Languages in Belarus

Belarusian is the principal native language of 70% to 75% of the country’s over 10 million citizens. In the first years of independence, Belarusian was the sole official language of the country. Russian is also widely spoken, and President Lukashenko added it was a second official language in 1996. Small portions of the population are native speakers of other languages, including Polish, Ukrainian, and Lithuanian.

Belarusian belongs to the East Slavic branch of the Slavic family of languages (all Indo-European). The other two East Slavic languages are Russian and Ukrainian. Belarusian has several dialects. Its primary writing system is Cyrillic, an alphabet derived from the Greek and developed in the 9th-10th centuries. Cyrillic is also the writing system for the Russian, Ukrainian, Bulgarian, Serbian, Macedonian, and Gagauz Turkish languages. The Belarusian Cyrillic alphabet has 35 characters. Some Belarusians render their written language with a Latin alphabet, a convention known as Lacinka. Note that the map above reprinted from Belarusian Review has all place name rendered in the Lacinka variant of Belarusian.

The Library of Congress (Washington DC) in the interest of cataloging books and documents for library catalog systems that do not display Cyrillic, has developed its own standard for transliterating Belarusian into the Latin alphabet. This “Library of Congress” Romanization differs at points from £acinka.

that are readily available in the United States and which were consulted in this survey of the languages of Belarus:

“Belarus” Time Almanac. 2006. Boston, MA: Information Please.

“Belarusian language.” Encyclopedia Britannica. 2006. Encyclopedia Britannica Online. 25 July 2006.

Helpful Russian and Belarusian Language Resources on the Web:

For learning the pronunciation of the Russian alphabet:

For learning Belarusian:

The Library of Congress Romanization Tables:



“Cyrillic alphabet.” Encyclopedia Britannica. 2006. Encyclopedia Britannica Online. 25 July 2006.