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Russian is the most widely spoken member of the Slavic branch of the Indo-European language family (National Virtual Translation Center [NVTC], 2007; Russian Language, 2007). This family also includes close Eastern Slavic cousins Belarusian and Ukrainian, as well as Bulgarian, Croatian, Czech, Polish, Serbian, and others. Russian is thought to be the most geographically widespread language of Eurasia (Russian Language, 2007; Slavic Languages, 2007). Once the official language of the Russian Empire and subsequently an official language throughout the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), it continues to be a lingua franca for the region, used routinely in matters of commerce and diplomacy (LanguageHelpers.com, 2007; NVTC, 2007). It is also one of the six official languages of the United Nations (United Nations, 2007), indicating and cementing its status as an international language of political and economic importance. The United States has recently restated its belief in the importance of Russian language competency to international matters of commerce, diplomacy, and understanding by naming Russian a “critical need foreign language” in the National Security Language Initiative (U.S. Department of State, n.d.).
Though estimates vary, there is thought to be a worldwide population of approximately 150 million first language speakers of Russian and 270 million Russian speakers in total (Crystal, 1987; Gordon, 2005). Naturally, this population is more concentrated in certain areas than in others: Russian is the sole official language of Russia and an official language of Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan as well (LanguageHelpers.com, 2004; NVTC, 2007). It is also spoken in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Canada, China, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Georgia, Germany, Greece, India, Israel, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Mongolia, Norway, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, Uruguay, the United States, and Uzbekistan (Gordon, 2005). The 2000 U.S. census indicates that there are over 700,000 Russian speakers in the United States (U.S. Census Bureau, 2003). The Modern Language Association provides an interactive language map that displays Russian-language-speaker population data by geographic area within the United States.
Search for Russian programs in the Heritage Language Programs Database.
Read the Heritage Voice: Language - Russian. (PDF, 338 KB)
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