Russian-Cyrillic alphabet

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The Cyrillic script (pronounced /sɨˈrɪlɪk/, Bulgarian and Macedonian: Кирилица [ˈkɨrɪlɪt͡sɐ],Russian: Кири́ллица [kʲɪˈrʲilʲɪʦə], Serbian: Ћирилица) is an alphabet developed in Thessalonikipart of the Byzantine Empire in the 9th century by missionary brothers Cyril and Method , and used in the Slavic national languages of Belarusian, Bosnian, Bulgarian, Russian, Rusyn,Macedonian, Montenegrin, Serbian, and Ukrainian, and in the non-Slavic languages of Abkhaz,Bashkir, Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Moldovan, Mongolian, Ossetic, Tajik, Tatar, and Tuvan. It also was used in past languages of Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, and Siberia.

The Cyrillic alphabet is also known as azbuka, derived from the old names of the first two letters of most variant Cyrillic alphabets. With the accession of Bulgaria to the European Union on 1 January 2007, Cyrillic became the third official alphabet of the European Union, following theLatin and Greek alphabets.

Cyrillic is one of the two alphabets (together with Glagolitic) used in the Church Slavoniclanguage, especially the Old Church Slavonic variant (see Early Cyrillic alphabet). Hence, expressions such as "И is the tenth letter of the Cyrillic alphabet" typically denote that meaning; moreover, not every Cyrillic-based language uses every letter of the alphabet.


Since the alphabet was conceived and popularised by the followers of Cyril and Methodius, rather than by Cyril and Methodius themselves, its name does not denote authorship, but rather homage. The name "Cyrillic" often confuses people who are not familiar with the alphabet's history, because it does not identify a country of origin (contrast with "Greek alphabet"). Some mistakenly call it "Russian alphabet" because Russia is the most populous and influential user of the alphabet. Some Bulgarian intellectuals, notably Stefan Tsanev, have expressed concern over this, and have suggested that the Cyrillic alphabet be called "Bulgarian alphabet" instead, for the sake of factual accuracy.


A page from Azbuka, the first Russiantextbook, printed by Ivan Fyodorov in 1574. This page features the Cyrillic alphabet.

The Cyrillic alphabet is derived from the Greek uncial script, augmented by ligatures and consonants from the older Glagolitic alphabet for sounds not found in Greek. Tradition holds that Cyrillic and Glagolitic were formalized either by the two Greek brothers born in Thessaloniki,Saints Cyril and Methodius who brought Christianity to the southern Slavs, or by their disciples.[4]. Paul Cubberly posits that while Cyril may have codified and expanded Glagolitic, it was his students at the Preslav Literary School in the First Bulgarian Empire that developed Cyrillic from Greek in the 890s as a more suitable script for church books. Later the alphabet spread among other Slavic peoples - Russians, Serbs and others, as well as among non-SlavicVlachs and Moldavians.

The Cyrillic alphabet came to dominate over Glagolitic in the 12th century. The literature produced in the Old Bulgarian language soon began spreading north and became the lingua franca of Eastern Europe where it came to also be known as Old Church Slavonic.[7] The alphabet used for the modern Church Slavonic language in Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic rites still resembles early Cyrillic. However, over the following ten centuries, the Cyrillic alphabet adapted to changes in spoken language, developed regional variations to suit the features of national languages, and was subjected to academic reforms and political decrees. Today, dozens of languages in Eastern Europe and Asia are written in the Cyrillic alphabet.

As the Cyrillic alphabet spread throughout the East and South Slavic territories, it was adopted for writing local languages, such as Old Russian. Its adaptation to the characteristics of local languages led to the development of its many modern variants, below.

The early Cyrillic alphabet

Capital and lowercase letters were not distinguished in old manuscripts.

A page from the Church Slavonic Grammar of Meletius Smotrytsky (1619).

Yeri (Ы) was originally a ligature of Yer and I (Ꙑ). Iotation was indicated by ligatures formed with the letter I:  (ancestor of modern ya, я), Ѥ, Ю (ligature of I and ОУ), Ѩ, Ѭ. Many letters had variant forms and commonly used ligatures, for example И=І=Ї, Ѡ=Ѻ, Оу ⁄ ОУ=Ѹ, ѠТ=Ѿ.

