Cyrillic for Spanish (Еспањол)

Hey! This is the first post on my blog but I’m not going to dwell on that really and I’m just gonna launch into something I find cool, which I guess this is all about!

So! From fall 2015 to around fall 2017, I attended the University of Oregon, working towards a bachelor’s degree in linguistics. Although I eventually decided against continuing to pursue this field, so much of linguistics did and continues to captivate me, especially when it comes to orthographies, the scripts we use to write those languages.

I took Spanish classes for a long time, starting before middle school and going all through high school. In college, then, needing another language for the linguistics program, I decided to take a year of Russian… in part because of its script. And it was there that I actually learned and became comfortable with the Cyrillic script, even if much of the rest of that class is already in the margins of my brainspace. And, as I like to screw around with these sort of things (as evidenced by me trying to reform English spelling at least once or twice), I figured… why not combine the Cyrillic script used for Russian (and other Slavic and non-Slavic languages from the former-Soviet sphere of influence) with my knowledge of Spanish I’ve accrued?

I did some cursory googling then and discovered that, naturally, this had been done; however, I wasn’t quite happy with its focus on preserving the quirks of Spanish’s Latin spelling and use of so many uncommon Cyrillic characters mostly used for only a couple of non-Slavic languages. So, about a year and a half ago, I embarked on my own orthographical mapping of Spanish to Cyrillic.

And I’m actually pretty darn happy with what I came up with. Here are the 24 primary letters:

Aа Бб Вв Гг Дд Ее
Зз Ии Јј Кк Лл Љљ
Мм Нн Њњ Оо Пп Рр
Сс Тт Уу Фф Хх Чч

So, a little explanation for my readers who don’t know Cyrillic. The five vowels directly correspond:

  • A → A
  • E → Е
  • I → И
  • O → О
  • U → У

This is the same as their correspondence in Russian (though that also has an additional vowel, ы, which isn’t used here). As it has the same sound as I, Y in the Latin when used for a vowel would be replaced with И as well. Many of the consonants also have pretty direct correspondence:

  • B → Б
  • V → В
  • D → Д
  • Z → З
  • K → К
  • Q → К
  • L → Л
  • M → М
  • N → Н
  • P → П
  • R → Р
  • S → С
  • T → Т
  • F → Ф
  • J → Х
  • CH  → Ч

Again, this is effectively the same sounds used for the consonants in Russian (with an exception for Z → З, which is pronounced as /θ/, the ‘th’ in ‘thought’, in Castilian Spanish and as /s/ in most forms of Latin American Spanish). There are also a few additional consonants whose Cyrillic forms here never appear in Russian, though they do appear in the alphabets for other Slavic languages:

  • Ñ → Њ
  • LL → Љ (regardless of dialect)
  • Y (as consonant) → Ј

You’ll notice that Ñ and LL both appear here as what are essentially modified forms of Н and Л, ligatures formed with the ‘soft sign’ ь that appears in Russian as a marker of a palatalized consonant. While it does not appear on its own in this Cyrillisation, these modified forms of the letters here are used for a similar concept, with the Ñ sound being a palatal form of N in all dialects and LL being a palatal form of L in some dialects (and while in others, it sounds the same as Latin consonantal Y, it would be written the same regardless of dialect).

Now, for the consonants that represent multiple sounds depending on the situation:

  • X → КС in most circumstances, except where pronunciation differs (e.g. the X in México would be written as Cyrillic Х)
  • “Hard” C (correr) → К
  • “Soft” C (cerrar) → З
  • “Hard” G (golpear) → Г
  • “Soft” G (girar) → Х

At this point the only other consonant not addressed is the Latin H (when not in the CH digraph). In Spanish this doesn’t make a sound, so my impulse would be to simply delete it; however, I realise this may be unpalatable to native speakers and so I’m also providing an alternate, to use the palochka character as a stand-in (which appears as Ӏ in uppercase and ӏ in lowercase), somewhat similar to its uses in other languages using Cyrillic.

Beyond the letters, there are a few things to note. All accented letters in Latin remain accented, regardless of whether it’s for marking stress or simply to differentiate between two words (and these accented vowels are available through Unicode, since they’re commonly used in Russian dictionaries and learning materials). Ü, which occasionally appears in Spanish, would naturally be replaced with Ӱӱ. Capitalisation remains the same as the Latin, and the punctuation is the same as well, though I would remove the inverted exclamation and question marks simply because they are not common (though I can understand wanting to preserve the character of the language, so that is optional as well).

Here are some sentences using this Cyrillic Spanish orthography:

  • Ме љамо Aбрил. (Me llamo Abril.)
  • Јо тенго диесинуеве ањос. (Yo tengo diecinueve años.)
  • Орего́н еста́ ен лос Естадос Унидос. (Oregón está en los Estados Unidos.)
  • Ке́ еста́ пасандо контиго? (¿Qué está pasando contigo?)
  • Вој а комер ӏуевос. (Voy a comer huevos.)

I’ll admit, at first it’s definitely a challenge for me to read, but I can definitely imagine getting acclimated to it with more use (though, since this is just a fun project, that definitely won’t happen). I’m pretty darn happy with the mapping of letters, though, balancing consolidation of letters with the same sounds while recognising differing dialects and trying to suit their needs. I think the use of Њ and Љ for Ñ and LL works well, and keeps the visual similarity to the N and L sounds from the Latin script. I was surprised, when I started working on this, how well the letters seemed to translate; and while I would never insinuate this is better than the Latin script necessarily, I think it definitely has advantages with how the letters map to sounds while still retaining the language’s aesthetic style.

If you’re a Spanish speaker, native or not, I’d love to hear about how you feel about this, especially if you have some familiarity with Cyrillic. I’m sure there are weaknesses with the mapping here, and things I haven’t considered; I came at this more from a purely linguistic perspective rather than a cultural one, too, and so I’m sure there are ways it’s lacking there too. But overall this was a fun experiment in orthographies and made me think a lot about the considerations that go into these sort of things, both on the side of the phonology of the language you’re working with and also how it’s more optimal to use more common graphemes rather than novel or obscure ones when working with an existing script, to make it easier to work with and implement.

Anyway, spasibo, и адио́с.

(Note: All of the accented Cyrillic text in this post is in code blocks and ergo a monospaced font for readability; this is because the accents and Cyrillic sadly do not play well in this font, like о́а́е́.)

About April

It's me. I'm pretty sure you know the drill. If you don't, well, here you go.
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