Is Russian A Dying Language?


As it is with many things in life, languages come and go. Eventually, languages that were once the most spoken and respected will cease to be used in any real capacity. This can happen in a variety of ways, and theoretically to any language. With our topic, some people wonder if Russian is ceasing to be. So, Is Russian a dying language?

Russian is not a dying language, though it is hard to say that it is a growing language. The political upheaval of the fall of the Soviet Union caused a dramatic decline of Russian. Thus, it is isolated in Russia’s fairly stagnated population, however this wouldn’t make Russian a dying language.

Much more can be said about this subject, starting with why the fall of the Soviet Union has in any way affected Russian use throughout the world. Then we should discuss why the Russian language is not really growing in Russia and why this makes so many think Russian is declining. So, let us ask the question again: is Russian a dying language?

Is the Russian language growing, or declining?

First, let us quickly consider what it means for a language to “grow” or “decline”, since it is always best to clear up terms that are slightly vague in a specific context from the beginning.

Growing and declining in relation to languages both mean:

  • Growing. If the language’s spoken population is increasing (i.e. more people in a country naturally means more people speaking the country’s language), or being introduced in other countries and spoken commonly as a second language, would both mean it is a growing language. An example of a growing language would be English.
  • Declining. A language that is declining refers to the use of the language decreasing, or less and less people speaking it. This becomes apparent when a particular language’s place of origin, or it’s native speakers, start to favor another language. One of the most common known dead languages (the end state of a declining language) is Latin.

If all that is what I meant by a language that is “growing” or “declining”, then is the Russian language experiencing either one?

The Russian language is not declining in the traditional sense, it is however being spoken less in foreign countries where it used to hold power. Likewise, Russian is not considered to be growing by some, because of Russia’s population is not increasing at a healthy or normal rate.

Russian is in an odd position today, and this is mainly due to the ramifications of the fall of the Soviet Union. As is said in this article by the Russian Journal of Communication, Russian is in a state of both decline and revitalization.

If language could really be said as both growing and declining, one still has to be more true than the other. So, starting with the former, is Russian growing?

Is It Growing?

I said there are some that consider Russian not growing, though are the reasons they give true? Many of their points revolve around Russian decline in other countries, and the notion of Russia’s own population declining more than what has already happened after the fall of the Soviet Union.

With all of these points in mind, is Russian growing?

Russian is growing, but just not in the way people might think. In reality, Russian in Russia is not declining whatsoever. Even though smaller countries around Russia are distancing themselves from the language, the place that is most important for Russian is still steeped in the language.

To the point of Russia’s population, and how that affects the Russian language, there seems to be a common misconception floating around.

Russia has not declined in numbers in very recent years, instead it’s problem is that it has not increased at a generally acceptable pace.

The Russian population has fluctuated over the years after the fall of Soviet Russia, but despite this it still has increased, however small of an increase that might be.

  • Russia’s population in 2020:
  • 145,934,462
  • Russia’s population in 2021:
  • 146,003,457

The statistics for the population of Russia in 2020 and 2021 are provided by this site, listing all of Russia’s population changes for the past several decades.

So, Russian is in fact growing in its place of origin, whether or not it’s a particularly fast growth. This means that the language can be said to be growing.

Though it is true that Russian is sort of isolated in Russia now, this leads us to our next topic of: is Russian declining? (and, how this is involved with Russian being spoken less in other countries).

Is It Declining?

I already mentioned that Russian has been used less and less in other countries, causing many to believe that Russian is dying. Is this the right way to think about it, or is Russian not dying?

Russian is not dying, though it has lost speakers in places where it once held much power. This is a natural change that languages take due to historical events and trends. In Russian’s case, it still remains a highly spoken language, not just in Europe, but the whole world.

In fact, Russian is in the top ten most spoken languages in the world! With the exact estimate around:

258 million

As opposed to the previously given stat of Russia’s population:

146 million

As you can see, there are still plenty of people speaking Russian today. Even though it has lost political power in countries, particularly in the Balkans, Russia and it’s language still holds influence across the world.

The number regarding the total number of Russian speakers in the world is provided by Ethnologue.

The decline of Russian in some countries vs decline of Russian itself.

The countries that are now “discouraging” the use of Russian are not doing it because of the Russian language, but because of Russia, or the ties Russia has to the former Soviet Union. A lot of these countries used to be a part of the Soviet Union or under the thumb of the regime.

So, it is no wonder that they would distance themselves from the country, and naturally it’s language. For our purposes in this article, the takeaway is that the Russian language is not being shunned for its own merits, but rather for those who used to speak it.

Why Russia’s population has fluctuated and why this affects the language.

The populace of Russia has seen a dip and an apparent rise since the fall of Soviet Russia. The official date of the collapse was December 26, 1991. After that Russia has experienced many changes, from the economical to the cultural and religious.

