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Russia Guide > Europe’s Language Map

Europe’s Language Map

Russia has more languages than any country in Europe.

I stumbled across this fascinating map of Europe’s languages the other day – each colour represents a different language.

Russia is by far the most linguistically diverse country in Europe. As well as Russian, I counted eight different languages within the European borders of Russia – plus there are who knows how many more distinct languages spoken in Siberia and the Far East.

Few other countries seem to have more than one or two native languages – Romania heads up the rest of the pack with, by my count, six native languages.

And also Russia seems to be one of the most widespread first languages outside of its home country. From what I can tell, it has spread to seven different European countries – Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Belarus, Latvia, Estonia, Romania and Finland.

You can see a larger version of this map at Wikipedia Commons.

Update 8 November 2008: I’ve just stumbled across this map of human language families at Pocket Cultures: Topics of the World.

Human Language Families

The map shows that Russia is one of the most linguistically diverse places in not only Europe, but the world. By straining my poor eyes, I could make out five distinct language groups spread across Russia.


  • Eight??? Er, well… No time for googling, so here are those that spring to mind right now: Karelian, Komi, Veps, Sami (4 dialects), Mordovian, Mari (two of them, actually, Moksha and Erzya), Udmurt, Chuvash, Tatar, Bashkir, Kalmyk, Adyg, Chechen, Ossetian, a dozen or more of languages spoken in Dagestan (Lezgi, Lak, Avar…)

  • Yeah – I think for Russia they’ve grouped language types together – for example, they’ve got Caucasian, Turkic and Mongolic.

    Perhaps its because the map’s compilers thought that if they showed every single language in Russia the map would became so complex and colourful that it would just make people’s eyeballs explode..

  • I’m not about to argue with Goble, even though his articles often contradict what an average man in the street (me) sees. Just two observations:

    1. I’ve got four books on Komi language. They were published in 1949, 1955, 1992 and in 2005.

    2. While living in the USSR, I never heard so many people speaking Tatar in the streets. No idea why it was not popular in the Soviet times. I think that the Tatars were ashamed of their own language. Now, there are Tatar newspapers and TV broadcasting in the Tatar language. And you know what? People began speaking Tatar openly.

    PS: I wanted to make some pictures when I visited this year’s Sabantuy. Unfortunately, the batteries in the camera drained when they were most needed, as usual…

  • What you are talking about is language families, in many cases. There are a number of distinct languages in Spain, for example: Castilian, Basque, Catalan, Galician, Aragonese.

    France has plenty as well: French, Dutch, German (several different dialects from Alsatian to Franconian), Provencal, Catalan, Basque, Breton, Walloon, etc.

    The linguistic diversity of Russia is an after-effect of its imperial history and its conquest of the Caucasus, where Dagestan, for example, has something like six official languages of its own.

    Tatar linguistic and cultural pride is on the increase, but Russia requires them to write in the Cyrillic alphabet, which is deeply resented.

  • It’s worth noting that the map works only as a depiction of historical language diversity in Europe, not the present situation on the ground.

    The territory around the Russian city of Vyborg, for instance, hasn’t been mostly Fennophone since the drawing of the 1945 border that assigned most of Finnish Karelia to the then-Soviet Union. Elsewhere, Flemish, Alsatian and Catalan in France are in full retreat, Irish is given a much larger territory as a majority language than is the actual case, and both Russia’s Ivangorod and Estonia’s Ida-Viru county are shown as mostly Estophone, not Russophone.

  • Just some observations on Romania’s native languages. This map obviously got it wrong in many respects: first, in real life there’s no distriction between Romanian and Moldovan, second, there is definitely no reason for those green patches in the north of the country, as the number of speakers of Russian and Ukrainian over there is truly negligible, and moreover, they are not native, and (third) the same could be said about the pink German speaking spots in the middle of the country, probably trying to represent the German-speaking populations that were settled there in the 14-15th century, nowadays rather scarce. Fourth, the Hungarian-speakers living in that yellow coloured spot in the center of the country (where they arrived only in the 11-12th century) actually speak a dialect quite different from Hungarian-proper. And I could add some more. Anyway, your count to six native languages is wrong.

    But the point is that one should be proud of the cultural and linguistic heritage of a country and cherish it, and not try to draw borders where there aren’t any.

  • Russian’s spread is the result of Russian colonizing in various eras. For instance, in the 18th and 19th centuries, Russia conquered Crimea from Turkey, and settled Russian peasants in what had been occupied by Tatar nomads. In 1945, the USSR seized half of Prussia, expelled those Germans that had not already fled, and settled Russians there.

    Germany had an even wider spread before WW II. German was spoken in Germany, Austria, Romania, Italy, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Belgium, Poland, the Baltic states, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Yugoslavia, and the USSR. It is still found in the first seven; and there are remnants of the old “Volga German” population in Russia today. The eastern spread of German was due to colonizing in the Middle Ages, and later to settlements of German craftsmen sponsored by local rulers.

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