The Cyrillic alphabet (pronounced /sɪˈrɪlɪk/ also called azbuka, from the old name of the first two letters) is actually a family of alphabets, subsets of which are used by a wide variety of Slavic languages—Belarusian, Bulgarian, Macedonian, Russian, Rusyn, Serbian, and Ukrainian—as well as many other languages of the former Soviet Union, Asia and Eastern Europe. It has also been used for other languages in the past. Not all letters in the Cyrillic alphabet are used in every language with which it is written.
The alphabet has official status with many organisations, and with the accession of Bulgaria to the European Union on January 1, 2007, Cyrillic also became the third official alphabet of the EU.
The development of Cyrillic typography passed directly from the medieval stage to the late Baroque, without a Renaissance phase as in Western 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, Czar 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 modern Greek fonts that retained their own set of design principles (such as the placement of serifs, the shapes of stroke ends, and stroke-thickness rules), 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 letter-forms are not as differentiated as in Latin typography. Upright Cyrillic lowercase letters are essentially small capitals (with the few exceptions: "а", "е", "p", "y" adopted Western lowercase shapes, lowercase "ф" is typically designed under the influence of "p", lowercase "Б" is "б", one of traditional hand-written forms), although a good-quality Cyrillic typeface will still include separate small caps glyphs.
Cyrillic fonts, as well as Latin ones, have Roman and Italic variants (almost all modern fonts include parallel sets of Latin and Cyrillic letters, where many glyphs, uppercase as well as lowercase, are simply shared by both). The traditional terminology of Cyrillic fonts refers to the Roman type as upright font (Russian: pryamoy shrift) and to the Italic as cursive (kursivniy shrift or simply kursiv); it follows the German tradition (Kursiv) and does not mean actual cursive, i.e. hand-written font (rukopisniy shrift). Italic and hand-written shapes of many letters (typically lowercase; uppercase only for hand-written or stylish types) are very different from the upright shapes. As in Latin typography, a sans-serif face may have a mechanically-sloped oblique font (naklonniy) instead of italic. Bold fonts are called semi-bold (poluzhirniy): "fully" bold shapes are out of usage since the beginning of the 20th century. Bold italic (bold slanted) combination exists not for every font family.
In Serbian and Macedonian, 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 advertisings, road signs, inscriptions, posters and the like, less so in newspapers or books.
The following table shows the differences between the upright and cursive Cyrillic letters as used in Russian. Cursive glyphs that are bound to confuse beginners (either because of an entirely different look, or because of being a false friend with an entirely different Latin character) are highlighted.
Letter-forms and typography
Sounds are indicated using 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 [jɪˈgo].
Note that transliterated spellings of names may vary, especially y/j/i, but also gh/g/h and zh/j.
See also a more complete list of languages using Cyrillic.
As used in various languages
The following table lists Cyrillic letters which are used in most national versions of the Cyrillic alphabet. Exceptions and additions for particular languages are noted below.
The soft sign ь is not a letter representing a sound, but modifies the sound of the preceding letter, indicating palatalisation ("softening"), also separates the consonant and the following vowel. Sometimes does not have phonetical meaning, just orthographical (Russian туш, tush /tuʃ/ = 'flourish after a toast', тушь, tushʹ /tuʃ/ = 'india ink'). In some languages, a hard sign ъ or apostrophe ' just separates consonant and the following vowel (бя /bʲa/, бья /bʲja/, бъя = б'я /bja/).