Thursday, April 06, 2006


Serbs use the Cyrillic and Latin scripts more or less interchangeably. As far as I know, this makes Serbian the only language with two completely redundant writing systems (as opposed to something like Japanese, which has several complementary writing systems that serve different purposes, or Turkish, which abandoned one system in favor of another). I've been told that people tend to stick to one alphabet or the other. For instance, the newspaper Politika is in Cyrillic, while Danas is in Latinica. But that's not strictly the case. I was confused for a while by a grocery store called CBA Наша Радња ("Our Store") because CBA in Cyrillic corresponds to SVA in Latin. I thought the store was called "SVA" until I travelled to Budapest and saw that the Hungarian stores are called CBA as well. Today I even saw one word written in a combination of scripts: an advertisement for an upcoming party called FИTNES (Fitness, I guess). But maybe they were just trying to be cool.
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Estavisti has this to say about the relationship between Cyrillic script and nationalism. I agree with him, I guess, but then I have my misgivings. If Cyrillic is ideally suited for Serbian, then isn't it also ideally suited for Croatian? (Croatian and Serbian are essentially the same language, but Croats use the Roman alphabet exclusively.) So by insisting on Cyrillic, Serbs are creating a further distinction between two different dialects of Serbo-Croatian. Of course a language is a dialect with an army and a navy, and the purpose of separating Serbian and Croatian languages is to insist on the differences between Serbian and Croatian people. In a sense, using Cyrillic is the Serbian counterpart to the Croatian practice of "re-translating" borrowed words like paradajz and lift into Slavic forms like rajčica and dizalica. This results in an increasing number of "Croatian" words that are not commonly used in Serbia. I've heard Serbs tell joking/complaining stories about Croats who pretended not to understand the word kafa (coffee; Croatian kava). Why would it be any different for Serbia to outlaw latinica?
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У сваком случају, мени се свиђа. И тако је лако рачунаром! Пишем брже него што могу да читам!


Marija said...

"So by insisting on Cyrillic, Serbs are creating a further distinction between two different dialects of Serbo-Croatian."
I don`t think that you are right. Cyrillic is Serbian first alfabet, 20 years ago, when we were 1 country-YU, we learned (in school) Cyrillic first, then Latin. Only when computers came in wide use we started to use Latin more than Cyrillic, and now some people are trying to undo "the harm", by insisting on Cyrillic.

Babsi said...

When Ljudevit Gaj and V.S. Karadzic "structured" the official language Gaj headed for standard Latin + some 'artificial letters' (we call them "diacritici"), having no solution for some sounds such as nj and lj, so he formed "fake couples" (diphthongs) which aren't really "diphthongs" (I know you understand me:) diphthongs are meant to change the sound (such as in English "ph" or in Italian "gn"), but those couples in latinica are meant to be considered a single letter. Karadzic, insted, created a couple of new letters but the result he obtained was 'pure'*: you have 30 sounds and 30 letters, and no "fake diphthongs". Estavisti is right when he says Serbian, to be correct (i.e. to be grammatically and phonetically logic), should be better written in cirilica. "Stokavski" should be written that way to be logic - not just the ekavski inflexion. *Beware I say pure only in the meaning of 'logical' according to phonetical rules. Teaching Serbian, I see for non-Slavs that cirilica looks much more logical, especially when you face subjects such as palatalizacija itd, and generaly phonetical rules. When you teach them latinica (I had to do it, but I tend to focus on cirilica) they can't get the logic. And they're right. The logic is weak :)

Brooke said...

I certainly don't know enough about languages to have an opinion in this coversation, but I do know if Belgrade wants to make itself more tourist friendly, it should at least print the street signs in Latin and Cyrillic because the vast majority of tourists that they are seeking to attract can't read Cyrillic and quickly become frustrated when they don't know what street they are on. That's my two cents.

Daniel said...

I don't know why Italian gn, gl, sc (but not sch) are any different from Latinica lj, nj, dj. When I taught Italian I used to teach those combinations almost as if they were a single letter. Whether you call it one or two letters is mostly academic; it only really makes a difference for things like alphabetical order.

In former YU, when Croatian children learned to write Croato-Serbian, did they use Cirilica?

Babsi said...

Mmmmh, gn and gl in Italian can't be considered a single letter because otherwise you would read "gnocchi" and "gnoseologia" the same way (you don't:)... Same for "gl": glottologia, but famiglia. And you also have "glifo" :D It's academic, of course: you have the letter G, the letter L, the letter N; they change sound according to the position and the other letters they "meet" :)...That's why they are called diphthongs: changing the position in the word they do change sounds. In SR/HR they *never* do. That's exactly the problem Italians have with latinica. When they see a diphthong, they thing the sound may vary (as in most of languages). In Serbian we know it doesn't. I find cirilica more practic, because they see њ and it's њ, that they like it or not :D
For what I know about the alphabets, the alternating latinica/cirilica system was introduced by Tito. Friends have told me they used to study both - alternating weeks. I dunno if it's true. For sure, cirilica has been the official Serbian alphabet for centuries but those 50 "socialism" years. I think Estavisti is right: foreigners tend to find it "difficult" because they do have an alternative. In Russia you get used immediately and there are no "latin" options ;)

John1975 said...

I actually enjoy the Cyrillic letters. At first they were very hard for me. I still can't write them very well.

What I don't understand, thoug, is when I was in the R/S I noticed parents angry at their children who wrote something in Cyrillic when I was around. I even witinessed a mom start screaming and yelling when her daughter started off in cyrillic.

I never understood this. I thought it was because I was around but I just don't know.

I love the Cyrillic alphabet! I think it's much more pleasing to the eyes than regular old latin letters.


Anonymous said...

(I am not identifying myself here to avoid any kind of persecution)

I think the main reason behind “alphabet wars” in Serbia and Bosnia nowadays (an in some ways in Croatia, too) is RELIGIOUS FUNDAMENTALISM.

The fact is that the majority of Serbians, Croatians, Bosnians and Montenegrins speak the same plain old Serbo-Croatian language. A Serbian can understand what a Croatian says, both can understand what a Bosnian says, and a Montenegrin can fully understand the other three, also. If this is not the same language, I don’t know what it could be.

The fact is that differences between “Serbian”, “Croatian”, “Bosnian” and “Montenegrin” languages are fewer than “American”, “British”, “Irish” and “Australian” languages… ops, they all sepak English!

But religion and other dogmatic thoughts many times does hate facts. It’s impossible to a legitimate “Orthodox Serb” to admit to speak the language of “Ustahas” or “Turks”; it’s impossible to a legitimate “Catholic Croat” speak the language of “Chetniks”, and so on…

Mirko said...

I think the alphabet wars thing is kind of true. Only in some cases though. There are more extremist people and cyrillic does have more serbian roots because it has always been used there. During socialism, the little differences were ironed out to make a better "community" and children learned both. (My parents grew up during that era and they are proficient at both.) My dad is from Serbian and is Orthodox but for notes he uses Latinica. I guess it just depends on the person. Some people might put politics into their daily fundamental activities but the majority don't. Personally, I wish i could be fluent in cyrillic but I have never learned it so its easier to read Latinica.
Also, the lj nj and dj are totally different "letters." In Cyrillic they are different letters and in Latinica they are combinations. The language would be totally different if they were the same letter.

Very good, informed post btw.