The letters also had numeric values, based not on the native Cyrillic alphabetical order, but inherited from the letters' Greek ancestors.

Cyrillic numerals
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
10 20 30 40 50 60 70 80 90
100 200 300 400 500 600 700 800 900

The early Cyrillic alphabet is difficult to represent on computers. Many of the letterforms differed from modern Cyrillic, varied a great deal in manuscripts, and changed over time. Few fonts include adequate glyphs to reproduce the alphabet. In accordance with Unicode policy, the standard does not include letterform variations or ligatures found in manuscript sources unless they can be shown to conform to the Unicode definition of a character.

The Unicode 5.1 standard, released on 4 April 2008, greatly improves computer support for the early Cyrillic and the modern Church Slavonic language.

Letterforms and typography

The development of Cyrillic typography passed directly from the medieval stage to the late Baroque, without a Renaissance phase as inWestern Europe. Late Medieval Cyrillic letters (still found on many icon inscriptions even today) show a marked tendency to be very tall and narrow; strokes are often shared between adjacent letters.

Peter the Great, Tsar of Russia, mandated the use of westernized letter forms in the early eighteenth century. Over time, these were largely adopted in the other languages that use the alphabet. Thus, unlike the majority of modern Greek fonts that retained their own set of design principles for their lower case letters (such as the placement of serifs, the shapes of stroke ends, and stroke-thickness rules, although Greek capital letters do use Latin design principles), modern Cyrillic fonts are much the same as modern Latin fonts of the same font family. The development of some Cyrillic computer typefaces from Latin ones has also contributed to the visual Latinization of Cyrillic type.

Cyrillic uppercase and lowercase letterforms are not as differentiated as in Latin typography. Upright Cyrillic lowercase letters are essentiallysmall capitals (with exceptions: Cyrillic а, е, p, and y adopted Western lowercase shapes, lowercase ф is typically designed under the influence of Latin p, lowercase б is a traditional handwritten form), although a good-quality Cyrillic typeface will still include separate small-caps glyphs.

Comparison of some upright and hand-written letters (Ge, De, I, I kratkoye, Em, Te and Tse. Top row is set in Georgia font, bottom in Kisty CY)

Cyrillic fonts, as well as Latin ones, have roman and italic type (practically all popular modern fonts include parallel sets of Latin and Cyrillic letters, where many glyphs, uppercase as well as lowercase, are simply shared by both). However, the native font terminology in Slavic languages (for example, in Russian) does not use the words "roman" and "italic" in this sense. Instead, the nomenclature follows German naming patterns:

  • A roman type is called pryamoy shrift ("upright type")—compare with Normalschrift("regular type") in German
  • An italic type is called kursiv ("cursive") or kursivniy shrift ("cursive type")—from the German word Kursive, meaning italic typefaces and not cursive writing
  • Cursive handwriting is rukopisniy shrift ("hand-written type") in Russian—in German: Kurrentschrift or Laufschrift, both meaning literally ‘running type’

Similarly to Latin fonts, italic and cursive types of many Cyrillic letters (typically lowercase; uppercase only for hand-written or stylish types) are very different from their upright roman types. In certain cases, the correspondence between uppercase and lowercase glyphs does not coincide in Latin and Cyrillic fonts: for example, italic Cyrillic m is the lowercase counterpart of T rather than M.

The standard Cyrillic letters compared to the ones used in Serbian and Macedonian, in regular shape and italic/cursive

As in Latin typography, a sans-serif face may have a mechanically sloped oblique type (naklonniy shrift—"sloped," or "slanted type") instead of italic.

A boldfaced type is called poluzhirniy shrift ("semi-bold type"), because there existed fully boldfaced shapes which are out of use since the beginning of the twentieth century.

A bold italic combination (bold slanted) does not exist for all font families.

In Serbian, as well as in Macedonian and Bulgarian, some italic and cursive letters are different from those used in other languages. These letter shapes are often used in upright fonts as well, especially for advertisements, road signs, inscriptions, posters and the like, less so in newspapers or books. The Cyrillic lowercase б has a slightly different design both in the roman and italic types, which is similar to the lowercase Greek letter Delta, δ.

The following table shows the differences between the upright and italic Cyrillic letters as used in Russian. Italic forms significantly different from their roman analogues, or especially confusing to users of the Latin alphabet, are highlighted.

