The question how Interslavic should be written has always been subject to discussion. Ideally, every Slav should be able to write it on their own keyboard, but this would rule out the possibility of a single standard orthography. The various national orthographies are simply too divergent to find a solution that is convenient for everybody. Making any of them „official” or „standard” would be unfair, because all other possibilities would automatically be rendered „inofficial”, „non-standard” and therefore „incorrect”. But on the other hand, a situation with too many different writing standards has the disadvantage of being confusing and potentially discouraging for people hoping to learn Interslavic.
Since the border between Latin and Cyrillic runs straight through the middle of Slavic territory, Interslavic has standard alphabets for both. Neither of them is based on any national orthography in particular. Instead, they were designed as a compromise, intended to be intuitively understandable and to enable easy transliteration between them. Users are strongly encouraged to use these standard alphabets, but those who have problems writing certain characters are offered some alternative solutions, too.
The Interslavic Latin alphabet uses 27 letters: 23 letters from the base Latin alphabet (all except q, w and x) plus four consonants with a haček (š, ž, č and ě), as well as three digraphs (dž, lj, nj):
|A B C Č D DŽ E Ě F G H I J K L LJ M N NJ O P R S Š T U V Y Z Ž|
The Interslavic Cyrillic alphabet has 29 letters: all characters that the various Cyrillic orthographies have in common, with the addition of є, ы, ј, љ, њ, as well as one digraph (дж):
|А Б В Г Д ДЖ Е Є Ж З И Ы Ј К Л Љ М Н Њ О П Р С Т У Ф Х Ц Ч Ш|
Both orthographies are equal, and in published texts, it deserves recommendation to provide versions in both Latin and Cyrillic, so that they can be understood on both sides of the frontier.
Interslavic keyboard layouts can be downloaded here.
Representation of problematic characters
As noted above, both the Latin and Cyrillic alphabets include characters that cannot be written on every Slavic keyboard. Those who cannot write a character on their own keyboard have several alternatives at their disposal. Here are a few recommendations:
Latin Č Š Ž
These letters are very important in Slavic. Leaving out the haček (as is often done by native speakers in SMS language) has a negative impact on the understandability of Interslavic, because c s z are entirely different phonemes.
Because Poles do not have the letters on their keyboard, the suggested alternative for them is cz sz ż. Those who do not have ż on their keyboard either can use cz sz zs instead. An alternative solution is cx sx zx, which has the advantage of being consistent and unambiguous, but the disadvantage of being unnatural (and in the eyes of many people, ugly). Other options are better avoided. For example, English-based ch sh zh has the disadvantage that West Slavs would read ch as h [x], while solutions involving non-letter characters (like c^, c*, c') make it look like computer code. At last, do not use characters like q or w (the so-called Volapük encoding) as substitutes, as this would only create confusion.
Latin Ě and Cyrillic Є
The importance of ě (the so-called yat) lies in its pronunciation. Whereas in most languages e does not soften its preceding consonant, ě softens it in all languages except Slovene, Serbian and Macedonian, amounting for 96% of the speakers. It is therefore logical that this rather considerable distinction is made in Interslavic as well. In the Latin alphabet, the traditional representation of this phoneme is ě, which also makes for a good compromise between, for example, Serbian e and Croatian ije/je. A disadvantage of ě is that only Czech and Sorbian have it in their alphabets.
The Cyrillic counterpart of ě is the letter є, borrowed from Ukrainian, where its pronunciation is similar. It was chosen because of its visual similarity to е, and also for the lack of any other good alternative in Cyrillic. Theoretically, the archaic letter ѣ (the traditional yat) is historically more correct, but since it is not used in any living Slavic language nowadays (in 1945, Bulgarian and Rusyn were the last to abolish it) and few people can recognise it, using it in Interslavic texts would seriously impede intelligibility.
For those who cannot write ě / є and those who don't know when to write it, the best alternative is Latin e / Cyrillic е. This is a legitimate simplification that puts ě in a position similar to the letter ё in Russian, in other words: the diacritic represents a different pronunciation, but may remain unwritten.
Latin Y and Cyrillic Ы
The letter y / ы is helpful mostly to Russians, Belarussians and Poles. In South Slavic, Ukrainian and spoken Czech and Slovak, it has merged with i. Those who don't know when to make the distinction, as well as those who are targeting a predominantly South Slavic audience, are advised to use i / и in all cases.
