It is also known as "Belarusan", "Byelorussian", "Belorussian", or "Belarusian". The word "Byelorussian" is an adjective derived from the transliteration of the Russian name of the country (Byelorussia). It was in predominant use in English earlier. The adjectives "Belarusian" and "Belarusan" and many other forms emerged in the 1990s by English-speaking people to denote something or somebody of or pertaining to present-day name of Belarus, its people and the language they speak, whereas in Russian and Belarusian no new forms of the adjective appeared in those days. Both "Belarusian" and "Byelorussian" are in most common use today.
The modern Belarusian language has evolved considerably from its early roots, the dialects of Ruthenian (East Slavic Orthodox) spoken in the territory of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, Rus' and Samogitia. A version of Ruthenian, which may be considered to be the Old Belarussian, became the official language of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and was official language of chancellery and courts until 1696. In particular, the two most importand documents of this epoch, the Lithuanian Metrika (archive of the State Chancellery) and Statute of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania are written in this language. Belarusian was actually the language of the first printed Bible in Slavic languages — the achievement of Francysk Skaryna. The following century was the Belarusian golden age: there were active many schools, and religious quarrels between Orthodox, Catholics, Protestants and Jews were fought using printing presses rather then violence. Many Belarusians were people of the Renaissance, educated at the universities of Western Europe or the Lithuanian university in Vilnius that was founded in 1579.
After the series of wars known in Polish history as Deluge, the Belarusian population was halved, partly due to deaths, partly to the policy of deportations of the skilled cratftsman and work force to Russia by the occupying Russian army. In the process schools were closed, and the remaining educated people were attracted by Polish culture. By the 1696 the language of the upper classes of society switched to Polish, followed by a change of the official language. Belarussian was used both by peasants and by nobles wishing to express their sympathy toward common people.
The movement of return to the Belarusian language was important in the circle of friends of Adam Mickiewicz.
By the 16th century, the term "Ruthenian" referred to the language spoken in modern-day Ukraine and Belarus; a process of divergence that accelerated in the 17th century created a new division between the languages spoken in the south (Ukraine) and north (Belarus) of Ruthenian-speaking territory.
Like Ukraine, Belarus and the Belarusian language has been subject to heavy russification. Unlike Ukraine, Belarus has historically lacked a strong nationalistic drive. During the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth times, educated people of Belarus tended to identify themselves with Poland, and today some prominent persons are claimed both by Poland and Belarus for their nationality. More recently, the population of Belarus tends to identify itself as a close associate of Russia (if not considering themselves Russian outright). This lack of a strong ethnolinguistic identity, along with the popular association of Belarusian dialects as rural, peasant languages as opposed to Russian's modern/urban connotations, is seen by some as a threat that may lead to the eventual extinction of the Belarusian language in Belarus.
One of the reasons for this situation is minority of Belarusian population in urban areas -- traditional cultural centers. For example, according to 1897 census of Imperial Russia, in Belarusian towns of more than 50,000 residents only 7.3% respondents reported Belarusian as their mother tongue (the criterion in defining nationality for the purposes of the census). This state of affairs greatly contributed to a perception that Belarussian is a "rural", "uneducated" language.
Another reason was extermination of Belarusian middle class between 1917 and 1941 by communists. Only in Kurapaty (suburbs of Minsk) NKVD killed more than 100,000 people. Many thousands people were sent to concentration camps (Gulag) or resettled to Siberia. The Soviet campaign for "flourishing of all brother nations" quickly ended, and around 400 Belarussian authors were repressed during anti-nationalism campaigns that started around 1929 and culminated during the Great Purge.
The Belarusian language was written not only in the Cyrillic alphabet (with several unique letters), but previously also in its original Łacinka (Latin alphabet), and also in Arabica (http://www.pravapis.org/art_kitab1_en.asp) (Arabic script). Nowadays, the Arabic script is no longer used, but many people continue to write in Łacinka, although officially only the Cyrillic script is supported. More articles on Belarusian alphabets are here (http://www.pravapis.org/articles.asp).
Belarusian Cyrillic alphabet
Аа Бб Вв Гг Дд (ДЖдж ДЗдз) Ее Ёё Жж Зз Іі Йй Кк Лл Мм Нн Оо Пп Рр Сс Тт Уу Ўў Фф Хх Цц Чч Шш Ыы Ьь Ээ Юю Яя
In addition, the apostrophe is used between a consonant and the following "soft" (iotified) vowel (е, ё, ю, я) to indicate that no palatalization of the preceding consonant takes place, and the vowel is pronounced in the same way as at the beginning of the word. In lacinka this function is performed by the letter 'j'. Compare: "Сям'я" vs. "Siamja" (NB two different ways of matching the letter 'я'.).
Before 1933, in addition to Ge (Гг), the Belarussian alphabet contained the letter Ghe (Ґґ). Some Belarusian linguists vote for restoring the letter, but the issue is not yet being considered in Belarus officially.
Belarusian Latin alphabet
be:Беларуская мова bg:Белоруски език de:Weißrussische Sprache et:Valgevene keel es:Idioma bielorruso fr:Biélorusse nl:Wit-Russisch pl:Język białoruski ru:Белорусский язык sl:Beloruščina sv:Vitryska