Also available as a graphical image.
а б в г д е ё ж з и й к л м н о п р с т у ф х ц ч ш щ ъ ы ь э ю я
а б в г д е ё ж з и й к л м н о п р с т у ф х ц ч ш щ ъ ы ь э ю я

Note: in some fonts or styles small cursive Cyrillic д (д) may look like Latin g and small cursive Cyrillic т (т) may look exactly like a capital cursive T (T), only small.

As used in various languages

Distribution of the Cyrillic alphabet worldwide. This map shows the countries in the world that use the Cyrillic alphabet as the official script in dark green and as one of multiple official scripts in light green.

Sounds are indicated using the IPA. These are only approximate indicators. While these languages by and large have phonemic orthographies, there are occasional exceptions-for example, Russian его (yego, 'him/his'), which is pronounced [jɪˈvo] instead of *[jɪˈɡo].

Note that transliterated spellings of names may vary, especially y/j/i, but also gh/g/h and zh/j.

Derived alphabets

The first alphabet partly derived from Cyrillic is Abur, applied to the Komi language. Other writing systems derived from Cyrillic were applied to Caucasian languages and the Molodtsov alphabet for Komi language.

Relationship to other writing systems

Latin alphabet

A number of languages written in the Cyrillic alphabet have also been written in the Latin alphabet, such as Serbo-Croatian, Azerbaijani,Uzbek and Moldavian. After the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991, official status shifted in some of the former republics from Cyrillic to Latin. The transition is complete in most of Moldova (except Transnistria, where Cyrillic is official) and Azerbaijan, but Uzbekistan still uses both systems. Russia mandated that Cyrillic be used for all public communications to try to bring them closer to Russia's statehood. This act was controversial for speakers of many Slavic languages; with many, such as Chechen and Ingush, the law had political ramifications. For example, the separatist Chechen government mandated a Latin script (which, in fact, is noted by many observers such as Johanna Nicholsto be a much better representation of the language), and is still used by many Chechens. Those in the diaspora especially refuse to adopt the Cyrillic alphabet, which they associate with Russian imperialism.

Serbia also uses both the Latin and Cyrillic alphabets, but by Article 10 of the Constitution of the Republic of Serbia, the Cyrillic alphabet was made official.


There are various systems for Romanization of Cyrillic text, including transliteration to convey Cyrillic spelling in Latin characters, andtranscription to convey pronunciation.

Standard Cyrillic-to-Latin transliteration systems include:

  • Scientific transliteration, used in linguistics, is based on the Latin Czech alphabet.
  • The Working Group on Romanization Systems of the United Nations recommends different systems for specific languages. These are the most commonly used around the world.
  • ISO 9:1995, from the International Organization for Standardization.
  • American Library Association and Library of Congress Romanization tables for Slavic alphabets (ALA-LC Romanization), used in North American libraries.
  • BGN/PCGN Romanization (1947), United States Board on Geographic Names & Permanent Committee on Geographical Names for British Official Use).
  • GOST 16876, a now defunct Soviet transliteration standard. Replaced by GOST 7.79, which is ISO 9 equivalent.
  • Volapuk encoding, an informal rendering of Cyrillic text over Latin-alphabet ASCII.

See also Romanization of Belarusian, Bulgarian, Kyrgyz, Russian, Macedonian and Ukrainian.


Representing other writing systems with Cyrillic letters is called Cyrillization.

Computer encoding


In Unicode 5.1, letters of the Cyrillic alphabet, including national and historical varieties, are represented by four blocks:

  • Cyrillic 0400–04FF
  • Cyrillic Supplement 0500–052F
  • Cyrillic Extended-A 2DE0–2DFF
  • Cyrillic Extended-B A640–A69F.

The characters in the range U+0400 to U+045F are basically the characters from ISO 8859-5 moved upward by 864 positions. The characters in the range U+0460 to U+0489 are historic letters, not used now. The characters in the range U+048A to U+052F are additional letters for various languages that are written with Cyrillic script.

Unicode as a general rule does not include accented Cyrillic letters. Few exceptions are:

  • combinations that are considered as separate letters of respective alphabets, like Й, Ў, Ё, Ї, Ѓ, Ќ (as well as many letters of non-slavic alphabets);
  • two most frequent combinations orthographically required to distinguish homonyms in Bulgarian and Macedonian: Ѐ, Ѝ;
  • few Old and New Church Slavonic combinations: Ѷ, Ѿ, Ѽ.

