Gaj's Latin alphabet

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Gaj's Latin alphabet (Serbo-Croatian: abeceda, latinica, or gajica) is the form of the Latin script used for Serbo-Croatian (Bosnian, Croatian, Serbian, and Montenegrin). It was devised by Croatian linguist Ljudevit Gaj in 1835, based on Jan Hus's Czech alphabet. A slightly reduced version is used as the script of the Slovene language, and a modified version is used for romanization of the Macedonian language. Pavao Ritter Vitezović had proposed an idea for the orthography of the Croatian language, stating that every sound should have only one letter. The Serbian Cyrillic script, which was developed by Serbian linguist Vuk Karadžić and made official in 1818, used a similar concept.

Today Gaj's alphabet is used in Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia and Montenegro. In Serbia Gaj's alphabet is considered more popular, according to a survey from 2014 which showed that 47% of the Serbian population favor it whereas 36% favor the Serbian Cyrillic alphabet.[1] In Montenegro, proponents of a separate Montenegrin language tend to prefer to use Gaj's alphabet over Cyrillic.[citation needed]


Gaj's Latin alphabet contains 8 letters absent from English

The alphabet consists of thirty upper and lower case letters:

Letter IPA Letter IPA Letter IPA
A, a /a/ G, g /ɡ/ O, o /o/
B, b /b/ H, h /x/ P, p /p/
C, c /ts/ I, i /i/ R, r /r/
Č, č /tʃ/ J, j /j/ S, s /s/
Ć, ć /tɕ/ K, k /k/ Š, š /ʃ/
D, d /d/ L, l /l/ T, t /t/
, dž /dʒ/ Lj, lj /ʎ/ U, u /u/
Đ, đ /dʑ/ M, m /m/ V, v /ʋ/
E, e /e/ N, n /n/ Z, z /z/
F, f /f/ Nj, nj /ɲ/ Ž, ž /ʒ/

Gaj's original alphabet contained the digraph ⟨dj⟩, which Serbian linguist Đuro Daničić later replaced by the letter ⟨đ⟩.

The letters do not have names, and consonants are normally pronounced as such when spelling is necessary (or followed by a short schwa, e.g. /fə/). When clarity is needed, they are pronounced similar to the German alphabet: a, be, ce, če, će, de, dže, đe, e, ef, ge, ha, i, je, ka, el, elj, em, en, enj, o, pe, er, es, eš, te, u, ve, ze, že. These rules for pronunciation of individual letters are common as far as the 22 letters that match the ISO basic Latin alphabet are concerned. The use of others is mostly limited to the context of linguistics,[2][3] while in mathematics, ⟨j⟩ is commonly pronounced jot, as in German. The missing four letters are pronounced as follows: ⟨q⟩ as ku or kju, ⟨w⟩ as dublve or duplo ve, ⟨x⟩ as iks, ⟨y⟩ as ipsilon.


Note that the digraphs⟩, ⟨lj⟩, and ⟨nj⟩ are considered to be single letters. This means that:

  • In dictionaries, njegov comes after novine, in a separate ⟨nj⟩ section after the end of the ⟨n⟩ section, and bolje comes after bolnica, and so forth.
  • In vertical writing (such as on signs), ⟨dž⟩, ⟨lj⟩, ⟨nj⟩ are written horizontally, as a unit. For instance, if mjenjačnica ('bureau de change') is written vertically, ⟨nj⟩ appears on the fourth line (but note ⟨m⟩ and ⟨j⟩ appear separately on the first and second lines, respectively, because ⟨mj⟩ contains two letters, not one). In crossword puzzles, ⟨dž⟩, ⟨lj⟩, ⟨nj⟩ each occupy a single square.
  • In cases where words are written with a space between each letter (such as on signs), each of these digraphs is written as a unit. For instance: M J E NJ A Č N I C A.
  • In cases where only the initial letter of a word is capitalized, only the first of the two component letters is capitalized: Njemačka and not NJemačka. In Unicode, the form ⟨Nj⟩ is referred to as titlecase, as opposed to the uppercase form ⟨NJ⟩, representing one of the few cases where titlecase and uppercase differ. Uppercase would be used if the entire word was capitalized: NJEMAČKA.


Croatian linguist Ljudevit Gaj

The Croatian Latin was mostly designed by Ljudevit Gaj, who modelled it after Czech and Polish, and invented ⟨lj⟩, ⟨nj⟩ and ⟨dž⟩. In 1830, he published in Buda the book Kratka osnova horvatsko-slavenskog pravopisanja ("Brief basics of the Croatian-Slavonic orthography"), which was the first common Croatian orthography book. It was not the first ever Croatian orthography work, as it was preceded by works of Rajmund Đamanjić (1639), Ignjat Đurđević and Pavao Ritter Vitezović. Croats had previously used the Latin script, but some of the specific sounds were not uniformly represented. Versions of the Hungarian alphabet were most commonly used, but others were too, in an often confused, inconsistent fashion.

Gaj followed the example of Pavao Ritter Vitezović and the Czech orthography, making one letter of the Latin script for each sound in the language. His alphabet mapped completely on Serbian Cyrillic which had been standardized by Vuk Karadžić a few years before.[4]

Đuro Daničić suggested in his Rječnik hrvatskoga ili srpskoga jezika ("Dictionary of Croatian or Serbian language") published in 1880 that Gaj's digraphs ⟨dž⟩, ⟨dj⟩, ⟨lj⟩ and ⟨nj⟩ should be replaced by single letters : ⟨ģ⟩, ⟨đ⟩, ⟨ļ⟩ and ⟨ń⟩ respectively. The original Gaj alphabet was eventually revised, but only the digraph ⟨dj⟩ has been replaced with Daničić's ⟨đ⟩, while ⟨dž⟩, ⟨lj⟩ and ⟨nj⟩ have been kept.


