We celebrate the Cyrillic alphabet

In Bulgaria and Macedonia, the day of the Cyrillic alphabet is celebrated today. What is this alphabet all about? Which languages are written in this alphabet? - A summary.

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Our globalised world is very much dominated by English and thus by the Latin alphabet. But there are also an enormous number of other alphabets. One of them is the Cyrillic alphabet, which we would like to take a look at on its special day. 

The Cyrillic alphabet

The Cyrillic alphabet has taken most of its letters from the Byzantine Greek alphabet. For sounds that do not exist in Greek, sounds from the Glagolitic script were used as a basis. 

Cyril and Methodius

Once upon a time there were two brothers named Cyril (originally Constantine) (826-869) and Methodius (815-885). These were Byzantine scholars and priests who together Christianised Slavic peoples. Their disciples continued the missionary work. The brothers are credited with the development of the first script for the Old Slavic language, the Glagolitic alphabet, which also found its way into the Cyrillic alphabet. This authorship, however, is highly disputed. It is assumed, however, that the Cyrillic alphabet is named after Cyril of Salonika. The alphabet is not referred to as "Cyrillic" in any medieval source. 

The oldest Cyrillic writings

The oldest work in Cyrillic script is considered to be that of Constantine of Preslav, who was a student of Method. 

One of the first Cyrillic stone inscriptions is found on the tomb of Ana, the youngest daughter of the Bulgarian ruler Boris I (852-889). 

Further development

The originally uniform script has developed differently in the various languages. The first reform is found in Church Slavonic and a large inventory of the Cyrillic letters of yore, now no longer exists. In 1708, Peter the Great carried out numerous reforms in the Russian Tsarist Empire, including those concerning the script, which was simplified and visually adapted to the Latin script. In contrast to Church Slavonic, this script was called Civic Script, which became the normative orthography of the Russian language. Under Russian influence, the new script also found its way into countries outside the Russian Empire. 

In the 19th century, Bulgarian and Serbian were also standardised. Bulgarian Cyrillic was strongly oriented towards Russian, while Serbian Cyrillic was radically reformed so that a consistently phonological spelling of Serbian was possible. 

At the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century, the Cyrillic orthography of Ukrainian and Belarusian was uniformly reformed. During the Second World War, Macedonian was also orthographically standardised. Romanian, on the other hand, which had been written in the Cyrillic alphabet since the 16th century, adopted the Latin alphabet in 1865.

Another spelling reform of Russian took place in 1918, when some letters that were no longer used were dropped. A similar reform took place for Bulgarian after the Second World War. 

Efforts were already made to establish the Cyrillic alphabet in various languages during the time of the Russian Tsarist Empire. Later, however, during the Soviet period, efforts were made to establish the Latin alphabet for languages that had not yet been written down or that used the Arabic or Mongolian alphabets (which, according to official statements, were considered regressive). Nevertheless, at the end of the 1930s, kyrillic alphabets were introduced in these languages. Exceptions were Arabic, Georgian with traditional scripts, and the languages of the Baltic republics, which retained the Latin alphabet. 

Languages that still use the Cyrillic alphabet today - a selection

  • Slavic languages such as Belarusian, Bulgarian, Russian, Church Slavonic, Macedonian, Serbian, Montenegrin, Ukrainian

  • Turkic languages such as Bashkir, Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Uyghur

  • Mongolian languages such as Buryat and Mongolian

  • In Transnistria also Romance Moldavian

  • Other languages

Transcripts and transliterations

In the age of the Internet, the URL often only knows Latin characters without diacritics. A transliteration can help to transcribe Cyrillic characters. Our alugha transcripts are available in different alphabets. 

Alphabet reforms and possible problems

There are many languages in which the alphabets have been changed many times. One example is Azerbaijani. In the Middle Ages, the Arabic alphabet was used, from 1929 the Latin alphabet, then in 1938 the Cyrillic alphabet and then in 1991/92 the Latin alphabet again. The reasons for this are not linguistic but political. As a result, the population can no longer read the old Azerbaijani texts and thus a piece of culture and a certain treasure of knowledge is lost. In Iran, where Azerbaijani speakers also live, the Perso-Arabic alphabet was also retained. 

Today we celebrate the Cyrillic alphabet. What alphabet is your language written in?

Your alugha team





Olga Grjasnowa: Die Macht der Mehrsprachigkeit. Duden Verlag. 2021

https://blog.hrz.tu-chemnitz.de/bibo/2012/05/24/24-mai-tag-der-kyrillischen-schrift/ (24.05.2022, 10:23)

https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kyrillisches_Alphabet (24.05.2022, 10:23)

https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kyrill_und_Method (24.05.2022, 10:22)


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