Gaj's Latin alphabet

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Gaj's Latin alphabet
Script type
Time period
early 19th century – present
Languages Serbo-Croatian
Related scripts
Parent systems
Child systems
Slovene alphabet
Montenegrin alphabet
Macedonian Latin alphabet
Subset of Latin
 This article contains phonetic transcriptions in the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA).For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA.For the distinction between [ ], / / and  , see IPA § Brackets and transcription delimiters.

Gaj's Latin alphabet (Serbo-Croatian : abeceda, latinica, gajica) [1] is the form of the Latin script used for writing Serbo-Croatian and all of its standard varieties: Bosnian, Croatian, Serbian, and Montenegrin.


The alphabet was initially devised by Croatian linguist Ljudevit Gaj in 1835 during the Illyrian movement in ethnically Croatian parts of Austrian Empire. It was largely based on Jan Hus's Czech alphabet and was meant to serve as a unified orthography for three Croat-populated kingdoms within the Austrian Empire at the time, namely Croatia, Dalmatia and Slavonia, and their three dialect groups, Kajkavian, Chakavian and Shtokavian, which historically utilized different spelling rules.

A slightly modified version of it was later adopted as the formal Latin writing system for the unified Serbo-Croatian standard language per the Vienna Literary Agreement. It served as one of the official scripts in the unified South Slavic state of Yugoslavia.

A slightly reduced version is used as the script of the Slovene language, and a slightly expanded version is used as a script of the modern standard Montenegrin language. A modified version is used for the romanization of the Macedonian language. It further influenced alphabets of Romani languages that are spoken in Southeast Europe, namely Vlax and Balkan Romani.


The alphabet consists of thirty upper and lower case letters:

Majuscule forms (also called uppercase or capital letters)
A B C Č Ć D Đ E F G H I J K L Lj M N Nj O P R S Š T U V Z Ž
Minuscule forms (also called lowercase or small letters)
IPA Value
/a//b//t͡s/ (/s/)/t͡ʃ/ (/t͡ʂ/)/t͡ɕ//d//d͡ʒ/ (/d͡ʐ/)/d͡ʑ//e//f//ɡ//x//i//j//k//l/ (/ɫ/)/ʎ//m//n//ɲ//o//p//r//s//ʃ/ (/ʂ/)/t//u//v//z//ʒ/ (/ʐ/)
Gaj's Latin alphabet omits 4 letters (q,w,x,y) from the ISO Basic Latin alphabet. SrbLatAlphabet.png
Gaj's Latin alphabet omits 4 letters (q,w,x,y) from the ISO Basic Latin alphabet.

Gaj's original alphabet contained the digraph dj, which Serbian linguist Đuro Daničić later replaced with the letter đ.

The letters do not have names, and consonants are normally pronounced as such when spelling is necessary (or followed by a short schwa, e.g. /fə/). When clarity is needed, they are pronounced similar to the German alphabet: a, be, ce, če, će, de, dže, đe, e, ef, ge, ha, i, je, ka, el, elj, em, en, enj, o, pe, er, es, eš, te, u, ve, ze, že. These rules for pronunciation of individual letters are common as far as the 22 letters that match the ISO basic Latin alphabet are concerned. The use of others is mostly limited to the context of linguistics, [2] [3] while in mathematics, j is commonly pronounced jot, as in German. The missing four letters are pronounced as follows: q as ku or kju, w as dublve, duplo v or duplo ve, x as iks, y as ipsilon.

Letters š , ž , č and represent the sounds [ʂ], [ʐ], [tʂ] and [dʐ], but often are transcribed as /ʃ/, /ʒ/, /tʃ/ and /dʒ/.


