Romanization of Serbian

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A road sign in Serbia using Cyrillic and Latin alphabets. The towns are Sid (pronounced [Si:d]), Novi Sad and Belgrade. Beograd in 25.jpg
A road sign in Serbia using Cyrillic and Latin alphabets. The towns are Šid (pronounced [ʃiːd]), Novi Sad and Belgrade.

The romanization of Serbian or latinization of Serbian (Serbian Cyrillic : Латинизација српског језика или романизација српског језика, romanized: Latinizacija srpskog jezika ili romanizacija srpskog jezika) is the representation of the Serbian language using Latin letters. In Bosnia, Serbia and Montenegro is written in two alphabets, the Serbian Cyrillic, a variation of Cyrillic alphabet, and Gaj's Latin, a variation of the Latin alphabet. Thus, those varieties are an example of digraphia.


Main alphabets used in Europe around 1900:
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Latin script: Fraktur variant
Latin script: Antiqua variant
Cyrillic script
Greek alphabet
Arabic script
Kalmyk-Mongolian script Scripts in Europe (1901).jpg
Main alphabets used in Europe around 1900:
   Latin script: Fraktur variant
  Latin script: Antiqua variant
   KalmykMongolian script

Gaj's Latin alphabet is widely used in Serbia. The two are almost directly and completely interchangeable. Romanization can be done with no errors, but in some cases knowledge of Serbo-Croatian is required to do proper transliteration from Latin back to Cyrillic. Standard Serbian uses both alphabets currently. A survey from 2014 showed that 47% of the Serbian population favors the Latin alphabet whereas 36% favors the Cyrillic one; the remaining 17% preferred neither. [1]

Use of romanization

Duro Danicic added D instead of Dj in Croatian Academy 1882. Djura danicic.jpg
Đuro Daničić added Đ instead of Dj in Croatian Academy 1882.

Serbo-Croatian was regarded as a single language since the 1850 Vienna Literary Agreement, to be written in two forms: one (Serb) in the adapted Cyrillic alphabet; the other (Croat) in the adapted Latin alphabet. [2]

The Latin alphabet, latinica, was not initially taught in schools in Serbia when it became independent in the 19th century. After a series of efforts by Serbian writers Ljubomir Stojanović and Jovan Skerlić, it became part of the school curriculum after 1914. [3]

During World War I, Austria-Hungary banned the Cyrillic alphabet in Serbia [4] and its use in occupied Serbia was banned in schools. [5] Cyrillic was banned in the axis Independent State of Croatia in World War II. [6] The government of socialist Yugoslavia made some initial effort to promote romanization, use of the Latin alphabet even in the Orthodox Serbian and Montenegrin parts of Yugoslavia, but met with resistance. [7] The use of latinica did however become more common among Serbian speakers on internet.

Later still, in 1993 the authorities of Republika Srpska under Radovan Karadžić and Momčilo Krajišnik decided to proclaim Ekavian and Serbian Cyrillic to be official in Republika Srpska, which was considered grotesque both by native Bosnian Serb writers at the time and the general public, and that decision was rescinded in 1994. [8] Nevertheless, it was reinstated in a milder form in 1996, and today still the use of Serbian Latin is officially discouraged in Republika Srpska, in favor of Cyrillic. [9]

Article 10 of the Constitution of Serbia [10] adopted by a referendum in 2006 defined Cyrillic as the official script in Serbia, while Latin was given the status of "Script in official use".

Today Serbo-Croatian is more likely to be romanized in Montenegro than in Serbia. [11] Exceptions to this include Serbian websites where use of Latin alphabet is often more convenient, and increasing use in tabloid and popular media such as Blic , Danas and Svet. [12] More established media, such as the formerly state-run Politika, and Radio Television of Serbia, [13] or foreign Google News, [14] Voice of Russia [15] and Facebook tend to use Cyrillic script. [16] Some websites offer the content in both scripts, using Cyrillic as the source and auto generating Romanized version.

In 2013 in Croatia there were massive far-right protests againts cyrillic in official signs on local government buildings in Vukovar. [17]

Romanization of names

Serbian place names

Serbian place names are consistently spelled in latinica using the mapping that exists between the Serbian Cyrillic alphabet and Gaj's Latin alphabet.

