June 6 is the UN Russian Language Day, as established by the UNESCO in 2010. This date was selected to commemorate Alexander Pushkin, a prominent Russian author who was born on this day in 1799, and his contribution to modern Russian language and literature. Russian is the lingua franca for post-Soviet countries and one of the six official languages of the United Nations, belonging to the Indo-European language family, which also includes Greek and Latin. Throughout its history, Russian vocabulary has borrowed quite a few words from German, French, English and other languages.
Today, just under 3,000 Tanzanian citizens speak Russian, according to various estimates. Most of them studied in Russia both before and after the disintegration of the Soviet Union. These graduates often occupy important positions in many fields, many of them still with a sound command of the Russian language.
Currently Russian is taught at the Russian-Tanzanian Culture Centre in Dar es Salaam. Students of the language courses often aspire to continue their education in Russia.
Here are some fun facts about the Russian language that might inspire you to start learning – if you haven’t so far!
- Writing in Russian is based on Cyrillic alphabet, which dates back to 862 A.D. While some of the letters remind Russian ones, others stand for no individual sounds at all – “Ъ” and “Ь”.
- Over 277 million people in the world speak Russian, which also makes it the second most popular language in the Internet with 90 million users.
- Russian’s closest language cousins are Ukrainian, Belorussian and Rusyn (spoken in some parts of Ukrainian and Slovenian).
- Prominent Russian poet Alexander Pushkin, whose birthdate coincides with the Russian Language Day, had an African background. His great-grandfather was actually an African slave, Abram Petrovich Gannibal, who later became a general under Peter the Great.
- The first words uttered in space were in Russian… Of course because the first man to go there was Yuri Gagarin! These days, foreign astronauts have to be able to speak Russian to travel to the International Space Station, because all the crews are delivered to the ISS by the Soyuz spacecraft, whose commander is always Russian.
- There is a word in Russian which has seven “Os” in it: ОБОРОНОСПОСОБНОСТЬ, translated as “defence capability”.
- Nearly all the Russian words starting with the letter “Ф” have been borrowed from other languages, like ФУТБОЛ (football), ФЛОТ (navy), ФОНАРЬ (streetlight). The same goes for the letter “A”.
- The Russian diaspora is the third largest in the state of New York, following Latin Americans and the Chinese. In 2010, this encouraged the state authorities to enact a law permitting the residents to fill in the ballots in Russian during elections.
- There are some 2,000 Russian speakers in South Africa alone. The first Muscovite (with Dutch roots) arrived on Cape of Good Hope in 1697.
- The world-famous Swahili phrase “Hakuna matata” is actually very popular in Russia, especially in mass media! Its closest Russian equivalent is “ВСЁ БУДЕТ ХОРОШО” (Vsio budet horosho).