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Belarusan (Бeлapycкaя мoвa), also known as Belarusian, Belorussian, Bielorussian, Byelorussian, White Russian, and White Ruthenian, belongs to the East Slavic group of the Slavic branch of the Indo-European language family. The name derives from bel– ‘white’ + rus ‘Russia’. Its closest relatives are Ukrainian and Russian. There are 6.7 million speakers of Belarusan in Belarus, a former republic of the Soviet Union. It is also spoken in Russia and other former republics of the Soviet Union, as well as in the U.S., Canada, and Australia. It is estimated that the total number of speakers of Belarusan worldwide is around 7.8 million (Ethnologue).


Belarusan has a long and complicated history:

  • In the early 14th century, Belarus and areas of Poland were part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. An old form of Belarusan, heavily influenced by Old Church Slavonic, was used as the liturgical language.
  • Belarusian map In 1569, Poland took over the Duchy, and Polish became the dominant language. The use of Belarusan was outlawed in 1696.
  • When Russians took control of Belarus in the late 18th century, Belarusan continued to be suppressed and the use of Russian became widespread. However, some literature in Belarusan appeared during this period.
  • In the 18th and 19th centuries, Belarusan was considered a dialect of Russian and was called ‘White Russian’ while Belarus itself was called ‘ White Russia’. Scholars considered Belarusan to be a mixture of PolishRussian, and Ukrainian. Belarusan had no official status, and the country’s elite spoke Polish and Russian. However, there was a heated debate about a need to revive Belarusan, reform the alphabet, use it in education, and purge the language of Russian and Polish words.
  • During the Soviet rule from the 1920s to the late 1980s, the percentage of Belarusan speakers in Belarus declined due to the immigration of Russians into the republic and the emigration of Belarusians to Central Asia and Siberia. The number of Belarusan publications also declined, as Russian became more dominant. This period is also characterized by ‘russification’ of Belarusan which consisted of replacing Belarusan words of Polish origin with Russian words.
  • When Belarus became independent in 1991, Belarusan was made the national language of the new republic and its use was actively encouraged in government, the media, and education. For instance, all place names and personal names had to be renamed in Belarusan; civil servants were given five years to learn Belarusan, and in ten years it was to become the sole language of government and education. But this policy created too great an upheaval and as the government aligned itself more and more with Russia, Russian was given an equal official status in 1995. Today, those who are aligned with Russia are discouraging the use of Belarusan and mandating the use of Russian which currently is more widely used in public life and in education than Belarusan, even though over 75 percent of the population consider Belarusan to be their first language.



Belarusan forms a link between Russian and Ukrainian, with its varieties shading gradually into neighboring Russian or Ukrainian varieties. The language is usually divided into three dialect groups, all of which are mutually intelligible:

  • Northeastern
  • Southwestern
  • Central on which Standard Belarusian is based.


Sound system

Belarusan shares many phonological features with other Slavic languages, particularly Russian and Ukrainian.

Belarusan has 5 vowel phonemes, i.e., sounds that differentiate the meaning of words. The vowels /o/ and /a/ are distinguished only in stressed positions. Unstressed /o/ becomes /a/. The vowels /i/ and /e/ are also distinguished only in stressed position. In unstressed positions /e/ becomes /i/.



Belarusan has 34 consonant phonemes, depending on the analysis. The language allows a variety of consonant clusters in different positions in a word. A distinguishing feature is palatalization of consonants. A number of consonants can be either plain, e.g., /s/ or palatalized, e.g., /sʲ/. Palatalization distinguishes word meaning. It is achieved by raising the blade of the tongue so that it comes in contact with the hard palate.

s, sʲ
z, zʲ
ts, tsʲ
dz., dzʲ
n, nʲ
l, lʲ
  • sʲ, zʲ, tsʲ, dzʲ, lʲ are palatalized consonants with no equivalents in English.
  • nʲ is similar to the first n in canyon.
  • c, ɟ, ç, ʝ have no equivalents in English.
  • ʂ, ʐ, tʂ, dʐ are retroflex consonants which are produced with the tongue curled, so that its underside comes in contact with the roof of the mouth.
  • x = German pronunciation of ch in Bach
  • ɣ has no equivalent in English
  • j = y in yet


Stress can occur on any syllable of a word. As such, it can distinguish word meaning.


Belarusan is a richly inflected language with a grammar that is very similar to that of other Slavic languages, especially Russian and Ukrainian.

Nouns, adjectives, and pronouns
Belarusan nouns are marked for gender, number, and case. The three are fused into one ending, as is the case in all Slavic languages. Belarusan nouns have the following grammatical categories:

  • Gender: masculine, feminine, neuter.
  • Four noun and adjective declensions, largely based on gender.
  • Number: singular and plural with a few vestiges of dual.
  • Case: nominativegenitivedativeaccusativeinstrumentallocative, vocative. However only a few nouns have retained the vocative forms.
  • Animate and inanimate masculine nouns have different endings in the accusative case.
  • There are no indefinite or definite articles.
  • Adjectives are marked for gender and case only in the singular; in the plural they are marked only for case.
  • Adjectives and possessive and demonstrative pronouns precede the nouns they modify and agree with them in gender, number, and case.


