AskDefine | Define Cyrillic

Dictionary Definition

Cyrillic adj : relating to or written in the alphabet used for writing Slavic languages; "Cyrillic writing" n : an alphabet drived from the Greek alphabet and used for writing Slavic languages [syn: Cyrillic alphabet]

User Contributed Dictionary



Named after Saint Cyril, who devised a predecessor to Cyrillic script, the Glagolitic alphabet.


  • /səˈrɪ.lɪk/

Proper noun

  1. An alphabet devised for writing the Old Church Slavonic liturgical language, and its adaptations used for several Slavic and other languages of Eastern Europe and Asia.


A script or alphabet


  1. Of or pertaining to Cyrillic script or the Cyrillic alphabet.


Of or pertaining to Cyrillic
  • Ukrainian: кириличний

Extensive Definition

The Cyrillic alphabet (; also called azbuka, from the old name of the first two letters) is actually a family of alphabets, subsets of which are used by six Slavic national languages (Belarusian, Bulgarian, Macedonian, Russian, Serbian and Ukrainian) as well as non-Slavic (Kazakh, Uzbek, Kyrgyz and Tajik of the former Soviet Union, and Mongolian). It is also used by many other languages of Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, Siberia and other languages in the past. Not all letters in the Cyrillic alphabet are used in every language that is written with it.
The alphabet has official status with many organisations. With the accession of Bulgaria to the European Union on 1 January 2007, Cyrillic became the third official alphabet of the EU.


The layout of the early Cyrillic alphabet shares a common root with the ninth-century Glagolitic alphabet, which was based on the Greek uncial script and the Latin alphabet. The original mother letter-forms are closely related to uncial (ustav) cursive Greek. Saints Cyril and Methodius, Byzantine Greeks from Thessaloniki, are usually credited with the Glagolithic alphabet's development.
Although it is widely accepted that the Glagolitic alphabet was invented by Saints Cyril and Methodius, the origins of the early Cyrillic alphabet are still a source of much controversy. It has been attributed to Saint Clement of Ohrid, disciple of Saint Cyril and Saint Methodius. Recent studies have suggested that the Cyrillic alphabet was more likely developed at the Preslav Literary School in northeastern Bulgaria.
Among the reasons for the replacement of the Glagolitic with the Cyrillic alphabet is the greater simplicity and ease of use of the latter and its closeness with the Bulgar and Greek alphabets, which were widely in use among the population of the Bulgarian Empire.
There are also other theories regarding the origins of the Cyrillic alphabet, namely that the alphabet was created by Saint Cyril and Saint Methodius themselves, or that it preceded the Glagolitic alphabet, representing a "transitional" stage between Greek and Glagolitic cursive, but these have been disproved. Although Cyril is almost certainly not the author of the Cyrillic alphabet, his contributions to the Glagolitic and hence to the Cyrillic alphabet are still recognised, as the latter is named after him.
The alphabet was disseminated along with the Old Church Slavonic liturgical language, and the alphabet used for modern Church Slavonic language in Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic rites still resembles early Cyrillic. However, over the following ten centuries, the Cyrillic alphabet adapted to changes in spoken language, developed regional variations to suit the features of national languages, and was subjected to academic reforms and political decrees. Today, dozens of languages in Eastern Europe and Asia are written in the Cyrillic alphabet.
As the Cyrillic alphabet spread throughout the East and South Slavic territories, it was adopted for writing local languages, such as Old Ruthenian. Its adaptation to the characteristics of local languages led to the development of its many modern variants, below.
Capital and lowercase letters were not distinguished in old manuscripts.
Yeri (Ы) was originally a ligature of Yer and I (ЪІ). Iotation was indicated by ligatures formed with the letter I: ІА (ancestor of modern ya, я), , Ю (ligature of I and ОУ), , . Many letters had variant forms and commonly-used ligatures, for example И=І=Ї, =, ОУ=, =.
The letters also had numeric values, based not on the native Cyrillic alphabetical order, but inherited from the letters' Greek ancestors.
The early Cyrillic alphabet is difficult to represent on computers. Many of the letterforms differed from modern Cyrillic, varied a great deal in manuscripts, and changed over time. Few fonts include adequate glyphs to reproduce the alphabet. The current Unicode standard does not represent some significant letterform variations, and omits some characters, such as Cyrillic dotless I, iotified Yat, abbreviated Yer (Yerok), and many ligatures.
The Unicode 5.1 standard, released on April 4, 2008, greatly improves computer support for the early Cyrillic and the modern Church Slavonic language.

