Languages of Russia
Memorial in Vyborg in Finnish, Russian, Swedish and German.
Semi-officialThirty-five languages
MinorityDozens of languages of the Indo-European, Northeast Caucasian, Northwest Caucasian, Uralic, Turkic, Mongolic, Tungusic and Paleosiberian language families
Foreign13–15% have foreign language knowledge[2][3]
  1. English (80% out of all foreign language speakers or 11% of the population; 30% to some degree.[4]
  2. German (16%)
  3. French (4%)
  4. Turkic (2%)
SignedRussian Sign Language
Keyboard layout

Of all the languages of Russia, Russian, the most widely spoken language, is the only official language at the national level. There are other 35 official languages, which are used in different regions of Russia. These languages include; Ossetic, Ukrainian, Buryat, Kalmyk, Chechen, Ingush, Abaza, Adyghe, Cherkess, Kabardian, Altai, Bashkir, Chuvash, Crimean Tatar, Karachay-Balkar, Khakas, Nogai, Tatar, Tuvan, Yakut, Erzya, Komi, Hill Mari, Meadow Mari, Moksha, and Udmurt.[5] There are over 100 minority languages spoken in Russia today.[6]


Russian lost its status in many of the new republics that arose following the 1991 dissolution of the Soviet Union. In Russia, however, the dominating status of the Russian language continued. Today, 97% of the public school students of Russia receive their education only or mostly in Russian, even though Russia is made up of approximately 80% ethnic Russians.[citation needed]


On 19 June 2018, the Russian State Duma adopted a bill that made education in all languages but Russian optional, overruling previous laws by ethnic autonomies, and reducing instruction in minority languages to only two hours a week.[7][8][9] This bill has been likened by some commentators, such as in Foreign Affairs, to a policy of Russification.[7]

When the bill was still being considered, advocates for the minorities warned that the bill could endanger their languages and traditional cultures.[9][10] The law came after a lawsuit in the summer of 2017, where a Russian mother claimed that her son had been "materially harmed" by learning the Tatar language, while in a speech Vladimir Putin argued that it was wrong to force someone to learn a language that is not their own.[9] The later "language crackdown" in which autonomous units were forced to stop mandatory hours of native languages was also seen as a move by Putin to "build identity in Russian society".[9]

Protests and petitions against the bill by either civic society, groups of public intellectuals or regional governments came from Tatarstan (with attempts for demonstrations suppressed),[11] Chuvashia,[9] Mari El,[9] North Ossetia,[11][12] Kabardino-Balkaria,[11][13] the Karachays,[11] the Kumyks,[11][14] the Avars,[11][15] Chechnya,[7][16] and Ingushetia.[17][7] Although the "hand-picked" Duma representatives from the Caucasus did not oppose the bill,[7] it prompted a large outcry in the North Caucasus[11] with representatives from the region being accused of cowardice.[7] The law was also seen as possibly destabilizing, threatening ethnic relations and revitalizing the various North Caucasian nationalist movements.[7][9][11] The International Circassian Organization called for the law to be rescinded before it came into effect.[18] Twelve of Russia's ethnic autonomies, including five in the Caucasus called for the legislation to be blocked.[7][19]

On 10 September 2019, Udmurt activist Albert Razin self-immolated in front of the regional government building in Izhevsk as it was considering passing the controversial bill to reduce the status of the Udmurt language.[20] Between 2002 and 2010 the number of Udmurt speakers dwindled from 463,000 to 324,000.[21] Other languages in the Volga region recorded similar declines in the number of speakers; between the 2002 and 2010 censuses the number of Mari speakers declined from 254,000 to 204,000[10] while Chuvash recorded only 1,042,989 speakers in 2010, a 21.6% drop from 2002.[22] This is attributed to a gradual phasing out of indigenous language teaching both in the cities and rural areas while regional media and governments shift exclusively to Russian.

In the North Caucasus, the law came after a decade in which educational opportunities in the indigenous languages was reduced by more than 50%, due to budget reductions and federal efforts to decrease the role of languages other than Russian.[7][11] During this period, numerous indigenous languages in the North Caucasus showed significant decreases in their numbers of speakers even though the numbers of the corresponding nationalities increased, leading to fears of language replacement.[11][23] The numbers of Ossetian, Kumyk and Avar speakers dropped by 43,000, 63,000 and 80,000 respectively.[11] As of 2018, it has been reported that the North Caucasus is nearly devoid of schools that teach in mainly their native languages, with the exception of one school in North Ossetia, and a few in rural regions of Dagestan; this is true even in largely monoethnic Chechnya and Ingushetia.[11] Chechen and Ingush are still used as languages of everyday communication to a greater degree than their North Caucasian neighbours, but sociolinguistics argue that the current situation will lead to their degradation relative to Russian as well.[11]