In the 1990s, there was a general confusion about the proper character encoding to use to write text in Latin Croatian on computers.

  • An attempt was made to apply the 7-bit "YUSCII", later "CROSCII", which included the five letters with diacritics at the expense of five non-letter characters ([, ], {, }, @), but it was ultimately unsuccessful. Because the ASCII character @ sorts before A, this led to jokes calling it žabeceda (žaba=frog, abeceda=alphabet).
  • Other short-lived vendor-specific efforts were also undertaken.[which?]
  • The 8-bit ISO 8859-2 (Latin-2) standard was developed by ISO.
  • MS-DOS introduced 8-bit encoding CP852 for Central European languages, disregarding the ISO standard.
  • Microsoft Windows spread yet another 8-bit encoding called CP1250, which had a few letters mapped one-to-one with ISO 8859-2, but also had some mapped elsewhere.
  • Apple used yet another encoding called the Macintosh Central European encoding.
  • EBCDIC also has a Latin-2 encoding.[5]

The preferred character encoding for Croatian today is either the ISO 8859-2, or the Unicode encoding UTF-8 (with two bytes or 16 bits necessary to use the letters with diacritics). However, as of 2010, one can still find programs as well as databases that use CP1250, CP852 or even CROSCII.

Usage in the Slovene language

Since the early 1840s, Gaj's alphabet was increasingly used for the Slovene language. In the beginning, it was Slovene authors who treated Slovene as a variant of Croatian (such as Stanko Vraz) who most commonly used it, but it was later accepted by a large spectrum of Slovene-writing authors. The breakthrough came when the Slovene conservative leader Janez Bleiweis started using Gaj's script in his journal Kmetijske in rokodelske novice ("Agricultural and Artisan News)"), which was read by a wide public in the countryside. By 1850, Gaj's alphabet (known as gajica in Slovene) became the only official Slovene alphabet, replacing three other writing systems which circulated in the Slovene Lands since the 1830s: the traditional bohoričica (after Adam Bohorič who codified it) and the two innovative proposals by the Peter Dajnko (the dajnčica) and Franc Serafin Metelko (the metelčica).

The Slovene version of Gaj's alphabet differs from the Croatian one in the following traits:

  • The Slovene alphabet does not have the characters ⟨ć⟩ and ⟨đ⟩; the sounds these letters represent are not present in the Slovene language;
  • In the Slovene variant, the digraphs ⟨lj⟩ and ⟨nj⟩ are treated as two separate letters and represent separate sounds (e.g. the word polje is pronounced Template:IPA-sl or Template:IPA-sl in Slovene, as opposed to [pôʎe] in Croatian).
  • While the phoneme /dʒ/ exists in modern Slovene and is written ⟨dž⟩, it is only used in borrowed words, and ⟨d⟩ and ⟨ž⟩ are considered separate letters, not a digraph.

Slovene orthography is comparatively less phonetic than Serbo-Croatian. For instance, letter ⟨e⟩ can be pronounced in three ways (/e/, /ɛ/ and /ə/), and letter ⟨v⟩ in two (/ʋ/ and /w/). Also, it does not record consonant voicing assimilation: compare e.g. Slovene ⟨odpad⟩ and Serbo-Croatian ⟨otpad⟩ ('junkyard', 'waste').

Usage in Macedonian

Romanization of Macedonian is done according to Gaj's Latin alphabet,.[6][7] However, this alphabet is slightly modified according to the phonetics and phonology of the language. Therefore, Gaj's letters ć and đ are not used at all, but instead the letters and ǵ were introduced. The rest of the letters of the alphabet are used to represent the equivalent Cyrillic letters. Additionally to that, Macedonian uses the letter dz, which is not part of the Serbo-Croatian phonetic inventory. However, the backs of record sleeves published in the Yugoslavia era (e.g. Mizar's debut album) used ć and đ, among other sources.

See also


  • Vladimir Anić, Ljiljana Jojić, Ivo Pranjković (2003). Pravopisni priručnik - dodatak Velikom rječniku hrvatskoga jezika (in Croatian). <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Vladimir Anić, Josip Silić, Radoslav Katičić, Dragutin Rosandić, Dubravko Škiljan (1987). Pravopisni priručnik hrvatskoga ili srpskoga jezika (in Croatian or Serbian). <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>


  2. Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1/Identifiers at line 47: attempt to index field 'wikibase' (a nil value).
  3. "Ortografija" (PDF). Jezične vježbe (in Croatian). Faculty of Philosophy, University of Pula. Retrieved 2012-04-18. <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Comrie, Bernard; Corbett, Greville G. (1 September 2003). The Slavonic Languages. Taylor & Francis. p. 45. ISBN 978-0-203-21320-9. Retrieved 23 December 2013. ... following Vuk's reform of Cyrillic (see above) in the early nineteenth century, Ljudevit Gaj in the 1830s performed the same operation on Latinica,...<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Host Code Page 1153/1375 Latin 2 – EBCDIC Multilingual
  6. Lunt, H. (1952), Grammar of the Macedonian literary language, Skopje.
  7. Macedonian Latin alphabet, Pravopis na makedonskiot literaturen jazik, B. Vidoeski, T. Dimitrovski, K. Koneski, K. Tošev, R. Ugrinova Skalovska - Prosvetno delo Skopje, 1970, p.99

External links