Like any language, Russian has plenty of words of foreign origin. Specifically:

  • there are lots of words from Latin (most likely, because Latin was wide-spread from old time), e.g. вакуум, диссертация and many other (see this wiki article)

  • there are many words of French origin (because Russians have been fascinated with French culture, etc., especially in 18-19 centuries), for example шансон, авангард and many other.

  • German words are aplenty (most likely, because historically Russians have been in - often unpleasant - communication with Germans), e.g. шлагбаум, гастарбайтер and so on.

  • Quite a few English-origin words are present (probably, because English is so wide spread), for example, джинсы, компьютер, etc.

Possibly including these, what are the top 5 sources of loan words in Russian? If you can explain why many words from those languages came into Russian, that could be worth extra points.

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    oh, I believe this question is too open-ended.
    – shabunc
    Commented Nov 14, 2012 at 11:05
  • @shabunc Having re-read the question, I agree wit your comment. I edited the question now to make it less so.
    – Aleks G
    Commented Nov 14, 2012 at 11:19
  • Is this question arising for any reason besides curiosity, and why pick "top 5" as the cutoff?
    – KCd
    Commented Nov 14, 2012 at 15:13
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    Other answers did not mention Old Church Slavonic. Such words are difficult to distinguish because the languages are closely related, but one fueature is the absence of the vowel between two first consonants. Such words usually have high-style coloring: пламя, бремя, время, знамя.
    – Anixx
    Commented Nov 13, 2013 at 10:18
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    @Quassnoi other examples: глава, клятва.
    – Anixx
    Commented Oct 18, 2019 at 10:41

6 Answers 6


In my opinion, the best way to think about the borrowed words in Russian is from a historical prospective. The influx of foreign words came in waves depending on what country or culture had influence in Russia:

  • Byzantine influence and conversion to Christianity: influx of Greek words
  • Mongol conquest: influx of Turkic words
  • The reign of Peter the Great: influx of German and Dutch words
  • Middle of the 18-th century though the 19th century: nobility speaks French, influx of French words
  • End of 20-th century, perestroyka and post-soviet Russia, globalization: influx of English words
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    That's exactly what I was going to write, so I'll just add a comment with some additions. I think, one more period is missing between the Mongol conquest and Peter the Great, let's call it 'Muscovy' or 'The Grand Duchy of Moscow', lots of borrowings from Polish and from European languages via Polish came to Russian during this period. And, naturally, the 20th century per se with its burst of technology brought tons of borrowings to name those technological achievements - mechanisms, chemical, biological, medical and physical terminology, which came from Latin, English, French, etc.
    – Yellow Sky
    Commented Nov 17, 2012 at 8:06
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    And during the reign of Peter the Great words were borrowed not only from German, but also from Dutch, heavily.
    – Yellow Sky
    Commented Nov 17, 2012 at 8:07
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    Great answer. I would also mention huge stratae of Church Slavonic (враг, плен, клад, страж etc., about 10% of core vocabulary by some accounts); and Proto-Germanic (хлеб, хлев, полк, виноград, серьга, стекло etc.) loanwords.
    – Quassnoi
    Commented Nov 19, 2012 at 10:29
  • Nice! I would also say that many technological loan words are from German from the 40s-60s, before English became a the predominant source.
    – Curiosity
    Commented Oct 8, 2019 at 16:20
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    Before Byzantine influence there was Varangian influence which brought Germanic words such as витязь, князь, ...
    – Anixx
    Commented Oct 18, 2019 at 10:43

There are a few of Japanese words in Russian, such as самурай, банзай, хокку, каратэ, цунами etc.

Some Chinese words - женьшень, тайфун, чай, шарпей, хунвэйбин, фэншуй etc.

А lot of Turkic words - башка, сундук, казна, утюг, чугун, шашлык, алыча, амбар, сарай, халат etc.

Some Greek words - анафема, ангел, демон, известь, сахар, скамья, фонарь, фасоль etc.

Some Spanish words - армада, марихуана, хунта, фламенко, мачо, коррида etc.

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    The Japanese words are merely terms for Japan-specific things.
    – Anixx
    Commented Oct 18, 2019 at 10:47

The words are often borrowed from another language if

  1. there is a strong influence of one culture on another for historic reasons, e.g. the Dutch in Russia during Peter I, the Germans in Russia in the times of Catherine the Great etc.
  2. some field of knowledge is being created primarily in one country and does not yet exist in other languages (e.g. quantum physics in Germany in 1930s or computer science in England and then the US in the second half of 20th century etc).
  3. An item or category is closely associated with another language culture, such as chanson, junta, samurai etc.

Interestingly, sometimes the very process of such borrowing is influenced by the current relations between the countries/cultures. For example, in the 18th century the Germans were considered much better educated than the Russians, and such influence was welcome. In the first half of the 20th century the relations were spoiled, and the influence on the language went as far as renaming Petersbourg (which in fact had little to do with the German language) to Petrograd.


There was a long period in history when the territory of modern Russia was dependent on Golden Horde, then Russia fought many wars against the Ottoman Empire and Crimean Khanate, so this yielded in a large number of Turkic words. See this article. I was surprised to find so many words that do not seem to have Turkic origin, but still they do, e.g. "хозяин", "жесть", "серьга", "стакан", "очаг".

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    The Turkish words have been Russified over time. They exist in Armenian as well, but with more Armenified color, i.e. խազեին(хазеин), ժեշտ (жешт), oջախ (оджах). This phenomenon is common to many languages, if not all. One notable example is English loanwords in Japanese, which have been so Japanized that you wouldn't think they used to be English. For example, the Japanese for knife is naifu. The Japanese for spoon is supunu. Commented Nov 14, 2012 at 19:41
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    серьга is considered a Proto-Germanism whose modern Russian form is influenced by an Oghur Turkic language (Bulgar or Chuvash).
    – Quassnoi
    Commented Nov 19, 2012 at 10:48

As mentioned above, main sources of borrowing words are cultural, military, technical and other contacts. But, these words oftenly got special, particular meaning, slightly different from its original sense. Sometimes they could be completely distorted.

Russian phrase "рынду бей" borrowed from English navy command "ring the bell" (issue general alarm on a ship), but verb and noun were mutually changed - 'ring' became "рында", i.e ship bell and 'bell' came to 'бей'.

Russian word 'фюрер' was borrowed from Deutsch 'führer' and strongly related with Hitler, but in sense 'leader' it is still used in German language like 'Geschäftsführer'(CEO).


Hebrew served as a major source of Russian names. For example, the erstwhile most popular name 'Иван' stems from the Hebrew יוֹחָנָן‎ (jōħānān, “God is gracious”). Likewise, 'Михаил' comes from the Hebrew מִיכָאֵל‎ (mikha'él, literally “Who is like God?”). Also Гавриил, Даниил, Нафанаил, Еремей, Иона, Матвей, Аввакум.

Funny enough, some words from the Russian prison slang 'феня' аlso arrived from the same source, though much later: шмон, халява, шабаш.

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    The word суббота is from Hebrew either, and not via fenea.
    – Anixx
    Commented Oct 18, 2019 at 10:51

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