Serbian Cyrillic alphabet

Last updated
Serbian Cyrillic
Serbian Cyrillic Cursive.png
Languages Serbo-Croatian
(except Croatian)
Time period
1814 to present
Parent systems
Child systems
ISO 15924 Cyrl, 220
Unicode alias
subset of Cyrillic (U+0400...U+04F0)

The Serbian Cyrillic alphabet (Serbian : српска ћирилица/srpska ćirilica, pronounced [sr̩̂pskaː t͡ɕirǐlit͡sa] ) is an adaptation of the Cyrillic script for 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.


Karadžić based his alphabet on the previous "Slavonic-Serbian" script, following the principle of "write as you speak and read as it is written", removing obsolete letters and letters representing iotified vowels, introducing J from the Latin alphabet instead, and adding several consonant letters for sounds specific to Serbian phonology. During the same period, Croatian linguists led by Ljudevit Gaj adapted the Latin alphabet, in use in western South Slavic areas, using the same principles. As a result of this joint effort, Cyrillic and Latin alphabets for Serbo-Croatian have a complete one-to-one congruence, with the Latin digraphs Lj, Nj, and Dž counting as single letters.

Vuk's Cyrillic alphabet was officially adopted in Serbia in 1868, and was in exclusive use in the country up to the inter-war period. Both alphabets were co-official in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia and later in the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Due to the shared cultural area, Gaj's Latin alphabet saw a gradual adoption in Serbia since, and both scripts are used to write modern standard Serbian, Montenegrin and Bosnian; Croatian only uses the Latin alphabet. In Serbia, Cyrillic is seen as being more traditional, and has the official status (designated in the Constitution as the "official script", compared to Latin's status of "script in official use" designated by a lower-level act, for national minorities). It is also an official script in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Montenegro, along with Latin.

The Serbian Cyrillic alphabet was used as a basis for the Macedonian alphabet with the work of Krste Misirkov and Venko Markovski.

Official use

Cyrillic is in official use in Serbia, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina. [1] Although the Bosnian language "officially accept[s] both alphabets", [1] the Latin script is almost always used in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, [1] whereas Cyrillic is in everyday use in Republika Srpska [1] . [2] The Serbian language in Croatia is officially recognized as a minority language, however, the use of Cyrillic in bilingual signs has sparked protests and vandalism.

Cyrillic is an important symbol of Serbian identity. [3] In Serbia, official documents are printed in Cyrillic only [4] even though, according to a 2014 survey, 47% of the Serbian population write in the Latin alphabet whereas 36% write in Cyrillic. [5]

Modern alphabet

Example of typical cursive modern Serbian Cyrillic alphabet Primer srpske tshirilitse.png
Example of typical cursive modern Serbian Cyrillic alphabet
Capital letters of the Serbian Cyrillic alphabet SerbCyrAlphabet.png
Capital letters of the Serbian Cyrillic alphabet

The following table provides the upper and lower case forms of the Serbian Cyrillic alphabet, along with the equivalent forms in the Serbian Latin alphabet and the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) value for each letter:

Cyrillic Latin IPA value
А а A a/ä/
Б б B b/b/
В в V v/v/
Г г G g/ɡ/
Д д D d/d/
Ђ ђ Đ đ//
Е е E e/e/
Ж ж Ž ž/ʐ/
З з Z z/z/
И и I i/i/
Ј ј J j/j/
К к K k/k/
Л л L l/l/
Љ љ Lj lj/ʎ/
М м M m/m/
Cyrillic Latin IPA value
Н н N n/n/
Њ њ Nj nj/ɲ/
О о O o/ɔ/
П п P p/p/
Р р R r/ɾ/
С с S s/s/
Т т T t/t/
Ћ ћ Ć ć//
У у U u/u/
Ф ф F f/f/
Х х H h/x/
Ц ц C c/ts/
Ч ч Č č/ʈʂ/
Џ џ Dž dž/ɖʐ/
Ш ш Š š/ʂ/

Early history

Serbian Cyrillic, from Comparative orthography of European languages. Source: Vuk Stefanovic Karadzic "Srpske narodne pjesme" (Serbian folk poems), Vienna, 1841 AlphabetiSerborum 1841.jpg
Serbian Cyrillic, from Comparative orthography of European languages. Source: Vuk Stefanović Karadžić "Srpske narodne pjesme" (Serbian folk poems), Vienna, 1841

Early Cyrillic

According to tradition, Glagolitic was invented by the Byzantine Christian missionaries and brothers Cyril and Methodius in the 860s, amid the Christianization of the Slavs. Glagolitic appears to be older, predating the introduction of Christianity, only formalized by Cyril and expanded to cover non-Greek sounds. Cyrillic was created by the orders of Boris I of Bulgaria by Cyril's disciples, perhaps at the Preslav Literary School in the 890s. [6]

The earliest form of Cyrillic was the ustav, based on Greek uncial script, augmented by ligatures and letters from the Glagolitic alphabet for consonants not found in Greek. There was no distinction between capital and lowercase letters. The literary Slavic language was based on the Bulgarian dialect of Thessaloniki. [6]

Medieval Serbian Cyrillic

Part of the Serbian literary heritage of the Middle Ages are works such as Vukan Gospels, St. Sava's Nomocanon, Dušan's Code, Munich Serbian Psalter, and others. The first printed book in Serbian was the Cetinje Octoechos (1494).