In 2020, a set of amendments to the Russian constitution was approved by the State Duma[24] and later the Federation Council.[25] One of the amendments is to enshrine Russian as the “language of the state-forming nationality” and the Russian people as the ethnic group that created the nation.[26] The amendment has been met with criticism from Russia's minorities[27][28] who argue that it goes against the principle that Russia is a multinational state and will only marginalize them further.[29]

Official languages

Although Russian is the only federally official language of Russia, there are several other officially recognized languages within Russia's various constituencies – article 68 of the Constitution of Russia only allows the various republics of Russia to establish official (state) languages other than Russian. This is a list of the languages that are recognized as official (state) in constitutions of the republics of Russia, as well as the number of native speakers according mostly to the 2010 Census or more recent ones:[30]

Language Language family Federal subject(s) Speakers in Russia[30] Source
Abaza Northwest Caucasian  Karachay-Cherkessia 37,831 (2010 Census-2014)[31][32] [33]
Adyghe Northwest Caucasian  Adygea 128,000 (2015)[34] [35]
Avar Northeast Caucasian  Dagestan 800,000 (2010 Census)[36] [37]
Altai Turkic  Altai Republic 55,720 (2010 Census) [38][39]
Bashkir Turkic  Bashkortostan 1,152,404 (2010 Census)[40] [41] see also regional law
Buryat Mongolic  Buryatia 265,000 (2010 Census)[42] [43]
Chechen Northeast Caucasian  Chechnya
1,354,705 (2010 Census) [44]
Chuvash Turkic  Chuvashia 1,042,989 (2010 Census) [45]
Crimean Tatar Turkic  Republic of Crimea[a] 308,000 (2010 Census)

228,000 (2019)[a][46]

Erzya Uralic  Mordovia 36,726 (2010 Census) [48]
Ingush Northeast Caucasian  Ingushetia 305,868 (2010 Census) [49]
Kabardian Northwest Caucasian  Kabardino-Balkaria
590,000 (2010 Census) [33][50]
Kalmyk Mongolic  Kalmykia 80,546 (2010 Census) [51]
Karachay-Balkar Turkic  Kabardino-Balkaria
305,364 (2010 Census) [33][50]
Khakas Turkic  Khakassia 43,000 (2010 Census) [52]
Komi-Zyrian Uralic  Komi Republic 160,000 (2010 Census) [53]
Hill Mari, Meadow Mari Uralic  Mari El 470,000 (2012)[54] [55]
Moksha Uralic  Mordovia 130,000 (2010 Census) [48]
Nogai Turkic  Karachay-Cherkessia
87,119 (2010 Census) [33]
Ossetian Indo-European (Iranian)  North Ossetia–Alania 451,431 (2010 Census) [56]
Tatar Turkic  Tatarstan 4,280,718 (2010 Census) [57]
Tuvan Turkic  Tuva 280,000 (2010) [58]
Udmurt Uralic  Udmurtia 324,338 (2010 Census) [59]
Ukrainian Indo-European (Slavic)  Republic of Crimea[a] 1,129,838 (2010 Census) [47]
Yakut Turkic  Sakha 450,140 (2010 Census) [60]
  1. ^ a b c Annexed by Russia in 2014; recognized as a part of Ukraine by most of the UN Member States.

The Constitution of Dagestan defines "Russian and the languages of the peoples of Dagestan" as the state languages,[61] though no comprehensive list of the languages was given.[citation needed][dubious ] 14 of these languages (including Russian) are literary written languages; therefore they are commonly considered to be the official languages of Dagestan. These are, besides Russian, the following: Aghul, Avar, Azerbaijani, Chechen, Dargwa, Kumyk, Lak, Lezgian, Nogai, Rutul, Tabasaran, Tat and Tsakhur. All of these, except Russian, Chechen and Nogai, are official only in Dagestan and in no other Russian republic. In the project of the "Law on the languages of the Republic of Dagestan" 32 languages are listed; however, this law project never came to life.[62]

Karelia is the only republic of Russia with Russian as the only official language.[63] However, there exists the special law about state support and protection of the Karelian, Vepsian and Finnish languages in the republic, see next section.[64]

Other recognized languages

The Government of the Republic of Bashkortostan adopted the Law on the Languages of Nations, which is one of the regional laws aimed at protecting and preserving minority languages.[65][66][67] The main provisions of the law include General Provisions, Language names of geographic regions. objects and inscriptions, road and other signs, liability for violations of Bashkortostan in the languages of Bashkortostan. In the Republic of Bashkortostan, equality of languages is recognized. Equality of languages is a combination of the rights of peoples and people to preserve and fully develop their native language, freedom of choice and use of the language of communication. The writing of names of geographical objects and the inscription, road and other signs along with the state language of the Republic of Bashkortostan can be done in the languages of Bashkortostan in the territories where they are concentrated. Similar laws were adopted in Mari El, Tatarstan, Udmurtia, Khakassia and the Chukotka Autonomous Okrug.

