Quick Facts
on Origins of Cyrillic Alphabet


The Cyrillic alphabet is younger than all known graphic writing systems. This alphabet is one of the two early Slavic alphabets (the other one is Glagolitic). The Glagolitic alphabet was created in the 9th century by brothers Saint Cyril and Saint Methodius, Greek missionaries. It is said that their disciple, Saint Climent of Ohrid, created the early Cyrillic alphabet in the 10th century and named it for Saint Cyril.

Modern Belarusian, Bulgarian, Macedonian, Russian, Serbian, and Ukrainian languages have been formed on the basis of the Cyrillic alphabet. In the 1920s – 1930s, many nations of the former Soviet Union (including non-Slavic ones) accepted this alphabet with modifications to reflect the specificity of their native languages. The Cyrillic alphabet has been used to write about 60 languages, both Slavic and non-Slavic. Today, the Cyrillic alphabet is officially used in eight Slavic European countries (Belarus, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, Russia, and Ukraine) and in some non-Slavic countries (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Tajikistan).

The early Cyrillic alphabet was Greek-like, that is letters of the Greek alphabet served as prototypes for early Cyrillic letters. In addition, new letters were created for Slavic sounds that had no equivalents in Greek.

The early Cyrillic alphabet was composed of 24 upper-case Greek letters (А, В, Г, Д, Є, Z, Н, І, К, Л, М, N, О, П, Р, С, Т, Ф, Х, Ω, Ψ, Θ, Ξ, V) and special new letters created for unique Slavic sounds. In opinion of scholars, the new letters were adopted from Glagolitic, which had symbols for those sounds. (The exact composition of the early Cyrillic alphabet is not known).

Each Cyrillic letter had its own name. For example, азъ - “я” (“I”), боукы - “буквы” (“letters”), веди - “знаю” (“know”), etc. Names helped to remember the letters quicker. Cyrillic letters also had numeric values that corresponded to values of identical letters of the Greek alphabet: А - 1, В - 2, Г - 3, etc.

An inscription made in 931 in a cave monastery near the village of Krepcha, Bulgaria, is the earliest dated Cyrillic artifact known today. The earliest known parchment Cyrillic manuscripts are Sava’s Book dated between the end of 10th century and the beginning of 11th century, Codex Suprasliensis dated 11th century (both survived and were found on territories that belonged to Kievan Rus, the first eastern Slavic state) and Enina Apostle dated 11th century that was found in Bulgaria. The oldest known exactly dated Cyrillic book is the Ostromir Gospels of 1056-57.

In 10th – 12th centuries the Cyrillic alphabet was used side-by-side to the Glagolitic alphabet but replaced the latter gradually. Over the years, Cyrillic changed many times. The form and quantity of letters in the Cyrillic alphabet changed along with changes in Slavic languages. The only language that has preserved the initial Cyrillic alphabet is Old Church Slavic, the language of religious worship in Russia and other countries of Eastern Europe.

Glagolitic letter Cyrillic letter Sound Name Meaning Number
Glagolitic_alphabetCyrillic_alphabet[a]Аз
Az
I1
Glagolitic_alphabetCyrillic_alphabet[b]Буки
Buky
Letters---
Glagolitic_alphabetCyrillic_alphabet[v]Веди
Vedi
Know2
Glagolitic_alphabetCyrillic_alphabet[g]Глаголи
Glagoli
Speech, verb3
Glagolitic_alphabetCyrillic_alphabet[d]Добро
Dobro
Kindness, good4
Glagolitic_alphabetCyrillic_alphabet[e]Есть
Jest'
Is5
Glagolitic_alphabet[zh]Живите
Zhivite
Live---
Glagolitic_alphabetCyrillic_alphabet[dz]Зело
Dzelo
Very6
Glagolitic_alphabetCyrillic_alphabet[z]Земля
Zemlja
Earth7
Glagolitic_alphabetCyrillic_alphabet[i]Ижи
Izhi
And8
Glagolitic_alphabetGlagolitic_alphabetCyrillic_alphabet[i]Иже
Izhe
Therefore, as, since10
Glagolitic_alphabetCyrillic_alphabet---Герьвь
Djerv'
------
Glagolitic_alphabetCyrillic_alphabet[k]Како
Kako
How20
Glagolitic_alphabetCyrillic_alphabet[l]Люди
Ljudi
People30
Glagolitic_alphabetCyrillic_alphabet[m]Мыслите
Myslite
Think40
Glagolitic_alphabetCyrillic_alphabet[n]Наш
Nash
Ours50
Glagolitic_alphabetCyrillic_alphabet[o]Он
On
He, that70
Glagolitic_alphabetCyrillic_alphabet[p]Покой
Pokoj
Calmness80
Glagolitic_alphabetCyrillic_alphabet[r]Реки
Rtsi
Speak100
Glagolitic_alphabetCyrillic_alphabet[s]Слово
Slovo
Word200
Glagolitic_alphabetCyrillic_alphabet[t]Твердо
Tverdo
Solid, hard300
Glagolitic_alphabetCyrillic_alphabet[u]Ук
Uk
---400
Glagolitic_alphabetCyrillic_alphabet[f]Ферт
Fert
---500
Glagolitic_alphabet[kh]Хер
Kher
---600
Glagolitic_alphabetCyrillic_alphabet[o:]От (Омега)
Oht (Omega)
---800
Glagolitic_alphabetCyrillic_alphabet[ts]Цы
Tsi
---900
Glagolitic_alphabetCyrillic_alphabet[ch]Червь
Cherv
Worm90
Glagolitic_alphabetCyrillic_alphabet[sh]Ша
Sha
------
Glagolitic_alphabetCyrillic_alphabet[sht]Шта
Shta
------
Glagolitic_alphabetCyrillic_alphabet[u:]Ер
Yer
------
Glagolitic_alphabetCyrillic_alphabet[y]Еры
Yery
------
Glagolitic_alphabetCyrillic_alphabet[i:]Ерь
Yerj'
------
Glagolitic_alphabetCyrillic_alphabet[æ]Ять
Yat'
------
Glagolitic_alphabetCyrillic_alphabet[jy]Ю
Yu
------
---Cyrillic_alphabet[ja]А йотированное
A iotated
------
Glagolitic_alphabetCyrillic_alphabet[je]Е йотированное
E iotated
------
Glagolitic_alphabetCyrillic_alphabet[ę]Юс малый
Yus small
------
Glagolitic_alphabetCyrillic_alphabet[ję]Юс малый йотированный
Yus small iotated
------
Glagolitic_alphabetCyrillic_alphabet[ǫ]Юс большой
Yus big
------
Glagolitic_alphabetCyrillic_alphabet[jǫ]Юс большой йотированный
Yus big iotated
------
---Cyrillic_alphabet[ks]Кси
Ksi
---60
---Cyrillic_alphabet[ps]Пси
Psi
---70
Glagolitic_alphabetCyrillic_alphabet[t]/[θ]/[f]Фита
Fita
---9
Glagolitic_alphabetCyrillic_alphabet[i], [v]Ижица
Izhitsa
------


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Website owner: Irina Lychak, self-employed freelance linguist, Russian translator, Ukrainian translator, Kiev (Kyiv), Ukraine

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