24th of May is the official Day of the Cyrillic alphabet
The 24th of May is the official Day of the Slavonic Alphabet & Culture. This celebration is dedicated to the Saints Cyril and Methodius – the authors of the Cyrillic alphabet. Being widely spread in many Orthodox countries across Europe, Cyrillic letterforms are often confusing for the people that use Latin alphabet. In this short quiz we asked some of the best artist and type designers, related with Cyrillic letters, two simple questions trying to clarify which version of Cyrillic alphabets fits better to Latin one – Bulgarian or Russian – and which is the most identical and unique Cyrillic letter.
1. If you have to design multilingual catalog where same text translated to English, German and Russian (or Bulgarian) stands on same page in three separate columns using same typeface, size etc. what would you choose for the Cyrillic text – Russian Cyrillic or Bulgarian Cyrillic. Why?
2. Which character on your opinion is the most unique one in Cyrillic Alphabet? Why?
1. If the text in Russian – the “Russian” Cyrillic, if the text on the Bulgarian – the “Bulgarian” one.
There is a Russian language and Russian Cyrillic for it. Bulgarian language with Bulgarian Cyrillic and Serbian with Serbian one. Of course, all of them understanding each other, but if formed national Alphabets – see no reason not to use them.
2. “б” “Дд” “Лл” “Жж” Firstly they do not have established grapheme, and secondly these characters (in some forms) are not found in other alphabets.
1. Language has priority. Type is second, and not the other way around.
2. Unique? They all are. «Ъ» is special since it has no phonetic value of its own and is a purely orthographic device.
1. It’s pretty straightforward: I would choose Russian Cyrillic if the text is Russian, and Bulgarian Cyrillic if the text is Bulgarian. It’s not a question of aesthetics. Even if the texture of text set in Bulgarian Cyrillic is easier to match with other Latin based text, for a Russian reader, the Bulgarian letterforms are unfamiliar and difficult to read.
2. Cyrillic has a lot of shapes that are familiar to the eye of a person who is used to Latin… but they just look weird: seemingly flipped and mirrored Latin shapes like И, Ж, Я. I would say а unique one is Д, it has many variations and it’s quite challenging to design. Its shape influences a lot the overall look of a typeface.
Krista Radoeva is a freelance typeface designer. See more about her on www.kristaradoeva.com
1. From the thousands of quality fonts out there, choosing the right typeface for the job has always been a challenging task. I always try to narrow down the selection by answering the question – which typeface will honor the content in the right way? The style would depend of the nature of the publication. Is a technical sans suitable? Maybe a traditional serif for a classic, more conservative theme!? I also try to avoid system fonts, not because I think they aren’t good enough (many of them are truly great) but simply because I think they have been overused. The main challenge in your question is the multilingual aspect of the job. That further narrows down the selection, and had you added Greek script in the mix, the choice would be so narrow that you would have to pick from just a dozen of typefaces. I would certainly go for one font family that can cover all the mentioned scripts, that has true Italics, small caps, text figures, and performs well in text.
I tend to use the typefaces I made myself (check out Chiavettieri for the task in question), but here are some from other designers that I would consider for a demanding multilingual task:
– Agmena by Jovica Veljović (amazing new typeface that supports Greek as well).
– Centro Pro by Panos Vassiliou.
– Skolar by David Březina.
– PT Sans Pro or something else from ParaType library.
– FF Meta by Erik Spiekermann.
– FF Sero Pro by Jörg Hemker.
– XXII Centar Sans by Lecter Johnson.
2. It is hard to speak about the uniqueness of Cyrillic characters since most of them derived from the Greek uncial script (or were taken from Latin). Most original Cyrillic characters were created based on Glagolitic alphabet, for the sounds that do not exist in the Greek language. The one that I would pick as the most unique and still in use today is Ж (Zhe). It is based on Glagolitic character Živěte, which means “life”.
1. I am just a user, albeit a long-term one. I definitively vote for the Bulgarian version of the Cyrillic script. I live and work in Varna, which is a seaside, tourism-oriented city. My practice demands from me to design a large number of multi-lingual publications related to cultural events. They usually accompany international exhibitions or festivals. The circulations are small; the standard release is 1000 pieces.
Bulgaria is a small and poor market. No one can afford individual emissions here. When I discussed this matter with Russian designers, someone said, “Two or three print runs, each of 10 to 20 thousand copies. I can’t see what the problem is.”
