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Russian is the most widely spoken of the Slavic languages.
Early historical records of the territory European Russia point to predominance of tribes of the Finno-Ugric language group. Slavic speakers appear to have established sparse settlements of forts in the borderland areas near Belarus and Ukraine between the 6th and the 9th centuries. The incorporation of much of European Russia into the empire of Rus’ ushered in the use of Old Church Slavonic in worship and literature, beginning as early as 989. Documentation of the language of this period is scanty, making the question of the relationship between the literary and spoken language difficult at best. Nevertheless, the assimilation of the surrounding Finno-Ugric majority through conquest and conversion by small outposts of Slavic settlement led to massive contributions of the Old Church Slavonic language to the embryonic Russian dialect.
Major divergences with the Old Ruthenian language of Kievan Rus’ to the south were evident by the 1100s, and these were magnified by the political separations of the break-up of the state of Rus’, leading to the incorporation of the closest Slavic neighbors of the Russians into the Lithuanian and Polish states after periods of local independence.
The Russian portions then fell under Mongolian hegemony, leading to new influences on the developing language. Divergences from Old Slavonic increased over the 11th to the 17th centuries to the point of complete separation. Upon Russia’s opening to the West, new borrowings from Europeans languages of English, German, French, Polish and Ukrainian occurred.
In summary, the Russian language developed from early native Slavic settlement influenced by Finno-Ugric surroundings. An early overlay and infusion of Old Church Slavonic was very decisive in local language formation. Later political developments brought Mongolian then European influences. The Russian scholar Meleti Smotritsky provided some of the early standardization of Russian language. Reforms were also introduced at the time of Peter the Great, and the orthography was simplified in the 20th century around the time of the Russian Revolution.