Six European languages use the Cyrillic Alphabet: Serbian, Russian, Ukrainian, Belarus, Bulgarian, Macedonian, as well as some East European and Asian languages. It is named by St Cyril, a brother to St Methodius. It was the Cyril and Methodius brothers who worked on spreading the literacy among the Slavs.
Cyrillic is the Serbian alphabet. Serbian books are written in Cyrillic, all the inscriptions on monuments and gravestones, the fresco paintings and icons in churches and monasteries were signed in Cyrillic letters. We can say that the “Cyrillic Alphabet is embossed with the soul of the Serbian people”. Since the time it was created as early as in the 9th century, the alphabet has kept its form, with some new letters added or some rejected in the meantime – as the language and the speech have been changing. For a long time Cyrillic graphemes, letters, were also used to represent numerals, as every letter had its numeric value.
There are also traces of some kind of a Slavic mode of writing, characters, from the pre-Christian era, although insufficiently investigated. However, the first Slavic, Serbs included, literacy efforts started when they were already Christianised.
The first known Slavic alphabet was made by the Greek Orthodox missionaries, the Venerated Brothers Cyril and Methodius of Salonika. That first alphabet was called the Glagolitic and was used in the first translations of the church service books into a Slavic language.
When the Salonika brothers died, their disciples devised a new alphabet based upon the Greek alphabet characters (the constitutional alphabet) and the Glagolitic was used for the sounds that did not exist in Greek. Later on the alphabet was called Cyrillic after St Cyril.
In the Orthodox Slavs, Cyrillic alphabet gradually replaced the Glagolitic one. The West Slavs, being under the spiritual leadership of the Roman Pontiff, adopted the Latin alphabet. With time, the Latin alphabet saw some changes while it was being adapted to Slavic language. The Cyrillic also underwent some changes due to a differentiation between the literary language and the Old Slavic common one – the original literary language common to all the Slavs. In Serbs, the Old Slavic changed into the Old Serbian Slavic and the history of Cyrillic alphabet as a subtype that can be traced from the introduction of a special character djerv (pronounced dʒ or tʃ) in the 12thcentury. A model for the character was taken from the Glagolitic, but in the Serbian Cyrillic alphabet it got a completely new form. Owing to the use of Cyrillic in the church service, the Old Church Slavic alphabet was kept on for quite some time.
Cyrillic alphabet originally had 43 letters, but with time, as some of them were not founded by speech sounds, there were several attempts at its reform. One of such reformers was Sava Mrkalj, but the present form of the Serbian alphabet owes to Vuk Stefanović Karadžić. In 1818 he started the reform and today there are 30 letters.
The modern Serbian Cyrillic alphabet in use today is governed by a principle of each letter corresponding to one speech sound – a phonetic alphabet.
Due to historic reasons, the Latin alphabet is also in use in Serbia today. When a common state of South Slavs, Yugoslavia, ceased to exist, it started to be called the “Serbian Latin Alphabet”.