A Look at the Russian Language

From here.
This post will discuss how hard it is for an English speaker to learn Russian.
People are divided on the difficulty of Russian, but language teachers say it’s one of the hardest to learn. Even after a couple of years of study, some learners find it hard to speak even a simple sentence correctly.
It has six basic cases – nominative, accusative, dative, genitive, instrumental and prepositional – and analyses have suggested up to 10 other cases. The most common of the extra cases are locative, partitive and several forms of vocative. All of these extra cases either do not apply to all nouns (“incomplete” cases) or seem to be identical to an existing case. At any rate, the vocative is only used in archaic prose.  And there is also a locative case, which is what the exceptions to the prepositional case are referred to. Russian has two genitive cases, the so-called Genitive 1 and Genitive 2. The first one is standard genitive and the second is the genitive-partitive, which is now only used in archaic prose.
The grammar is fairly easy for a Slavic language. The problem comes with the variability in pronunciation. The adjectives and endings can be difficult. In addition, Russian has gender and lots of declinations. Like Lithuanian, almost everything in the language seems to decline. The adjectives change form if the nouns they describe have different endings. Adjectives also take case somehow.
Verbs have different forms depending on the pronouns that precede them. Russian has the same issues with perfective and imperfective forms as Polish does (see the Polish section below). There are dozens of different declension types for verbs and many verbs that are irregular and don’t fit into any of the declension types. In addition, there are many irregular nouns, syncretisms, and an aspectual system that is morphologically unpredictable.
Word order is pretty free. For instance, you can say:
I love you by saying
I love you.
You love I.
Love you I.
I you love.
Love I you.
You I love
Pronunciation is strange, with one vowel that is between an ü and i. Many consonants are odd, and every consonant has a palatalized counterpart, which will be difficult to speakers whose languages lack phonemic palatalized consonants. These are the soft and hard consonants that people talk about in Russian. The bl sound is probably the hardest to make, but the trilled r is also problematic.
The orthography system is irregular, so there are quite a few silent letters and words that are pronounced differently than they are spelled.

Word Silent Letters Example
здн  [знпраздник
рдц  [рцсердце
лнц  [нцсолнце
стн  [снлестница
вств [ств]          чувство
жч   [щ]            мужчина
зч   [щ]            извозчик
сч   [щ]            счастье
чт   [штчто
чн   [шнконечно
тц   [ц]            вкратце
дц   [ц]            двадцать
тч   [ч]            лётчик
дч   [ч]            докладчик
тся  [цца]          учится
ться [цца]          учиться

Stress is quite difficult in Russian since it seems arbitrary and does not appear to follow obvious rules:
дóмаat home
One problem is that phonemic stress, not written out, changes the way the vowel is pronounced. For instance:
узнаюI’m finding out
I will find out
The two are written identically, so how you tell apart in written Russian, I have no idea. However in speech you can tell one from the other because the two forms have different stress.
Russian also has vowel reduction that is not represented in the orthography. The combination of stress and vowel reduction means that even looking at a Russian word, you are not quite sure how to pronounce it.
Like German, Russian builds morphemes into larger words. Again like German, this is worse than it sounds since the rules are not so obvious. In addition, there is the strange Cyrillic alphabet, which is nevertheless easier than the Arabic or Chinese ones. Russian also uses prepositions to combine with verbs to form the nightmare of phrasal verbs, but whereas English puts the preposition after the verb, Russian puts it in front of the verb.
All of Slavic has a distinction between animate and inanimate nouns as a sort of a noun class. Russian takes it further and even has a distinction between animate and inanimate pronouns in the male gender:

dvoje muzhchin     two men
troje muzhchin     three men
chetvero muzhchin  four men
pyatero muzhchin   five men
shestero muzhchin  six men
semero muzhchin    seven men

Compare to:

dva duba      two oaks
tri duba      three oaks
chetyre duba  four oaks

However, Russian only has the animate/inanimate distinction in pronouns and not in nouns in general.
Russian is harder to learn than English. We know this because Russian children take longer to learn their language than English speaking children do. The reason given was that Russian words tended to be longer, but there may be other reasons.
Russian has the advantage of having quite a bit of Romance and Greek loans for a Slavic language, but unfortunately, you will not typically hear these words in casual conversion. Russian also has no articles. English speakers will find this odd, but others regard it as a plus.
Russian is less difficult than Czech, Polish or Serbo-Croatian.
Russian gets a 4 rating, very hard to learn.

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One thought on “A Look at the Russian Language”

  1. Dear Robert
    Another difficulty of Russian and other Slavic languages is that there 2 types of verbs: perfective and imperfective ones. This is called aspect. For instance, to translate “he eats bananas often” and “he ate the bananas” you have to use 2 different verbs, an imperfective one in the first case and a perfective one in the second case. The same with “he reads quite often” and “he read War and Peace”. Often the difference between a perfective and an imperfective verb is a prefix.
    Two interesting features of Russian are that it has no verb for “to have” and it does not use the verb “to be” in the present tense. I have a car = car is with me, the man is in the garden = man in garden.
    Regards. James

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