What are the Slavic Languages?

Slavic Languages

For over a thousand years of recorded history, the places and peoples of the lands of today's Eastern Europe and Russia have excited curiosity and beckoned visitors. Key to these peoples and cultures are the Slavic languages: Russian, Ukrainian, and Belorussian to the east; Polish, Czech, and Slovak to the west; and Slovenian, Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian, Macedonian, and Bulgarian to the south. All of the Slavic languages are closely related to each other, but they are also related to the Romance and Germanic languages, including English, and to others in the Indo-European family.  In spite of the linguistic similarities of the Slavic languages in culture, religion, history, and political tradition, these countries and peoples have followed different paths—paths that have frequently crossed in the creation and disintegration of empires in the constantly changing political landscape of Eastern Europe. 

The Slavic department offers instruction in five of the Slavic languages:

  • Russian,
  • Ukrainian,
  • Polish,
  • Czech, and
  • Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian.

Most students who take these courses start as beginners, although there is also a rich variety of offerings at the intermediate and advanced levels.  Russian offers the greatest diversity in course offerings, but the other Slavic languages are well represented.  Many students are attracted to the combination of Russian (or another language) with literature, history, government, economics, social studies, mathematics, or science; in fact, students from virtually every concentration available at Harvard are found in the department's classes.  In spite of the difficulty of these languages, students can attain a rewarding level of fluency in just a few semesters of study. 

As in most languages at Harvard, classes are small and students work closely with both faculty and other students in a highly interactive format for effective language learning.  In addition to language there are, of course, literature, history, government, and courses in other fields to choose from.  Outside of class there is an array of choices, from campus-based language tables to Russian television, film series, concerts, and the incredibly rich resources of two centers and one institute which focus on this area of the world.  The Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, the Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies, and the Ukrainian Research Institute bring together specialists from all over the world to offer a daily variety of lectures and events concerning the languages, literatures, history, politics, and cultures of these nations.  For those interested in current events, Harvard is a frequent stop for political leaders, both established and rising hopefuls, and many Harvard faculty members maintain close ties with people and projects in these countries. Off campus but still locally convenient there are even more opportunities, since the Boston area's large émigré population supports cultural events, restaurants, stores, and even a Russian newspaper. Students wishing to study abroad will receive help in choosing from a number of options, and those seeking the experience of working abroad in these countries can receive guidance in how to go about job-hunting.

For further information

The Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures is located on the third floor of the Barker Center, 12 Quincy St., telephone (617) 495-4065, e-mail: slavic@fas.harvard.edu. You are invited to stop by, call, or email the department with any questions.

For questions about language you may wish to contact Dr. Steven Clancy, Director of the Language Program, email: sclancy@fas.harvard.edu, telephone (617) 496-0624.

For literature or combining a Slavic language with other subjects see the Director of Undergraduate Studies, Professor Daria Khitrova.