Amoebian Script

8 August 06

The script debate seems to be as old as the Serbian people: does the Latin or the Cyrillic alphabet have bigger penis? Well, if you read Sunday’s Politika, which featured several opinion pieces on how to deal with a language with two scripts, that would be the aftertaste.

The language formerly known as Serbo-Croatian can be written using either Cyrillic or Latin. In fact, Ljudevit Gaj created the Latin alphabet after Karadžić‘s Cyrillic mapping it 1 for 1. Over time, for any possible reasons, Serbs started using both. When the last wars started, particularly stupid Serbs decided that Latin => Croatian => Catholic => Jewish Conspiracy QED. But the fact is that people still use both scripts. For example, in Republika Srpska, all road signs are in Cyrillic, but most company names or advertisements are in Latin.

As a part of a newly found identity, some Serbs have tried to prove how Cyrillic is the True Serbian Script. The punishment of God came shortly after (presumably because the Bible explicitly says Christians should not have more than one God, while Serbs also worship a script, Radovan Karadžić, and Volkswagen Golf), in a form of the fact that Serbian traditional writing system involved full bladder and fresh snow. I don’t care either way, as long as we don’t make a farce out of it.

I have a reputation of a traitor to maintain here, so let’s bust some myths:

Myth Explanation
Cyrillic is endagered. It's not. Take any school textbook for example, or plethora of books printed in Cyrillic that will hopefully not be burnt.
It is the true Serbian script. AHA , NARAVNO (yeah, right)
St. Sava is turning in his grave because we use Latin. He's not. The Turks burnt his remains.
Cyrillic looks nicer. It might, but Latin takes less space when printed, thus making books more environmentaly friendly and affordable.
Street signs in Cyrillic will preserve Serbian culture. They won't, they'll just confuse western visitors.
You don't really want to discuss this seriously, do you? No, it's a silly populist topic.
But it's of defining interest to our people! Just be pragmatic about it, and use the script which makes most sense in the given circumstances.



  1. bganon
    Aug 9, 01:28 PM #

    This is tricky for me. My instinct is to agree with your sentiments but then again Cyrilic does look nicer - particularly for visitors.

    Maybe somebody clever can come up with cyrilic style T shirts that can be understood in English. Damn it I'm going off topic again.

    All government stuff is in cyrilic as the official Serbian scrpit. There is no danger of it vanishing in the near future. In fact I'm quite surprised at the number of Serbia who have difficulty writing in latin because they are so used to using the cyrilic script.
  2. Seesaw
    Aug 9, 10:12 PM #

    Very well written! You made me laugh!
    But then such are we, people on this Balkan, we will spent days and months and years discussing should the street signs be in Latin or Cyrillic, and by doing that we shall forget that we have no job, no money, etc. etc. Exactly what our politicians wish! (Mind you I lernt both in school and the books in my library are in Curillic and Latin. (Now that in Zagreb, after 1992, some people were throwing their books in Cyrillic on streets. But the people who passed by, were scared to pick them up. (I am sure, the same story could be told about books in Latin in Belgrade.)
  3. serbianmess
    Aug 10, 12:23 AM #

    bganon, I also like the way Cyrillic looks like (it's much wider, kind of easier to read), and my personal preference is to use Latin online and Cyrillic when I handwrite. It is more that people who push Cyrillic as the ONLY script make us dislike it.

    Seesaw, there was never great animosity towards Latin in Belgrade. It was still very possible to buy books in Latin in early 1990s, and not only Latin, but also books published in Zagreb, etc. I think it's just the fact that we never had that many typewriters in Cyrillic, and it's widespread use was made possible only with modern computer technologies (e.g. for filling out forms). That being said, one is pretty much illiterate if he/she can't use both in Serbia.
  4. Francis Tyers
    Aug 10, 12:46 AM #

    I can attest to the fact that tourists get confused. I was on a tram in Belgrade and helped out some first-timers who couldn't read the signs at all, because their Lonely Planet had the place names in Serbian Latin, but the signs were in Cyrillic :) I gave them a piece of paper with Cyrillic to Latin correspondences, but of course, thats no help if you're moving (fast) on a tram!
  5. serbianmess
    Aug 10, 12:49 AM #

    Francis, another problem may be that the map was more than two weeks old, and all the streets changed their names ;)
  6. Rod Amis
    Aug 13, 08:44 PM #

    Humorous post. I enjoyed it so much I'll share it with friends in Belgrade.
  7. Daniel
    Aug 15, 04:24 PM #

    As a foreigner with good touch-typing skills, I can actually type Cyrillic faster than I can read it. On the other hand, my Cyrillic handwriting is ugly. So I prefer Latin for reading and handwriting, and Cyrillic on the computer. Reading Cyrillic gives me a headache after a while, but the amount of time it takes gets longer and longer with practice.
  8. bganon
    Aug 16, 04:10 PM #

    Actually if I had time I'd like to write about this debate too.
    What I'd like to point out is the artificiality of it (in the current context). I mean yeah fantastic lets have a debate about whether street names should be in cyrilic and / or latin.

    Or should we have a debate on whether any street signs should be put up? (Since many streets are not signposted at all or very badly)

    Or should we have a debate about the fact that nobody knows the names of streets any more since dumb politicians think that one of their first duties of office are to go around changing street names?

    It fascinates me to see that people in Serbia (if one reads Politika, danas et al) get lost in the debate without actually thinking about the issue. What is the point of arguing how whether street signs should be in both scripts when most streets dont have one sign?

    Maybe I'll do something on this at B92. Its probably 'up their street' (groans...).
  9. Oliver
    Sep 6, 12:21 PM #

    At least your streets have cool names (old & new) and are not named after some feminist from the late 19th century whom nobody gives a shit about.
  10. Hilde Hodnefjeld
    Feb 28, 05:26 AM #

    I am working as a freelance picture editor on a history-schoolbook for norwegian students; MATRIKS.

    We would very much like to use the picture of the signpost with both cyrrillian letters and latin letters, in this book.

    So my questions are:
    -Could you provide us with a high resolution of this picture?
    -Could we have the permission to print it through you?
    -And, finally; how much do you charge for this kind of use.

    Hope to hear from you soon
    Best wishes, Hilde Hodnefjeld
    Picture editor
    Hilde Hodnefjeld
    Holmenveien 56
    0376 Oslo

    Telefon: 22 14 21 66
    Mobil: 95 08 09 04

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