Interslavic uses the letter ј from Serbian and Macedonian Cyrillic as the equivalent of Latin j, because й (Russian, Ukrainian, Belarussian and Bulgarian) is too restrictive regarding its surrounding vowels and consonants. For those who have problems writing ј, the logical substitute is й, but when it is followed by a vowel, a iotated vowel will be used instead in most cases:
- йа and йу can be written я and ю respectively; this is definitely the most natural solution, but it should be remembered that not all Serbs and Macedonians know these characters, also because their shapes are not particularly suggestive;
- йо is never a problem; Russian ё should be avoided though, because it is used in different situations and may not be clear to those who don't know Russian;
- йе is more problematic; the best solution is probably е after a vowel, ье after a consonant and йе at the beginning of a word;
- йи can be written as ьи after a consonant and и in other positions, since there is no fundamental distinction with syllable-initial и anyway.
Cyrillic Љ and Њ
The Cyrillic counterparts of lj and nj are љ and њ, taken from Serbian and Macedonian Cyrillic as well. Those who do not have these letters on their keyboard can always write ль and нь instead.
In addition to the standard Latin alphabet, Interslavic also contains a number of optional letters that refer specifically to Proto-Slavic/Old Church Slavonic phonemes that have diverged or disappeared in most modern languages:
|Ę Ų Å Ė Ȯ Ć Đ Ĺ Ń Ŕ T́ D́ Ś Ź|
- The vowels ę and ų match the nasal vowels ѧ and ѫ in Old Church Slavonic (little yus and big yus respectively, usually transliterated as ę and ǫ).
- The vowel å occurs in the combinations rå and lå followed by a consonant, where Polish has ro/ró and ło/łó and East Slavic has (o)ro and (o)lo.
- The vowels ė and ȯ represent strong yers: ь (ĭ) and ъ (ŭ).
- The consonants ć and đ refer to Proto-Slavic tj and dj, which in Old Church Slavonic became щ (št) and жд (žd).
- The soft consonants ĺ ń ŕ t́ d́ ś ź refer to consonants followed by a weak ь.
The aforementioned letters are merely optional extensions of the standard Latin alphabet. For that reason, there is never any need to represent them in some other way than by simply leaving out the diacritic; the only exceptions are ć and đ, which in standard orthography should be replaced with č and dž.
The letters ĺ and ń occur only before a consonant. Phonetically, they are identical to lj and nj, the only difference being that they are not usually written in Interslavic.
Note that the Interslavic etymological alphabet does not include length or tone markers, nor does is include special letters for borrowings from non-Slavic languages (such as OCS ѳ and ѵ, used only for Greek words, or ü for German or French words).
The basic Latin and Cyrillic alphabets of Interslavic consist of letters whose pronunciation is similar in all Slavic languages. However, Proto-Slavic and Old Church Slavonic also had a number of phonemes that developed in different directions. In most modern languages, these sound changes have been remarkably predictable. By assigning a special character to these phonemes, each one of them can be linked to a particular phoneme in any of the modern Slavic languages, thus covering the main phonological differences between the latter. In other words, this extended alphabet can serve as bridge between Old Church Slavonic and the modern Slavic languages, but also as an intermediary orthography between Old Church Slavonic and Interslavic.
In contrast to alphabets such as the International Phonetic Alphabet and the Slavistic Alphabet, this orthography is not meant to give information about the pronunciation of individual languages, but to show the relationship between them. It can be compared to the orthography of English: although there are vast differences in pronunciation between British English, Scottish English and American English, all are written in practically the same way, using spelling conventions that represent the spoken language of the 14th century. If the Slavs would use a similar alphabet instead of their pronunciation-based national orthographies, the word for „five” could be written as pęt́ in all Slavic languages, instead of пять, pięć, piãc, pjeć, pět, päť, pet etc.
This etymology-based alphabet (previously known as Naučny medžuslovjansky „Scientific Interslavic”) also serves as the source code for Interslavic. It was designed in such way that it differs from standard Interslavic only by additional diacritics, so that a reader who is unfamiliar with those diacritics can simply ignore them. Using this orthography in Interslavic can serve the following purposes:
- conveying etymological information,
- supporting the learning process by making Interslavic words easier to link to their counterparts in other Slavic languages,
- giving more precise information about the ideal (most central) pronunciation,
- enabling users to adapt („flavourise”) written and spoken Interslavic for speakers of particular languages (see flavourisation),
- making it possible to transcribe text from any Slavic language into Interslavic orthography.
Text with a lot of diacritics may appear intimidating to newcomers, whose first contact with Interslavic is probably not this explanation. For people learning the language, it is confusing when different participants in a conversation use different orthographies. They might incorrectly believe that these diacritical marks are mandatory, or that Interslavic written with these extensions is superior to Interslavic written without them. At last, letters like ę and ų may be helpful to Poles and perhaps East Slavs, but especially South Slavs are not helped by using this orthography at all: for them, it only makes things needlessly complicated. Therefore, please refrain from using this orthography in everyday conversations, unless you use it with a particular purpose in mind. In that case, please explain why you are using them, and that these diacritics are merely optional additions.
