Belarusian occupies a very specific position among the Slavic languages. In spite of the fact that it can be characterized as a “middle-sized” Slavic language, the contiguity and all-embracing rivalry with the “strong” Russian language make it into an eternally “small” language. The modern Belarusian standard language was elaborated in the early twentieth century. There was a brief but fruitful period of its promotion in the 1920s, but then Russification became a relevant factor in its development for the following decades. Political factors have always held great significance in the development of Belarusian. The linguistic affinity of Belarusian and Russian in combination with other factors is an insurmountable obstacle for the spread of the Belarusian language. On the one hand, Russian speakers living in Belarus, as a rule, understand Belarusian but do not make the effort to acquire it as an active medium of communication. On the other hand, Belarusian speakers proficient in Russian do not have enough motivation to use Belarusian routinely, on account of the pervading presence of Russian in Belarusian society. As a result, they often lose their Belarusian language skills. There is considerable dissent as to the perspectives of Belarusian. Though it is the “titular” language, which determines its importance in Belarus, it is also a minority language and thus faces the corresponding challenges.
© Walter de Gruyter