Note that the digraphs , lj, and nj are considered to be single letters:



Croatian linguist Ljudevit Gaj Ljudevit Gaj (Knjiznica Gajeva 1875).png
Croatian linguist Ljudevit Gaj

The Croatian Latin alphabet was mostly designed by Ljudevit Gaj, who modelled it after Czech (č, ž, š) and Polish (ć), and invented lj, nj and , according to similar solutions in Hungarian (ly, ny and dzs, although dž combinations exist also in Czech and Polish). In 1830 in Buda, he published the book Kratka osnova horvatsko-slavenskog pravopisanja ("Brief basics of the Croatian-Slavonic orthography"), which was the first common Croatian orthography book. It was not the first ever Croatian orthography work, as it was preceded by works of Rajmund Đamanjić (1639), Ignjat Đurđević and Pavao Ritter Vitezović. Croats had previously used the Latin script, but some of the specific sounds were not uniformly represented. Versions of the Hungarian alphabet were most commonly used, but others were too, in an often confused, inconsistent fashion.

Gaj followed the example of Pavao Ritter Vitezović and the Czech orthography, making one letter of the Latin script for each sound in the language. Following Vuk Karadžić's reform of Cyrillic in the early nineteenth century, in the 1830s Ljudevit Gaj did the same for latinica, using the Czech system and producing a one-to-one grapheme-phoneme correlation between the Cyrillic and Latin orthographies, resulting in a parallel system. [4]

Đuro Daničić suggested in his Rječnik hrvatskoga ili srpskoga jezika ("Dictionary of Croatian or Serbian language") published in 1880 that Gaj's digraphs , dj, lj and nj should be replaced by single letters : ģ, đ, ļ and ń respectively. The original Gaj alphabet was eventually revised, but only the digraph dj has been replaced with Daničić's đ, while , lj and nj have been kept. [ citation needed ]


In the 1990s, there was a general confusion about the proper character encoding to use to write text in Latin Croatian on computers.

The preferred character encoding for Croatian today is either the ISO 8859-2, or the Unicode encoding UTF-8 (with two bytes or 16 bits necessary to use the letters with diacritics). However, as of 2010, one can still find programs as well as databases that use CP1250, CP852 or even CROSCII.

Digraphs , lj and nj in their upper case, title case and lower case forms have dedicated UNICODE code points as shown in the table below, However, these are included chiefly for backwards compatibility (with legacy encodings which kept a one-to-one correspondence with Cyrillic); modern texts use a sequence of characters.

SequenceUNICODE pointUNICODE glyph

Usage for Slovene

Since the early 1840s, Gaj's alphabet was increasingly used for the Slovene language. In the beginning, it was most commonly used by Slovene authors who treated Slovene as a variant of Serbo-Croatian (such as Stanko Vraz), but it was later accepted by a large spectrum of Slovene-writing authors. The breakthrough came in 1845, when the Slovene conservative leader Janez Bleiweis started using Gaj's script in his journal Kmetijske in rokodelske novice ("Agricultural and Artisan News"), which was read by a wide public in the countryside. By 1850, Gaj's alphabet (known as gajica in Slovene) became the only official Slovene alphabet, replacing three other writing systems that had circulated in the Slovene Lands since the 1830s: the traditional bohoričica , named after Adam Bohorič, who codified it; the dajnčica , named after Peter Dajnko; and the metelčica , named after Franc Serafin Metelko.

The Slovene version of Gaj's alphabet differs from the Serbo-Croatian one in several ways:

As in Serbo-Croatian, Slovene orthography does not make use of diacritics to mark accent in words in regular writing, but headwords in dictionaries are given with them to account for homographs. For instance, letter e can be pronounced in four ways (/eː/, /ɛ/, /ɛː/ and /ə/), and letter v in two ([ʋ] and [w], though the difference is not phonemic). Also, it does not reflect consonant voicing assimilation: compare e.g. Slovene odpad and Serbo-Croatian otpad ('junkyard', 'waste').

Usage for Macedonian

Romanization of Macedonian is done according to Gaj's Latin alphabet [6] [7] but is slightly modified. Gaj's ć and đ are not used at all, with and ǵ introduced instead. The rest of the letters of the alphabet are used to represent the equivalent Cyrillic letters. Also, Macedonian uses the letter dz, which is not part of the Serbo-Croatian phonemic inventory. However, the backs of record sleeves published in the former Yugoslavia, by non-Macedonian publishers, (such as Mizar's debut album) used ć and đ, like other places.

