Russian Language, Myths and Reality

Nowadays it is believed that Russian language is one of the most difficult European languages. But is it really so?

Let’s try to research this question, explaining some basics that will hopefully help in debunking this myth about Russian language.

Russian language belongs to the Indo-European family of languages, the Eastern Slavic branch of it, together with the Ukrainian and Belarusian languages. To this Indo-European family of languages belong most of spoken in Europe languages, including Greek.

Thus, the two languages (Russian and Greek) are related. Yes, strange as it may sound, it’s a fact. The relativity is obvious.

The modern science of linguistics has shown that almost all European languages genealogically belong to the large family of the Indo-European languages (with an exception of Hungarian, Finnish, Estonian, Basque and a few other languages belonging to other language families) which is called differently by several linguists: Iapetiki family (named after Iapetus, son of Uranus and Gaea, King of the Titans, the ancestor of mankind), Indo-German etc.

These genealogical links naturally have their impact on the system of all these languages. The time also causes obvious changes and alterations in the form of language, and this is understandable because the language as known is a living system that varies continuously over the centuries.

For example, the Greek language has experienced enormous changes since the time it occurred. Ancient Greek and Modern Greek have so many differences that one can believe it is two completely different languages. Yet it is the same language that has evolved through the centuries. When we examine and compare two or more European languages in their current form, it is hard to see their common sides and common phenomena in them, if we do not keep in mind the different stages of their evolution.

The study of these specific stages of historical development helps in finding the similarities and differences of language data as well as in understanding. For this reason, Russian and Greek seem so distant at first glance for someone with a lack of knowledge in this field. These two languages are not only related to each other but have a lot of similarities, confirming the veracity of the Indo-European theory.

Some might say that the presence of Greek words in Russian is not a matter of the fact that they are related but mostly a matter of the very close political, economic and cultural ties that kept and still keep up to date the two nations. Nobody refuses that. Indeed, Greeks and Russians have always had very close relations, and this is evidenced by the history and linguistics.

The numerous words taken from Greek to Russian, especially during the Christianization of Russia, a thousand years ago, are proof. The common elements are not limited on the lexical level, but also exist at other levels of language system, such as, for example, the morphology. As it is known, the linguistic system is very strict and conservative in terms of any change or transformation. Because of this feature that characterizes the system of language is very rare, almost impossible to assimilate elements of the morphology in a language.

At the level of words the system is more flexible, so it easier absorbs foreign to its structure information. The borrowings of words seem much easier than borrowing, for example, at other levels. As mentioned above, the morphology is not usually affected, and although sometimes it happens. In the case of Russian and Greek languages, there is a similarity in terms of morphology, not due to borrowing, but their close relativity, and this is a result of their common origin. First of all, the writing of Russian has too much in common with the Greek one. And this is not accidental at all.

Around the 9th century AD Cyril and Methodius, the “Apostles to the Slavs” have created an alphabet (Cyrillic) in order to translate the Bible in Slavic languages. This alphabet is based almost entirely on the Greek one of Byzantine period. In it some new letters were added to convey sounds lacking in Greek and therefore the Greek alphabet did not have.

The current version of Russian alphabet and now carries its ancient name (Cyrillic / KIrM.ti.PIfa) but has been changed considerably and simplified adaptiving to the needs of the modern Russian language which as well has been changed considerably since then.

The two languages other than the common origin of their alphabets are also very connected by historical circumstances. The adoption of Orthodoxy in Russia in the 10th century had a direct impact on the language. The heathen Russians did not have in their vocabulary concepts of Christian faith.

But when they were baptized there appeared a need to find linguistic means to express these concepts. However it had to happen. A torrent of Greek words entered the vocabulary of Russian ecclesiastical and religious language almost intact. A few examples are the following: “leitourgia”, icon, Bible, patriarch, monk, monastery, etc. These are the words that entered Russian language with the “baptizing” of Russia.

However, in Modern Greek there are words from the ancient Greek as well as words and terms of various branches of scientific knowledge that are based on ancient Greek and Latin etyma. Known from various sources, the number of Greek and Greek- based elements is around 30,000. We also have to note the contribution of the great Russian poet A. Pushkin in shaping the modern Russian language.

Like Turgenev once said: “He perfected our language, which today, as the majority of foreign philologists notice in terms of wealth, logic, power and beauty of expression stands out as almost the first one among the European languages, right after the ancient Greek.”

As for the phonetics, it is a bit peculiar and unfamiliar to the Greek ear. There are some sounds that do not exist in Greek, nor in other European languages. The Greeks learning Russian face specific difficulties in the articulation of hissing sounds, but only during the early stages, later they surpass them. There are no other specific problems that might occur with the phonetics. In the words of Greek origin, the sound of which cannot be accurately attributed to Russian, some modifications were made in order to make them sound as close as possible to the original ones .

There are no interdental frictional sounds as (“th”-as in “think”) and (“th”-as in “them”) in Russian that is available in Greek. Traditionally in Russian there are two basic modes of these sounds. Taken from ancient Greek these sounds are rendered as (t) and (d) respectively, e.g. the word “Theatre” is pronounced as “Teatr” in Russian, meanwhile, the word “Democracy” is pronounced as “Demokratia”. The words penetrated into Russian in subsequent periods, particularly during the Byzantine period are attributed differently due to the changing of the Greek phonetics system.

During that period the letters (θ) and (δ) already had formed their present pronunciation. So the words of that period are attributed to other criteria. The sound (θ) is usually pronounced as (f) as in the first name Theodore which becomes “Fyodor”, and the sound (δ) is still pronounced as (d).

In its current form the Russian is a modern and rich language. It’s one of the six UN official languages and it is used by 250 million people. It has an enviable literature that is translated into many other languages. Due to the enormous growth of all branches of science and a countless amount of scientific written projects in the former USSR, Russian language has got one of the most comprehensive and diverse terminologies worldwide.

On the morphological and syntactic levels Russian has too much in common with Greek also because they are related. As for the noun and the adjective, there is a system of three genders, six falls and two numbers. The Russian has no vocative, but has dative, instrumental and prostheses falls. The remaining falls coincide with Greek, i.e. nominative, general and accusative. As for articles Russian language doesn`t have them. This does not mean it lacks something in comparison with other languages. Besides, the articles belong to the secondary parts of speech and a language can meet its needs without the articles.

The verb system has categories of time, face, number and mood. The tenses of the verb are only three. The time frame is sufficiently covered by these tenses that correspond to the actual dimension of the concept of time. One understands the time based on the present. Whatever happens now belongs to present tense, what already has happened is past tense, and what will happen in future belongs to future tense.

So the needs of the logical separation of the concept of time are covered by these three basic tenses.

Other languages, however, have more than three tenses. One of those languages is Greek who has a very rich tense system. This does not mean under any circumstances that Russian lacks something in comparison with Greek. Each language has its own ways of expressing time details. Greek language has a rich verb tenses system; meanwhile, Russian achieves the same result with various auxiliary temporal determinations.

By contrast, as for the nouns` falls Russian has a more complex system than the one Modern Greek has, this does not mean that the latter lacks. As for the syntax, because of the connection among the parts of the statement expressed by the falls and personal endings, the free word order might be used. This makes Russian language more expressive. There is more freedom in syntax of one language if the falls` system is more developed.

This advantage combined with its rich vocabulary and the divine gift, of course, has created Pushkin, Chekhov, Tolstoy and many other internationally known and loved writers. In Russian were written exquisite creations that are read all over the world and make Russians feel proud of their language.