This piece is a part of our large series focusing on the languages that are not discussed nearly as much as they should be. This list includes languages with their own unique scripts, such as Georgian or Armenian, as well as languages using extended Cyrillic and Latin. We’re preparing this series using research on extended Cyrillic which we conducted in partnership with Type Journal.
You can find more content on the subject on our Instagram As some members of our team are living in Russia we have to follow the Russian law. According to the law, every time we post links to Instagram or Facebook we have to mention the fact that these socials belong to Meta, which was recognized as extremist by the Ministry of Justice if the Russian Federation under the hashtag #tt_extended.
The history of the Serbian language dates back to the 9th century when the Slavs migrated to the Balkan Peninsula. However, the Miroslav Gospel created around 1180 is believed to be the oldest surviving document written in Serbian script.
Serbian went through a huge amount of changes throughout its history and had been influenced by the Latin, Greek, Turkish, and German languages. As a result, by the 19th century people in what is now Serbia used a number of Cyrillic languages at the same time. In the 1810s, linguist and teacher Vuk Karadžić standardised Serbian alphabet and grammar.
“Around the World in Eighty Days“, first Serbian edition, 1880
“Serbian Monuments“, book cover, 1840
In the 1830s, the South Slav peoples living in the Austrian Empire began joining their efforts to fight for cultural and political autonomy. The Croats, who spoke a language closely related to Serbian, adopted Vuk Karadžić grammar by 1836. But since most Croats were catholics, they eventually dropped Cyrillic alphabet used by Orthodox Serbs and adopted the Latin script designed by linguist Ljudevit Gaj.
Fish Framing Manual, 1914 National Museum’s Newspaper, 1898
After World War I, Serbia and Croatia became part of Yugoslavia and Serbo-Croatian was made an official language of this country. But as early as the mid-20th century there were already two separate linguistic standards, and today Serbian and Croatian exist as two different languages.
Beekeeper Journal, 1935
Poster for the Belgrade State Tobacco Monopoly, Dušan Janković, 1931 Toothpaste advertising poster, Miloš Babić, 1930
“Study of Letters“ exhibition invitation, Miloš Ćirić, 1972
“Study of Signs“ exhibition invitation, Miloš Ćirić, 1968 “Study of Signs“ exhibition poster, Miloš Ćirić, 1968
Catalogue for Graficki Kolektiv Gallery annual exhibition, Radomir Reqić, Slobodan Mihailović, 1972 “Portraits of Belgrade Artists“ exhibition catalogue, Branimir Karanović, 1985
Serbia still uses both Cyrillic and
Petria type specimen, Jovana Jocić, 2020
Modern Serbian Cyrillic consists of 30 letters. It doesn’t have ё, й, щ, ъ, ы, ь, э, ю, я, which are used by many other Cyrillic-based languages, but includes Latin j and five more extra consonants: ђ, љ, њ, ћ, and џ.
The left part of uppercase Ћ и Ђ is actually the letter Т, yet its stem is pushed to the
Lowercase ћ in modern typefaces repeats the Latin character called h-bar, while ђ borrows the components of ћ and j.
It is important to maintain proper proportions of the left and right parts in љ and њ, as they have to look visually balanced. Typically, this is ensured through narrowing the left part (based on л or н).
A crossbar in Њњ has to be on the same level in both parts of the letter. This character is driven by handwriting logic where the entire horizontal stroke is written in just one move.
Serbian uses local glyph options: for example, there’s an alternative option of б in upright styles, and there are alternate glyphs for б, г, д, п and т in italics.
Figuring out Latin Serbian script, Ljudevit Gaj borrowed three characters (č, ž, š) from Czech alphabet and one character (ć) from Polish; he also came up with four digraphs, lj, nj, dž and dj. Following a later suggestion by linguist Đuro Daničić, Dj was replaced by one letter (đ).
When one uses digraphs, it is important to remember that in vertical writing (one letter per line) both letters of a digraph have to stay together, but if a digraph is at the beginning of a name, or, let’s say, country, only its first letter is capitalised, while the second one stays in lowercase.
Serbian Cyrillic and Latin describe the same set of sounds, which means those scripts are essentially interchangeable. Given the fact that some characters are the same, Dutch foundry Typotheque in their project Balkan script even suggests writing Serbian words in both Cyrillic and Latin at the same time.
Balkan Sans type specimen, Nikola Đurek, 2012