Languages of Russia

Languages of Russia
OfficialRussian official throughout nation;[1] thirty-five others coofficial in various regions
Foreign13–15% have foreign language knowledge[2][3]
  1. English (80% out of all foreign language speakers or 11% of the population)
  2. German (16%)
  3. French (4%)
  4. Turkish (2%)
SignedRussian Sign Language
Keyboard layout

Of all the languages of Russia, Russian, the most widely spoken language, is the only official language at the national level. There are 35 different languages which are considered official languages in various regions of Russia, along with Russian. There are over 100 minority languages spoken in Russia today.[4] The new approved amendments to the Russian Constitution stipulate that Russian is the language of the “state forming people”. With Putin’s signing an executive order on July 3, 2020 to officially insert the amendments into the Russian Constitution, they took effect on July 4, 2020.[5]


Russian was the sole official language of the Russian Empire, which existed until 1917. During the Soviet period, the policy toward the languages of the various other ethnic groups fluctuated in practice. The state helped develop alphabets and grammar for various languages across the country that had previously been lacking a written form. Though each of the constituent republics had its own official language, Russian was accorded a unifying and superior status as a de facto prestige language.

Russian lost its status in many of the new republics that arose following the 1991 dissolution of the Soviet Union. In Russia, however, the dominating status of the Russian language continued. Today, 97% of the public school students of Russia receive their education only or mostly in Russian, even though Russia is made up of approximately 80% ethnic Russians.

Official languages

Although Russian is the only federally official language of Russia, there are several other officially recognized languages within Russia's various constituencies – article 68 of the Constitution of Russia only allows the various republics of Russia to establish official (state) languages other than Russian. This is a list of the languages that are recognized as official (state) in constitutions of the republics of Russia:

Language Language family Federal subject(s) Source
Abaza Northwest Caucasian  Karachay-Cherkessia [6]
Adyghe Northwest Caucasian  Adygea [7]
Altai Turkic  Altai Republic [8][9]
Bashkir Turkic  Bashkortostan [10] see also regional law
Buryat Mongolic  Buryatia [11]
Chechen Northeast Caucasian  Chechnya,  Dagestan [12]
Chuvash Turkic  Chuvashia [13]
Crimean Tatar Turkic  Republic of Crimea[a] [14]
Erzya Uralic  Mordovia [15]
Ingush Northeast Caucasian  Ingushetia [16]
Kabardian Northwest Caucasian  Kabardino-Balkaria
Kalmyk Mongolic  Kalmykia [18]
Karachay-Balkar Turkic  Kabardino-Balkaria
Khakas Turkic  Khakassia [19]
Komi-Zyrian Uralic  Komi Republic [20]
Hill Mari, Meadow Mari Uralic  Mari El [21]
Moksha Uralic  Mordovia [15]
Nogai Turkic  Karachay-Cherkessia,  Dagestan [6]
Ossetian Indo-European (Iranian)  North Ossetia–Alania [22]
Tatar Turkic  Tatarstan [23]
Tuvan Turkic  Tuva [24]
Udmurt Uralic  Udmurtia [25]
Ukrainian Indo-European (Slavic)  Republic of Crimea[a] [14]
Yakut Turkic  Sakha Republic [26]
  1. ^ a b Annexed by Russia in 2014 Voted to join Russian Federation in 2014; recognized as a part of Ukraine by most of the UN Member States.

The Constitution of Dagestan defines "Russian and the languages of the peoples of Dagestan" as the state languages,[27] though no comprehensive list of the languages was given.[citation needed][dubious ] 14 of these languages (including Russian) are literary written languages; therefore they are commonly considered to be the official languages of Dagestan. These are, besides Russian, the following: Aghul, Avar, Azerbaijani, Chechen, Dargwa, Kumyk, Lak, Lezgian, Nogai, Rutul, Tabasaran, Tat and Tsakhur. All of these, except Russian, Chechen and Nogai, are official only in Dagestan and in no other Russian republic. In the project of the "Law on the languages of the Republic of Dagestan" 32 languages are listed; however, this law project never came to life.[28]

Karelia is the only republic of Russia with Russian as the only official language.[29] However, there exists the special law about state support and protection of the Karelian, Vepsian and Finnish languages in the republic, see next section. [30]