Belarusian verbs agree with their subjects in person and number in the non-past, and in gender and number in the past. They have the following categories:

  • Three persons: first, second, third. Like all Slavic languages, Belarusan is a pro-drop language, i.e., personal pronouns can be dropped because the verb ending makes the person clear.
  • Four conjugations.
  • Two tenses: past, non-past. Present and future tenses have the same endings.
  • Two aspects: imperfective and perfective. Perfective and imperfective verbs are formed from basic verb roots by adding prefixes and suffixes. Non-past conjugation of perfective verbs indicates future tense, non-past conjugation of imperfective verbs indicates present tense. Imperfective verbs form future tense with the auxiliary verb być ‘be’.
  • Three moods: indicativeimperativeconditional.
  • Two voices: active, passive.
  • Verbs of motion constitute a special subcategory of verbs. They are characterized by a complex system of directional and aspectual prefixes and suffixes.


Word order
The neutral word order in Belarusan is Subject-Verb-Object. However, other orders are possible since inflectional endings take care of clearly marking grammatical relations and roles in the sentence. Word order is principally determined by topic (what the sentence is about, or old information) and focus (new information). Constituents with old information precede constituents with new information, or those that carry the most emphasis.


Up to two-thirds of the modern Belarusan lexicon is based on common Slavic roots shared by other Slavic languages. The rest of the words were borrowed from other languages, mostly from Greek and Latin, and to a lesser extent from PolishFrench and Russian. In recent years, English has become the main source of borrowing.

Good day Дзень добры
Hello, greetings Пpывiтaннe
Good bye Дa пaбaчэньня
Thank you Дзякyй
You are welcome Hямa зa штo
Sorry Пpaбaчцe
Please Kaлi лacкa
Yes Тaк
No He
Man Мужчынa
Woman Жaнчынa

Below are Belorusan numerals 1-10 in Cyrillic and Latin scripts.



For most of its history, Belarusan had two competing writing systems: Latin and Cyrillic.

  • From the 13th through the 18th century Belarus was part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. The official literary language was an old form of Belarusan written with the Cyrillic alphabet and heavily influenced by Old Church Slavonic.
  • The 16th century brought the adoption of the Latin alphabet called Lacinka. The earliest known printed Belarusan text appeared in 1642. It was printed in the Latin alphabet.
  • By the end of the 19th century, Belarusan, written in the Latin alphabet, once again became a literary language. Attempts to unify the writing system failed, and Belarusan proceeded to be written in both Latin and Cyrillic alphabets through the early part of the 20th century.
  • tThe Belarusan Cyrillic alphabet was created by Branislaw Tarashkyevich in1918. Under Communist rule, it underwent reforms in 1930s.
  • After Belarus gained its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, there have been efforts to revive the use of the Latin alphabet.


Below are the two versions of the Belarusan alphabet.

Belarusian Cyrillic Alphabet
А а
Б б
В в
Г г
Д д
E e
Ë ë
Ж ж
З з
I i
Й й
К к
Л л
М м
Н н
О о
П п
Р р
С с
Т т
У у
Ў ў
Ф ф
Х х
Ц ц
Ч ч
Ш ш
Ы ы
Э э
Ю ю
Я я
  • the letter ь ‘soft sign’ and the vowel letters e, ë, ю, я indicate that the preceding consonant is palatalized.
Belarusian Latin Alphabet
A a
B b
C c
Ć ć
Č č
D d
Dž  dž 
Dz dz
E e
F f
G g
H h
I i
J j
K k
L l
M m
N n
Ń ń
O o
P p
R r
S s
Ś ś
Š š
T t
U u
Ŭ ŭ
V v
Y y
Z z
Ź ź
Ž ž


Take a look at Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Belarusan in Cyrillic and Latin.

Уce людзi нapaждaюццa cвaбoднымi i poўнымi ў cвaëй гoднacцi i пpaвax. Яны нaдзeлeны poзyмaм i cyмлeннeм i пaвiнны cтaвiццa aдзiн дa aднaгo ў дyxy бpaцтвa.
Usie ludzi naradžajucca svabodnymi i roŭnymi ŭ svajoj hodnasci i pravach. Jany nadzieleny rozumam i sumleńniem i pavinny stavicca adzin da adnoho ŭ duchu bractva.
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.


Language Difficulty
questionHow difficult is it to learn Belarusian?
Belarusan is considered to be a Category II language in terms of difficulty for speakers of English.

5 Responses to Belarusan

  1. Roman

    Shame this language is almost extinct in Belarus, thanks to Lukashenka. I am Ukrainian and we have enough problems keeping Ukrainian alive where most of our country speaks Russian. Belarusian has no future it seems.. maybe it will change.

    • Irene Thompson

      I am not as pessimistic. Belarusan will survive and prosper IF the people of Belarus decide to accord it its rightful place in the country.

    • Christo Tamarin

      Are they people with native Belorussian and not fluent in Russian? If no, it would be hard for Belorussian.

    • Christo Tamarin

      Dear Irene,
      Please remove my wrong comment, that with “If so, “.

  2. Christo Tamarin

    Just a note. The word Belorussian actually meant West Russian. Centuries or millenia ago, north-west-south-east were expressed by colors: black-white-red-(blue).


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