Russian – a language with a distinctive accent

Russian is a member of the Indo-European language family and is the most widely spoken Slavic language. Its roots go back to the 10th century.

Today there are approximately 278 million Russian speakers worldwide. Due to its political importance, it is one of the six official languages of the United Nations.

A little bit of geolinguistic theory to start with

Russian is the official language in Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Abkhazia, South Ossetia and the Moldovan regions of Gagauzia and Transnistria.

Russian minorities live and speak their native language in Ukraine, the Baltics, Uzbekistan and Israel. These are large Russian communities outside of Russia.

There are approximately 25,000 Russians in the Czech Republic – particularly in Prague, Karlovy Vary and Brno. The Czech government states on its official website that “the Russian-speaking minority is rather divided; individual groups distrust each other and their lifestyles and political orientations differ”. Have you had the same experience?

Russian, as well as its literature and culture, is taught at Czech universities. The course focusing on the study of the Russian language, Russian literature, and the history of the Russian Federation is called Russian Studies.


Typical writing and pronunciation

For notation, Russian uses the Cyrillic alphabet. It stemmed from the original Cyrillic alphabet and today has 33 letters. Along with 10 vowels and 21 consonants, there are two additional letters with no spelling meaning, known as soft and hard signs.

Another typical feature of Russian is the accent. The stress varies in strength and dynamics. Why is that? In Czech and in many other languages, the stress is always on the first syllable in a word or on the preposition in a prepositional phrase. Russian has flexible stress, and its position in words or phrases varies. The stress is also flexible and can be placed differently within various forms of the same word. Russians always pronounce stressed syllables firmly, reducing the sounding of the other syllables, which is another reason why the Russian accent is so distinctive.

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Three interesting facts about Russian

  1. Russian has about twice as many words as Czech. The Czech reference dictionary has around 250,000 entries. Russian has around 500,000 words and is the native language of several world-renowned authors, including Pushkin, Chekhov, Tolstoy, Pasternak, and Solzhenitsyn.
  2. After the predominant English and German, Russian is the third most studied foreign language in primary schools in the Czech Republic. The popularity of Russian as a foreign language among students has increased significantly in the past 15 years according to the Czech Statistical Office. The statistics have shown that while during the 2007-2008 school year, around 1.3% of primary school children studied Russian, in 2018 this number went up to 6.6%.
  3. The Pushkin State Russian Language Institute has been operating in Moscow since 1966. Leading university lecturers and tutors teach Russian to foreign students using the newest methodology and trends. Outside of that, they also educate Russian lecturers and teachers, showing them how to effectively teach Russian. This institution offers full-time study programmes, as well as internships and language courses.


Same words, different meanings

There are a number of expressions in Czech and Russian that share the same or similar pronunciation but differ in meaning. It is therefore important to note that Russian can be quite tricky for non-Russian speakers.

Here are a few examples of these false friends, as they are known:

  • “Vůně”, which in English is “scent”, means “stink” in Russian. On the other hand, “zápach”, which could be translated as “bad smell”, means “scent” in Russian.
  • The Russian infinitive “výmazať” means “to get dirty”, but in Czech it means “to delete or clear”.
  • “Rákovina” sounds similar to “rakovina”, which is “cancer” in Czech, but it means “sink” in Russian.
  • If you ever hear “trup”, it means a “corpse” in Russian, while in Czech this word means “torso”.
  • “Chair” is translated into Russian as “stul”, which in Czech is a “table”.


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