Russian Emperor Peter I famously reformed the Cyrillic script in Russia, where, among other changes, he redesigned the letterforms to more closely resemble the look of the modern Latin script.

Here is what printed Cyrillic (set in the Poluustav script) looked like in Russia in 1703, before the reform:

Maths textbook, 1703

And here is the first book printed using Peter I’s Civil Script, in 1708:

Geometry textbook, 1708

(See Civil Type and Kis Cyrillic for a comprehensive analysis and history of the reform.)

Naturally, this is the style of Cyrillic that has defined the script’s modern day look: вот пример современной кириллицы для печати русского языка. Though the traditional, blackletter-esque script remains in use today, it’s reserved for liturgical texts and is considered antiquated.

Now, my question is: when did Slavic nations outside of the Russian Empire (e.g. Serbia, Bulgaria, etc.) adopt this new Latin-inspired look? Are there historical records documenting their transition, like the comprehensive accounts of Peter the Great’s controversial innovation in Russia?

The Poluustav letterforms could be found in pre-1700’s printed books for many varieties of Cyrillic. In fact this style of manuscript writing had been allegedly invented in the Balkan region before it found its way to what later became Russia. However, the only Cyrillic style that’s in use nowadays, across all nations that use Cyrillic, is the Civil Script-based reformed variant.

  • Very interesting question. I don’t know the answer but I suspect it’s related to Vuk Karadzic’s reform of the Serbian language. Look here en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serbian_Cyrillic_alphabet – Artemij Keidan May 24 '18 at 12:14
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    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… claims that the Russian innovation spread. However, there is no reference given, and I am skeptical. The Balkans Orthodox had been continually exposed to Latin and Greek alphabets - Greek forms are also more like the Latin forms - and under increasing German influence. – Adam Bittlingmayer May 24 '18 at 21:38
  • About German influence, it is worth noting that the printing press technology was emanating from the same direction, and that in German at the time there was a similar issue with Fraktura vs Antiqua. – Adam Bittlingmayer May 24 '18 at 21:39
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    @ArtemijKeidan, it doesn't look like Vuk Karadzic's reform was when the transition happened, because there are examples of "pre-reform" Serbian printed texts that already use modern Cyrillic typeforms: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vuk_Karadžić#/media/… – Arnold May 26 '18 at 3:53

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