Re: Cyrillic -

From: Valeriy E. Ushakov (
Date: Fri Sep 29 2000 - 22:01:46 EDT

On Fri, Sep 29, 2000 at 15:55:41 -0800, John Cowan wrote:

> > > What is genuinely missing is IOTIFIED A. Because LITTLE YUS and
> > > IOTIFIED A fell together in Russian as /ja/, Peter eliminated the
> > > latter and adopted a modified form of LITTLE YUS, now CYRILLIC
> > > LETTER YA.
> >
> > But aren't IOTIFIED A and YA just glyph variants (with LITTLE YUS
> > lacking a parallel glyph in Peter's civil alphabet, merging with YA
> > instead).
> Historically YA is a glyph variant of LITTLE YUS, not of IOTIFIED A,
> I am told. So given that we have already encoded YA and LITTLE YUS
> (unavoidable, really, considering how different they look), IOTIFIED
> A has no representation.

My, rather limited, understanding is that at that time the two
letters, LITTLE YUS and IOTIFIED A, were no longer denoting distinct
sounds and were used more or less interchangeably (i.e. they were more
or less glyph variants by that time) and so Peter merged them into one
letter YA with a glyph for it being based on a glyph for LITTLE YUS.

In other words iotified a (ya) survived in Peter's secular Russian
alphabet as a character but lost its Slavonic glyph, while little yus
disappeared as a character but its glyph survived in the new alphabet.
Thus Peter's YA is *character* YA (== iotified a) with a glyph based
on a glyph for little yus.

But important point here is that "old" alphabet and "new" alphabet
were "disjoint". With regard to Russian they are disjoint in time.
With regard to Slavonic - the new alphabet was "secular Russian",
while old one was "Church Slavonic" and the two never really mixed.
The "typeface" aspect is important too: writing one of the languages
in the other's typeface is clearly perceived as either a visual pun or
transliteration. So, in theory, you'll never find *glyph* YA
(reversed R) and *glyph* IOTIFIED A (i-a) in one homogeneous text as
this is made impossible by either synchronic or diachronic

So it seems that for Slavonic one should use LITTLE YUS to encode
little yus and YA to encode iotified a (which my grammar book of
Slavonic calls just "ya"). For Russian there's no LITTLE YUS and
character YA is used to encode ya.

Of course it's still possible to develop a typeface with all three
glyphs (little yus, iotified a, ya) in it and use OpenType to choose
correct one. This is not dissimilar to, say, mixed Serbian and
Russian cursive text with different glyphs for certain characters.
(And the latter have been already discussed to death on this list).

All this, of course, is Russian-centric. I don't know how things
developed in other Slavic languages, especially in southern slavic
languages that are closer to (also southern by its origin) Church
Slavonic than the eastern slavic Russian.

PS: Sorry if this sounds a little confusing - 6am is not the best time
for writing from memory short essays on history of Cyrillic alphabet
in Russia.

SY, Uwe

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