Serbian personal names

Serbian personal names are usually romanized exactly the same way as place names. This is particularly the case with consonants which are common to other Slavic Latin alphabets - Č, Ć, Š, Ž, and Đ.

A problem is presented by the letter Đ/đ that represents the affricate [ ] (similar to the "dj" sound in "jam"), which is still sometimes represented by "Dj". The letter Đ was not part of the original Gaj's alphabet, but was added by Đuro Daničić in the 19th century. A transcribed "Dj" is still sometimes encountered in rendering Serbian names into English (e.g. Novak Djokovic), though strictly Đ should be used (as in Croatian).

Foreign names

Sign of George Washington street in Belgrade George Washington Street sign Belgrade.JPG
Sign of George Washington street in Belgrade

In Serbian, foreign names are phonetically transliterated into both Latin and Cyrillic, a change that does not happen in Croatian and Bosnian (also Latin). For example, in Serbian history books George Washington becomes Džordž Vašington or Џорџ Вашингтон, Winston Churchill becomes Vinston Čerčil or Винстон Черчил and Charles de Gaulle Šarl de Gol or Шарл де Гол. [18] This change also happens in some European languages that use the Latin alphabet such as Latvian. The name Catherine Ashton for instance gets transliterated into Ketrin Ešton or Кетрин Ештон in Serbian. An exception to this are place names which are so well known as to have their own form (exonym): just as English has Vienna, Austria (and not German Wien, Österreich) so both Croatian and Serbian standards of Serbo-Croatian have Beč, Austrija (Serbian Cyrillic : Беч, Аустрија).

Incomplete romanization

Incomplete romanization of Serbo-Croatian is written using the English alphabet, also known as ASCII Serbian, by dropping diacritics. It is commonly used in SMS messages, comments on the Internet or e-mails, mainly because users do not have a Serbian keyboard installed. Serbian is a fully phonetic language with 30 sounds that can be represented with 30 Cyrillic letters, or 27 Gaj's Latin letters and three digraphs ("nj" for "њ", ”lj" for "љ", and "" for "џ"). In its ASCII form, the number of used letters drops down to 22, as the letters "q", "w", "x" and "y" are not used. Some words morph into the same written form and a good knowledge of Serbo-Croatian and a sentence context is required for proper understanding of the written text.

Using incomplete romanization does not allow for easy transliteration back to Cyrillic without significant manual work. Google tried using a machine learning approach to solving this problem and developed an interactive text input tool that enables typing Serbo-Croatian in ASCII and auto-converting to Cyrillic. [19] However, manual typing is still required with occasional disambiguation selection from the pop-up menu.

Tools for romanization

Serbo-Croatian text can be converted from Cyrillic to Latin and vice versa automatically by computer. There are add-in tools available for Microsoft Word [20] and, [21] as well as command line tools for Linux, MacOS and Windows.

Related Research Articles

Cyrillic script Writing system used for various languages of Eurasia

The Cyrillic script is a writing system used for various languages across Eurasia and is used as the national script in various Slavic, Turkic, Mongolic and Iranic-speaking countries in Southeastern Europe, Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, Central Asia, North Asia and East Asia.

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).

Comparison of standard Bosnian, Croatian, Montenegrin and Serbian

Standard Bosnian, Croatian, Montenegrin, and Serbian are different national variants and official registers of the pluricentric Serbo-Croatian language.

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:


Tje, or Tshe, is a letter of the Cyrillic script, used only in the Serbian Cyrillic alphabet, where it represents the voiceless alveolo-palatal affricate, somewhat like the pronunciation of ⟨ch⟩ in "chew"; however, it must not be confused with the voiceless retroflex affricate Che (Ч ч), which represents and which also exists in Serbian Cyrillic script. The sound of Tshe is produced from the voiceless alveolar plosive by iotation. Tshe is the 23rd letter in the Serbian alphabet. It was first used by Dositej Obradović as a revival of the old Cyrillic letter Djerv (Ꙉ), and was later adopted in the 1818 Serbian dictionary of Vuk Stefanović Karadžić. The equivalent character to Tje in Gaj's Latin alphabet is Ć.

Dje Cyrillic letter

Dje 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.

