February 8, 2012
From the first time I traveled to Serbia many years ago, one of the typical things I loved so much was the cyrillic writing everywhere. Even if it was a bit difficult for me to quickly read things, I wouldn't like to miss it as for me it's a big part of the recognition value of the Serbian ambiance.
Generally in Serbia both scripts, the "азбука" (cyrillic script) and the latinic alphabet are in use and most of the people know both alphabets (Children usually learn first the "азбука" and the the latinic, but in the end the will know both). People can freely decide which letters to use and often both scripts are portrayed (like traffic signs and street signs).
"Latinica" in serbian means a modified alphabet with 30 letters also called "Abeceda".
In commercial use (especially for export goods) the latinic script is more often used. Also for internet use the latinic comes in handle.
For official documents (like government files) cyrillic is used (since 2006 the cyrillic writing is the official script in Serbia), and also some of the more traditional an older newspapers like "Politika" use cyrillic. For documents like passports both variantion are offered, as people belonging to other ethnic groups than Serbian (like Hungarians and Albanians with Serbian passport) prefer the latinic version. In the some places of the Vojvodina region, where for example a lot of Hungarians live, the latinic is in wide use (there cyrillic serbian, latinic serbian and hungarian stand together on traffic signs.)
The first known alphabet the Serbs had was called Glagoljica, then the saints Cyril and Methodius with their students developed letters based on the Greek alphabet and made the Cyrillic alphabet.
Still today the Cyrillic alphabet is the official script for the Serbian Orthodox Church.
The cyrillic writing like we know it today was developed in 1818 by Serbian linguist Vuk Stefanovic Karadzic (Вук Стефановић Караџић).
The ligatures Љ= lj and Њ= nj, together with Џ= dž, Ђ=dj and Ћ= ć were developed specially for the Serbian alphabet.
In urban areas, there is a wish to appear international and maybe also the wish to help the tourist to orientatethemselves better. Also the upcomming of more and more international brands make the latinic writing more present.
Recently I was watching the entries for the competition of the Belgrade Water Front Center
an International architecture competition for the new waterfront shaping and design near the historic center that took place in 2011.
I noticed that one of the two 1st entires, a really good work from ARCVS made all the illustration with latinic writings...I was a little surprised as I think that such a tourist landmark should be spelled in cyrillic. I immagine how good a really modern building would look with an adequate cyrillic inscription.
Cyrillic and Non-cyrillic is also often used as a discussion of ethnic affiliation, during the last centuries cyrillic was often forbidden by rulers (as in Austro-hungarian time, later in the kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, then in WW2 by the Ustasas again). Keeping that in mind it's understandable that there is an anxiety to preserve the cyrillic. In these days there are forces that do a lot of persuading to turn people to latinic writing, as latinic is seen as modern, practical and EU-friendly. Those forces like to see cyrillic devotees as stubborn and closed minded.
A bit of annoying discussion, the smart thing is to keep both, latinic when it's more practical, cyrillic when identity is in foreground.
Here a discussion between two linguists about this theme.
Here a great site where you can learn and exercise the "azbuka" and download cyrillic fonts: