3.2.1. Greek
As shown in Table 1, some letters of the Glagolitic alphabet look similar to the corresponding Greek letters. It seems natural that some of the letters representing Greek-only sounds resemble the Greek original forms: glag. In addition to these, many other Glagolitic letters appear to be modeled on their Greek counterparts, as illustrated in Table 3.


On the origin of the Glagolitic alphabet

Nonetheless, as exemplified in Table 4, not all the forms of the remaining letters sufficiently match their Greek counterparts.15 This is why various other possibilities have been raised by Russian and Bulgarian scholars who argue for the existence of a proto-Slavic script before Constantine’s Moravian mission. I enumerate a few recent views in this line of thought in Section 3.2.5, but first I will examine the ten letters representing Slavic-only sounds.


Cubberley argues that Constantine established the Glagolitic system based on an existing Greek-originated writing scheme: “it is probable that the first alphabet arose more or less spontaneously with the practical needs of commerce and militarism, and that the “creator’s” task was the formalization and expansion of this base for application to the religious area” (1984: 291). In other words, he suggests that there existed a pre-Glagolitic script developed as an adaptation of the Greek script to Slavic speech, and that Constantine formalized this pre-Glagolitic writing strategy and created letters for non-Greek sounds based on Armenian.
Although his suggestion is not unreasonable in itself, the circumstances of that time appear to contradict his contention. If there had been an alphabet before Constantine went to Moravia, even in a relatively primitive form, why was the Byzantine Emperor so concerned about the lack of Slavic letters for the propagation of Christianity? In addition, as  shown in Table 4, Glagolitic is too formally distinct from the Greek alphabet to be construed as based on a Greek adaptation strategy (see Section 3.3 for related discussions).

3.2.2. Armenian
Like Mathiesen, Cubberley (1984) also explores the correlation between Glagolitic and Armenian. Cubberley points out that Glagolitic is based on cursive Greek, not on uncial Greek, for the common sounds and on “something else” for the other sounds. He argues that the only candidates are Armenian and Georgian, both of which have at least all the required consonant sounds. As I mentioned earlier, the logical accessibility of a certain model is necessary for that model to be considered. Circumstantial evidence demonstrates that Constantine could possibly have known at least the letters and sounds of Armenian, since Armenians had long been numerous in Constantinople and the Balkan area. The Paulicians, for instance, originated in Armenia and were active in ninth-century Crimea (293).16

Unlike Mathiesen, who bases his argument on structural similarities in terms of sound value and order, Cubberley (299) attempts to show how the Glagolitic letter shapes for palatal fricatives evolved from the orresponding Armenian ones. According to him, the letters Ⰶ [ž], Ⰷ [ʒ], Ⱎ [š], Ⱌ [c], Ⱍ [č] come from (or evolved from) Armenian as ligatures (Cf. Mathiesen’s argument in Table 2). Cubberley’s detailed arguments on the evolutionary process of each letter are beyond the scope of this article, but some of his suggestions are highly speculative, lacking concrete evidence. As far as the letter shapes go, it is also possible that Constantine himself created the forms for these five sounds or depended on other unknown sources.

3.2.3. Hebrew
Most Slavists acknowledge that Ⱎ [š] is from Semitic. In terms of the formal similarities, Hebrew also has other parallels with certain Glagolitic letters. Compare the Hebrew and Glagolitic counterparts illustrated below:


Table 5 shows four sets of parallels. As in the case of Armenian, the relative order of Hebrew and Glagolitic letters are identical. This is in fact not surprising since similar sounds group together in a similar way in genetically and evolutionarily connected alphabets. In this regard, Mathiesen’s observation of the identical relative order of the Armenian and Glagolitic counterparts might not be significant. Schenker also notes a formal similarity between Glagolitic Ⰱ [b] and Ⰵ [e] and Samaritan [m] and [he]. Given that Samaritan also inherited the Hebrew alphabet tradition, this resemblance is not surprising. However, the letters’ sound values are not identical, and thus it remains unclear whether the correlation between them holds.

3.2.4. Latin
The Roman alphabet has also been discussed as a possible source of the Glagolitic letters (Matejka 1963: 156). The most elaborate attempt to link the shape of the Glagolitic letters to Latin sources was presented by M. Hocij (1940), who pointed out the similarities of some Glagolitic letters to certain types of cursive manifestations of seventh- and eighth-century Latin. As a more modest version of this hypothesis, Schenker (1995) suggests that Ⰲ and Ⱈ might originate from Latin v and h, respectively. However,Constantine’s creation of a new alphabet was not only intended to provide the Slavs with their own script but also to prevent Bavarian bishops’ predominance over the Slavic region, armed with the Latin alphabet and Catholicism. A Greek-based alphabet would have been effective for this political purpose. In this respect, it is not very likely that Constantine adopted Latin letters for a model.


JUNG Hakyung

Seoul National University, KOREA


14 Formal differences between Greek and Glagolitic are discussed in the literature on the beginning of the Slavic alphabet (e.g., Ellis H. Minns 1925: “The general impression of Glagolitic is singularly unlike any sort of cursive Greek” [Diringer 1968: 487]).

15 It is mysterious why the forms of some sounds in Glagolitic were formally unrelated to those of their Greek counterparts, while other sounds assumed identical forms to the Greek counterparts. For now, I do not have a definitive answer to this question, but the only reason must have been Constantine’s intention to differentiate Glagolitic from Greek to a certain extent. Still, it is unclear how it was determined which letters were chosen to be taken from Greek.

16 Cubberley notes that it is not necessarily implied [word choice?] that the famous “rusъskymi pismeny” were in fact Armenian (as is done by Vernadsky 1943: 347-350), although the Armenian letters could have been learned in just such a way.


About sooteris kyritsis

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