See also


Related Research Articles

Serbo-Croatian South Slavic language

Serbo-Croatian – also called Serbo-Croat, Serbo-Croat-Bosnian (SCB), Bosnian-Croatian-Serbian (BCS), and Bosnian-Croatian-Montenegrin-Serbian (BCMS) – is a South Slavic language and the primary language of Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Montenegro. It is a pluricentric language with four mutually intelligible standard varieties, namely Serbian, Croatian, Bosnian, and Montenegrin.

Serbian language South Slavic language

Serbian is the standardized variety of the Serbo-Croatian language mainly used by Serbs. It is the official and national language of Serbia, one of the three official languages of Bosnia and Herzegovina and co-official in Montenegro, where it is spoken by the relative majority of the population. It is a recognized minority language in Croatia, North Macedonia, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic.

Š Letter of the Latin alphabet

The grapheme Š, š is used in various contexts representing the sh sound usually denoting the voiceless postalveolar fricative or similar voiceless retroflex fricative /ʂ/. In the International Phonetic Alphabet this sound is denoted with ʃ or ʂ, but the lowercase š is used in the Americanist phonetic notation, as well as in the Uralic Phonetic Alphabet. It represents the same sound as the Turkic letter Ş and the Romanian letter Ș (S-comma).

The Slovene alphabet is an extension of the Latin script and is used in the Slovene language. The standard language uses a Latin alphabet which is a slight modification of the Croatian Gaj's Latin alphabet, consisting of 25 lower- and upper-case letters:


Lje is a letter of the Cyrillic script.

Dzhe Letter of the Cyrillic script

Dzhe or Gea is a letter of the Cyrillic script used in Macedonian and varieties of Serbo-Croatian to represent the voiced postalveolar affricate, like the pronunciation of j in “jump”.

The grapheme Ž is formed from Latin Z with the addition of caron. It is used in various contexts, usually denoting the voiced postalveolar fricative, the sound of English g in mirage, s in vision, or Portuguese and French j. In the International Phonetic Alphabet this sound is denoted with, but the lowercase ž is used in the Americanist phonetic notation, as well as in the Uralic Phonetic Alphabet. In addition, ž is used as the romanisation of Cyrillic ж in ISO 9 and scientific transliteration.

is the seventh letter of the Gaj's Latin alphabet for Serbo-Croatian, after D and before Đ. It is pronounced. Dž is a digraph that corresponds to the letter Dzhe (Џ/џ) of the Serbian Cyrillic alphabet. It is also the tenth letter of the Slovak alphabet. Although several other languages also use the letter combination , they treat it as a pair of the letters D and Ž, not as a single distinct letter.

Ljudevit Gaj Croatian academic, linguist, writer and politician

Ljudevit Gaj was a Croatian linguist, politician, journalist and writer. He was one of the central figures of the pan-Slavist Illyrian Movement.

Lj (digraph)

Lj is a letter present in some Slavic languages, such as the Latin version of Serbo-Croatian and in romanised Macedonian, where it represents a palatal lateral approximant. For example, the word ljiljan is pronounced. Most languages containing the letter <Lj> in the alphabet are phonemic, which means that every symbol represents one sound, and is always pronounced the same way. In this case, joining the letters L and J creates a new letter or a sound. The digraph is treated as a single letter, and therefore it has its own place in the alphabet, takes up only one space in crossword puzzles and is written in line in vertical text. However, it is not found on standard computer keyboards. Like its Latin counterpart, the Cyrillic alphabet has a specific symbol for the same sound: Љ.

Illyrian movement Cultural and political movement

The Illyrian movement was a pan-South-Slavist cultural and political campaign with roots in the early modern period, and revived by a group of young Croatian intellectuals during the first half of the 19th century, around the years of 1835–1863. This movement aimed to create a Croatian national establishment in Austria-Hungary through linguistic and ethnic unity, and through it lay the foundation for cultural and linguistic unification of all South Slavs under the revived umbrella term Illyrian.