The tectonic and rhythmic of the Bulgarian Cyrillic script in parallel textual massifs harmonizes with the ubiquitous Roman alphabet and highlights their common roots – the Greek alphabet. The Russian civil alphabet thickens the fence of the regular letters; that’s why in multilingual editions I use the Bulgarian outlines even for Russian-language texts.
2. Uniqueness has a price.
“б” is problematic for me at the beginning and end of a word, “я” terrifies me. I clench my teeth at “ж” and “з,” and I close my eyes at the sight of “г.” The Russians do not have these issues. Empire. They have no troubles and do not infringe on the Russian standard for nothing.
And, unprompted, I add: Friz Quadrata, Optima, Frutiger, Garamond will be sufficient to last me till the end of my days. I’ll be able to manage a Helvetica, too. This will not cause national cataclysms.
Not that I want to harm your business. I wish you good luck!
Dimitar Traychev is a creative director and founder at Stalker Holding.
1. First of all I would like to say, that I don’t like the expressions „Bulgarian“ – „Russian“ Cyrillic.
There is only one Cyrillic with different designs and forms. Both Russian and Bulgarian designers are creating those different forms.
Would you say there is a Dutch Latin, or German Latin, or English Latin? Anyway that’s another topic and back to the question.
I definitely will use the so called “Bulgarian Cyrillic“, because it is more closer to the Latin script.
The ascender and descender of the letters: в д ж з к ю and the similar or more closer to the Latin script letters: г и п т ц ш щ are making bilingual texts look more harmonic to each other.
You can also compare the type color of the text columns and you will see that the ones set in „Russian Cyrillic“ are much darker.
Actually I think that Cyrillic script should be designed a little bit lighter than the Latin so the type color in bilingual text looks good.
If I remember right Tagir Safayev did that for FF Officina.
2. I don’t know – each character is unique for itself. But I like most the small б. Maybe because of my name.
Botio Nikoltchev is a type designer at lettersoup type foundry.
1. I will definitely choose Bulgarian Cyrillic, considering it is more stylistically and visually coherent to its Latin counterparts. On the other hand, here is the place to mention that I am not particularly fond of the idea to separate (and name) Cyrillic in two different styles – Russian or Bulgarian. Juxtaposing both creates sort of unwanted tension and gives the wrong impression that Bulgarian Cyrillic is some sort of regional phenomenon. As I see it, the so called Bulgarian Cyrillic, is a step in the right direction, because I strongly believe that Cyrillic needs to evolve in a way much more harmonious to Latin and why not, considering that most of the glyphs shapes of both writing systems are based on same ancestors.
2. My vote definitely goes for –Ж– (ZHE), it is unique, dynamic, expressive (even dramatic) and unforgettable.
1. To start, I do not agree with the official wording “cyrillic” because in my opinion this term refers to a set of 43 characters authored (by general opinion) St. Cyril and Methodius. As a result of the reforms of Peter I the characters have changed both quantitatively and qualitatively, especially in lower case. In fact, lower case for “grazhdanka” aka “russian civic script” is the small caps set with a few exceptions.
Thereby a column with “grazhdanka” will always discord with columns which contains of “conventional latin” lowercase and this discord increased with weight of font style due to presence a lot of optical compensations in lowercase “grazhdanka” glyphs with middle crossbars in heavy styles and relatively absence of ascenders and descenders in lines.
In my own opinion “bulgaric” lowercase letterforms solves this problem better (though not completely).
Resume: my choice will depends of language (not only Russian and Bulgarian use CP1251), typeface and font style weight.
2. Ж, because its letterform is most conflicting with the “logic of wider pen” on which lowercase Latin letterforms constructed.
Henadij Zarechnjuk is a freelancer graphic and type designer from Ukraine. Follow him on Facebook.
1. I will chose the Bulgarian Cyrillic for several reasons – the Bulgarian Cyrillic has much more ascenders and descenders so it will work much better with the English and German text next to it. I find it much more dynamic than the Russian Cyrillic and of course I am Bulgarian so I guess that plays its role as well.
2. I can’t say which one is the most unique as most of the Cyrillic letters are quite similar to the letters of the Latin alphabet, but I can say which one I find the most beautiful – Ж. I like its symmetry and especially how it looks in italics.
