Why Study Russian

Russia as a Culture of Language and
Russian as a Language of Culture

The Russian language itself is one of the central identifying features of Russian national identity. Despite a certain hyperbolism, Mikhail Lomonosov's comments on the qualities of his language, are shared by many Russians: "The Holy Roman Emperor Carl the Fifth used to say that one should speak Spanish with God, French with one's friends, German with one's enemies, and Italian with the fair sex. But had he been skilled in Russian he would of course have added that it would be appropriate to speak with all of these in it, for he would have found in it the greatness of Spanish, the liveliness of French, the force of German, the tenderness of Italian, and, in addition, the richness and strong terse descriptiveness of Greek and Latin."
Although Russian as a modern cultural language is relatively new, with the vast majority of classic work having been produced in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the wealth of the Russian cultural heritage in literature, visual art, theater, opera, instrumental music, and ballet is enormous. And while it is possible to gain some appreciation for such authors as Dostoevsky and Tolstoy in English translation, no true understanding of the immense richness of Russian culture can be acquired without a thorough knowledge of the language. In particular, Russia has produced one of the world's most vibrant and exciting poetic traditions--including the works of poets like Pushkin, Lermontov, Blok, Akhmatova, Mandelstam, Tsvetaeva, Pasternak, and Brodsky--and this is almost totally inaccessible to the English reader. Despite the upheavals caused by the fall of communism, Russian literary culture remains vibrant, and only a fraction of this fascinating contemporary work is available in translation.

Collage of Russian Poets

Here is a Russian Poetry Page. You can also see the largest online collection of Russian Literature at Library of Maksim Moshkov

In addition, from a linguistic point of view, Russian is particularly intriguing because of the immense changes it has undergone in the course of the twentieth century. As the authors of one recent study of the language have put it: "The recent changes that have taken place in the Soviet Union and its successor states conclude a dramatic period in the history of the country and, probably, in the history of the world. The conclusion of this period, which spans over seven decades, offers an incredible opportunity to a linguist: to follow the changes in a language partially determined by sociological factors and to see abrupt changes evolve into continuous tendencies, coming to a logical completion with the end of the political age."

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