Karadžić's reform

Vuk Karadzic. Vuk Karadzic Kriehuber cropped.jpg
Vuk Karadžić.

Vuk Stefanović Karadžić fled Serbia during the Serbian Revolution in 1813, to Vienna. There he met Jernej Kopitar, a linguist with interest in slavistics. Kopitar and Sava Mrkalj helped Vuk to reform the Serbian language and its orthography. He finalized the alphabet in 1818 with the Serbian Dictionary.

Karadžić reformed the Serbian literary language and standardised the Serbian Cyrillic alphabet by following strict phonemic principles on the Johann Christoph Adelung' model and Jan Hus' Czech alphabet. Karadžić's reforms of the Serbian literary language modernised it and distanced it from Serbian and Russian Church Slavonic, instead bringing it closer to common folk speech, specifically, to the dialect of Eastern Herzegovina which he spoke. Karadžić was, together with Đuro Daničić, the main Serbian signatory to the Vienna Literary Agreement of 1850 which, encouraged by Austrian authorities, laid the foundation for the Serbian language, various forms of which are used by Serbs in Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia today. Karadžić also translated the New Testament into Serbian, which was published in 1868.

He wrote several books; Mala prostonarodna slaveno-serbska pesnarica and Pismenica serbskoga jezika in 1814, and two more in 1815 and 1818, all with the alphabet still in progress. In his letters from 1815-1818 he used: Ю, Я, Ы and Ѳ. In his 1815 song book he dropped the Ѣ. [7]

The alphabet was officially adopted in 1868, four years after his death. [8]

From the Old Slavic script Vuk retained these 24 letters:

А аБ бВ вГ гД дЕ еЖ жЗ з
И иК кЛ лМ мН нО оП пР р
С сТ тУ уФ фХ хЦ цЧ чШ ш

He added one Latin letter:

Ј ј
Vuk's dictionary Vuk-1818.jpg
Vuk's dictionary

And 5 new ones:

Љ љЊ њЋ ћЂ ђЏ џ

He removed:

Ѥ ѥ (је)Ѣ, ѣ (јат)І ї (и)Ѵ ѵ (и)Оу оу (у)Ѡ ѡ (о)Ѧ ѧ (мали јус)Ѫ ѫ (велики јус)Ы ы (јери, тврдо и)
Ю ю (ју)Ѿ ѿ (от)Ѳ ѳ (т)Ѕ ѕ (дз)Щ щ (шт)Ѯ ѯ (кс)Ѱ ѱ (пс)Ъ ъ (тврди полуглас)Ь ь (меки полуглас)Я я (ја)

Modern history


Orders issued on the 3 and 13 October 1914 banned the use of Serbian Cyrillic in the Kingdom of Croatia-Slavonia, limiting it for use in religious instruction. A decree was passed on January 3, 1915, that banned Serbian Cyrillic completely from public use. An imperial order in October 25, 1915, banned the use of Serbian Cyrillic in the Condominium of Bosnia and Herzegovina, except "within the scope of Serb Orthodox Church authorities". [9] [10]

World War II

In 1941, the Nazi puppet Independent State of Croatia banned the use of Cyrillic, [11] having regulated it on 25 April 1941, [12] and in June 1941 began eliminating "Eastern" (Serbian) words from the Croatian language, and shut down Serbian schools. [13] [14]


The Serbian Cyrillic script was one of the two official scripts used to write the Serbo-Croatian language in Yugoslavia since its establishment in 1918, the other being Latin script (latinica).

Following the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, Serbian Cyrillic is no longer used in Croatia on national level, while in Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Montenegro it remained an official script. [15]

Contemporary period

Under the Constitution of Serbia of 2006, Cyrillic script is the only one in official use. [16]

Special letters

The ligatures Љ and Њ , together with Џ , Ђ and Ћ were developed specially for the Serbian alphabet.

Љ , Њ and Џ were later adopted for use in the Macedonian alphabet.

Differences from other Cyrillic alphabets

Allowed italic variants of some letters in different languages. Cyrillic cursive.svg
Allowed italic variants of some letters in different languages.

