Early in my Georgia Q&A, the following exchange takes place:
Q: And they speak Russian there? A: No. Q: Some other Slavic language? A: No. Q: A language even distantly related to Russian? A: Wrong again, idiot.
I intended for the Q-idiot to be asking about the native language of the Georgians, and indeed Russian is not it. However, a loyal reader pointed out to me that the question “Do they speak Russian in Georgia?” is ambiguous, and could easily be interpreted to mean “Do they speak Russian at all in Georgia?” And in that sense, the answer is yes, many Georgians do speak Russian. Georgians speak so much Russian that I (who know very little Russian) often have trouble getting them to speak to me in Georgian, no matter how much Georgian I use with them. Here is a typical exchange between me and a fruit vendor in the street:
Me: Portukhali ramdeni ari? [How much is the orange?] Vendor: [something in Russian] Me: Rogor? [What?] Vendor: [the same Russian as before] Me: Kartulad? [In Georgian?] Vendor: [the same Russian as before, but holding up five fingers and visibly irritated] Me: Ormotsdaati tetri? [Fifty cents?] Vendor: Da, [same Russian as before].
This is a common experience among non-russophone-foreigners in Georgia, but it is perhaps worse in my case because I look vaguely Slavic.
It’s easy to see why they should act like this. The Russians conquered lots of peoples over the past two hundred years, and they all used Russian to communicate not just with Russians, but also with each other. Older Georgians, who were accustomed to dealing with everyone from Armenians to Kazakhs in Russian, are unable to believe that anyone would learn their small local language. My guess is that the same is true of older people throughout the former Soviet countries.
Georgians speak Russian with an accent. I don’t know all the features of this accent, but I do know that they often eject Russian consonants, so that Kiev, for instance, is pronounced as K’iev, with a hard, popped k. A Russian-speaking American friend told me that Georgian accents are associated with gangsters in Russia, and sound generally badass. The blogger Russophilia argues that because so many different peoples speak Russian fluently, the distinction between native and non-native speakers is insufficient. Instead, she proposes that speakers of Russian can be 1) native, 2) non-native, or 3) native, but with a non-native accent. Many Georgians probably fall into the third category. If you want to know just exactly how much Russian is used in Georgia and you have a lot of time, try reading this paper. General Stuff About Russian Russian is no longer an official language in Georgia, but it is official, co-official, or regionally official in several former Soviet countries, including Kazakhstan, Ukraine, and, notably, the “countries” of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
Outside of the former Soviet countries, Russian is somewhat well-known in the former Warsaw Pact countries. Elsewhere in Europe, it’s not well-known.
Russian is a Slavic language. Within that language family, it belongs to the East Slavic group, which also includes Ukranian and Belarusian. The other Slavic groups are West Slavic, which includes Polish and Czecho-Slovak, and South Slavic, which includes Serbo-Croatian and Bulgarian.
Due to their history of slavery, colonialism, and unbridled expansion, Russians from different areas have historically intermingled and not been able to stay in one place for very long. Thus Russian, unlike many European languages (and Georgian), has few dialacts. (This is the same reason American English has few dialects.) Slavic languages are typically written using the Latin or Cyrillic alphabets according as whether they are the languages of Catholic or Orthodox countries. Russian is an Orthodox country, so it is written using Cyrillic.
Because of Russian influence, Cyrillic has often been used to transcribe the languages of Central Asia.
This post is sprawling like the Russian Empire, so I’ll end it here.