Have you wanted to learn Serbian, but did not know where to start because the alphabet is different? The standard script of the Serbian alphabet in Serbia is Cyrillic, and though it may seem intimidating at first, if you know the Latin alphabet, you can quickly learn to decipher the Cyrillic Serbian alphabet with a little help and practice.
In fact, the Cyrillic script used as the Serbian alphabet was developed to be read as we speak.
Here’s a little background on how Cyrillic developed:
The Serbian linguist Vuk Karadžić developed the modern Cyrillic Serbian alphabet in the early 19th century, with his approach being:
“write as you speak and read as it is written”
Пиши као што говориш и читај како је написано.
Piši kao što govoriš i čitaj kako je napisano.
All of the symbols in the Cyrillic alphabet have corresponding values in the Latin alphabet, which makes it easier to identify the sounds of each of the Cyrillic letters when learning the alphabet. Though the official script in Serbia is Cyrillic, the Latin alphabet is also commonly used in Serbia.
A Bit of History
The Serbian language has quite a rich political history, especially during the last century.
The original Serbian alphabet was the Glagolitic alphabet, used to write Serbian from the 11th century. Until the mid-19th century, there was no standard written form of the language, though there was a lot of Serbian literature, but the written language was not streamlined. The language of Serbo-Croatian was declared a single language with the Vienna Literary Agreement in 1850, when a group of Serbian and Croatian linguists and scholars created a standardized form of the Serbian alphabet, using Vuk Karadžić’s method. The Serbian part is the Cyrillic Serbian alphabet, and the Croatian part is the Latin alphabet, called latinica.
Serbian became the official language of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, and the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, between 1918 and 1991.
During World War I, Serbian Cyrillic was completely banned from public use in the Kingdom of Croatia-Slovenia, and an imperial order in October of 1915 banned the use of Serbian Cyrillic in Bosnia and Herzegovina, with the exception that the Serbian alphabet could be used by Serbian Orthodox Church authorities.
During World War II,the Grand Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini of Jerusalem, who was named the chief orchestrator of the Nazi German offensive in Bosnia, had Serbian Cyrillic outlawed, and the Orthodox Serbs were forced to wear blue patches.
With the collapse of Yugoslavia in the 1991, Serbo-Croatian was divided into the different existing dialects, and different names for the languages of each new country of the former Yugoslavia emerged. For instance, Croatians speak Croatian, Bosnians speak Bosnian, and so on. Serbian is therefore closely related to Croatian, Montenegrin, and Bosnian and Herzogovina.
If you know Serbian, you can pretty much pick up the dialects of the languages that emerged out of the countries that became independent from former Yugoslavia. Though Cyrillic is no longer used officially in Croatia, Serbian Cyrillic remained the official script in Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Serbian is the only Slavic language to use both the Cyrillic and Latin alphabets.
Once you get the hang of the Cyrillic Serbian alphabet, you can challenge yourself to get more advanced with Serbian.
The Serbian Alphabet Broken Down
The Cyrillic alphabet has 30 letters in it, and it is based on the one sound, one letter system: one letter represents one sound, with very few exceptions. Once you learn the sound for each letter, you can start to learn to pronounce words quite easily.
Here are the letters of the Serbian alphabet in Cyrillic and Latin:
Cyrillic: А Б В Г Д Ђ Е Ж З И Ј К Л Љ М Н Њ О П Р С Т Ћ У Ф Х Ц Ч Џ Ш
Latin: A B C Č Ć D Dž Đ E F G H I J K L Lj M N Nj O P R S Š T U V Z Ž
Four Principles to Make Serbian Easy!
Though learning the alphabet can be tricky at first, following these four guiding principles can make it easier to learn the Serbian alphabet.
Serbian Alphabet Guiding Principles:
- Friendly Letters
Some letters in the Cyrillic Serbian alphabet are exactly the same as their corresponding letters in the Latin alphabet, both in the way they look and the way they sound. These letters are commonly referred to as “friendly letters,” and are the letters K, M, T, O, A, E, and J.
- False Friends
Then there is the set of letters referred to as “false friends.” These Cyrillic letters look exactly like letters in the Latin alphabet, but they actually represent different letters.
Cyrillic letter: B P C X Y
Latin counterpart: V R S H U
- Core Cyrillic Letters
These letters are used in Serbian, but they are also used in other Cyrillic languages.
Cyrillic letter: Б Г Д 3 Л П Ф И H Ж Ч Ш ц
Latin counterpart: B G D Z L P F I N ž č Š C
The Cyrillic alphabet has been adapted to write more than 50 different languages, mainly in Russia, Central Asia and Eastern Europe. Though there is a core Cyrillic alphabet, additional letters are often used, some of which are adaptations of standard Cyrillic letters, while others are taken from the Greek or Latin alphabets. Becoming familiar with the Cyrillic alphabet may make it easier to learn and understand other languages that use the alphabet, and create the groundwork for learning yet another language, such as Russian.
4. Serbian Cyrillic Letters
There are five Cyrillic letters that are unique to Serbian:
Cyrillic letter: Џ Ђ Ћ Љ Њ
Latin counterpart: Dž Đ Ć LJ NJ
How Do I Pronounce That?
The pronunciation for the different letters of the Cyrillic Serbian alphabet take some getting used to, and identifying different accents on letters is key.
For instance, the letter “C” is pronounced in three different ways. The “C” alone is pronounced “TS,” the letter “Č” is pronounced like we would pronounce “CH” in Chocolate, and “Ć” is similar to the pronunciation of the word “too” in English, or “TU” in “tune.”
There are also two letter “S” in the Cyrillic Serbian alphabet. “S” is pronounced like the “S” in “Sun,” and “Š” is pronounced like the “SH” in “shoe.”
Once you have mastered the Serbian alphabet, build your vocabulary in Serbian by applying learning and memorization methods.
Though the Cyrillic Serbian alphabet may take some time to master, aspects of the grammar of the Serbian language are easier to learn than other languages. For instance, verb tenses in Serbian are simpler than they are in English. In Serbian, there is no difference between the way one says “I go” and “I am going” – one simply says “Ja idem” to express either sentiment. The rule is similarly basic for past tense verbs. There is no difference between the way one says “I went” or “I used to go” in Serbian.
There are no articles for nouns in Serbian, but the differences between “a car” and “the car” are understood from the context of the phrase.