Gajs Latin alphabet form of the Latin script by Croatian linguist Ljudevit Gaj

Gaj's Latin alphabet is the form of the Latin script used for writing Serbo-Croatian and all of its standard varieties: Bosnian, Croatian, Serbian, and Montenegrin.

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.

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.

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.

Slavica is a simple writing system for Serbo-Croatian language proposed by Rajko Igić in his 1987 book, Nova Slovarica, published by Universal from Tuzla. The alphabet is a combination of Gaj's Latin and Serbian Cyrillic alphabets and was intended for people from Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia that spoke the same language but wrote it using two different writing systems.

The Board for Standardization of the Serbian Language is a linguistic institute in Serbia, Montenegro and Republika Srpska whose purpose is to preserve and foster the Serbian variety of the Serbo-Croatian language. It was founded on December 12, 1997 in Belgrade, then in Yugoslavia.

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.

Spread of the Latin script

This article discusses the geographic spread of the Latin script throughout history, from its archaic beginnings in Latium to the dominant writing system on Earth in modernity.


  2. The World and Its Peoples 2009 - Page 1654 "Until modern times, Serbo-Croat was regarded as a single language, written in two forms: one (Serb) in the Cyrillic alphabet; the other (Croat) in ...
  3. Naimark, Norman M.; Case, Holly (2003). Yugoslavia and Its Historians: Understanding the Balkan Wars of the 1990s. Stanford University Press. pp. 95–96. ISBN   0804745943 . Retrieved 2012-04-18.
  4. John Horne (16 March 2010). A Companion to World War I. John Wiley & Sons. p. 375. ISBN   978-1-4443-2364-1 . Retrieved 26 April 2013.
  5. Serbia's Great War 1914-1918. Purdue University Press. 2007. p. 231. ISBN   978-1-55753-477-4 . Retrieved 26 April 2013.
  6. Gregory R. Copley (1992). Defense & Foreign Affairs Strategic Policy. Copley & Associates. p. 17. Retrieved 26 April 2013.
  7. The Social construction of written communication Bennett A. Rafoth, Donald L. Rubin - 1988 "Yugoslavian efforts to romanize Serbian (Kalogjera, 1985) and Chinese efforts to romanize Mandarin (De Francis, 1977b, 1984; Seybolt & Chiang, 1979) reveal that even authoritarian regimes may have to accept only limited success when the"
  8. Greenberg, Robert D. (2004). Language and Identity in the Balkans: Serbo-Croatian and Its Disintegration. Oxford University Press. pp. 78–79. ISBN   0191514551 . Retrieved 2012-04-18.
  9. Greenberg, Robert D. (2004). Language and Identity in the Balkans: Serbo-Croatian and Its Disintegration. Oxford University Press. pp. 82–83. ISBN   0191514551 . Retrieved 2012-04-18.
  10. "Constitution Principles". Constitution of the Republic of Serbia. Government of Serbia . Retrieved 2013-04-26.
  11. One thousand languages: living, endangered, and lost - Page 46 Peter Austin - 2008 "Croatian and Bosnian are written in the Latin alphabet; Serbian in both Serbia and Bosnia is written in the Cyrillic alphabet. Both scripts are used for Serbian in Montenegro."
  16. Hitting the headlines in Europe: a country-by-country guide Page 166 Cathie Burton, Alun Drake - 2004 "The former state-run paper, Politika, which kept its retro style until very recently, using Serbian Cyrillic rather than the Latin alphabet, has been bought by a German company and is modernizing rapidly. There are a host of tabloids, .."
  17. Agence France-Presse, April 7, 2013 Croatians protest against Cyrillic signs in Vukovar
  18. Bosnian, Croatian, Serbian, a grammar: with sociolinguistic commentary - Page 3 Ronelle Alexander - 2006 -"... name in original Serbian (Cyrillic) Serbian (Latin) Croatian George Џорџ Džordž ; George Mary Мери Meri Mary ; Winston Churchill Винстон Черчил Vinston Čerčil Winston Churchill ; Charles de Gaulle Шарл де Гол Šarl de Gol Charles de Gaulle ;"
  19. Google input tools for Serbian
  20. Office 2003 Add-in: Latin and Cyrillic Transliteration
  21. OOoTranslit add-on for OpenOffice