Nadia, Owen, and I are going through the “Teach Yourself Serbian” language course by Vladislava Ribnikar and David Norris. We are first concentrating on the alphabet – letter recognition and sounds. Nadia is putting into play her experience as a kindergarten teacher. That is what she does, teach children a new language, English in our school. She loves the Jolly Phonics program, which is a British phonics system of learning the 40 basic sounds of the English language. Nadia made a “Serbian Jolly Phonics” packet for Owen and I. We have flash cards, posters, and put the lessons on our iPods to try to absorb the language. The opportunity to learn new languages is one of the nicest things in living abroad. I learned Spanish in my long time in working in Latin America. Our family speaks “Spanglish” a mix of Spanish and English in the home. Spanish has given me a better understanding of the grammar of English and a different way of looking at the world.
Serbian offers many challenges, the first being two alphabets. Serbia has always been at the crossroads of East and West and this is reflected with the two alphabets. Belgrade and the south of the country belonged to the Istanbul-looking Ottoman Empire for centuries, while Novi Sad and the north was controlled by the Vienna-looking Austrian Hungarian Empire. Serbian’s original alphabet is Cyrillic. This letter system is over 1000 years old and was adapted by Bulgarian priests from the Greek alphabet. Some of the Greek symbols remain or remnants of them. Cyrillic is named after St. Cyril, a Greek Byzantine Missionary who brought Christianity to the Slavic people in the 800’s. Below is a picture of Cyril and his brother Methodius, holding up the Cyrillic script. The script is strongly associated with the Orthodox or Byzantine Christian Church, as the Bulgarian priests who developed it, did so in order to put the Bible and church documents into a language for the Slavs. It is telling that the Croats, who went with the Roman Catholic Church instead of an Eastern Orthodox Church, now only use a Latin alphabet.
Today, variations of Cyrillic is used by over 50 languages, including the Slavic countries of Russia, Bulgaria, Serbia, Belarus, Ukraine, and Macedonia. I finally now understand what the CCCP meant on the uniforms of the Soviet athletes in the Olympics of the 1970’s and 80’s. In Cyrillic, the “C” represents the “s” sound and the “P” represents the “r” sound.
Below are some notes to try to help me learn all 30 of the Cyrillic letters. I discovered on my Mac, I can switch among English, Serbian Latin, and Serbian Cyrillic on my key board. Now I now what the US flag in the upper right hand corner is for. Here is my breakdown of the 30 Cyrillic letters and sounds:
Easy Ones – Six have the same shape and sound as in English. To spell the word for strong it would be MET.
А Е К М 0 Т
False Friends- Six look like our English letters, but have a different sound than in English.
Х «throat clearing h»
The remainder are odd with no resemblance to English letters.
The pi symbols – Four look like the Greek letter pi (I am also a former mathematics teacher.)
П This one is «p» sound which makes it easy to remember because p for pi.
Л The pi symbol with a little twist, represents the «L» sound.
Љ Add a loop that looks like a b to make the «ll» sound of «million»
Њ An «H» and a «b» together make the «n» sound in Spanish like Nandu
The three “C’s” – Some of the letters in the Latin Serbian have accent marks. There are three Latinized “C” letters. The Cyrillic equivalent is first and the Latin is second. Frankly, at this point, I don’t hear any difference among the three.
Ц C pronounced like the «ts» in cats
Ћ Ć prounounced like the «t» of tube, but with tongue slightly back.
Ч Č easiest of the three, the «ch» of child
My surname of Kralovec is from the Bohemian region of the Czech Republic. The final c is probably one of the three above. I see that many Serbian surnames have the second Ć. I will be using this one to spell my name.
The Three “D’s” – Two of the letters in the Serbian Latin are a take of the letter D.
Ђ Đ The Cyrillic looks too similar to the Ć but the part of the h is curved in at the bottom of the figure. It is pronounced like the «d» in dew but with tongue right behind front teeth
Џ Dz Pronounced like the «j» in judge. The sign looks like football goal posts, like the NY Jets
The actual “D” sound is represented by this Д symbol that looks like a door making it easy to remember for me.
The Rest –
Б This is «B» and it is pretty close to our B.
Г It looks like a small «r» but it is the «g» sound as in goat.
Ф This is phi from the Greek alphabet and its sound is «f»
Ж This is the strangest sign, the double K matches the «s» is pleasure
И The backwards N has the sound «ee» or the Spanish i
Ш The Roman numeral three has the sound of «sh» in shoe
Z My Serbian Cyrillic Mac keyboard will not give me the 3 that represents the sound “z
My favorite Cyrillic letter is Ж. It sounds Slavic and looks exotic.
I will be chronicling my growth in the language. It will probably be boring to read but it helps me reflect on my learning.