Those who use these extended characters anyway are by no means required to use the entire set: users can pick from it whatever they like and leave out whatever they don't. There are only two restrictions. First of all, once you decide to use a certain character from the extended set, use it consistently. Secondly, some letters come in pairs (ę/ų, ė/ȯ, t́/d́, ś/ź), and it wouldn't make sense to use one item from a pair while omitting the other.
Because these extensions are optional, alternative representations are not strictly needed. However, since the letters t́ and d́ do not occur in any language (even in Unicode they can only be written with the help of a combining diacritic), they may be written with a haček as well: ť and ď; note that in most fonts the haček appears as an apostroph. Likewise, ĺ can be written as ľ. At last, instead of ė and ȯ it is also possible to write è and ò.
In the Latin alphabet, additional etymological information is conveyed by means of diacritical marks only. Thus, passive intelligibility is not hampered, and a reader who is not familiar with them can understand the text anyway. A similar approach for Cyrillic (using characters like ӑ, ԙ, ө, ұ, ӣ, ҷ, ӝ, etc.) would not only make a text look extremely artificial, it would also be little helpful, since the modifications would be far from self-explaining. An extended Cyrillic alphabet using historical (ѣ, ѩ, ѫ) and regional (ћ, ђ) characters would be very hard to understand for people unfamiliar with Old Church Slavonic orthography and therefore conflict with the purpose of Interslavic. For that reason, the Interslavic etymological alphabet has no Cyrillic equivalent.
The following table shows the correspondences between the letters mentioned above (suggested alternative spellings are shown in grey between brackets). The transliterator makes it possible to transliterate between Latin and Cyrillic.
|A||А||A||[ɑ] ~ [a]|
|Č (CZ, CX)||Ч||Ć||[t͡ɕ]|
|Č||[t͡ʃ] ~ [t͡ʂ]|
|D́ (Ď)||[dʲ] ~ [ɟ]|
|DŽ||[d͡ʒ] ~ [d͡ʐ]|
|E||Е||E||[ɛ] ~ [e]|
|Ė (È)||[ɛ] ~ [ǝ]|
|Ě (E)||Є (Е)||Ě||[ʲɛ]|
|G||Г||G||[g] ~ [ɦ]|
|I||И||I||[i] ~ [ɪ]|
|L||Л||L||[l] ~ [ɫ]|
|Ĺ (Ľ)||[ʎ] ~ [l]|
|LJ||Љ (ЛЬ)||LJ||[ʎ] ~ [l]|
|Ń||[n] ~ [ɲ]|
|NJ||Њ (НЬ)||NJ||[nʲ] ~ [ɲ]|
|O||О||O||[ɔ] ~ [o]|
|Ȯ (Ò)||[ə] ~ [ʌ]|
|R||Р||R||[r] [ǝr] (syllabic)|
|Ŕ||[rʲ] ~ [r̝] [ʲǝr] (syllabic)|
|Ś||[sʲ] ~ [ɕ]|
|Š (SZ, SX)||Ш||Š||[ʃ] ~ [ʂ]|
|T́ (Ť)||[tʲ] ~ [c]|
|Ų||[o] ~ [ʊ]|
|V||В||V||[v] ~ [ʋ]|
|Y (I)||Ы (И)||Y||[i] ~ [ɨ]|
|Ź||[zʲ] ~ [ʑ]|
|Ž (Ż, ZS, ZX)||Ж||Ž||[ʒ] ~ [ʐ]|
To summarise, there are several possibilities for writing the same word. The general guideline is: the more understandable the better. However, there are a few things to keep in mind:
- To avoid confusion among newcomers, try to follow the standard Latin and/or Cyrillic orthography as much as possible. Interslavic keyboard layouts can be downloaded here.
- For the same reason, do not use the etymological alphabet (formerly known as Naučny medžuslovjansky) in ordinary conversations. Whenever you use it anyway, please mention explicitly why you use it.
- Avoid using Cyrillic letters that are no longer used (such as ѣ, ѩ, ѫ, ѱ) and do not attempt to cyrillicise the etymological alphabet in any other way either, as both would seriously hamper intelligibility.
- If you have problems writing certain characters, please use one of the suggested alternatives.
- Be consistent in your choices. If, for example, you decide to use sz for representing š, keep it that way in the whole text or conversation, otherwise you will only create confusion. For the same reason, if you use sz, then don't use č or cx at the same time.
- Do not use non-letter characters (^ ' etc.) as a means to replace diacritics. They will not make your text more readable and most people find them ugly.
- Never mix Latin with Cyrillic.
- When addressing a members of a particular Slavic nation (for example, when you are travelling), you might consider flavourising your Interslavic. However, do not use flavorisation in multi-Slavic environments.