Reading/Writing

Why does Cyrillic look the way it does?

Have you ever wondered why Russian’s Cyrillic letters look the way they do?

The earliest form of Cyrillic was based on the Greek uncial script and the Glagolitic alphabet. The Glagolitic alphabet was created by the monks St. Cyril and St. Methodius in the 9th century. Many people believe that Cyril and Methodius created Cyrillic, but this isn’t true. It is simply named after them. Cyrillic was probably created by students of Cyril in Preslav in the First Bulgarian Empire. The early Cyrillic alphabet was used to write the Old Church Slavonic language.

But why mix the alphabets? Why not just use one or the other?

Greek uncial script
The Greek uncial script didn’t contain all of the letters needed to write sounds that were in Old Church Slavonic.
Glagolitic alphabet
The Glagolitic alphabet is just…I mean seriously. Who wants to write in this?!

The Greek uncial script didn’t contain all of the letters the Slavs needed to write their language (Old Church Slavonic). The Glagolitic alphabet was created for writing Old Church Slavonic, but a simpler alternative was needed. So mix Greek and Glagolitic and you get Cyrillic!

Church Slavonic
Church Slavonic bible in Early Cyrillic

The modern Russian alphabet has evolved and is much simpler today than it was five hundred years ago.

Russian alphabet
Modern Russian letters with their Greek or Glagolitic ancestors in black ๐Ÿ™‚

The modern <ะต ั‘ ั> derive from Greek <E>.

The modern <ัƒ> derives from the Early Cyrillic digraph <ะพัƒ> and its vertical counterpart <๊™‹>. This explains why modern <ัŽ> looks the way it does. It was most likely a formation of <ฤฑ>+<ะพัƒ> with the added <ัƒ> being dropped.

The modern hard sign <ัŠ> and soft sign <ัŒ> are also probably derived from Greek beta <B>.

The modern letter <ั‹> is a simplification of <ัŠฤฑ>.

The modern letter <ั> is a modern variant of the Early Cyrillic letter <ัง>.

That’s all for now! I will write a post in the future with some information on the transformation of Early Cyrillic into modern Cyrillic, explaining things such as the loss of the yat ๐Ÿ™‚

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