Thoughts on Russian and Language Families

Early last week I started looking at Russian while I wandered through a language app to check out the interface and learning system.  Since then, I’ve been playing around with Cyrillic and starting to learn some basic words.

I was immediately struck by the similar consonants used to delineate grammatical person.  I noticed this similarity first between Russian and Romance languages, and then thought about it in comparison with English. This isn’t really earth-shattering new knowledge, as I’m sure there has been linguistic work on the subject that I haven’t yet read, but I’m having fun with it, anyway.

Pronoun Russian French Spanish Middle English
I/we я/мы

(ya/mui)

je/nous jo/nosotros ich/I
you sing./pl. inf. ты/вы

(tui/vui)

tu/vous tú/vosotros thee
you sing./pl. f. вы

(vui)

vous usted/ustedes you
they sing./

pl.

она/оно/они

(ona/ono/onee)

il/ele/on

ils/elles

él/ella

ellos

he/she/hit

theo/tha/thei

You can see here that first person also involves a “j” or “y” sound, second involves a “t,” “th,” or “d”, and second person formal often has a “v” or “u”.  Object forms also have similarities – most object forms for first person involve an “m,” for instance (мне, moi, mi, me). The similarities aren’t really surprising, as Slavic, Romance, and Germanic languages are all subsets of Indo-European languages.

What surprised me a little more was realizing for the first time (which I’m kind of slapping myself for) that Hungarian, a Finno-Ugric language, rather follows the same pattern.

Pronoun Hungarian Personal Pronouns Example Case Endings
I/

we

én

mi

-em/-am

-ünk/-unk

you sing./

pl. inf.

te

ti

-ed/-ad

-tek/-tok

you sing./

pl. f.

ön

önok

-ük/-uk

-ük/-uk

they sing./

pl.

ő

ők

-e/-a

-ük/-uk

I also noticed some faint similarites, real or imagined, between some basic Russian and Hungarian words.  Hundred, for instance, is СТО (sto) in Russian and száz (sawz) in Hungarian.

It turns out that Indo-European and Finno-Ugric languages are descendants of a theorized Indo-Uralic language.  I’ve only started exploring Russian and have only been exposed to some very simple words, but the simple words that are most frequently used in a language are the words that change least, and I’m curious to see if there are other similarities.  I plan to spend some looking for research on a deeper relationship between Slavic languages and Finno-Ugric languages.  It may be no more than the same relationship with Hungarian that all Indo-European languages have, but I’d love to know if there is any additional influence there.  After all, proximity does tend to make a difference, and Hungary is much closer to Russia than, say, France.

3 thoughts on “Thoughts on Russian and Language Families

  1. Yes, it’s a good start. I think Russian is rather difficult, at least it’s much more difficult than English. If I were a foreigner, I wouldn’t start learning Russian 🙂 For exapmle, the word “стол” (table) may have more than 6 different endings in Russian.

    • Right now I’m happy just learning to pronounce the Cyrillic, especially since my children will each be starting a language over the summer and I have to try to keep up with them. My daughter chose Latin, which shouldn’t be too bad, but my son chose Irish – I think he’s almost as much of a glutton for punishment as I am!

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