To indicate stressed or long vowels, combining diacritical marks can be used after respective letter (for example, "combining acute accent" U+0301: ы́ э́ ю́ я́ etc.).

Some languages, including Church Slavonic, are still not fully supported.

Unicode 5.1, released on 4 April 2008, introduces major changes to the Cyrillic blocks. Revisions to the existing Cyrillic blocks, and the addition of Cyrillic Extended A (2DE0...2DFF) and Cyrillic Extended B (A640...A69F), significantly improve support for the early Cyrillic alphabet, Abkhaz, Aleut, Chuvash, Kurdish, and Mordvin.


Punctuation for Cyrillic text is similar to that used in European Latin-alphabet languages.

Other character encoding systems for Cyrillic:

  • CP866 – 8-bit Cyrillic character encoding established by Microsoft for use in MS-DOS also known as GOST-alternative. Cyrillic characters go in their native order, with a "window" for pseudographic characters.
  • ISO/IEC 8859-5 – 8-bit Cyrillic character encoding established by International Organization for Standardization
  • KOI8-R – 8-bit native Russian character encoding. Invented in the USSR for use on Soviet clones of American IBM and DEC computers. The Cyrillic characters go in the order of their Latin counterparts, which allowed the text to remain readable after transmission via a 7bit line which removed the senior bit from each byte - the result became a very rough, but readable, Latin transliteration of Cyrillic. Standard encoding of early 90ies for UNIX systems and the first Russian Internet encoding.
  • KOI8-U – KOI8-R with addition of Ukrainian letters
  • MIK – 8-bit native Bulgarian character encoding for use in DOS
  • Windows-1251 – 8-bit Cyrillic character encoding established by Microsoft for use in Microsoft Windows. The simplest 8bit Cyrillic encoding - 32 capital chars in native order at 0xc0-0xdf, 32 usual chars at 0xe0-0xff, with rarely used "YO" characters somewhere else. No pseudographics. Former standard encoding in some Linux distributions for Belarusian and Bulgarian, but currently displaced by UTF-8.
  • GOST-main
  • GB 2312 - Principally simplified Chinese encodings, but there are also basic 33 Russian Cyrillic letters (in upper- and lower-case).
  • JIS and Shift JIS - Principally Japanese encodings, but there are also basic 33 Russian Cyrillic letters (in upper- and lower-case).

Keyboard layouts

Each language has its own standard keyboard layout, adopted from typewriters. With the flexibility of computer input methods, there are also transliterating or phonetic/homophonic keyboard layouts made for typists who are more familiar with other layouts, like the common English qwerty keyboard. When practical Cyrillic keyboard layouts or fonts are not available, computer users sometimes use transliteration or look-alike "volapuk" encoding to type languages which are normally written with the Cyrillic alphabet.

See Keyboard layouts for non-Roman alphabetic scripts.


  1. Russian language
  2. Russian alphabet
  3. Russian orthography
  4. Russian phonology
  5. Russian grammar
  6. IPA for Russian
  7. Russian-Cyrillic alphabet
  8. Informal romanizations of Russian
  9. Languages of Russia
  10. List of countries where Russian is an official language
  11. List of English words of Russian origin
  12. List of languages of Russia
  13. Spelling rule
  14. Romanization of Russian
  15. Russian language-History of the Russian language
  16. List of Russian language television channels
  17. Reduplication in the Russian language
  18. Reforms of Russian orthography
  19. Rules of Russian Orthography and Punctuation
  20. Russian language-Runglish
  21. Russian exonyms
  22. Russian Morse code
  23. Russian sayings
  24. Russianism
  25. Russophone
  26. Slavic languages
  27. Test of Russian as a Foreign Language
  28. The differences of Moscovian and St.-Petersburg's speech
  29. Vowel reduction in Russian
  30. Russian proverbs
  31. Russian proverbs:USSR
  32. ALA-LC romanization for Russian
  33. Great Russian language
  34. Olympiada of Spoken Russian
  35. Russian cursive
  36. Russian jokes
  37. Russian National Corpus


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