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Romanization of Serbian

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Romanization of Serbian

A road sign in Serbia using Cyrillic and romanization - the towns are Šid (pronounced [ʃiːd]), Novi Sad and Belgrade

The romanization or latinization of Serbian is the representation of the Serbian language using Latin letters. Serbian is natively written in its own Serbian Cyrillic alphabet, a variation of Cyrillic.

Main alphabets used in Europe around 1900:
  Latin script: Fraktur variant
  Latin script: Antiqua variant
  KalmykMongolian script

However, Gaj's Latin alphabet is also used in Serbia as the second alphabet. The two are almost directly and completely interchangeable. Romanization can be done with no errors, but in some cases knowledge of Serbian is required to do proper transliteration from Latin back to Cyrillic. Standard Serbian uses both alphabets currently.

The Latin variation of the Serbian alphabet is identical to those used in Bosnian and Croatian language.

Use of romanization

Đuro Daničić added Đ instead of Dj in Croatian Academy 1882
Blic is one of an increasing number of media titles in Latin-alphabet

Serbo-Croatian was regarded as a single language since the 1850 Vienna Literary Agreement, to be written in two forms: one (Serb) in the adapted Serbian Cyrillic alphabet; the other (Croat) in the adapted Croatian Latin alphabet,[1] that is to say Gaj's Latin alphabet.

The Latin alphabet, latinica, was not initially taught in schools in Serbia when it became independent in the 19th century. After a series of efforts by Serbian writers Ljubomir Stojanović and Jovan Skerlić, it became part of school curriculum after 1914.[2]

During World War I, Austria-Hungary banned the Cyrillic alphabet in Bosnia[3] and its use in occupied Serbia was banned in schools.[4] Cyrillic was banned in the Independent State of Croatia in World War II.[5] The government of socialist Yugoslavia made some initial effort to promote romanization, use of the Latin alphabet even in the Orthodox Serbian and Montenegran parts of Yugoslavia, but met with resistance.[6] The use of latinica did however become more common among Serbian speakers.

Later still, in 1993 the authorities of Republika Srpska under Radovan Karadžić and Momčilo Krajišnik decided to proclaim Ekavian and Serbian Cyrillic to be official in Republika Srpska, which was considered grotesque both by native Bosnian Serb writers at the time and the general public, and that decision was rescinded in 1994.[7] Nevertheless, it was reinstated in a milder form in 1996, and today still the use of Serbian Latin is officially discouraged in Republika Srpska, in favor of Cyrillic.[8]

Article 10 of the Constitution of Serbia[9] adopted by a referendum in 2006 defined Cyrillic as the official script in Serbia, while Latin was removed from the Constitution.

Today Serbian is more likely to be romanized in Montenegro than in Serbia,[10] Exceptions to this include Serbian websites where use of Latin alphabet is often more convenient, and increasing use in tabloid and popular media such as Blic, Danas and Svet.[11] More established media, such as the formerly state-run Politika, and Radio Television of Serbia,[12] or foreign Google News,[13] Voice of Russia[14] and Facebook tend to use Cyrillic script.[15] Some websites offer the content in both scripts, using Cyrillic as the source and auto generating Romanized version.

In 2013 in Croatia there were massive protests against official Cyrillic signs on local government buildings in Vukovar.[16]

Romanization of names

Serbian place names

Serbian place names are consistently spelled in latinica using the mapping that exists between the Serbian Cyrillic alphabet and Gaj's Latin alphabet.

Serbian personal names

Serbian personal names are usually romanized exactly the same way as place names. This is particularly the case with consonants which are common to other Slavic Latin alphabets - Č, Ć, Š, Ž, and Đ.

A problem is presented by the letter Đ/đ that represents the affricate [] (similar to the "dj" sound in "jam"), which is still sometimes represented by "Dj". The letter Đ was not part of the original Gaj's alphabet, but was added by Đuro Daničić in the 19th century. A transcribed "Dj" is still sometimes encountered in rendering Serbian names into English (e.g. Novak Djokovic), though strictly Đ should be used (as in Croatian).

Foreign names

In Serbian, foreign names are phonetically Džordž Vašington" or Џорџ Вашингтон, Winston Churchill becomes "Vinston Čerčil" or Винстон Черчил and Charles de Gaulle "Šarl de Gol" or Шарл де Гол.[17] This change also happens in some European languages that use the Latin alphabet such as Lithuanian and Latvian. The name Catherine Ashton for instance gets transliterated into "Ketrin Ešton" in Serbian and Lithuanian alike.[18]

An exception to this are place names which are so well known as to have their own form (exonym): just as English has "Vienna, Austria" (and not German "Wien, Österreich") so Croatian and romanization of Serbian have "Beč, Austrija."

