Disclaimer: These pages are not actively maintained, and some of the practical information on the site is out of date. I am working on a new version of the site that will focus more on my photos and memories of travel in Southeast Europe, and less on practical details that too easily become obsolete. In the meantime, please treat the information here with caution.
The Cyrillic Alphabet in the Balkans
The following table shows the three main variations of the Cyrillic alphabet used in the Balkans: Bulgarian, Macedonian, and Serbian. Please read it in conjunction with the notes below.
|А а||a||А а||a||А а||a||ask or father|
|Б б||b||Б б||b||Б б||b||boy|
|В в||v||В в||v||В в||v||vat|
|Г г||g||Г г||g||Г г||g||girl|
|Д д||d||Д д||d||Д д||d||dog|
|Е е||e||Е е||e||Е е||e||egg|
|Ж ж||zh, ž||Ж ж||ž||Ж ж||ž||measure|
|З з||z||З з||z||З з||z||zebra|
|И и||i||И и||i||И и||i||machine|
|Й й||y, j||Ј ј||j||Ј ј||j||youth|
|К к||k||К к||k||К к||k||king|
|Л л||l||Л л||l||Л л||l||like|
|Љ љ||lj||Љ љ||lj||million|
|М м||m||М м||m||М м||m||met|
|Н н||n||Н н||n||Н н||n||name|
|Њ њ||nj||Њ њ||nj||canyon|
|О о||o||О о||o||О о||o||hot|
|П п||p||П п||p||П п||p||pin|
|Р р||r||Р р||r||Р р||r||rough|
|С с||s||С с||s||С с||s||sad|
|Т т||t||Т т||t||Т т||t||tap|
|У у||u||У у||u||У у||u||rule|
|Ф ф||f||Ф ф||f||Ф ф||f||food|
|Х х||h, kh||Х х||h||Х х||h||hot or loch|
|Ц ц||c, ts||Ц ц||c||Ц ц||c||puts|
|Ч ч||ch, č||Ч ч||č||Ч ч||č||church|
|Џ џ||dž||Џ џ||dž||just|
|Ш ш||sh, š||Ш ш||š||Ш ш||š||show|
|Щ щ||sht, št||pushed|
|Ъ ъ||â, u, a||but or ago|
|Ь ь||y, j, '||"soft sign"|
|Ю ю||yu, ju||youth|
|Я я||ya, ja||yarn|
Notes on the table of Cyrillic characters
- The "Cyrillic" column shows upper and lower case letters, which are generally very similar apart from the size.
- The "Latin" column shows an equivalent lower case letter in the Latin (Roman) alphabet. Each Serbian Cyrillic character has a clearly identified equivalent in Latin script, so there is never any ambiguity in switching between the two alphabets. This is not the case for Bulgarian, which has several transliteration systems. That's why the "Latin" column has more than one entry for some letters.
- The English pronunciation guide should be taken as a rough approximation only, especially for vowel sounds.
- The pronunciation of some letters changes slightly depending on position, for example the Bulgarian д sounds more like t than d at the end of a word. Nevertheless the pronunciation of Slavic languages is much more predictable than English, so you have a good chance of being understood even using this simplified system.
- If you know Russian you should find the Bulgarian alphabet very familiar. The Bulgarian ъ is a vowel, quite distinct from the Russian "hard sign". Bulgarian does not use the letters Ё, Ы, Э.
- The Bulgarian "soft sign" softens the preceding consonant. Thus the combinations ль and нь in Bulgarian sound like Serbian љ and њ.
- Beware of the "false friends" В, Р, С, and Ј!
- I have not included the cursive (handwritten) versions of the alphabet. You may occasionally see cursive letters used even when not handwritten, for example in advertisements - something that most guidebooks and phrasebooks gloss over. The cursive forms of the Bulgarian letters are displayed on this page of the Plovdiv City Guide. The cursive equivalents of certain letters are quite different from the printed forms. Watch out for the cursive letter т, which looks confusingly like a Latin m.
- You may some across lists in Latin script that have been translated from Cyrillic without changing the alphabetical order. The city of Varna would appear near the top of such a list, because В is the third letter in the Cyrillic alphabet. This might sound trivial but it's easy to forget, especially online - the drop-down list of stations on the English version of the Bulgarian Rail website is an example.
Some examples: place names in Cyrillic
|Bulgarian||СОФИЯ||Sofija, Sofiya (Sofia in English)|
|Bulgarian||ВЕЛИКО ТЪРНОВО||Veliko Târnovo (or Turnovo)|
|Macedonian||СОЛУН||Solun (the name for Thessaloniki in the South Slavic languages)|
|Serbian||БЕОГРАД||Beograd (Belgrade in English)|
|Serbian||ЦРНА ГОРА||Crna Gora (Montenegro in English)|