Languages of Russia

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

Of all the languages of Russia, Russian is the only official language at the national level. 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

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. This is a list of the languages that are recognized as official (state) in constitutions of the republics of Russia:

LanguageLanguage familyFederal subject(s)Source
AbazaNorthwest Caucasian Karachay-Cherkessia[5]
AdygheNorthwest Caucasian Adygea[6]
AltaiTurkic Altai Republic[7][8]
BashkirTurkic Bashkortostan[9] see also regional law
BuryatMongolic Buryatia[10]
ChechenNortheast Caucasian Chechnya[11]
ChuvashTurkic Chuvashia[12]
Crimean TatarTurkic Republic of Crimea[lower-alpha 1][13]
ErzyaUralic Mordovia[14]
IngushNortheast Caucasian Ingushetia[15]
KabardianNorthwest Caucasian Kabardino-Balkaria Karachay-Cherkessia [16]
KalmykMongolic Kalmykia[17]
Karachay-BalkarTurkic Kabardino-Balkaria
KhakasTurkic Khakassia[18]
KomiUralic Komi Republic[19]
Hill Mari, Meadow MariUralic Mari El[20]
MokshaUralic Mordovia[14]
NogaiTurkic Karachay-Cherkessia,  Dagestan[5]
OssetianIndo-European North Ossetia–Alania[21]
TatarTurkic Tatarstan[22]
TuvanTurkic Tuva[23]
UdmurtUralic Udmurtia[24]
UkrainianIndo-European Republic of Crimea[lower-alpha 1][13]
YakutTurkic Sakha Republic[25]
  1. 1 2 Annexed by Russia in 2014 Voted to join Russian Federation in 2014; recognized as a part of Ukraine by most of the international community.

The Constitution of Dagestan defines "Russian and the languages of the peoples of Dagestan" as the state languages,[26] though no comprehensive list of the languages was given. 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

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):


However, many migrant workers were not counted in the Census and many work illegally, so these numbers may be much greater. Compare 2.4 million Uzbek citizens and 1.2 million Tajik citizens entered Russia in 2014.[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

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

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

Foreign languages

According to the various studies made in 2005-2008 by Levada-Center[2] 15% of Russians know a foreign language. From those who claim knowledge of at least one language:

"Can speak freely":
From 1775 respondents aged 15-29, November 2006
"Know enough to read newspapers":
Ukrainian, Belarusian and other Slavic languages19%
Other European languages10%
All others29%
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:
Can speak a foreign language but with difficulty13
Do not speak a foreign Language at all70
From 1602 respondents from 18 and older, April 2014

The age and social profiling are the same: knowledge of a foreign language is predominant among the young or middle-aged population with higher education and high social status and who live in big cities.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, French was a common language among upper class Russians. The impetus came from Peter the Great's orientation of Russia towards Europe and accelerated after the French Revolution. After the Russians fought France in the Napoleonic Wars, Russia became less inclined towards French.[32]

Languages of education

Every year the Russian Ministry of Education and Science publishes statistics on the languages used in schools. In 2014/2015 absolute majority[33] (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. The 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):


See also


  1. "The Constitution of the Russian Federation - Chapter 3. The Federal Structure, Article 68". Retrieved 22 April 2015.
  2. 1 2 Знание иностранных языков в России [Knowledge of foreign languages in Russia] (in Russian). Levada Centre. 16 September 2008. Retrieved 10 May 2015.
  3. 1 2 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". Archived from the original on 31 May 2013.
  5. 1 2 3 Статья 11. Конституция Карачаево-Черкесской Республики
  6. Статья 5. Конституция Республики Адыгея
  7. Статья 13. Конституция Республики Алтай
  8. 1 2 Закон Республики Алтай - Глава I. Общие положения - Статья 4. Правовое положение языков [Law of the Republic of Altai - Chapter I. General provisions - Article 4. Legal status of languages] (in Russian). Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation. Archived from the original on 25 September 2015.
  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. 1 2 "Constitution of the Republic of Crimea". Article 10 (in Russian). State Council, Republic of Crimea. 11 April 2014. Retrieved 14 October 2014.
  14. 1 2 Статья 13. Конституции Республики Мордовия
  15. Статья 14. Конституция Республики Ингушетия
  16. 1 2 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. 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. Статья 11. Конституция Республики Дагестан
  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 - Топ 50 по въезду в РФ за 2014 год (всего) [Countries leading by the number of arrivals to the territory of the Russian Federation - Top 50 by entry into the RF for 2014 (total)] (in Russian). Archived from the original (XLS) on 25 March 2016. Retrieved 11 May 2015.
  32. Yegorov, Oleg (2017-05-25). "Why was French spoken in Russia?". Russia Beyond the Headlines.
  33. Статистическая информация 2014. Общее образование

Further reading

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