Other recognized languages

The Government of the Republic of Bashkortostan adopted the Law on the Languages of Nations, which is one of the regional laws aimed at protecting and preserving minority languages.[31][32][33] The main provisions of the law include General Provisions, Language names of geographic regions. objects and inscriptions, road and other signs, liability for violations of Bashkortostan in the languages of Bashkortostan. In the Republic of Bashkortostan, equality of languages is recognized. Equality of languages is a combination of the rights of peoples and people to preserve and fully develop their native language, freedom of choice and use of the language of communication. The writing of names of geographical objects and the inscription, road and other signs along with the state language of the Republic of Bashkortostan can be done in the languages of Bashkortostan in the territories where they are concentrated. Similar laws were adopted in Mari El, Tatarstan, Udmurtia, Khakassia and the Chukotka Autonomous Okrug.

The federal law "On the languages of the peoples of the Russian Federation" [34] allows the federal subjects to establish additionally official languages in the areas where minority groups live. The following 15 languages benefit from various degrees of recognition in various regions under this law:

Migrant languages

As a result of mass migration to Russia from the former USSR republics (especially from the Caucasus and Central Asia) many non-indigenous languages are spoken by migrant workers. For example, in 2014 2.4 million Uzbek citizens and 1.2 million Tajik citizens entered Russia.[35]

For comparison, Russian citizens with ethnicities matching these of home countries of migrant workers of are much lower (from 2010 Russian Census, in thousands):

Armenian 830
Azerbaijani 515
Kazakh 472
Uzbek 245
Kyrgyz 247
Tajik 177
Georgian 102
Moldovan 90

Endangered languages in Russia

There are many endangered languages in Russia. Some are considered to be near extinction and put on the list of endangered languages in Russia, and some may have gone extinct since data was last reported. On the other hand, some languages may survive even with few speakers.

Some languages have doubtful data, like Serbian whose information in the Ethnologue is based on the 1959 census.

Languages near extinction

Most numbers are according to Michael Krauss, 1995. Given the time that has passed, languages with extremely few speakers might be extinct today. Since 1997, Kerek and Yugh have become extinct.

Foreign languages

According to the various studies made in 2005-2008 by Levada-Center[2] 15% of Russians know a foreign language. From those who claim knowledge of at least one language:

"Can speak freely":
English 80%
German 16%
French 4%
Turkish 2%
Others 9%
From 1775 respondents aged 15-29, November 2006
"Know enough to read newspapers":
English 44%
German 15%
Ukrainian, Belarusian and other Slavic languages 19%
Other European languages 10%
All others 29%
From 2100 respondents of every age, January 2005

Knowledge of at least one foreign language is predominant among younger and middle-aged population. Among aged 18–24 38% can read and "translate with a dictionary", 11% can freely read and speak. Among aged 25–39 these numbers are 26% and 4% respectively.

Knowledge of a foreign language varies among social groups. It is most appreciable (15-18%) in big cities with 100,000 and more inhabitants, while in Moscow it rises up to 35%. People with higher education and high economical and social status are most expected to know a foreign language.

The new study by Levada-Center in April 2014[3] reveals such numbers:

Can speak freely at least one language:
English 11%
German 2%
Spanish 2%
Ukrainian 1%
French <1%
Chinese <1%
Others 2%
Can speak a foreign language but with difficulty 13%
Do not speak a foreign Language at all 70%
From 1602 respondents from 18 and older, April 2014

The age and social profiling are the same: knowledge of a foreign language is predominant among the young or middle-aged population with higher education and high social status and who live in big cities.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, French was a common language among upper class Russians. The impetus came from Peter the Great's orientation of Russia towards Europe and accelerated after the French Revolution. After the Russians fought France in the Napoleonic Wars, Russia became less inclined towards French.[36]

Languages of education

Every year the Russian Ministry of Education and Science publishes statistics on the languages used in schools. In 2014/2015 absolute majority[37] (13.1 million or 96%) of 13.7 million Russian students used Russian as a medium of education. Around 1.6 million or 12% students studied their (non-Russian) native language as a subject. The most studied languages are Tatar, Chechen and Chuvash with 347, 253, 107 thousand students respectively.