Letter-forms and typography

The development of Cyrillic typography passed directly from the medieval stage to the late Baroque, without a Renaissance phase as in Western Europe. Late Medieval Cyrillic letters (still found on many icon inscriptions even today) show a marked tendency to be very tall and narrow; strokes are often shared between adjacent letters.
Peter the Great, Tsar of Russia, mandated the use of westernized letter forms in the early eighteenth century. Over time, these were largely adopted in the other languages that use the alphabet. Thus, unlike modern Greek fonts that retained their own set of design principles (such as the placement of serifs, the shapes of stroke ends, and stroke-thickness rules), modern Cyrillic fonts are much the same as modern Latin fonts of the same font family. The development of some Cyrillic computer typefaces from Latin ones has also contributed to the visual Latinization of Cyrillic type.
Cyrillic uppercase and lowercase letter-forms are not as differentiated as in Latin typography. Upright Cyrillic lowercase letters are essentially small capitals (with the few exceptions: "а", "е", "p", "y" adopted Western lowercase shapes, lowercase "ф" is typically designed under the influence of "p", lowercase "Б" is "б", one of traditional hand-written forms), although a good-quality Cyrillic typeface will still include separate small caps glyphs.
Cyrillic fonts, as well as Latin ones, have roman and italic variants (practically all popular modern fonts include parallel sets of Latin and Cyrillic letters, where many glyphs, uppercase as well as lowercase, are simply shared by both). However, the native font terminology in Slavic languages (for example, in Russian) does not use the words "roman" and "italic" in this sense. Instead, the nomenclature follows German naming patterns:
  • A roman-style font (Cyrillic, Latin, Greek...) is simply called pryamoy shrift (‘upright font')—compare with Normalschrift (‘regular font') in German
  • An italic font is called kursiv (literally ‘cursive’) or kursivniy shrift (‘cursive font’)—from the German word Kursive, meaning italic typefaces and not actual cursive
  • Cursive handwriting is rukopisniy shrift (‘hand-written font’) in Russian—in German: Kurrentschrift or Laufschrift, both meaning literally ‘running font’
Similarly to the Latin fonts, italic and handwritten shapes of many Cyrillic letters (typically lowercase; uppercase only for hand-written or stylish types) are very different from their upright shapes. In certain cases, the correspondence between uppercase and lowercase glyphs does not coincide in Latin and Cyrillic fonts: for example, handwritten Cyrillic m is a possible lowercase counterpart of T instead of M.
As in Latin typography, a sans-serif face may have a mechanically-sloped oblique font (naklonniy shrift—‘sloped’, or ‘slanted font’) instead of italic.
A boldfaced font is called poluzhirniy shrift (‘semi-bold font’), because there existed fully-boldfaced shapes which are out of use since the beginning of the twentieth century.
A bold italic combination (bold slanted) doesn't exist for all font families.
In Serbian and Macedonian, some italic and cursive letters are different from those used in other languages. These letter shapes are often used in upright fonts as well, especially for advertisements, road signs, inscriptions, posters and the like, less so in newspapers or books. The Cyrillic lowercase B, б, has a slightly different design both in the regular and italic/cursive shape, which is related to the lowercase Greek letter Delta, δ.
The following table shows the differences between the upright and italic/cursive Cyrillic letters as used in Russian. Italic, and especially cursive glyphs that are bound to confuse beginners are highlighted (confusing either because of an entirely different look, or because of being a false friend with an entirely different Latin character).

As used in various languages

Sounds are indicated using the IPA. These are only approximate indicators. While these languages by and large have phonemic orthographies, there are occasional exceptions-for example, Russian его (yego, 'him/his'), which is pronounced [jɪˈvo] instead of [jɪˈgo].
Note that transliterated spellings of names may vary, especially y/j/i, but also gh/g/h and zh/j.

