Russian language

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Quotations about the Russian language, the eighth most spoken language in the world by number of native speakers and the seventh by total number of speakers. It has mostly been mentioned in direct connection with the esteem of the Russian literature.

It serves as the official language of the Russian Federation and as one of the official languages of Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. It also remains widely spoken by the Russian diaspora in other areas of the former Soviet Union such as Ukraine, Moldova, the Baltic states, and Central Asia.

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  • [F]or a man whose mother tongue is Russian to speak about political evil is as natural as digestion [...]
    • Joseph Brodsky, Nobel Lecture (1987), translated from the Russian by Barry Rubin, from Nobel Lectures, Literature 1981-1990, Ed. Tore Frängsmyr, Sture Allén, Singapore, 1993 external link
  • [T]here is the wonderful wealth of the language, which, as a popular tongue, is more flexible, more expressive of thought than any other living tongue I know of.


  • Сердцеведением и мудрым познаньем жизни отзовется слово британца; легким щеголем блеснет и разлетится недолговечное слово француза; затейливо придумает свое, не всякому доступное, умно-худощавое слово немец; но нет слова, которое было бы так замашисто, бойко так вырвалось бы из-под самого сердца, так бы кипело и животрепетало, как метко сказанное русское слово.
  • [А] вот только русским ничем не наделят, разве из патриотизма выстроят для себя на даче избу в русском вкусе. Вот каковы читатели высшего сословия, а за ними и все причитающие себя к высшему сословию! А между тем какая взыскательность! Хотят непременно, чтобы все было написано языком самым строгим, очищенным и благородным, — словом, хотят, чтобы русский язык сам собою опустился вдруг с облаков, обработанный как следует, и сел бы им прямо на язык, а им бы больше ничего, как только разинуть рты да выставить его.
    • They never contribute anything Russian, at most their patriotism leads them to build a peasant's hut in the Russian style for a summer bungalow. So that's what readers of the best society are like, and all who rank themselves as such follow their example. And at the same time how exacting they are! They insist that everything must be written in the most rigidly correct language, purified and refined—in fact they want the Russian language to descend of itself from the clouds, all finished and polished, and settle on their tongue, leaving them nothing to do but open their mouth and stick it out.
    • Nikolai Gogol. Originally written in 1835—1852, the "Poem in prose" Dead Souls, Chapter VIII, in the 1922 translation by Constance Garnett


Had he been skilled in Russian
forceful gift for concise imagery
  • Карл V, римский император, говаривал, что ишпанским языком с Богом, французским с друзьями, немецким с неприятелем, италианским с женским полом говорить прилично, но если бы он российскому языку был искусен, то к тому присовокупил бы, что им со всеми оными говорить пристойно, ибо нашёл бы в нём великолепие ишпанского, живость французского, крепость немецкого, нежность италианского, сверх того богатство и сильную в изображении краткость греческого и латинского языка. Обстоятельное всего сего доказательство требует другого места и случая. Меня долговременное в российском слове упражнение о том совершенно уверяет. Сильное красноречие Цицероново, великолепная Виргилиева важность, Овидиево приятное витийство не теряют своего достоинства на российском язы́ке. Тончайшие философские воображения и рассуждения, многоразличные естественные свойства и перемены, бывающие в сем видимом строении мира и в человеческих обращениях, имеют у нас пристойные и вещь выражающие речи.
    • Translation: Charles V, Emperor of Rome, was wont to say that it is proper to address oneself in Spanish to God, in French to friends, in German to the enemy, and in Italian to the female sex. Had he been skilled in (the knowledge of) Russian, he would doubtless have added that in the last named it behooves one to speak to all the above. For therein he would have found the magnificence of Spanish, the vivacity of French, the strength of German, the tenderness of Italian, and, besides, the opulence of Greek and Latin and their forceful gift for concise imagery. The powerful eloquence of Cicero, the magnificent stateliness of Virgil, the pleasing poesy of Ovid, do not lose their worth in Russian. The finest philosophical concepts and reasoning, the multiform properties and changes of nature occurring in this visible edifice of the universe and in the intercourse among men as well, have, in our tongue, locutions befitting and expressing the matter.
    • Mikhail Lomonosov, Introduction to the Russian Grammar (1755), translation quoted by J. A. Joffe in "Russian Literature", part of Lectures on Literature (Columbia University, 1911), page 316


