Monday, January 27, 2014

Language Profile: Belarusian

Today we're taking a look at Belarusian, a Slavic language. It is an official language of Belarus alongside Russian. It is also an official regional language of Ukraine, and is spoken by many people in Poland. 

Throughout its history, Belarusian has been known by many other names in the English language. These include Byelorussian and Belorussian, which are both derived from the language's Russian name, as well as White Ruthenian and White Russian, which are translations of the name in English. However, most of these names haven't been used since Belarus gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

The National Academic Bolshoi Opera and Ballet Theatre
of the Republic of Belarus in its capital, Minsk.
Belarusian is very closely related to some of its fellow Slavic languages. It is somewhat mutually intelligible with Ukrainian and Russian, and all three are derived from the same language. There are also two main dialects of Belarusian, North-Eastern and South-Western. 

While the Belarusian language gained prestige and popularity after Belarus became independent from the Soviet Union, support for the language has been decreasing since Russian was made a co-official language in 1995. The use of Russian has surged in the country, with a recent government study showing that 72% of the population spoke Russian at home, compared to 11.9% speaking Belarusian. However, over half of the population can read and speak Belarusian.

The language is written in a Cyrillic script with 32 letters. Before the 11th and 12th century, a Glagolitic script (mentioned in our recent post on Bulgarian) was used to write Belarusian, which was replaced by both a Latin alphabet and an Arabic alphabet that were used before the 20th century.