Nj is a letter present in South Slavic languages such as the Latin-alphabet version of Serbo-Croatian and in romanised Macedonian. It is also used in the Albanian alphabet. In all of these languages, it represents the palatal nasal. It is pronounced as Dom Pérignon. For example, the Croatian and Serbian word konj is pronounced.

Đ, known as crossed D or dyet, is a letter formed from the base character D/d overlaid with a crossbar. Crossing was used to create eth (ð), but eth has an uncial as its base whereas đ is based on the straight-backed roman d. Crossed d is a letter in the alphabets of several languages and is used in linguistics as a phonetic symbol.

Scientific transliteration, variously called academic, linguistic, international, or scholarly transliteration, is an international system for transliteration of text from the Cyrillic script to the Latin script (romanization). This system is most often seen in linguistics publications on Slavic languages.

The Romanization of Macedonian is the transliteration of text in the Macedonian language from the Macedonian Cyrillic alphabet into the Latin alphabet. Romanization can be used for various purposes, such as rendering of proper names in foreign contexts, or for informal writing of Macedonian in environments where Cyrillic is not easily available. Official use of Romanization by North Macedonia's authorities is found, for instance, on road signage and in passports. Several different codified standards of transliteration currently exist and there is widespread variability in practice.

YUSCII is an informal name for several JUS standards for 7-bit character encoding. These include:

Serbian Cyrillic alphabet Official script of Serbian language

The Serbian Cyrillic alphabet is an adaptation of the Cyrillic script for the Serbian language, developed in 1818 by Serbian linguist Vuk Karadžić. It is one of the two alphabets used to write standard modern Serbian, Bosnian and Montenegrin varieties of Serbo-Croatian language, the other being Latin.

Romanization of Serbian

The romanization of Serbian or latinization of Serbian is the representation of Serbian language using Latin letters. Serbian is written in two alphabets, the Serbian Cyrillic, a variation of Cyrillic alphabet, and Gaj's Latin, a variation of the Latin alphabet. Serbian language is an example of digraphia.

The Montenegrin alphabet is the collective name given to "Abeceda" and "Азбука", the writing systems used to write the Montenegrin language. It was adopted on 9 June 2009 by the Montenegrin Minister of Education, Sreten Škuletić and replaced the Serbian Cyrillic and Gaj's Latin alphabets in use at the time.


  1. Serbo-Croatian pronunciation:  [abetsěːda, latǐnitsa, ɡǎjitsa] , Slovene:  [ˈɡáːjitsa]
  2. Žagarová, Margita; Pintarić, Ana (July 1998). "On some similarities and differences between Croatian and Slovakian". Linguistics (in Croatian). Faculty of Philosophy, University of Osijek. 1 (1): 129–134. ISSN   1331-7202 . Retrieved 2012-04-18.
  3. "Ortografija" (PDF). Jezične vježbe (in Croatian). Faculty of Philosophy, University of Pula. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2012-03-14. Retrieved 2012-04-18.
  4. Comrie, Bernard; Corbett, Greville G. (1 September 2003). The Slavonic Languages. Taylor & Francis. p. 45. ISBN   978-0-203-21320-9 . Retrieved 23 December 2013. Following Vuk's reform of Cyrillic (see above) in the early nineteenth century, Ljudevit Gaj in the 1830s performed the same operation on Latinica, using the Czech system and producing a one-to-one symbol correlation between Cyrillic and Latinica as applied to the Serbian and Croatian parallel system.
  5. "IBM Knowledge Center".
  6. Lunt, H. (1952), Grammar of the Macedonian literary language, Skopje.
  7. Macedonian Latin alphabet, Pravopis na makedonskiot literaturen jazik, B. Vidoeski, T. Dimitrovski, K. Koneski, K. Tošev, R. Ugrinova Skalovska - Prosvetno delo Skopje, 1970, p.99