Extended Cyrillic: Tatar

Cyrillic which might not have existed today

August 17, 2023

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.

Three scripts in one century

The Tatar language, first runic and then based on Arabic script, had been developing throughout the centuries. It had been influenced by both the main language spoken in the Golden Horde — Cuman, also known as Kipchak, which is similar to Crimean Tatar and Chagatai languages, and Russian (after Kazan was taken by Ivan the Terrible). The process of codification of modern literary Tatar language was initiated after the 1905 Revolution, when the State Duma allowed publishing Tatar language newspapers.

1 “Noor” newspaper, 1905

A variant of the Arabic script, İske imlâ (‘old orthography’), was used until 1920. İske imlâ featured additional graphemes for the letters which don’t exist in Arabic: چ پ ڭ ژ گ ۋ for в г ж ң п ч respectively. Later the alphabet was replaced by a simplified version, Yaña imlâ (‘new orthography’), and the latter had been used until 1927 when the Latin based Yañalif was introduced as the official alphabet. However, in 1939, as part of a larger cyrillization process which affected most languages of the nations inhabiting the Soviet Union, a new alphabet was adopted — and Tatars still use its updated version.

5 “Our ABC” book cover, F. Tagirov, 1928, 1928

From Cyrillic to Latin and back again

In 1999, the Republic of Tatarstan passed a law establishing an official Tatar Latin alphabet. The new alphabet, Zamanälif, borrowed many things from the Yañalif of the 1930s. In 2000, a number of schools even started teaching this script; all Kazan city posters and school textbooks were supposed to be translated to Latin by 2011. But in January 2002 the Russian State Duma passed a law making Cyrillic the sole official script for all languages used by numerous ethnicities that make up Russia, and the Constitutional Court further stopped the project of transitioning to Zamanälif two years later. However, a group of activists is still using it — for example, for submitting Wikipedia articles.

10 Facade signs in RUssian and Tatar

Hypothetically, one can use any of three scripts — Arabic, Cyrillic, or Latin — to address the government bodies, yet in fact you can only submit Tatar texts written in Cyrillic, and the government agencies’ websites don’t support the other two alphabets.

15 Typeface for navigating between street art objects of Almetyevsk, created on a Designworkout workshop


Modern Tatar alphabet was introduced in 1939. It is pretty much the same Russian alphabet with six additional letters: three consonants, җ, ң, һ, and three vowels, ә, ө, ү.


A descending element in Tatar җ and ң is the same as we see in ц and щ. And yet you can’t add it to the ж’s serif or stroke terminal in just any typeface — normally, the roundings or cuts often occurring between the main stroke and the serif do not appear between a descender like that and the main stroke.


Many linguists believe that that this modern alphabet lacks two more glyphs, қ and ғ, to represent the sounds [qh] and [gh] respectively.