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About Russian Language

Russian (русский язык, transliteration: russkiy yazyk, Russian pronunciation: [ˈruskʲɪj jɪˈzɨk], meaning 'Russian tongue [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 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.

Classification

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 Ukraine and 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 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 of Moscow 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 native English speakers, requiring approximately 780 hours of immersion instruction to achieve intermediate fluency. It is also regarded by the United 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.

Geographic distribution

The Russian language is primarily spoken in Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, 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 (see Russians 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 the Baltic states speak Russian either as foreign language or as mother tongue. As the Grand 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 speakers in Finland, 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 websites regularly publish material in Russian.[citation needed] 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, Toronto, Baltimore, Miami, Chicago, Denver and the Cleveland suburb of Richmond 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 Union changed the statistics somewhat. 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 the USSR collapsed, or are just looking for temporary employment.

Official status

This article may need to be updated. Please update this article to reflect recent events or newly available information, and remove this template when finished. Please see the talk page for more information. (June 2009)

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, an unofficial but widely spoken language in Ukraine 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/[clarification needed] 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[19], 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. (these are approximate percentages and may need adjustment for the current year)

Russian-language schooling is also available in Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania, but due to recent education reforms (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 at the high school level. 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 an officially recognized language alongside with Crimean Tatar, though in practice 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.

Dialects

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.

 

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