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Russian was spread far and wide during the twentieth century due to the influence of the USSR, but after the breakup of this organization in the 1990s, its prominence has waned somewhat. The USSR was frequently repressive of native languages other than Russian, which has created a backlash in former Soviet Bloc countries in the form of a revival of their older languages. Despite this, Russian is still frequently learned as a second language by citizens of these countries.
Roots of the language: A collection of ancient Slavic dialects forms the basis of Russian, as well as many other Eastern European languages. Its language group broke off from its Indo-European relatives at a somewhat later stage, but this did nothing to hinder its diversity. The Church Slavonic language, a liturgical language invented by Byzantine missionaries in the ninth century, was the first written language of the Slavic peoples and considerably influenced the educated form of Russian. In more recent centuries, however, vernacular Russian has replaced it for non-church-related literature.
While Russian is distinct from other Slavic languages such as Polish and Bulgarian, and they are generally not mutually intelligible, the languages have all influenced one another to some extent. Some Russian speakers, particularly in northern and western areas, show influences from the Finnish language, as well. Other languages from the western and central areas of Europe, such as German, French, and English, have also affected Russian to a certain degree over the years.
Language characteristics: Russian is known for using “soft” and “hard” sounds for almost every consonant, each of which will change its use within a word. Much like English, which vowels are stressed can change the meaning of a word, and the rules for this are often arbitrary and confusing to new speakers. There is a standard version of Russian based on the Moscow dialect, which is officially regulated by the Russian Language Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences located within that city. Due to a complicated system of tenses and a large number of irregular conjugations, Russian is considered to be one of the harder languages to learn for those who are not fluent in a related language such as Polish.
Written form: The Cyrillic script, which was developed by the Bulgarian Empire based on ancient Greek letters, is the basis for the written forms of Russian and several other languages. The modern Russian alphabet has 33 letters, all of them in Cyrillic (which can sometimes bear a misleading resemblance to Latin script). As computers became more and more essential during the middle of the twentieth century, Russian was often transliterated into the Latin alphabet due to a lack of Cyrillic keyboards and other input devices. In the modern era, a greater proliferation of Cyrillic input devices have made this transliteration method less necessary.