Languages of Russia

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Languages of Russia
Official languages Russian official throughout nation;[1] twenty-seven others co-official in various regions
Main languages Russian
Main foreign languages

13-15% 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%)
Sign languages Russian Sign Language
Common keyboard layouts
Russian keyboard
KB Russian.svg

Of all the languages of Russia, Russian is the only official language. 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]


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, the unifying role and superior status was reserved for Russian.

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[edit]

Although Russian is the only federally official language of the Russian Federation, 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. The only exception was made when the city of Sevastopol was annexed by the Russian Federation along with the Republic of Crimea. 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 [5]
Adyghe Northwest Caucasian  Adygea [6]
Altai Turkic  Altai Republic [7][8]
Bashkir Turkic  Bashkortostan ;[9] see also regional law
Buryat Mongolic  Buryatia [10]
Chechen Northeast Caucasian  Chechnya [11]
Cherkess Northwest Caucasian  Karachay-Cherkessia [5]
Chuvash Turkic  Chuvashia [12]
Crimean Tatar Turkic  Republic of Crimea [13]
Erzya Uralic  Mordovia [14]
Ingush Northeast Caucasian  Ingushetia [15]
Kabardian Northwest Caucasian  Kabardino-Balkaria [16]
Kalmyk Mongolic  Kalmykia [17]
Karachay-Balkar Turkic  Kabardino-Balkaria
Khakas Turkic  Khakassia [18]
Komi Uralic  Komi Republic [19]
Hill Mari Uralic  Mari El [20]
Meadow Mari Uralic  Mari El [20]
Moksha Uralic  Mordovia [14]
Nogai Turkic  Karachay-Cherkessia [5]
Ossetic Indo-European  North Ossetia–Alania [21]
Tatar Turkic  Tatarstan [22]
Tuvаn Turkic  Tuva [23]
Udmurt Uralic  Udmurtia [24]
Ukrainian Indo-European  Republic of Crimea [13]
Yakut Turkic  Sakha Republic [25]

The Constitution of Dagestan defines "Russian and the languages of the peoples of Dagestan" as the state languages, though no comprehensive list of the languages was given.[26] In the project of the "Law on the languages of the Republic of Dagestan", 32 languages are listed.[27]

Karelia is the only republic of Russia with Russian as the only official language.[28] However, there exists the special law about state support and protection of the Karelian, Vepsian and Finnish languages in the republic.[29]

The federal law "On the languages of the peoples of the Russian Federation" [30] allows the federal subjects to establish additionally official languages in the areas where minority groups live. This is the case, for example, of the Kazakh language in Altai Republic.[8]

Migrant languages[edit]

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, among them most prominent are (from 2010 Census, in thousands):

Armenian 830
Azerbaijani 515
Kazakh 472
Uzbek 245
Kyrgyz 247
Tajik 177
Georgian 102
Kyrgyz 93
Moldovan 90

However, many migrant workers were not counted in the Census and many work illegally, so these numbers may be much greater. Compare 2.5 million Uzbek citizens and 1.2 million Tajik citizens entered Russia in 2013.[31]

Some groups such as Kazakhs of Altay Republic, Armenians from Myasnikovsky District, Azerbaijanis from Derbent are not recent immigrants and have lived in their area for a long period of time.

Endangered languages in Russia[edit]

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[edit]

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.

Other endangered languages[edit]

Foreign languages[edit]

According to the various studies made in 2005-2008 by Levada-Center[2] 15% of Russians know a foreign language. From those who claims 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 is the same: knowledge of a foreign language is predominant among young or middle-aged population with higher education and high social status and who live in big cities.

Languages of education[edit]

Every year the Russian Ministry of Education and Science publishes statistics on the languages used in schools. In 2014/2015 absolute majority[32] (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. 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[edit]


  1. ^ "The Constitution of the Russian Federation - Chapter 3. The Federal Structure, Article 68". Retrieved 22 April 2015. 
  2. ^ a b Знание иностранных языков в России [Knowledge of foreign languages in Russia] (in Russian). Levada Centre. 16 September 2008. Retrieved 10 May 2015. 
  3. ^ a b Владение иностранными языками [Command of foreign languages] (in Russian). Levada Centre. 28 May 2014. Retrieved 10 May 2015. 
  4. ^ "Russia - Language, Culture, Customs and Etiquette". Kwintessential. 
  5. ^ a b c d Статья 11. Конституция Карачаево-Черкесской Республики
  6. ^ Статья 5. Конституция Республики Адыгея
  7. ^ Статья 13. Конституция Республики Алтай
  8. ^ a b Закон Республики Алтай «О языках». Глава I, статья 4
  9. ^ Статья 1. Конституция Республики Башкортостан
  10. ^ Статья 67. Конституция Республики Бурятия
  11. ^ Статья 10. Конституция Чеченской Республики
  12. ^ Статья 8. Конституция Чувашской Республики
  13. ^ a b "Constitution of the Republic of Crimea". Article 10 (in Russian). State Council, Republic of Crimea. 11 April 2014. Retrieved 14 October 2014. 
  14. ^ a b Статья 13. Конституции Республики Мордовия
  15. ^ Статья 14. Конституция Республики Ингушетия
  16. ^ a b Статья 76. Конституция Кабардино-Балкарской Республики
  17. ^ Статья 17. Степное Уложение (Конституция) Республики Калмыкия
  18. ^ Статья 69. Конституция Республики Хакасия
  19. ^ Статья 67. Конституция Республики Коми
  20. ^ a b Статья 15. Конституция республики Марий Эл
  21. ^ Статья 15. Конституция Республики Северная Осетия-Алания
  22. ^ Статья 8. Конституция Республики Татарстан
  23. ^ Статья 5. Конституция Республики Тыва
  24. ^ Статья 8. Конституция Удмуртской Республики
  25. ^ Статья 46. Конституция (Основной закон) Республики Саха (Якутия)
  26. ^ Constitution of Dagestan(Russian) Art. 11
  27. ^ В Дагестане сделают государственными 32 языка
  28. ^ Статья 11. Конституция Республики Карелия
  29. ^ Закон Республики Карелия «О государственной поддержке карельского, вепсского и финского языков в Республике Карелия»
  30. ^ Закон РФ от 25 октября 1991 г. N 1807-I "О языках народов Российской Федерации" (с изменениями и дополнениями)
  31. ^ "Страны, лидирующие по количеству прибытий на территорию Российской Федерации" (in Russian). Федеральное агентство по туризму Министерства культуры Российской Федерации. Retrieved 11 May 2015. 
  32. ^ Статистическая информация 2014. Общее образование

External links[edit]