  • La langue russe, qui est, autant que j'en puis juger, le plus riche des idiomes de l'Europe, semble faite pour exprimer les nuances les plus delicates. Douée d'une merveilleuse concision qui s'allie à la clarté, il lui suffit d'un mot pour associer plusieurs idées, qui, dans une autre langue, exigeraient des phrases entières.
    • Translation: The Russian language, which is, as far as I can judge, the richest of all the European family, seems admirably adapted to express the most delicate shades of thought. Possessed of a marvellous conciseness and clearness, it can with a single word call up several ideas, to express which in another tongue whole phrases would be necessary.
    • Prosper Mérimée writing on Nikolai Gogol, as translated by Claud Field in The Mantle and Other Stories, page 13; French original given as quoted by W. L. Phelps in Essays on Russian Novelists (1911), page 9
    • The Russian language is undoubtedly the richest of all the European tongues.
    • This part of the original quotation was quoted by Eugène-Melchior de Vogüéexternal scan, and erroneously ascribed to the latter, when quoted by J. A. Joffe in Russian Literature, page 317, part of Lectures on Literature (various authors from Columbia University, 1911)external scan


  • The Russian language is able to express by means of one pitiless word the idea of a certain widespread defect for which the other three European languages I happen to know possess no special term. The absence of a particular expression in the vocabulary of a nation does not necessarily coincide with the absence of the corresponding notion but it certainly impairs the fullness and readiness of the latter's perception.
    • Vladimir Nabokov, "A definition of Poshlost" in E. K. Bristow (trans. and ed.), Anton Chekhov's Plays (New York, 1977), p. 322 as quoted in Kyra Giorgi, Emotions, Language and Identity on the Margins of Europe (Palgrave Macmillan 2014) page 1external link
    • First sentence of this quote also quoted in Anna Wierzbicka, Understanding Cultures Through Their Key Words: English, Russian, Polish, German, and Japanese (Oxford University Press USA 1997) page 2external link and V. E. Alexandrov, The Garland Companion to Vladimir Nabokov (Routledge 2014, first published by Taylor & Francis 1995), page 628external link]


  • Russian is very dear to me because it’s a family language, but I am Jewish-Russian, which is a little different from Russian-Russian. My family ran away in 1905 from the Russian-Russians.
  • It is a rather curious thing, that Russia, which has never had a parliamentary government, and where political history has been very little influenced by the spoken word, should have so much finer an instrument of expression than England, where matters of the greatest importance have been settled by open and public speech for nearly three hundred years. One would think that the constant use of the language in the national forum for purposes of argument and persuasion would help to make it flexible and subtle; and that the almost total absence of such employment would tend toward narrowness and rigidity. In this instance exactly the contrary is the case. If we may trust the testimony of those who know, we are forced to the conclusion that the English language, compared with the Russian, is nothing but an awkward dialect. Compared with Russian, the English language is decidedly weak in synonyms, and in the various shades of meaning that make for precision. Indeed, with the exception of Polish, Russian is probably the greatest language in the world, in richness, variety, definiteness, and elegance. It is also capable of saying much in little, and saying it with tremendous force.
  • This endless mobilization in Ukraine, the hysteria, the domestic problems – sooner or later it all will result in an agreement. You know, this will probably sound strange given the current situation but the relations between the two peoples will be rebuilt anyway. It will take a lot of time but they will heal. I will give you very unusual examples. There is a combat encounter on the battlefield, it is a specific example: Ukrainian soldiers got encircled (this is an example from real life), our soldiers were shouting to them: “There is no chance! Surrender yourselves! Come out and you will be alive!” Suddenly the Ukrainian soldiers were shouting back in Russian, perfect Russian: “Russians never surrender!” and all of them perished. They still identify themselves as Russians. What is happening is, to a certain extent, an element of a civil war. Everyone in the West thinks that the Russian people have been split by hostilities forever. No. They will be reunited. The unity is still there.


  • Во дни сомнений, во дни тягостных раздумий о судьбах моей родины, — ты один мне поддержка и опора, о великий, могучий, правдивый и свободный русский язык! Не будь тебя — как не впасть в отчаяние при виде всего, что совершается дома? Но нельзя верить, чтобы такой язык не был дан великому народу!
    • Translation 1: In these days of doubt, in these days of painful brooding over the fate of my country, thou alone art my rod and my staff, O great, mighty, true and free Russian language! If it were not for thee, how could one keep from despairing at the sight of what is going on at home? But it is inconceivable that such a language should not belong to a great people.
    • Ivan Turgenev, The Russian Language (first published in Russian in 1882), the translation quoted by W. L. Phelps in Essays on Russian Novelists (1911), page 9
    • Translation 2: In days of doubt, in days of dreary musings on my country's fate, thou alone art my stay and support, mighty, true, free Russian speech! But for thee, how not fall into despair, seeing all that is done at home? But who can think that such a tongue is not the gift of a great people!
    • Ivan Turgenev's The Russian Tongue translated by Constance Garnett published in Dream Tales and Prose Poems (1897), page 324.
    • Translation 3: In days of doubt, in days of distressing meditations on the fate of my country, in thee alone I trust, O Russian language, great, mighty, truthful, free . . . But it is impossible to believe that such a language was not given to a great people.
    • Ivan Turgenev, The Russian Language as quoted by J. A. Joffe in "Russian Literature", part of Lectures on Literature (Columbia University, 1911), page 316

See also