Alexander Nedelev is a typeface designer at Typedepot.
1. What about Caslon for English, Fraktur for German, and poluustav for Russian and Bulgarian? Just kidding. For many years I worked for the United Nations designing multilingual publications in six ‘official’ languages. For the official documents I used to use Times New Roman for English, French, Russian and Spanish editions; Traditional Arabic (Naskh) for the Arabic; and Song (Mincho) for the Chinese. My choice was guided by a number of considerations. In addition to the proven usability of those fine typefaces, and their transnational and transcultural acceptability to the target users, their being an important part of the core font set supplied with MS Windows and Mac OS of all generations and their guaranteed availability for both Macintosh and IBM-compatible computers were the governing factors.
Regarding the preferences in typeface selection. While the script—Cyrillic in our case—and the alphabet (Ukrainian, Bulgarian, Kazakh, etc.) may be considered a given, the choice of the typeface is undoubtedly the typographer’s responsibility. The selection of a typeface for continuous text is an important part of the design process. There are many factors to it—aesthetic, functional, ergonomic, technological, etc., etc. However, the readability of the typeface, the ease and comfort of reading are the primary tasks in text formatting no other considerations can abrogate (unless we are talking display typography which has a set of priorities all its own). Visual familiarity with the letterforms, the conventionality of the glyph construction are the sine qua non in the selection and use of the body text typefaces. To quote Matthew Carter,
‘If the reader is conscious of the type, it’s almost always a problem. [Letters on a page should] provide a seamless passage of the author’s thoughts into the reader’s minds with as much sympathy, style, and congeniality as possible.’
Or Beatrice Warde,
‘But a good speaking voice is one which is inaudible as a voice. <…> Type well used is invisible as type, just as the perfect talking voice is the unnoticed vehicle for the transmission of words, ideas.’
Forgive me if I am stating the obvious, or preaching to the converted.
Now on the typefaces you are referring to as Russian Cyrillic and Bulgarian Cyrillic. I find this makeshift nomenclature arbitrary, inaccurate and misleading. I’d rather define them as International and Bulgarian styles. It is a fact that most users of Cyrillic worldwide—they were 244,635,430 in 2011 (compare with the population of Bulgaria, 7,364,570)—are well accustomed to, and comfortable with, those letterforms you are calling ‘Russian’. What I know for sure is that the ‘Russian’ style of Cyrillic is acceptable to the Bulgarian readers too.
In my opinion this fashion for, and the heavy promotion of, the upright italic as an alternative to the standard forms of the Cyrillic lower-case glyphs is reflective of the modernist trends in typographic design of the 1960s and 1970s. The design of many non-Latin typefaces, including Arabic, Armenian, Devanagari, Greek, Hebrew, Thai, and yes, Cyrillic, was affected by a desire for more modern and ‘western’ cultural identities. The ensuing developments have proven many of those [well-intentioned] efforts shallow, perfunctory or just wrong.
Even yours truly had fallen for the temptation of creating a Cyrillic version of Helvetica Medium in upright italic style… But that was fifty-something years ago. What neither me nor Yuri, my co-pilot in that project, did know was that that Dolce Stil Novo was in fact… Bulgarian. And yet, there is nothing exclusively or inherently Bulgarian to that pattern of glyph construction. It does not seem to reflect its national identity. It is not connected to the ancient cultural heritage of Bulgaria, to its scribal and typographic tradition. Its spirit is clearly modernist—cosmopolitan and transcultural.
There are certainly many historical precedents of testing the viability and the potential of the upright italic in Cyrillic. It suffices to refer to the energetic efforts of the famous Russian publisher Mavrikii Ossipovich Wolff (1825–1883) to introduce this radically westernised style of Cyrillic lower-case in Russian typography.
2. It looks like the letter Zhe (Zhivete, Ж, U+0416; my initial, of course) is the one most original and authentic letter in the original Cyrillic character set. Unlike most other characters it can hardly be traced to the Greek or Hebrew alphabets the Cyrillic derived from. Of course, there are very many attractive letterforms in the Extended (non-Slavic) Cyrillic range… I like the O-hook (Abkhasian Ha, Ҩ, U+04A8)… Just don’t get me started on the Extended Cyrillic, okay?
’24th of May is the official Day of the Cyrillic alphabet’