Russian language, also called Great Russian, member of the East Slavic group of the Slavic subfamily of the Indo-European family of languages, one of the four living members of the East Slavic languages, and part of the larger Balto-Slavic branch.
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. Samuel P. Huntington wrote in the Clash of Civilizations, “During the heyday of the Soviet Union, Russian was the lingua franca from Prague to Hanoi.”
In 2010, there were 259.8 million speakers of Russian in the world:
Therefore, the Russian language is the 8th largest in the world by number of speakers, after English, Mandarin, Hindi-Urdu, Spanish, Arabic and Portuguese.
Feudal divisions and conflicts as well as other obstacles to the exchange of goods and ideas that ancient Russian principalities have suffered from before and especially during the Mongol yoke strengthened dialectical differences and for a while prevented the emergence of the standardized national language. The formation of the unified and centralized Russian state in XV-XVI centuries and the gradual (re)emergence of a common political, economic and cultural space have created the need for a common standard language. The initial impulse for the standardization came from the government bureacracy for the lack of a reliable tool of communication in administrative, legal and judicial affairs became an obvious practical problem. The earliest attempts at standardizing Russian were made based on the so-called Moscow official or chancery language. Since then the underlying logic of language reforms in Russia reflected primarily the considerations of standardizing and streamlining language norms and rules in order to ensure the Russian language’s role as a practical tool of communication and administration.
The current standard form of Russian is generally regarded as the modern Russian literary language (современный русский литературный язык). It arose in the beginning of the 18th century with the modernization reforms of the Russian state under the rule of Peter the Great, and developed from the Moscow (Middle or Central Russian) dialect substratum under the influence of some of the previous century’s Russian chancery language.
Mikhail Lomonosov first compiled a normalizing grammar book in 1755; in 1783 the Russian Academy’s first explanatory Russian dictionary appeared. During the end of the 18th and 19th centuries, a period known as the “Golden Age”, the grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation of the Russian language was stabilized and standardized, and it became the nationwide literary language; meanwhile, Russia’s world-famous literature flourished.
Until the 20th century, the language’s spoken form was the language of only the upper noble classes and urban population, as Russian peasants from the countryside continued to speak in their own dialects. By the mid-20th century, such dialects were forced out with the introduction of the compulsory education system that was established by the Soviet government. Despite the formalization of Standard Russian, some nonstandard dialectal features (such as fricative [ɣ] in Southern Russian dialects) are still observed in colloquial speech.