Gaj's Latin Alphabet
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Gaj's Latin Alphabet
Gaj's Latin alphabet
Time period
Parent systems
Child systems
Slovene alphabet
Montenegrin alphabet
Macedonian Latin alphabet
Subset of Latin

Gaj's Latin alphabet (Serbo-Croatian: abeceda, latinica, or gajica)[1] is the form of the Latin script used for writing Serbo-Croatian and all of its standard varieties: Bosnian, Croatian, Serbian, and Montenegrin.

The alphabet was initially devised by Croatian linguist Ljudevit Gaj in 1835 during the Illyrian movement in ethnically Croatian parts of Austrian Empire. It was largely based on Jan Hus's Czech alphabet and was meant to serve as a unified orthography for three Croatian kingdoms within Austrian Empire at the time, namely Croatia, Dalmatia and Slavonia and their three dialect groups, Kajkavian, Chakavian and Shtokavian which historically utilized different spelling rules.

A slightly modified version of it was later adopted as the formal Latin writing system for the unified Serbo-Croatian standard language per the Vienna Literary Agreement. It served as one of the official scripts in the unified South Slavic state of Yugoslavia.

A slightly reduced version is used as the script of the Slovene language, and a slightly expanded version is used as a script of the modern standard Montenegrin language. A modified version is used for the romanization of the Macedonian language. It further influenced alphabets of Romani languages that are spoken in Southeast Europe, namely Vlax and Balkan Romani.


The alphabet consists of thirty upper and lower case letters:

Majuscule forms (also called uppercase or capital letters)
A B C ? ? D D? ? E F G H I J K L Lj M N Nj O P R S ? T U V Z ?
Minuscule forms (also called lowercase or small letters)
a b c ? ? d d? ? e f g h i j k l lj m n nj o p r s ? t u v z ?
IPA Value
Gaj's Latin alphabet omits 4 letters (q,w,x,y) from the ISO Basic Latin alphabet.

Gaj's original alphabet contained the digraph ⟨dj⟩, which Serbian linguist ?uro Dani?i? later replaced with the letter ⟨?⟩.

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. /f?/). When clarity is needed, they are pronounced similar to the German alphabet: a, be, ce, ?e, ?e, de, d?e, ?e, e, ef, ge, ha, i, je, ka, el, elj, em, en, enj, o, pe, er, es, e?, te, u, ve, ze, ?e. 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, duplo v or duplo ve, ⟨x⟩ as iks, ⟨y⟩ as ipsilon.

Letters ⟨?⟩, ⟨?⟩, ⟨?⟩ and ⟨d?⟩ represent the sounds [?], [?], [t?] and [d?], but often are transcribed as /?/, /?/, /t?/ and /d?/.


Note that the digraphs d?, lj, and nj are considered to be single letters:

  • In dictionaries, njegov comes after novine, in a separate ⟨nj⟩ section after the end of the <n> section; bolje comes after bolnica; nad?ak (digraph ⟨d?⟩) comes after nad?ivjeti (prefix nad-), and so forth.
  • In vertical writing (such as on signs), ⟨d?⟩, ⟨lj⟩, ⟨nj⟩ are written horizontally, as a unit. For instance, if mjenja?nica ('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, ⟨d?⟩, ⟨lj⟩, ⟨nj⟩ each occupy a single square.
  • If words are written with a space between each letter (such as on signs), each digraphs is written as a unit. For instance: M J E NJ A ? N I C A.
  • If only the initial letter of a word is capitalized, only the first of the two component letters is capitalized: Njema?ka ('Germany'), not NJema?ka. In Unicode, the form ⟨Nj⟩ is referred to as titlecase, as opposed to the uppercase form ⟨NJ⟩, representing one of the few cases in which titlecase and uppercase differ. Uppercase would be used if the entire word was capitalized: NJEMA?KA.


Croatian linguist Ljudevit Gaj

The Croatian Latin alphabet was mostly designed by Ljudevit Gaj, who modelled it after Czech (?, ?, ?) and Polish (?), and invented ⟨lj⟩, ⟨nj⟩ and ⟨d?⟩, according to similar solutions in Hungarian (ly, ny and dzs, although d? combinations exist also in Czech and Polish). In 1830 in Buda, he published 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 ?amanji? (1639), Ignjat ?ur?evi? and Pavao Ritter Vitezovi?. 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 Vitezovi? and the Czech orthography, making one letter of the Latin script for each sound in the language. Following Vuk Karad?i?'s reform of Cyrillic in the early nineteenth century, in the 1830s Ljudevit Gaj did the same for latinica, using the Czech system and producing a one-to-one grapheme-phoneme correlation between the Cyrillic and Latin orthographies, resulting in a parallel system.[4]

?uro Dani?i? suggested in his Rje?nik hrvatskoga ili srpskoga jezika ("Dictionary of Croatian or Serbian language") published in 1880 that Gaj's digraphs ⟨d?⟩, ⟨dj⟩, ⟨lj⟩ and ⟨nj⟩ should be replaced by single letters : ⟨?⟩, ⟨?⟩, ⟨?⟩ and ⟨?⟩ respectively. The original Gaj alphabet was eventually revised, but only the digraph ⟨dj⟩ has been replaced with Dani?i?'s ⟨?⟩, while ⟨d?⟩, ⟨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 ?abeceda (?aba=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's Macintosh Central European encoding does not include the entire Gaj's Latin alphabet. Instead, a separate codepage, called MacCroatian encoding, is used.
  • 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.