Incomplete romanization

Incomplete romanization of Serbian is written using the English alphabet, also known as ASCII Serbian. It is commonly used in SMS messages, comments on the Internet or e-mails, mainly because users don't have available Serbian keyboard installed. Serbian is a fully phonetic language with 30 sounds that can be represented with 30 Cyrillic letters, or 27 Gaj's Latin letters and three digraphs ("nj" for "њ", ”lj" for "љ", and "" for "џ"). In its ASCII form number of used letters drops down to 22, as letters "q", "w", "x" and "y" are not used. Some words morph into the same written form and a good knowledge of Serbian and a sentence context is required for proper understanding of the written text.

Using incomplete romanization does not allow for easy transliteration back to Cyrillic without a significant manual work. Google tried using machine learning approach to solving this problem and developed an interactive text input tool that enable typing Serbian in ASCII and auto-converting to Cyrillic.[19] However manual typing is still required with occasional disambiguation selection from the pop up menu.

Tools for romanization

Romanization of Serbian Cyrillic text is very easy to do. There are some good add-in tools available for [21] Linux command line users can use recode-sr-latin, and Program Vucko (also available for Windows and MacOS). Some desktop GUI tools for Romanization of Serbian are reviewed at "Our Script" ("Наше писмо") website.


  1. ^ The World and Its Peoples 2009 - Page 1654 "Until modern times, Serbo-Croat was regarded as a single language, written in two forms: one (Serb) in the Cyrillic alphabet; the other (Croat) in ...
  2. ^ Naimark, Norman M.; Case, Holly (2003). Yugoslavia and Its Historians: Understanding the Balkan Wars of the 1990s. Stanford University Press. pp. 95–96.  
  3. ^ John Horne (16 March 2010). A Companion to World War I. John Wiley & Sons. p. 375.  
  4. ^ Serbia's Great War 1914-1918. Purdue University Press. 2007. p. 231.  
  5. ^ Gregory R. Copley (1992). Defense & Foreign Affairs Strategic Policy. Copley & Associates. p. 17. Retrieved 26 April 2013. 
  6. ^ The Social construction of written communication Bennett A. Rafoth, Donald L. Rubin - 1988 "Yugoslavian efforts to romanize Serbian (Kalogjera, 1985) and Chinese efforts to romanize Mandarin (De Francis, 1977b, 1984; Seybolt & Chiang, 1979) reveal that even authoritarian regimes may have to accept only limited success when the"
  7. ^ Greenberg, Robert D. (2004). Language and Identity in the Balkans: Serbo-Croatian and Its Disintegration. Oxford University Press. pp. 78–79.  
  8. ^ Greenberg, Robert D. (2004). Language and Identity in the Balkans: Serbo-Croatian and Its Disintegration. Oxford University Press. pp. 82–83.  
  9. ^ "Constitution Principles". Constitution of the Republic of Serbia.  
  10. ^ One thousand languages: living, endangered, and lost - Page 46 Peter Austin - 2008 "Croatian and Bosnian are written in the Latin alphabet; Serbian in both Serbia and Bosnia is written in the Cyrillic alphabet. Both scripts are used for Serbian in Montenegro."
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^ Hitting the headlines in Europe: a country-by-country guide Page 166 Cathie Burton, Alun Drake - 2004 "The former state-run paper, Politika, which kept its retro style until very recently, using Serbian Cyrillic rather than the Latin alphabet, has been bought by a German company and is modernizing rapidly. There are a host of tabloids, .."
  16. ^ Agence France-Presse, April 7, 2013 [1] Croatians protest against Cyrillic signs in Vukovar
  17. ^ Bosnian, Croatian, Serbian, a grammar: with sociolinguistic commentary - Page 3 Ronelle Alexander - 2006 -"... name in original Serbian (Cyrillic) Serbian (Latin) Croatian George Џорџ Džordž ; George Mary Мери Meri Mary ; Winston Churchill Винстон Черчил Vinston Čerčil Winston Churchill ; Charles de Gaulle Шарл де Гол Šarl de Gol Charles de Gaulle ;"
  18. ^
  19. ^ Google input tools for Serbian
  20. ^ Office 2003 Add-in: Latin and Cyrillic Transliteration
  21. ^ OOoTranslit add-on for OpenOffice

See also

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