Gaj's Latin alphabet

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. 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 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. Pavao Ritter Vitezović had proposed an idea for the orthography of the Croatian language, stating that every sound should have only one letter. Gaj's alphabet is currently used in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro, and Serbia.


The alphabet consists of thirty upper and lower case letters:

Majuscule forms (also called uppercase or capital letters)
Minuscule forms (also called lowercase or small letters)
abcčćdđ efghijkl ljmnnjoprs štuvzž
IPA Value
/a//b//ts//tʃ/ ([tʂ])/tɕ//d//dʒ/ ([dʐ])/dʑ/ /e//f//ɡ//x//i//j//k//l/ ([ɫ]) /ʎ//m//n//ɲ//o//p//r//s/ /ʃ/ ([ʂ])/t//u//v//z//ʒ/ ([ʐ])

Gaj's original alphabet contained the digraph dj, which Serbian linguist Đuro Daničić later replaced with 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, duplo v or duplo ve, x as iks, y as ipsilon.

Letters š, ž, č and represent the sounds [ʂ], [ʐ], [tʂ] and [dʐ], but often are transcribed as /ʃ/, /ʒ/, /tʃ/ and /dʒ/.


Note that the digraphs , 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; and so forth.
  • In vertical writing (such as on signs), , 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, , 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 Č N I C A.
  • If only the initial letter of a word is capitalized, only the first of the two component letters is capitalized: Njemačka ('Germany'), 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 in which titlecase and uppercase differ. Uppercase would be used if the entire word was capitalized: NJEMAČKA.


The Croatian Latin alphabet was mostly designed by Ljudevit Gaj, who modelled it after Czech (č,ž,š) and Polish (ć), and invented lj, nj and , according to similar solutions in Hungarian (ly, ny and dzs, although dž combinations exist also in Czech and Polish). 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 , 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 , 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.
  • 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 , 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

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 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 Serbo-Croatian one in several ways:

  • The Slovene alphabet does not have the characters ć and đ; 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 [ˈpóːljɛ] or [pɔˈljéː] in Slovene, as opposed to [pôʎe] in Serbo-Croatian).
  • While the phoneme /dʒ/ exists in modern Slovene and is written , it is used in only borrowed words and so 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 four ways (/eː/, /ɛ/, /ɛː/ and /ə/), and letter v in two ([ʋ] and [w], though the difference is not phonemic). 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] but is slightly modified. Gaj's ć and đ are not used at all, with and ǵ 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 ć and đ, like other places.

See also


  • Vladimir Anić, Ljiljana Jojić, Ivo Pranjković (2003). Pravopisni priručnik - dodatak Velikom rječniku hrvatskoga jezika (in Croatian).CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  • Vladimir Anić, Josip Silić, Radoslav Katičić, Dragutin Rosandić, Dubravko Škiljan (1987). Pravopisni priručnik hrvatskoga ili srpskoga jezika (in Croatian and Serbian).CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)


  1. Serbo-Croatian pronunciation: [abetsěːda, latǐnitsa, ɡǎjitsa], Slovene: [ˈɡáːjitsa]
  2. Žagarová, Margita; Pintarić, 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 2012-04-18.
  3. "Ortografija" (PDF). Jezične vježbe (in Croatian). Faculty of Philosophy, University of Pula. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2012-03-14. Retrieved 2012-04-18.
  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,...
  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
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