russian” ЯЦSSЇДИ, “inspire” ЇИSPЇЯЄ

3. Russian is very descriptive and expressive

Despite English containing more words than Russian, the Slavic language is more emotional and descriptive.

Russian has words that don’t exist in English and lets you express every feeling, idea, and emotion by creating new words. 

Plus, with special grammar formations, you can emphasize particular parts of your sentence and create countless new words.

5. Russian is extremely rich in synonyms

If you look at the English word “beautiful” and its Russian meaning “krasivij” and compare each word’s number of synonyms, it shows that in English, there are approximately 40 synonyms, whereas in Russian, there are around 100.

This proves that Russian is indeed a very descriptive language.

6. Russian prefixes and suffixes can change one word into nearly 200 variations

Depending on the prefix and suffix, the base of a word can be changed into an astonishing amount of new words with whole new meanings.

For example, the Russian word for beautiful is “krasivij” (“красивый”).

By attaching numerous variations to its beginning or end, you will get up to 200 new variants of the initial word base, including words like ugly, colorful, red, beautiful woman, paint, and many more.

7. The Russian language is the door to its beautiful culture

Whether Russian or any other language, you can relate to and understand more of a country’s culture the more you know its language.

The more fluent you are, the better you can understand people’s behavior, way of thinking, and attitude towards different aspects and situations of life.

Russian names are patronymic, and this is a solid tradition deeply embedded in Russian culture.

The basis of a middle name remains, but a suffix is added that specifies the gender. For example, “-ovich” or “-evich” is added for a boy’s name while “-ovna” or “-evna” is added for girls. 

Thus, if Mr. Vlad had a son his middle name would be Vladovich or Vladevich, and if he had a daughter her name would be Vladovna or Vladevna followed by the surname.

Moreover, if you call someone by their patronymic name, it is a gesture of respect. As a matter of fact, you actually call everyone who is significantly older than you by their patronymic name.

Russia has a huge influence over Slavic languages and the former Soviet Republic. Source

Interesting facts about the Russian language

You’re probably familiar with the fact that Russian is a complex yet beautiful language that is not only unique and widely spoken but also rich in history. But there’s much more to that.

Here I compiled for you some interesting facts about the Russian language, so make sure to scroll through them to gain more knowledge about this interesting language of the Slavic people.

1. Russian boasts about 258 million speakers worldwide, making it the 8th most spoken language on the globe, right after English, Chinese (Mandarin), Hindi, Spanish, Arabic (Standard), Bengali, and French.

2. Russia, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan have Russian as their official language. On the other hand, Ukraine, Estonia, Georgia, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Azerbaijan consider it as their unofficial lingua franca.

3. Russian is the language of space and has to be learned by astronauts due to the computer system of the ISS being primarily in Russian.

4. Russian originates from Old East Slavic spoken throughout Kievan Rus’.

5. Unlike English, which has no-gender nouns, Russian nouns have genders.

6. Russian is written in the Cyrillic alphabet, which is based on the Greek alphabet but further extended with some additional letters that correspond to Slavic sounds.

7. Russian middle names have a gender. If your father’s name is Ivan and you’re a boy it’ll be Ivanovich or Ivanevich and if you’re a girl it’ll be Ivanovna or Ivanevna.

8. Russian has some untranslatable words which only exist in Russian describing a specific type of person, thing, or situation.

9. English has loanwords from Russian, like bolshevik, mammoth, sputnik, cosmonaut, tsar, pavlova, and vodka.

10. Russian is a highly descriptive and expressive language with countless synonyms and different meanings for each word.

11. Russian, along with English, Chinese, Arabic, Spanish, and French, is an official language of the UN.

12. English dictionaries comprise a vocabulary of nearly 200,000-500,000 words, whereas Russian vocabulary consists of around 130,000-150,000 words

This is mainly because many Russian words and phrases have multiple meanings depending on prefixes, suffixes, and the emphasis of certain words.

This article is

written by Asma Schleicher and edited by Efe Genit. Asma is a creative writer with German and Pakistani roots. She is an analytical writer with a degree in business administration. In this blog, she mostly writes about cultural, travel, and fashion-related topics reflecting her real-life experiences. You can also check Asma’s profile in Upwork.