Learners of the more popular Germanic languages — English and German — and the more popular Romance language — French, Spanish, and Italian — may be tempted to think of all Indo-European languages in terms of these high-visibility languages. I’ve once heard someone say “Russian is so different from Indo-European languages.” Some languages of Western Europe may be related to each other more closely and have more shared features thanks to closer ties; however, Russian is, in fact, also an Indo-European language.
Russian belongs to the East Slavic language group, which is part of the Indo-European language family. Granted, it “split off” from the rest of the languages in the group a long time ago, but some core vocabulary illustrates their connection. Note that the English equivalent may not be a cognate of the Russian word.
The most obvious group of cognates with other Indo-European languages describes family relations. Some examples are:
- мать (mother; you will remember that in oblique cases, мать becomes ма́тери, etc., which is much more similar to its cognates)
- брат (brother)
- дочь (daughter, oblique cases — до́чери, etc.)
- жена́ (wife)
- сестра́ (sister)
- сын (son)
Several things around the house also have Indo-European names, which have cognates in other languages.
- у́гол (corner, angle)
- дым (smoke)
- ого́нь (fire)
- дом (house)
The Hindi आग (āg, fire) is a cognate of the Russian ого́нь.
The next group is made of verbs denoting common actions and states.
- веле́ть (to bid/order)
- верте́ть (to spin)
- ви́деть (to see)
- дать (to give)
- есть (to eat)
- жить (to live)
An example of a cognate of верте́ть in another language is the German werden (to become).
Unsurprisingly, a lot of Russian numbers are also of Indo-European origin. One notable exception is со́рок (forty), which comes from an old measure used in hunting.
- два (two)
- три (three)
- де́сять (ten)
The Greek δύο (two) is one of the cognates in this group.
Names of basic food items are also thought to come from the old Proto-Indo-European language.
- вода́ (water)
- мя́со (meat)
- соль (salt)
Nature and Outdoors
Another group of words refers to plants, animals, and landscape features. Some examples are:
- волк (wolf)
- берёза (birch)
- гусь (goose)
- кот (cat)
- бе́рег (coast)
- гора́ (mountain)
- мо́ре (sea)
- луна́ (moon)
A cognate of луна in an Indo-European language outside of Europe is the Persian روشن (rowšan, light).
At this point, many of the cognates are hard to identify, so having this information may not be helpful in learning Russian. However, if you look at a Latin verb conjugation table and compare it to Russian, you will see that your knowledge of other Indo-European languages may, in fact, aid your Russian learning.