Digraphs ⟨d?⟩, ⟨lj⟩ and ⟨nj⟩ in their upper case, title case and lower case forms have dedicated UNICODE code points as shown in the table below, However, these are included chiefly for backwards compatibility (with legacy encodings which kept a one-to-one correspondence with Cyrillic); modern texts use a sequence of characters.

Sequence UNICODE point UNICODE glyph
D? U+01C4 ?
D? U+01C5 ?
d? U+01C6 ?
LJ U+01C7 LJ
Lj U+01C8 Lj
lj U+01C9 lj
Nj U+01CB Nj
nj U+01CC nj

Usage for Slovene

Since the early 1840s, Gaj's alphabet was increasingly used for the Slovene language. In the beginning, it was most commonly used by Slovene authors who treated Slovene as a variant of Serbo-Croatian (such as Stanko Vraz), but it was later accepted by a large spectrum of Slovene-writing authors. The breakthrough came in 1845, 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 bohori?ica (after Adam Bohori? who codified it) and the two innovative proposals by the Peter Dajnko (the dajn?ica) and Franc Serafin Metelko (the metel?ica).

The Slovene version of Gaj's alphabet differs from the Serbo-Croatian one in several ways:

  • The Slovene alphabet does not have the characters ⟨?⟩ and ⟨?⟩; the sounds they represent do not occur in Slovene.
  • In Slovene, the digraphs ⟨lj⟩ and ⟨nj⟩ are treated as two separate letters and represent separate sounds (the word polje is pronounced ['pó:lj?] or [p?'ljé:] in Slovene, as opposed to [pô?e] in Serbo-Croatian).
  • While the phoneme /d?/ exists in modern Slovene and is written ⟨d?⟩, it is used in only borrowed words and so ⟨d⟩ and ⟨?⟩ are considered separate letters, not a digraph.

As in Serbo-Croatian, Slovene orthography does not make use of diacritics to mark accent in words in regular writing, but headwords in dictionaries are given with them to account for homographs. For instance, letter ⟨e⟩ can be pronounced in four ways (/e:/, /?/, /?:/ and /?/), and letter ⟨v⟩ in two ([?] and [w], though the difference is not phonemic). Also, it does not reflect consonant voicing assimilation: compare e.g. Slovene ⟨odpad⟩ and Serbo-Croatian ⟨otpad⟩ ('junkyard', 'waste').

Usage for Macedonian

Romanization of Macedonian is done according to Gaj's Latin alphabet[6][7] but is slightly modified. Gaj's ? and ? are not used at all, with ? and ? introduced instead. The rest of the letters of the alphabet are used to represent the equivalent Cyrillic letters. Also, Macedonian uses the letter dz, which is not part of the Serbo-Croatian phonemic inventory. However, the backs of record sleeves published in the former Yugoslavia, by non-Macedonian publishers, (such as Mizar's debut album) used ? and ?, like other places.

See also


  • Vladimir Ani?, Ljiljana Joji?, Ivo Pranjkovi? (2003). Pravopisni priru?nik - dodatak Velikom rje?niku hrvatskoga jezika (in Croatian).CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  • Vladimir Ani?, Josip Sili?, Radoslav Kati?i?, Dragutin Rosandi?, Dubravko ?kiljan (1987). Pravopisni priru?nik hrvatskoga ili srpskoga jezika (in Croatian and Serbian).CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)


  1. ^ Serbo-Croatian pronunciation: [abets?:da, lat?nitsa, jitsa], Slovene: ['?á:jitsa]
  2. ^ ?agarová, Margita; Pintari?, Ana (July 1998). "On some similarities and differences between Croatian and Slovakian". Linguistics (in Croatian). Faculty of Philosophy, University of Osijek. 1 (1): 129-134. ISSN 1331-7202. Retrieved .
  3. ^ "Ortografija" (PDF). Jezi?ne vje?be (in Croatian). Faculty of Philosophy, University of Pula. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2012-03-14. Retrieved .
  4. ^ Comrie, Bernard; Corbett, Greville G. (1 September 2003). The Slavonic Languages. Taylor & Francis. p. 45. ISBN 978-0-203-21320-9. Retrieved 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, using the Czech system and producing a one-to-one symbol correlation between Cyrillic and Latinica as applied to the Serbian and Croatian parallel system.
  5. ^ "IBM Knowledge Center".
  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. To?ev, R. Ugrinova Skalovska - Prosvetno delo Skopje, 1970, p.99

External links

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