The Cyrillic script is named after Saint Cyril, an early Christian missionary, and is based on the Early Cyrillic alphabet developed at the Preslav Literary School in medieval Bulgaria. Early Cyrillic was based on a combination of Greek and Glagolitic scripts.
It was adopted by most Slavic-speaking areas by the 13th century, with the exceptions of Poland and Bohemia due to their proximity to the Latin-based learning of Western Europe. The efforts of rulers like Yaroslav the Wise brought about a literacy rate much higher than that of the West at the time.
By the 17th century, Cyrillic letter forms were becoming increasingly standardized, especially in Russia. Orthodox clergy had used ligatures, shorthand and various nonstandard forms of letters for centuries, but in civil usage these had disappeared. However, the shapes of letters still varied from person to person until Peter the Great's attempts to Westernize what was now the Russian Empire. The Petrine Reforms included standardization of letter shapes, chosen by Peter himself. These tended to more closely resemble Latin letters, although often they would have different sounds.
The Russian alphabet had been entirely standardized by about 1830. Since the times of Peter the Great, several Greek-style letters had fallen out of use. A revival of Russian literature in the beginning of the 19th century, along with increased industrialization and printing, had led to what is effectively the modern Cyrillic script. Around the same time period, Croatia and Romania switched away from the Cyrillic script in favor of Latin. In Croatia, this was thanks to Gaj developing his Latin script. In Romania, this was due to increased nationalism and Romanian's status as a Romance language.
In Russia, the 1917 Revolution brought about the end of Imperial administration and led to the 1922 spelling reform. This reform, initiated by the Communists, removed several redundant letters from the alphabet and changed certain spelling rules. This change established the modern Russian alphabet.
VariantsEditThe most common version of Cyrillic is the Russian alphabet. However, regional variants exist for every Slavic language. East Slavic countries typically have similar handwriting and alphabet styles. However, the Ukrainian alphabet has letters such as І, Ї, Ґ and Є that Russian does not have. An apostrophe is typically used in Ukrainian where a hard sign (Ъ) would be used in Russian to indicate a non-palatized (hard) consonant.
The Cyrillic alphabet, though designed for Slavic languages, has often been applied to non-Slavic languages. Most often, these would be Turkic languages on the territory of the Russian Federation or the USSR. Languages such as Tatar, Kazakh, Chuvash, Chechen, Mongolian and others have adopted a modified Cyrillic alphabet. Russian explorers in Alaska also devised Cyrillic variants for use by local Inuit and Aleut tribes, who had never previously used writing.
The Russian alphabet is the most common of the Cyrillic alphabets. The uppercase ь and ъ are only used in all-caps writing, as no word can begin with them.
The italic forms of letters are sometimes quite different from their normal forms. There is also some variation from East Slavic to South Slavic in certain letters.