At some point around the seventh to the ninth century, the Slavic people began writing down their language with a new alphabet that used characters from both Greek and Latin scripts. This alphabet was known as the Glagolitic alphabet, and it was from this that the Cyrillic alphabet emerged in its embryonic state around the tenth century. This first Cyrillic alphabet consisted of forty three characters, twenty four of which came directly from the Greek alphabet (sometimes only used in greek words), with the rest designed for specifically Slavic sounds. There were also variants on letters – some could be augmented with a tail, or even written backwards.
There is no solid data as to who specifically created the alphabet; it is said traditionally that it was created by the brothers St. Cyrril and St. Methodius, but there is no hard evidence for this. We do know, however, that the script originated from the first Bulgarian kingdom (which consisted of most of eastern europe), around which it spread with various speeds. Like most cultural entities, the script endured an almost constant evolution which meant one countries Cyrillic script was likely to be slightly (or significantly) different to the next.
In Bulgaria the first empire was overtaken by the Byzantines, but this did not significantly hamper the Cyrillic tradition. The alphabet did continue to evolve however, with backwards letters and accents take a more major role. As the second Bulgarian empire came to fruition around the twelfth century, the alphabet continued to be widely used.
In 1708 the Russian Tsar reformed the Cyrillic alphabet, which compromised the various traditions that had derived from the script. Symbols were simplified so that accentuation marks and abbreviations were no longer needed, and old letters were replaced with more modern ones. Some old greek letters were also thrown out. This script was known as the civil script, and it is the basis for all modern Cyrillic alphabets.
The civil script was fully accepted in Bulgaria around 1830, with the first book printed in the script published in 1821. After 1850 this new alphabet has dominated the written language in Bulgaria, and is still used by the majority of Bulgarians today.
By Tim Johnston