The federal law "On the languages of the peoples of the Russian Federation"[68] allows the federal subjects to establish additionally official languages in the areas where minority groups live. The following 15 languages benefit from various degrees of recognition in various regions under this law:

Migrant languages

As a result of mass migration to Russia from the former USSR republics (especially from the Caucasus and Central Asia) many non-indigenous languages are spoken by migrant workers. For example, in 2014 2.4 million Uzbek citizens and 1.2 million Tajik citizens entered Russia.[69]

For comparison, Russian citizens with ethnicities matching these of home countries of migrant workers of are much lower (from 2010 Russian Census, in thousands):

Armenian 830
Azerbaijani 515
Kazakh 472
Uzbek 245
Kyrgyz 247
Tajik 177
Georgian 102
Romanian 90

Endangered languages in Russia

There are many endangered languages in Russia. Some are considered to be near extinction and put on the list of endangered languages in Russia, and some may have gone extinct since data was last reported. On the other hand, some languages may survive even with few speakers.

Some languages have doubtful data, like Serbian whose information in the Ethnologue is based on the 1959 census.

Languages near extinction

This section needs to be updated. Please help update this article to reflect recent events or newly available information. (September 2020)

Most numbers are according to Michael Krauss, 1995. Given the time that has passed, languages with extremely few speakers might be extinct today. Since 1994, Kerek, Aleut, Medny Aleut, Akkala Sami and Yugh languages have become extinct.

Foreign languages

Sign at TyumenNIIgiprogas headquarters reflecting the international nature of the oil industry: it is in Russian, Ukrainian, English, German, Polish, French, Hebrew, Georgian, Chinese and Tatar.

According to the various studies made in 2005-2008 by Levada Center[2] 15% of Russians know a foreign language. From those who claim knowledge of at least one language:

"Can speak freely":
English 80%
German 16%
French 4%
Turkish 2%
Others 9%
From 1775 respondents aged 15-29, November 2006
"Know enough to read newspapers":
English 44%
German 15%
Ukrainian, Belarusian and other Slavic languages 19%
Other European languages 10%
All others 29%
From 2100 respondents of every age, January 2005

Knowledge of at least one foreign language is predominant among younger and middle-aged population. Among aged 18–24 38% can read and "translate with a dictionary", 11% can freely read and speak. Among aged 25–39 these numbers are 26% and 4% respectively.

Knowledge of a foreign language varies among social groups. It is most appreciable (15-18%) in big cities with 100,000 and more inhabitants, while in Moscow it rises up to 35%. People with higher education and high economical and social status are most expected to know a foreign language.

The new study by Levada-Center in April 2014[3] reveals such numbers:

Can speak freely at least one language:
English 11%
German 2%
Spanish 2%
Ukrainian 1%
French <1%
Chinese <1%
Others 2%
Can speak a foreign language but with difficulty 13%
Do not speak a foreign Language at all 70%
From 1602 respondents from 16 and older, April 2014

The age and social profiling are the same: knowledge of a foreign language is predominant among the young or middle-aged population with higher education and high social status and who live in big cities.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, French was a common language among upper class Russians. The impetus came from Peter the Great's orientation of Russia towards Europe and accelerated after the French Revolution. After the Russians fought France in the Napoleonic Wars, Russia became less inclined towards French.[70]

In 2015, a survey taken in all federal subjects of Russia showed that 70% of Russians could not speak a foreign language. Almost 30% could speak English, 6% could speak German, 1% could speak French, 1% could speak Spanish, 1% could speak Arabic and 0.5% could speak another language.[71]

Language % of speakers in Russia (2003) % of speakers in Russia (2015) Change (%)
English 16 30 Increase14
German 7 6 Decrease1
French 1 1 Steady



Knowledge Percentage
Can speak English to a degree 30%
Can read and translate using a dictionary 20%
Can understand colloquial language 7%
Can speak very fluently 3%

Languages of education

Every year the Russian Ministry of Education and Science publishes statistics on the languages used in schools. In 2014/2015 the absolute majority[72] (13.1 million or 96%) of 13.7 million Russian students used Russian as a medium of education. Around 1.6 million or 12% students studied their (non-Russian) native language as a subject. The most studied languages are Tatar, Chechen and Chuvash with 347,000, 253,000 and 107,000 students respectively.

The most studied foreign languages in 2013/2014 were (students in thousands):

English 11,194.2
German 1,070.5
French 297.8
Spanish 20.1
Chinese 14.9
Arabic 3.4
Italian 2.9
Others 21.7

See also


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Further reading