Is Belarusian a language?

I am enjoying exploring 4 Slavic languages right now, through reading and listening to the history of four countries as told by themselves in their language, Russia, Poland, Ukraine and the Czech lands. It particularly interesting to read the differing points of view on historical events that involved and often were bones of contention between these countries, especially between Russia-Ukraine, Russia-Poland, Poland-Ukraine, Poland-Czech, and to a lesser extent Czech-Ukraine.

I don’t know if I will ever get around to the other Eastern Slavic language, Belarusian; Western Slavic language, Slovak: and the southern Slavic languages.

Language influences how we see history, and it seems history influences how we see languages.

I came across this video of Leonid Reshetnikov, Director of the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies (RISS), who dismisses Belarusian as “a language invented by a Jew in 1926”, and claims that this is the view of “any normal person in Russia”. I would be interested in the views of any speakers of Russian and or Belarusian, or anyone else who wants to participate.

Of course, this issue goes beyond Belarusian. At what point does a form a language move from being a dialect to becoming a language. What of Frisian, Galician, Swiss German, or Cantonese, sometimes not recognized as languages as compared to the very similar Danish and Norwegian, or Spanish and Portuguese, which are?

Let me just add a question since I know nothing about East Slavic languages: Is Belarussian closer to Ukrainian or Russian and how much influence from languages like Polish does it have if any?

As Ukrainian and Russian native speaker, I can say that people who speak Belorussian and Ukranian would understand each other almost fully, but Russian speaker would understand almost nothing in this conversation.

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One of my students here in China told me he cannot understand Cantonese, but that it is the same language as the Mandarin and Shanghainese that he speaks. Go figure.

That would make sense since much of Belarus and Ukraine were part of Lithuania and the Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth for over 400 years, and Ruthenian, the dominant language of Lithuania for these years, appears to be linked to both Belorusian and Ukrainian. I would like one day to read a history of Belarus in Belorusian, just to get a different perspective.

Not even Cantonese speakers, all 90 million of them, want to consider Cantonese a language, or so it seems.

As Max Weinstein put it:

„אַ שפראַך איז אַ דיאַלעקט מיט אַן אַרמײ און פֿלאָט“,

a schprach is a dialekt mit an armej un flot“;


«Русские называют всё русское славянским, чтобы потом назвать всё славянское русским»

‘The Russians like to label everything Russian as Slavic, so that later they can label
everything Slavic as Russian’, the great Czech writer Karel Havliček declared in 1844,
trying to warn his compatriots against their silly and ignorant enthusiasm for Russia.
It was ignorant because the Czechs, for a thousand years, have never had any direct
contact with Russia. In spite of their linguistic kinship, the Czechs and the Russians
have never shared a common world: neither a common history nor a common culture.
The relationship between the Poles and the Russians, though, has never been anything
less than a struggle of life and death.

What about languages and dialects. Belarusian is in the middle between Polish and Russian. That’s why it was alway possible to make Belarusan similar to Polish or to Russian, depending on the Polish or Russian government.
We may say we are brothers but it does not mean the brothers need to live in the same house. Even mother and daughter prefer to live separately and visit each other.

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If Belarusian is a dialect, than Trasianka is a dialect of a dialect :slight_smile:

It’s all a hoax. In reality, Russian is the dialect, Belarussian is the language.

Edit: I take that back after reading svenreichard’s comment above x)

Chinese dialects are especially difficult matter because it’s hard to even tell where a dialect begins and ends. In Shanghai alone you could split speech between Puxi, Pudong, Chongming + older vs younger speakers and the border with neighboring dialects are blurred in the villages between the major cities of Suzhou and Shanghai. :stuck_out_tongue:

Anyway it is evident for me that Polish and Belarusian are much older than Russian. While learning Polish, I mentioned many phrases which sound naturally in Polish and strange in Russian. Such phrases may sound almost the same in both languages.

jeść aż się uszy trzęsą
ест аж за ушами трещит

Звучит очень похоже, но в польском осмысленная фраза: когда животное быстро и жадно ест. В русском же не понятно, что и почему трещит.

Belarusian had too much influence from Russian during the last centuries. But it still has a lot of common with other Slavic languages. It is not surprising Russian has less common with other Slavic languages because the territory of Russian language was initially far away from other Slavic territories. It is evident Polish had influencies from German as well as Russian had influencies from Turkic and other Asian languages. But it seems to be impossible to have so many languages in all Slavic countries with common lexic which is different from Russian one.

I wouldn’t recommend wasting your time on things like ‘Russian Institute for Strategic Studies’. Despite its name, this outfit has nothing to do with science nor with academia.

Belarusian is a separate language, by no means a dialect of Russian. I can’t imagine anyone outside strategic institutes who would argue this. It’s close enough to understand and guess a lot though. Basically, since there’s a huge amount of shared vocabulary, it’s usually not a big deal to get the main topic of conversation. Then with some effort and attention you can try to construct the rest from the context. Pretty much the same as with Ukrainian.


Well it most certainly is a language, but what Mr. Reshetnikov says matters very little compared to the fact that very few Belarussians know their national language enough to use it in everyday life.

My friends tell me they have rather intense Belarussians grammatical courses in school but then close to no one speaks it in real life, especially the generations that were educated during Soviet times. Meaning that they slowly forget it.

Thus, to dispute the fact that Belarussian is a language or a dialect is insignificant compared to the fact that it is slowly dying. :frowning:

It is slowly dying. One of the reason is beause Belarusian is very close to Russian. People of other ex-USSR republic may use their languages and be sure no-one understands them. Sometimes it may be useful in business or wherever. Belarusian language cannot be used such a way.
You may compare it with Ukrainian. But we are neither Ukrainians nor Russians, we have our Belarusian mentality which was formed historically.
Russia can easily conquest us, but I believe “independent” Belarus is better for Russia.

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I guess it depends on how many people want to maintain the language. It is interesting that Welsh is stronger in Wales than Gaelic is in Scotland, even though there seems to be a stronger pro independence movement in Scotland then in Wales. The desire to maintain a local language may not be tied to the aspiration for political independence.

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Hi All,
I wanted to add that as a native polish speaker Belarusian seems to be a lot easier to understand then any other slavic language.
It’s definitely a language on its own just as slovak and czech are two separate langauges.

A good friend of mine from Bielsk Podlaski is using “nasza mowa” while speaking with his grandparents ,
he refers to it as a dialect between polish and belarusian.


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