Language facts: Belarusian

Mar 28, 2017

Belarusian, or White Russian (or White Ruthenian), is an East Slavic language spoken by somewhere between 7 and 9 million people, most of them residing in Belarus. It is an official language in Belarus and parts of Poland. Belarusian is most closely related to Ukrainian, and it is indeed also a minority language in Ukraine.

Belarusian, Russian and Ukrainian are in fact mutually intelligible to a certain extent (due to their connection to the Ruthenian language, the form of Old Slavonian spoken in the region).

Officially unofficial language

While Belarusian has had a troubled past and originally was regarded as a rural language for peasants, even assuming the second role to Russian in years after the Second World War, it has survived as a national and official language of Belarus. It shares this position with Russian. Surprisingly, out of a population of 9.5 million people, only about half are able to write in the language, while ten percent of the population does not understand Belarusian at all. According to an analysis of the official 2009 Belarus census, more than 70% of the Belarus population declared to speak Russian at home, which is perceived as a mother tongue by the majority. After all, as many other languages of the East-European area, Belarusian has also been formed within the clashes of geopolitical power games, where linguistics and politics often go hand-in-hand.

Alphabet

Belarusian uses the Cyrillic alphabet, but previously also made use of the Latin alphabet. In the 16th century, Belarusian was even written in the Arabic script (so-called Belarusian Arabic alphabet) and was used by the Lipka Tatar settlers who were invited to the Belarusian lands. In the course of about two centuries of assimilation, the Tatars resumed speaking their original language and switched to Old Belarusian.

А Б В Г Д Е Ё Ж З И Й К Л М Н О П Р С Т У Ф Х Ц Ч Ш Ы Ь Э Ю Я

а б в г д е ё ж з и й к л м н о п р с т у ф х ц ч ш ы ь э ю я

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