Belarusian is an East Slavic language. Like Russian, the Belarusian language uses the Cyrillic alphabet. The Cyrillic alphabet originated in the 9th century, when Saints Cyril and Methodius adapted the Greek alphabet to allow the Slavic languages to be written down.

 Belarusian has drawn on the languages of its many conquerors. Many Belarusian words are derived from Russian words, but have slightly different spellings and pronunciation. The language has also been influenced by Polish and Ukrainian. Belarusian and Ukrainian both have a vowel that is pronounced "ee." No such sound exists in Russian.

The Belarusian language was the state language of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in the 16th century. In 1569, Belarus became part of Poland. Following the inclusion of Poland in the territory of the Russian empire in the late 18th century, Russian became the official language in Belarus. Belarusian publications were banned and Belarusian schools were closed. Belarusian became the language of illiterate peasants. All education and advancement required a knowledge of Russian.

 After 1917, in the early years of Soviet rule, Belarusian was reintroduced. Belarusian schools reopened and teaching and publishing in Belarusian began again. But by the late 1920s, the language declined again. Russian became the language of commerce, education and government. Because Russian is very close to Belarusian, it was easy for people to learn it.

  Did you know?
Belarusian Bibles were some of the first books to be printed in Eastern Europe. In the 16th century, Frances Skaryna of Polotsk translated the Bible into Belarusian, making Belarus the third nation after Germany and Czechoslovakia to have a printed Bible in its own language.
Many people see the Belarusian language as essential to Belarusian culture. In the late 1980s, a group of intellectuals wrote to Russian president Mikhail Gorbachev asking for Belarusian to be reinstated. It was declared the official language in Belarus in 1990. Street names were changed and Belarusian again became the language of instruction in schools.

 President Alyksandr Lukashenka has reinstated Russian and there are now two official languages. Russian is still the most widely spoken language. People's stand on the issue of language reflects generally their stand on the future of the country. Those who favour Belarusian as the national language are generally those who favour independence. Those who speak only Russian are generally those who favour reintegration with Russia.

  English Belarusian
  Yes    Da
  No   Nyet
  Please   Pozhalusta
  Thank you    Dzyakouyou
  Hi   Zdorou
  How are you?   Yak spravy?
  Goodbye    Da pabachennya
  Take care   Byvayte zdorovy
  Cheers    Na zdorovye
  Did you know?
Because of the use of both Russian and Belarusian, a hybrid language has developed called trasyanka. Russian is primarily spoken in cities, while in rural areas the dominant language is Belarusian. But a person might greet a friend in Belarusian and then continue the conversation in Russian.