These changes went from an anti-family and anti-religion government (in most religions, large families and children are encouraged), to a generally pro-religious and family government (even though there are still problems in their government, for sure).

Some reports suggest that Russia’s population will start to decrease in the near future, but like all predictions, you can only take it with a grain of salt. Since no one can know the future, there are plenty of variables that can make this prediction obsolete.

In society, families are the bedrock for both the economical and cultural. This is one of the main crimes of communism (and all of it’s versions), since it devalues what we as a people should value the most, the family.

As such, Russia is recovering in a sense from a sickness, an idea that infected their society for nearly a generation. Now, Russia is focusing on the religious and therefore family. This points to a rising population in the future.

What remains to be seen is if they can be successful in this endeavor. If so, it would bring stability and a higher population in Russia, thus creating an environment for more people to speak the Russian language.

If you want to know more about language learning, then check out some of my other articles!

Is German Or Russian More Useful?

For any language to be deemed “useful”, it must help a person with their career, education, or in some skill that can be a benefit. In essence, when discussing a language being useful, we’re really talking about how it can help us monetarily.

If that is the case then naturally some languages would be inherently more “useful” than others.

Take English for instance, being considered the “foremost international language of the world”, it would serve many better than something like Norwegian.

Norwegian is only spoken by roughly around 5 million people (though there is nothing wrong with the language, absolutely), while English on the other hand is the most spoken language in the world, with 1.348 billion speakers!

Others are better in specific niches, like Latin in the medical field can be more useful than learning Greek. So, in what instances are German and Russian useful? And, is there one that is more useful overall?

In engineering and higher manufacturing, German is much more useful than Russian. On the other hand, with raw exports and especially oil, Russian will serve you better than German. These languages can be useful in many different situations, so it depends on a person’s own intentions.

The prevalence of a language can be a factor of whether or not it could be useful for you.

Since in northern and central Europe German will be more prevalent, leaving German to be more likely to be useful in those regions.

Whereas Russian can be found in some parts of central Europe, but is mainly in eastern Europe and northern parts of Asia.

Why do so many compare German and Russian?

Germany for the longest time after World War 2 was split into two halves, West and East Germany. East Germany was controlled by the Soviet Union for decades, until the fall of the Berlin wall in November, 1989.

On this basis especially, is why so many compare German and Russian together. Their history has entangled themselves in the past hundred years or so, leaving many wanting to see how that affected the two languages along with their peoples and cultures associated with them.

Is learning Russian worth it?

Is learning Russian worth it? Well, what does it even mean for a language to be “worth it”?

For any language to be “worth it”, it should have at least one of the following:

  • Religious Significance. The religious aspect of language learning is if a language is considered sacred or special to a particular religion, akin to Latin with Roman Catholicism and Arabic with Islam. On this basis, some might learn these languages.
  • Cultural Significance. If a language has a strong tie to a nation’s culture, it can be cause to see it as being worthy of learning. Like the Gaelic language in Ireland, or many other similar cultural languages.
  • Monetary Benefits. A very common reason for language learning is if it can help you in your career or education. As we discussed when answering the question: “is Russian useful?”.
  • Travel. Common languages like English or Spanish can help someone travel due to their prevalence throughout the world, and some might learn one of them for that reason. Likewise, if you are fond of visiting Germany, or any country for that matter, you can learn the language of that country to help you on your vacations.
  • Enjoyment. This is the most subjective reason for learning a language, and probably the most needed. You have to in some way like learning the language of your choice, and this of course doesn’t mean enjoying every aspect of learning a language.

So, by these five points most learn languages, then does Russian fulfill any of these? Is Russian worth it?

Russian can be considered worth learning if: you are affiliated with Russian orthodoxy, connected to or a fan of Russian culture, working in the oil industry, travels often to Russia, or just love the Russian language itself. For you the language will be worth learning.

Looking at the intentions for learning a language, we can start to see how much it depends on an individual person’s own goals and ideals. So, whether or not Russian is “worth it”, is reliant on why a person is trying to learn a language in the first place.

The Final Talking Point On Whether Russian Is Dying…

The Russian language is not dying, even if it has declined in some countries. It is still spoken by over two hundred million people across the world. Within Russia, the Russian language is alive and strong, with Russia’s population slowly increasing every year, and as such the amount of Russian speakers.

If interested in more about language learning and the most well spoken languages, then read some of my other articles!

Jackie Booe

Jackie Booe is a licensed teacher for elementary through high school in 3 states. She is a former adjunct professor at the undergraduate level and certified to teach elementary, secondary English, and English Language Learners. She was a mentor for many education interns, has taught and coordinated professional development for teachers and educators, and professionally tutored in a multitude of subjects.

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