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  • The Russian language (русский язык (russkij yazyk)) is the most widely spoken of the Slavic languages.
  • Russian is the official language of Russia, and an official language of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. Russian is one of the six official languages of the United Nations.
  • Russian is also spoken widely in Israel by the approximately one million ethnic Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union. Much of the Israeli press and websites frequently include articles written in Russian for local readers.
  • There is a number of dialects spoken in Russia. Some linguists divide the Russian language into two dialects, "Northern" and "Southern," with Moscow lying on the zone of transition betwen the two. Others divide the language into three dialects, Northern, Central and Southern, with Moscow lying in the region of the Central dialect.
  • Russian imperial political policy formerly asserted that the Ukrainian and the Belarussian were not separate languages in their own right, but were to be considered part of the Russian language. Linguists, however, distinguish today these three as separate languages of the East Slavic group.
  • The Russian language developed from early native Slavic settlement influenced by Finno-Ugric surroundings. An early overlay and infusion of Old Church Slavonic was very decisive in the local language formation. Later political developments brought Mongolian and European influences. The Russian scholar Meleti Smotritsky was instrumental in the work to standardize the Russian language. Reforms were also introduced at the time of Peter the Great, and the orthography was simplified in the 20th century around the time of the Russian Revolution.
  • Russian is written using a modified version of the Cyrillic (кириллица) alphabet, consisting of 33 letters.
  • Russian spelling is reasonably phonetic in practice. It is in fact a balance among phonetics, morphology, etymology, and grammar, and, like that of most living languages, has its share of inconsistencies and controversial points. The current spelling follows the major reform of 1918, and the final codification of 1956. An update proposed in the late 1990's 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.
  • The Russian 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, some dialects only velarize /l/ in such positions). The standard language, based on the Moscow dialect, possesses heavy stress and moderate variation in pitch. Stressed vowels are somewhat lengthened, while unstressed vowels (except /u/) tend to be reduced to an unclear schwa.
  • Russian is notable for its distinction based on palatalization of most of the consonants.
  • The spoken language has been influenced by the literary, 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 reckon because of the ability to agglutinate and create manifold compounds, diminutives, etc.
  • The political upheavals of the early twentieth 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 world-wide if occasionally grudging prestige, especially during the middle third of the twentieth century.
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