The official languages of Belarus are equally Belarusian and Russian.

The language situation in Belarus is characterized by a co-existence of several linguistic codes. The two most widespread codes are Belarusian, Russian, and the so-called trasianka, a mixed speech in which Belarusian and Russian elements and structures alternate arbitrarily.

Although both languages belong to the same group of Slavic languages, the differences between the two are significant. Russians cannot understand the Belarusian language well, especially if authentic Belarusian words are used. Belarusians can understand Russian, however, because almost all of them are bilingual.

History of Belarusian language in Belarus

The first mention of the Belarusian language dates back to XIV-XVI centuries when the current territory of Belarus was a part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. The Belarusian language, then an official language, was used in state affairs. Later, as a part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth followed by the Russian Empire, Belarus went through processes of polonisation and russification.

In Soviet times, the goal of creating a New Soviet people led to longterm discrimination of the Belarusian language. Despite being banned from official use, the language and culture revitalization were supported by many groups of citizens. When Lukashenka came to power in 1994, relying on the idea of Soviet nostalgia, the Belarusian language became associated with the language of the opposition. This label was strengthened in 1996 when the Russian language became the second official language. The stigma of the language of opposition remains, even though in the last five years, the Belarusian authorities have tried to popularize the language as a cultural and identity marker.

 

What is the Belarusian language like?

The Belarusian language is an Indo-European East-Slavic language that has the most linguistic similarities with Ukrainian, Polish, and Russian. According to some research, 80% of oral Belarusian is similar to Ukrainian, with 80% modern written language identical to Russian. The Belarusian language once used the Latin alphabet, which had later been replaced by the Cyrillic alphabet. In the XVI century, Belarusian also used Arabic and in XX century — Hebrew alphabets. The language has its dialects; all of them were recorded and placed on the map by a project called “dialects.natatnik.”

 

How many people speak Belarusian?

The Belarusian language is assessed as vulnerable by UNESCO, facing inequality with Russian in many spheres, mainly in official communication and business. According to the population census in 2009, 60,8% Belarusians consider Belarusian their native language, while 26% Belarusians stated they use the language at home. At the same time, only around 10% of the population actively uses it in everyday life.

Many Belarusians do indeed speak Russian primarily. However, this is the result of discrimination against the Belarusian language during the country’s past in the Russian empire (from 1794) and then in the Soviet Union (from 1922).

Apart from Russian, Belarusian and trasianka the languages of national minorities are used in Belarus, but to a much lesser extent. According to the Belarusian census of 2009 the overwhelming majority of non-Belarusians use Russian in their everyday life.

Russian Language in Belarus

What is this language? It belongs to the Slavic languages family and it’s very similar to Ukrainian and Belarus languages. There are about 277 million people who speak Russian. Most of the Belarusian people speak Russian.

 

Dialects of the Belarusian language

Besides the standardized lect, there are two main dialects of the Belarusian language, the North-Eastern, and the South-Western. In addition, there is a transitional Middle Belarusian dialect group and the separate West Palyesian dialect group.

The North-Eastern and the South-Western dialects are separated by a hypothetical line Ashmyany–Minsk–Babruysk–Homyel, with the area of the Middle Belarusian dialect group placed on and along this line.

The North-Eastern dialect is chiefly characterized by the “soft sounding R” and “strong akanye” , and the South-Western dialect is chiefly characterized by the “hard sounding R” and “moderate akanye”.

The West Polesian dialect group is a dialect of Ukrainian and is separated by the conventional line Pruzhany–Ivatsevichy–Telekhany–Luninyets–Stolin.

There is a high degree of mutual intelligibility among Belarusian, Russian, and Ukrainian languages. Belarusian has 80% mutual intelligibility with Ukrainian, 75% with Russian, and 41% with the Polish language. Within East Slavic, the Belarusian language is most closely related to Ukrainian. add