The most studied foreign languages in 2013/2014 were (students in thousands):

English 11,194.2
German 1,070.5
French 297.8
Spanish 20.1
Chinese 14.9
Arabic 3.4
Italian 2.9
Others 21.7

See also


  1. ^ "The Constitution of the Russian Federation - Chapter 3. The Federal Structure, Article 68". constitution.ru. Retrieved 22 April 2015.
  2. ^ a b Знание иностранных языков в России [Knowledge of foreign languages in Russia] (in Russian). Levada Center. 16 September 2008. Retrieved 10 May 2015.
  3. ^ a b Владение иностранными языками [Command of foreign languages] (in Russian). Levada Center. 28 May 2014. Retrieved 10 May 2015.
  4. ^ "Russia - Language, Culture, Customs and Etiquette". Kwintessential.co.uk. Archived from the original on 31 May 2013.
  5. ^ Language of “state forming people”.Putin signing amendments into law
  6. ^ a b c d Статья 11. Конституция Карачаево-Черкесской Республики
  7. ^ Статья 5. Конституция Республики Адыгея
  8. ^ Статья 13. Конституция Республики Алтай
  9. ^ Закон Республики Алтай - Глава I. Общие положения - Статья 4. Правовое положение языков [Law of the Republic of Altai - Chapter I. General provisions - Article 4. Legal status of languages] (in Russian). Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation. Archived from the original on 25 September 2015.
  10. ^ Статья 1. Конституция Республики Башкортостан
  11. ^ Статья 67. Конституция Республики Бурятия
  12. ^ Статья 10. Конституция Чеченской Республики
  13. ^ Статья 8. Конституция Чувашской Республики
  14. ^ a b "Constitution of the Republic of Crimea". Article 10 (in Russian). State Council, Republic of Crimea. 11 April 2014. Retrieved 14 October 2014.
  15. ^ a b Статья 13. Конституции Республики Мордовия
  16. ^ Статья 14. Конституция Республики Ингушетия
  17. ^ a b Статья 76. Конституция Кабардино-Балкарской Республики
  18. ^ Статья 17. Степное Уложение (Конституция) Республики Калмыкия
  19. ^ Статья 69. Конституция Республики Хакасия
  20. ^ Статья 67. Конституция Республики Коми
  21. ^ Статья 15. Конституция республики Марий Эл
  22. ^ Статья 15. Конституция Республики Северная Осетия-Алания
  23. ^ Статья 8. Конституция Республики Татарстан
  24. ^ Статья 5. Конституция Республики Тыва
  25. ^ Статья 8. Конституция Удмуртской Республики
  26. ^ Статья 46. Конституция (Основной закон) Республики Саха (Якутия)
  27. ^ Статья 11. Конституция Республики Дагестан
  28. ^ В Дагестане сделают государственными 32 языка
  29. ^ Статья 11. Конституция Республики Карелия
  30. ^ Закон Республики Карелия «О государственной поддержке карельского, вепсского и финского языков в Республике Карелия»
  31. ^ Law of the Republic of Bashkortostan "On the languages of the peoples of the Republic of Bashkortostan» № 216-W on February 15, 1999 (as amended up until 2010)) and amendments of 2014(in Russian)
  32. ^ Gabdrafikov I. The law "On the Languages of the peoples of the Republic of Bashkortostan" is adopted // Бюллетень Сети этнологического мониторинга и раннего предупреждения конфликтов, No. 23, 1999
  33. ^ Десять лет назад принят Закон "О языках народов Республики Башкортостан" ru:Башинформ 2009(in Russian)
  34. ^ Закон РФ от 25 октября 1991 г. N 1807-I "О языках народов Российской Федерации" (с изменениями и дополнениями)
  35. ^ Страны, лидирующие по количеству прибытий на территорию Российской Федерации - Топ 50 по въезду в РФ за 2014 год (всего) [Countries leading by the number of arrivals to the territory of the Russian Federation - Top 50 by entry into the RF for 2014 (total)] (in Russian). RussiaTourism.ru. Archived from the original (XLS) on 25 March 2016. Retrieved 11 May 2015.
  36. ^ Yegorov, Oleg (25 May 2017). "Why was French spoken in Russia?". Russia Beyond the Headlines.
  37. ^ "Статистическая информация 2014. Общее образование". Archived from the original on 9 August 2018. Retrieved 23 February 2020.

Further reading

External links

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