Serbian Cyrillic does not use several letters encountered in other Slavic Cyrillic alphabets. It does not use hard sign (ъ) and soft sign (ь), but the aforementioned soft-sign ligatures instead. It does not have Russian/Belarusian Э, the semi-vowels Й or Ў, nor the iotated letters Я (Russian/Bulgarian ya), Є (Ukrainian ye), Ї (yi), Ё (Russian yo) or Ю (yu), which are instead written as two separate letters: Ја, Је, Ји, Јо, Ју. Ј can also be used as a semi-vowel, in place of й. The letter Щ is not used. When necessary, it is transliterated as either ШЧ or ШТ.

Serbian and Macedonian italic and cursive forms of lowercase letters б, г, д, п , and т differ from those used in other Cyrillic alphabets. The regular (upright) shapes are generally standardized among languages and there are no officially recognized variations. [17] [18] That presents a challenge in Unicode modeling, as the glyphs differ only in italic versions, and historically non-italic letters have been used in the same code positions. Serbian professional typography uses fonts specially crafted for the language to overcome the problem, but texts printed from common computers contain East Slavic rather than Serbian italic glyphs. Cyrillic fonts from Adobe, [19] Microsoft (Windows Vista and later) and a few other font houses[ citation needed ] include the Serbian variations (both regular and italic).

If the underlying font and Web technology provides support, the proper glyphs can be obtained by marking the text with appropriate language codes. Thus, in non-italic mode:


Since Unicode unifies different glyphs in same characters, [20] font support must be present to display the correct variant. Programs like Mozilla Firefox, LibreOffice (currently[ when? ] under Linux only), and some others provide required OpenType support. Of course[ why? ], font families like GNU FreeFont, DejaVu, Ubuntu, Microsoft "C*" fonts from Windows Vista and above must be used.

See also

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.

Glagolitic script Oldest known Slavic alphabet

The Glagolitic script is the oldest known Slavic alphabet. It is generally agreed to have been created in the 9th century by Saint Cyril, a monk from Thessaloniki. He and his brother, Saint Methodius, were sent by the Byzantine Emperor Michael III in 863 to Great Moravia to spread Christianity among the West Slavs in the area. The brothers decided to translate liturgical books into the contemporary Slavic language understandable to the general population. As the words of that language could not be easily written by using either the Greek or Latin alphabets, Cyril decided to invent a new script, Glagolitic, which he based on the local dialect of the Slavic tribes from the Byzantine theme of Thessalonica.

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.

Soft sign

The soft sign also known as the front yer or front jer, is a letter of the Cyrillic script. In Old Church Slavonic, it represented a short front vowel. As with its companion, the back yer ⟨ъ⟩, the vowel phoneme that it designated was later partly dropped and partly merged with other vowels.


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 Tshe in Gaj's Latin alphabet is Ć.

Lje is a letter of the Cyrillic script.

Nje is a 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”.

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.

Macedonian alphabet

The orthography of Macedonian includes an alphabet, which is an adaptation of the Cyrillic script, as well as language-specific conventions of spelling and punctuation.

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:

Cyrillic alphabets Related alphabets based on Cyrillic scripts

Numerous Cyrillic alphabets are based on the Cyrillic script. The early Cyrillic alphabet was developed in the First Bulgarian Empire during the 9th century AD at the Preslav Literary School by Saint Clement of Ohrid and Saint Naum and replaced the earlier Glagolitic script developed by the Byzantine theologians Cyril and Methodius. It is the basis of alphabets used in various languages, past and present, in parts of Southeastern Europe and Northern Eurasia, especially those of Slavic origin, and non-Slavic languages influenced by Russian. As of 2011, around 252 million people in Eurasia use it as the official alphabet for their national languages. About half of them are in Russia. Cyrillic is one of the most-used writing systems in the world.

Arebica Bosniak script

Arebica is a Bosniak variant of the Perso-Arabic script used to write the Bosnian language. It was used mainly between the 15th and 19th centuries and is frequently categorized as part of Aljamiado literature. Before World War I there were unsuccessful efforts by Bosnian Muslims to adopt Arebica as the third official alphabet for Bosnian alongside Latin and Cyrillic.

Djerv is one of the Cyrillic alphabet letters that was used in Old Cyrillic. It was used in many early Serbo-Croatian monuments to represent the sounds and. It exists in the Cyrillic Extended-B table as U+A648 and U+A649. It is the basis of the modern letters Ћ and Ђ; the former was in fact a direct revival of djerv and was considered the same letter.

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.

<i>Srpski rječnik</i>

Srpski rječnik is a dictionary written by Vuk Stefanović Karadžić, first published in 1818. It is the first known dictionary of the vernacular Serbian language.



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  2. Tomasz Kamusella (15 January 2009). The Politics of Language and Nationalism in Modern Central Europe. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN   978-0-230-55070-4. In addition, today, neither Bosniaks nor Croats, but only Serbs use Cyrillic in Bosnia.
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