Derived alphabets

The first alphabet partly derived from Cyrillic is Abur, applied to the Komi language. Other writing systems derived from Cyrillic were applied to Caucasian languages and the Molodtsov alphabet for Komi language.

Relationship to other writing systems

Latin alphabets

A number of languages written in the Cyrillic alphabet have also been written in the Latin alphabet, such as Azerbaijani, Uzbek and Moldavian. After the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991, official status shifted from Cyrillic to Latin. The transition is complete in most of Moldova and Azerbaijan, but Uzbekistan still uses both systems.


There are various systems for romanization of Cyrillic text, including transliteration to convey Cyrillic spelling in Latin characters, and transcription to convey pronunciation.
Standard Cyrillic-to-Latin transliteration systems include:


Representing other writing systems with Cyrillic letters is called Cyrillization.

Computer encoding

further Cyrillic characters in Unicode
In Unicode, the Cyrillic and Cyrillic Supplementary blocks extend from U+0400 to U+052F. The characters in the range U+0400 to U+045F are basically the characters from ISO 8859-5 moved upward by 864 positions. The characters in the range U+0460 to U+0489 are historic letters, not used now. The characters in the range U+048A to U+052F are additional letters for various languages that are written with Cyrillic script.
Unicode does not include accented Cyrillic letters, but they can be combined by adding U+0301 ("combining acute accent") after the accented vowel (e.g., ы́ э́ ю́ я́). Some languages, including modern Church Slavonic, are still not fully supported.
Unicode 5.1, released on April 4, 2008, introduces major changes to the Cyrillic blocks. Revisions to the existing Cyrillic blocks, and the addition of Cyrillic Extended A (2DE0...2DFF) and Cyrillic Extended B (A640...A69F), significantly improve support for the early Cyrillic alphabet, Abkhaz, Aleut, Chuvash, Kurdish, and Mordvin.
Punctuation for Cyrillic text is similar to that used in European Latin-alphabet languages.
Other character encoding systems for Cyrillic:
  • CP866 – 8-bit Cyrillic character encoding established by Microsoft for use in MS-DOS also known as GOST-alternative
  • ISO/IEC 8859-5 – 8-bit Cyrillic character encoding established by International Organization for Standardization
  • KOI8-R – 8-bit native Russian character encoding
  • KOI8-U – KOI8-R with addition of Ukrainian letters
  • MIK – 8-bit native Bulgarian character encoding for use in DOS
  • Windows-1251 – 8-bit Cyrillic character encoding established by Microsoft for use in Microsoft Windows. Former standard encoding in some Linux distributions for Belarusian and Bulgarian, but currently displaced by UTF-8.
  • GOST-main
  • GB 2312 - Principally simplified Chinese encodings, but there are also basic 33 Russian Cyrillic letters (in upper- and lower-case).
  • JIS and Shift JIS - Principally Japanese encodings, but there are also basic 33 Russian Cyrillic letters (in upper- and lower-case).

Keyboard layouts

Each language has its own standard keyboard layout, adopted from typewriters. With the flexibility of computer input methods, there are also transliterating or homophonic keyboard layouts made for typists who are more familiar with other layouts, like the common English qwerty keyboard. When practical Cyrillic keyboard layouts or fonts are not available, computer users sometimes use transliteration or look-alike "volapuk" encoding to type languages which are normally written with the Cyrillic alphabet.



  • Bringhurst, Robert (2002). The Elements of Typographic Style (version 2.5), pp. 262–264. Vancouver, Hartley & Marks. ISBN 0-88179-133-4.
  • Nezirović, M. (1992). Jevrejsko-španjolska književnost. Sarajevo: Svjetlost. [cited in Šmid, 2002]
  • Šmid, Katja (2002). "", in Verba Hispanica, vol X. Liubliana: Facultad de Filosofía y Letras de la Universidad de Liubliana. ISSN 0353-9660.

