Glagolitic alphabet

From Academic Kids

Missing image
Tablet inscribed with the Glagolitic alphabet

The Glagolitic alphabet or Glagolitsa is the oldest known Slavonic alphabet. It was created by Saint Cyril around 862-863 in order to translate the Bible and other texts into the Slavonic language (more exactly, Old Church Slavonic).

The name comes from the Old Church Slavonic glagolu, meaning word (which was also the name for the letter "G"). Since glagolati also means to speak, the Glagolitsa are poetically referred to as "the marks that speak".

The Glagolitic alphabet has around 40 letters, depending on variant. 24 of the original (Great Moravian, see below) 38 Glagolitic letters are probably derived from graphemes of the medieval cursive Greek small alphabet, and they have been given an ornamental design. It is presumed that the letters Sha, Shta and Tsi were derived from the Hebrew alphabet (Shin and Tsadi) - the phonemes that these letters represent did not exist in Greek but do exist in Hebrew and are quite common for all Slavic languages. The remaining original characters are of unknown origin. Some of them are presumed to stem from the Hebrew and Samaritan scripts, which Cyril got to know during his journey to the Khazars in Cherson.

Another theory asserts that the Glagolitic alphabet was based on ancient Slavic runes (chrti i rezi, i.e., lines and notches), which like the Germanic runes were only used in sacred texts of the pre-Christian Slavic religion.



Template:Alphabet Rastislav, the Prince (King) of Great Moravia, wanted to weaken the dependence of this Slavonic empire on East Frankish priests, so in 862 he had the Byzantine emperor send two Slavonic missionaries, Saints Cyril and Methodius, to Great Moravia. Cyril created a new alphabet for that purpose - the Glagolitic. The alphabet was then used in Great Moravia between 863 (when Cyril and Methodius arrived there) and 885 for government and religious documents and books, and at the Great Moravian Academy (Veľkomoravsk učilište) founded by Cyril, where followers of Cyril and Methodius were educated (also by Methodius himself).

In 886, an East Frankish bishop of Nitra named Wiching banned the script and jailed 200 followers of Methodius (mostly of the students of the original academy). They were then dispersed or, according to some sources, sold as slaves. Three of them, however, reached Bulgaria and were commissioned by Boris I of Bulgaria to teach and instruct the future clergy of the state into the Slavonic language. After the adoption of Christianity in Bulgaria in 865, religious ceremonies were conducted in Greek by clergy sent from the Byzantine Empire. Fearing growing Byzantine influence and weakening of the state, Boris viewed Old Slavonic as a way to preserve the independence of Bulgaria. As a result of Boris's measures, two academies in Ohrid and Preslav were founded.

From there, the students traveled to various other places and spread the use of their alphabet. Some went to Croatia and Dalmatia where the squared variant arose and where the Glagolitic remained in use for a long time. In 1248, Pope Innocent IV gave the Croats the unique privilege of using their own language and this script in liturgy. Formally given to bishop Philip of Senj, the permission actually extended to all Croatian lands using the Glagolitic liturgy, mostly along the Adriatic coast. The Vatican had several Glagolitic missals published in Rome. It was eventually replaced with the Latin alphabet.

Some of the students of the Ohrid academy went to Bohemia where the alphabet was used in the 10th and 11th century, along with other scripts. Glagolitic was also used in Russia, although rarely.

At the end of the 9th century, one of these students of Methodius who was settled in Preslav (Bulgaria) created the Cyrillic alphabet, which almost entirely replaced the Glagolitic during the Middle Ages. The Cyrillic alphabet is derived from the Greek alphabet, with (at least 10) letters peculiar to Slavic languages being derived from the Glagolithic.

Nowadays, Glagolitic is only used for Church Slavonic and, sometimes, vernacular in the service-books of the Catholic Eparchy of Križevci in Croatia.


The tradition that the alphabet was designed by Saint Cyril and Saint Methodius has not been universally accepted. A less common belief was that the Glagolitic was created by St. Jerome, hence the alphabet is sometimes named Hieronymian. It is also acrophonically called azbuki from the names of its first two letters, on the same model as 'alpha' + 'beta'. (See azbuka for the Cyrillic alphabet). The Slavs of Great Moravia (present-day Slovakia and Moravia), Hungary, Slovenia and Slavonia were called Slověne at that time, which gives rise to the name Slovenish for the alphabet. Some other, more rare, names for this alphabet are Bukvitsa and Illyrian.

The name "Glagolitic" is in Czech hlaholice, in Slovak hlaholika, in Polish głagolica, in Russian and Bulgarian глаго́лица (transliterated glagolitsa), in Croatian glagoljica, in Ukrainian глаголиця (transliterated hlaholytsia), in Belarusian глаголіца (transliterated hlaholitsa), in Slovene glagolica, etc.


The alphabet has two variants: round and square. The round variant is dominated by circles and smooth curves, and the square variant features a lot of right angles, and sometimes trapezoids. See an image of both variants (incomplete) ( Or for more details ( The square variant lends itself to a more abundant use of ligatures than in the Latin or the Cyrillic script.

