How well do you know the history of the Russian language?



9 Questions

What is the common ancestor of all Slavic languages?

Which language was the official language in Muscovy, the Tsardom of Russia, and the early Russian Empire?

What political reforms were accompanied by a reform of the Russian alphabet?

Which vowel system underwent a number of changes over time in Proto-Slavic?

Which language of the conquered peoples remained firmly Slavic after the Mongol invasion of Kievan Rus' in the 13th century?

What is the position of the accent in Russian?

What is the name of the addition of vowels on either side of /l/ and /r/ in Proto-Slavic sequences?

Which consonant clusters were sometimes simplified but are still preserved in spelling?

What is the debate about in regards to the incomplete second and third palatalizations in Russian?


Historical Changes of the Russian Language

  • Russian is an East Slavic language of the Indo-European family.

  • Old East Slavic was the common ancestor of the modern East Slavic languages, which operated throughout Kievan Rus' (c. 9th–13th century) as a spoken language.

  • The earliest written record of the language, an amphora found at Gnezdovo, may date from the mid-10th century.

  • During the pre-Kievan period, the main sources of borrowings were Germanic languages, particularly Gothic and Old Norse.

  • After the Mongol invasion of Kievan Rus' in the 13th century, the vernacular language of the conquered peoples remained firmly Slavic.

  • The official language in Muscovy, the Tsardom of Russia, and the early Russian Empire remained a kind of Church Slavonic until the close of the 18th century.

  • The political reforms of Peter the Great were accompanied by a reform of the alphabet, and achieved their goal of secularization and modernization.

  • During the 19th century, the standard language assumed its modern form; literature flourished.

  • The political upheavals of the early 20th century and the wholesale changes of political ideology gave written Russian its modern appearance after the spelling reform of 1918.

  • The political collapse of 1990–1991 loosened the shackles, and there was a wave of adoptions, mostly from English, and sometimes for words with exact native equivalents.

  • The growing public presence of the Russian Orthodox Church and public debate about the history of the nation gave new impetus to the most archaic Church Slavonic stratum of the language.

  • Russian is in many respects a relatively conservative language, and is like other Slavic languages, Old East Slavic was a language of open syllables.Reconstructing Proto-Slavic: Key Points

  • Proto-Slavic, the common ancestor of all Slavic languages, underwent a number of changes in its vowel system over time.

  • The ultra-short vowels called yers were lost or transformed in all Slavic languages, including Old East Slavic, in the 12th century, about 200 years after its occurrence in Old Church Slavonic.

  • The loss of the yers caused the phonemicization of palatalized consonants and led to geminated consonants and a much greater variety of consonant clusters.

  • Unlike most other Slavic languages, yer tensing did not happen in Russian, nor was /j/ later lost.

  • The nasal vowels, which had developed from Common Slavic *eN and *oN before a consonant, were replaced with nonnasalized vowels.

  • Vowel length was allophonic in earlier Common Slavic, but various sound changes produced contrastive vowel length by the end of the Common Slavic period.

  • Proto-Slavic accentual distinctions were lost early in the history of Russian, and the position (as opposed to the type) of the accent was largely preserved in Russian as a stress-type accent.

  • Pleophony or "full-voicing" is the addition of vowels on either side of /l/ and /r/ in Proto-Slavic sequences like CorC where C = any consonant.

  • Proto-Slavic *i and *y contrasted only after alveolars and labials. With the development of phonemic palatalized alveolars and labials in Old East Slavic, *i and *y no longer contrasted in any environment, and were reinterpreted as allophones of each other, becoming a single phoneme /i/.

  • Proto-Slavic *ě developed into Old Russian ѣ, distinct from е, and remained distinct until the 18th century.

  • Proto-Slavic stressed *e developed into /o/, spelled ё, when following a soft consonant and preceding a hard one.

  • There are extensive reductions of unstressed vowels in Modern Russian, with some exceptions to the rule.

  • Consonant clusters created by the loss of yers were sometimes simplified, but are still preserved in spelling.

  • The palatalized unpaired consonants *š *ž *c depalatalized at some point, with *š *ž becoming retroflex [ʂ] and [ʐ].Phonology and morphology of Russian

  • There is a debate about whether the incomplete second and third palatalizations in Russian never occurred or were due to later analogical developments.

  • The Old Novgorod dialect of Russian does not reflect the second palatalization in spelling and may have never occurred.

  • The Proto-Slavic palatal series of consonants developed into the later palatalized consonants in Russian.

  • Many double consonants have become degeminated in Russian but are still written with two letters.

  • Long [tː] remains long in only half of the words in which it appears written, but long [fː] did so only a sixth of the time.

  • The introduction of loanwords into Russian has had an effect on some of its phonological features.

  • Russian has a complex system of nominal and verbal inflections.

  • The six cases of Russian nouns are nominative, genitive, dative, accusative, instrumental, and prepositional.

  • Russian verbs are inflected for tense, aspect, mood, and voice.

  • Russian has a rich system of participles and gerunds.

  • The word order in Russian is relatively free due to the inflectional system.

  • The Russian language has a complex system of stress, including both fixed stress and stress that shifts depending on the form of the word.


Test your knowledge on the historical changes of the Russian language with this informative quiz! From the earliest written records to modern-day phonology and morphology, this quiz covers everything from Proto-Slavic to present-day Russian. Challenge yourself to recall key points on vowel systems, palatalizations, and phonemicization while also learning about the intricate system of nominal and verbal inflections. Impress your friends with your newfound knowledge of the Russian language and its rich history!

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