See also

External links

Cyrillic in Afrikaans: Cyrilliese alfabet
Cyrillic in Tosk Albanian: Kyrillisches Alphabet
Cyrillic in Arabic: أبجدية سريلية
Cyrillic in Asturian: Alfabetu cirílicu
Cyrillic in Azerbaijani: Kiril əlifbası
Cyrillic in Belarusian: Кірыліца
Cyrillic in Belarusian (Tarashkevitsa): Кірыліца
Cyrillic in Bosnian: Ćirilica
Cyrillic in Breton: Lizherenneg kirillek
Cyrillic in Bulgarian: Кирилица
Cyrillic in Catalan: Alfabet ciríl·lic
Cyrillic in Chuvash: Кириллица
Cyrillic in Czech: Cyrilice
Cyrillic in Welsh: Gwyddor Gyrilig
Cyrillic in Danish: Kyrilliske alfabet
Cyrillic in German: Kyrillisches Alphabet
Cyrillic in Estonian: Kirillitsa
Cyrillic in Modern Greek (1453-): Κυριλλικό αλφάβητο
Cyrillic in Spanish: Alfabeto cirílico
Cyrillic in Esperanto: Cirila alfabeto
Cyrillic in Basque: Alfabeto ziriliko
Cyrillic in Persian: سیریلیک
Cyrillic in French: Alphabet cyrillique
Cyrillic in Friulian: Alfabet cirilic
Cyrillic in Irish: Aibítir Choireallach
Cyrillic in Scottish Gaelic: Aibidil Cirillach
Cyrillic in Galician: Alfabeto cirílico
Cyrillic in Classical Chinese: 西里爾字母
Cyrillic in Korean: 키릴 문자
Cyrillic in Upper Sorbian: Kyriliski alfabet
Cyrillic in Croatian: Ćirilica
Cyrillic in Ido: Kirila alfabeto
Cyrillic in Indonesian: Aksara Sirilik
Cyrillic in Icelandic: Kýrillískt stafróf
Cyrillic in Italian: Alfabeto cirillico
Cyrillic in Hebrew: אלפבית קירילי
Cyrillic in Georgian: კირილიცა
Cyrillic in Swahili (macrolanguage): Kikyrili
Cyrillic in Haitian: Alfabèt sirilik
Cyrillic in Latin: Abecedarium Cyrillicum
Cyrillic in Latvian: Kirilica
Cyrillic in Lithuanian: Kirilica
Cyrillic in Hungarian: Cirill ábécé
Cyrillic in Macedonian: Кирилица
Cyrillic in Malay (macrolanguage): Huruf Cyril
Cyrillic in Mongolian: Кирилл цагаан толгой
Cyrillic in Dutch: Cyrillisch alfabet
Cyrillic in Japanese: キリル文字
Cyrillic in Norwegian: Det kyrilliske alfabetet
Cyrillic in Norwegian Nynorsk: Det kyrilliske alfabetet
Cyrillic in Narom: A b c Cyrillique
Cyrillic in Uzbek: Kirill Alifbosi
Cyrillic in Low German: Kyrillisch Alphabet
Cyrillic in Polish: Cyrylica
Cyrillic in Portuguese: Alfabeto cirílico
Cyrillic in Romanian: Alfabetul chirilic
Cyrillic in Russian: Кириллица
Cyrillic in Northern Sami: Kyrilalaš alfabehtat
Cyrillic in Albanian: Alfabeti cirilik
Cyrillic in Simple English: Cyrillic alphabet
Cyrillic in Slovak: Cyrilika
Cyrillic in Church Slavic: Словѣ́ньска а́ꙁъбоукꙑ
Cyrillic in Slovenian: Cirilica
Cyrillic in Serbian: Ћирилица
Cyrillic in Serbo-Croatian: Ćirilica
Cyrillic in Finnish: Kyrillinen kirjaimisto
Cyrillic in Swedish: Kyrilliska alfabetet
Cyrillic in Tagalog: Alpabetong Siriliko
Cyrillic in Kabyle: Ssirilik
Cyrillic in Tatar: Kirill älifbası
Cyrillic in Thai: อักษรซีริลลิก
Cyrillic in Tajik: Алифбои кирилликӣ
Cyrillic in Turkish: Kiril Abecesi
Cyrillic in Ukrainian: Кирилиця
Cyrillic in Chinese: 西里尔字母
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