The following table lists each letter in order, giving a picture (round variant), its name, its approximate sound in IPA, the presumed origin (if applicable), and the corresponding modern Cyrillic letter. The names Jer to Jus are sometimes written Yer to Yus. There are several letters that have no modern counterpart, such as the nasal vowels Jus.

Picture Unicode character Name Sound Presumed origin descendant in modern Cyrillic
Az Az The sign of the cross, or Hebrew Alef א (А а) A
Buki Buki Unknown; Samaritan /m/ is the same letter mirrored (Б б) Be
Vedi Vedi Probably from Latin V (В в) Ve
Missing image

Glagol (Γ γ) Greek Gamma (Г г) Ghe
Dobro Dobro (Δ δ) Greek Delta (compare /v/ as /d/ turned upside down) (Д д) De
Missing image

Jest Probably Samaritan /he/ or Greek number sampi (900) (Е е) E
Missing image

Zhivete <td> (Ж ж) Zhe
Missing image

Dzelo <td> (Ѕ ѕ) Macedonian Dze
Missing image

Zemlja (Θ θ) Variant of Greek Theta (З з) Ze
Missing image

Ⰺ, Ⰹ Izhe (Ι ι) Greek Iota with dieresis (И и) I
I I Source unknown, probably combination of Christian symbols circle and triangle (І і) Belarusian/Ukrainian I
Dzherv Dzherv Source unknown (Ћ ћ) Serbian Tshe or (Ђ ђ) Serbian erv
Missing image

Kako From Hebrew Qof ק (К #1082;) Ka
Ljudi Ljudi (Λ λ) Greek Lambda (Л л) El
Mislete Mislete (Μ μ) Greek Mu (М м) Em
Nash Nash Source unknown (Н н) En
Missing image

On Source unknown (О о) O
Pokoj Pokoj (Π π) Greek Pi (П п) Pe
Rtsi Rtsi (Ρ ρ) Greek Rho (Р р) Er
Missing image

Slovo Source unknown, probably combination of Christian symbols cirkle and triangle (С с) Es
Tverdo Tverdo (Τ τ) Greek Tau (Т т) Te
Uk Uk Ligature of on and ižica (У у) U
Fert Fert (Φ φ) Greek Phi (Ф ф) Ef
Kher Kher Unknown, compare /g/ and Latin h (Х х) Ha
Oht Oht Ligature of on and its mirrored image (Ѿ ѿ) Ot (only used to transcribe Greek)
Missing image

Tsi (צ ץ) Hebrew Tsade צ (Ц ц) Tse
Cherv Cherv <td> (Ч ч) Che
Sha Sha (ש) Hebrew Shin ש (Ш ш) Sha
Missing image

Shta Ligature of Sha on top of Tverdo (Щ щ) Shcha
Jer Jer <td> (Ъ ъ) hard sign
Jery ⰟⰉ Jery <td> (Ы ы) Yery
Jerj Jerj <td> (Ь ь) soft sign
Missing image

Jat Maybe from epigraphic Greek Alpha Α (Ѣ ѣ) Yat (removed from Russian in 1917, from Bulgarian in 1945)
Missing image

Jo <td> (Ѥ ѥ) E iotified (obsolete)
Ju Ju <td> (Ю ю) Yu
Jus Malij Jus Malij (Ѧ ѧ) Yus Small (obsolete)
Missing image
Jus Malij Jotirovannij

Jus Malij Jotirovannij Ligature of Jest and nasality (Ѩ ѩ) Yus Small Iotified (obsolete)
Missing image
Jus Bolshoj

Jus Bolshoj Ligature of On and nasality (Ѫ ѫ) Yus Big (obsolete)
Jus Bolshoj Jotirovannij Jus Bolshoj Jotirovannij <td> (Ѭ ѭ) Yus Big Iotified (obsolete)
Thita Thita (Θ θ) Greek Theta (Ѳ ѳ) Fita (only used to transcribe Greek)
Missing image

Izhitsa Ligature of Izhe and Jer (Ѵ ѵ) Izhitsa (removed from Russian in 1917)

Note that Jery is simply a digraph of Jer and I. The order of Izhe and I varies from source to source, as does the order of the various forms of Jus.


The Glagolitic alphabet was added to Unicode in version 4.1. The codepoint range is U+2C00 – U+2C5E. See also:

In Western culture

In Western Europe, Glagolitic is one of the least known Eastern European alphabets. It also has a particularly exotic appearance to Western eyes, as (unlike Cyrillic or Greek) none of the letters bear any resemblance to Roman letters. It may be for this reason that Glagolitic was selected as the script used by an extraterrestrial species in the 3-D IMAX movie, Alien Adventure. Not only did the aliens write in Glagolitic, but their leader was called "Cyrillus"! (However the alien language was unrelated to Slavonic, as in fact they spoke the Walloon language, a rare dialect from the production company's homeland, Belgium).

See also

External link

be:Глаголіца de:Glagoliza fr:Alphabet glagolitique nl:Glagolitisch alfabet no:Glagolittiske alfabet pl:Głagolica ru:Глаголица sk:Hlaholika sl:Glagolica sr:Глагољица zh:格拉哥里字母


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