Among the Slavs, as among many other peoples, cultural identity tends to be defined by language: in a way that would be difficult for a Québecois, a Mexican, or an American to understand, to be Russian is primarily to have Russian as one's mother tongue. This is especially true in a pre-literate society with its limited comprehension of time and space, but remains substantially accurate as a society develops into a modern nation. Historical and geographical awareness, the ability to respond to psychological and aesthetic dimensions of literature, the challenge and pleasure of intellectual interchange, even the possibility of truly understanding non-verbal experience like music and art – all are mediated by language. Some, perhaps exaggerating, have averred that the form of our language determines the form of our thought, while others, more convincingly, maintain that language is the primary modeling system through which we view all our surroundings and through which all other systems must be filtered. At the very least, it is obvious that language plays an essential role in culture, and in defining culture. This is especially true of Russian cultural history.
Russian and Slavic
Russian, like Belarusian and Ukrainian, is an East Slavic language, distinct from West and South Slavic. West Slavic includes Polish, Czech and Slovak, Sorbian, and a few minor or extinct languages, while South Slavic includes Slovene, Serbian and Croatian, Bulgarian and (since 1945) Macedonian.