Cyrillic for English v2: Yet Another Cyrillic English Alphabet (Сірілік фор Іњґліш в2: Йет Ьнаѕьр Сірілік Іњґліш Элфьбьт)

Cyrillic is one of the most widely used alphabets in the world, used to write a diverse range of languages in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. I had a go at adapting Cyrillic for English some time ago, but wondered what it would be like to fully utilise a wider range of the letters used across the Cyrillic-using world. This meant reusing some letters in unexpected ways to represent the most common English phonemes instead. The end result is what I shall call ‘Yet Another Cyrillic English Alphabet’, or YACEA for short, to distinguish it from all the other English Cyrillic attempts out there.

Adaptation process

Cyrillic is fairly straightforward to adapt to English. However, it does have some peculiar features that can be taken advantage of to represent English in the most efficient manner.

There are 2 letters used to represent /i/: the Latineque ‘І’ used by Ukrainian and Belarusian; and the more distinct ‘И’ used elsewhere. Since both /ɪ/ and /iː/ are common vowels in English, they should both have their own letters: ‘І’ shall be used for /ɪ/ as /ɪ/ is the more common of the 2 and ‘І’ is reasonably compact, leaving ‘И’ for /iː/.

Cyrillic comes with a few ‘iotated vowel’ letters representing a certain vowel preceded by a ‘Y’ /j/ sound. For instance, ‘Я’ represents /ja/, ‘Е’ represents /je/, ‘Ї’ represents /ji/, ‘Ё’ represents /jo/ and ‘Ю’ represents /ju/. It also comes with special letters for noting certain consonant sound changes, such as the soft sign ‘ь’. This works pretty well for the Slavic languages which Cyrillic was originally developed for, but not for English, since it doesn’t have any of these iotated vowels in large quantities, except for Ю /ju/. Also, usage of these letters can vary depending on the language: for instance, Ukrainian uses a distinct letter ‘Є’ to represent /je/, instead of ‘Е’, which represents plain /e/ in Ukrainian orthography; while Russian uses ‘Э’ for plain /e/.

I’m gonna re-interpret these letters to represent similar-sounding English vowels instead, focusing on the most frequently used vowels and diphthongs:

  • Э э /e/ -> /æ/ (based on Russian usage to transcribe English /æ/)
  • Е е /e/ -> /ɛ/
  • І і /i/ -> /ɪ/
  • И и /i/ -> /iː/
  • Я я /ja/ -> /aɪ/ (think of this as a flipped /ja/ -> /aj/)
  • Є є /je/ -> /eɪ/ (likewise as with Я)
  • Ї ї /ji/ -> /ɪə/
  • Ё ё /jo/ -> /oʊ/~/əʊ/ (since /oʊ/ is more common than /ɔɪ/)
  • Ю ю /ju/ -> /ju/ (this can stay since it represents a very common English sound)
  • Ь ь -> /ə/ (‘ь’ once represented a vowel a long time ago, and it seemed more natural that I use it as a vowel likewise)

On to the consonants. The core Cyrillic alphabet has no letters for /θ/, /ð/ and /ŋ/, but does have letters for similar-sounding consonants: ‘Ц’ /ts/, ‘Ѕ’ /dz/ and ‘Њ’ /ɲ/, with the last 2 originating from Macedonian. Let’s use these letters accordingly. Also, while core Cyrillic has no dedicated letter for /h/, Ukrainian orthography has a workaround involving the letter ‘Г’, which normally represents /g/: use ‘Г’ to represent /ɦ/ (sounds almost identical to /h/) and add an uptick to this letter ‘Ґ’ for representing /g/. This is the approach that we shall use as well.

As for /j/, I’ll pick ‘Й’, since it’s more distinctive than the Latineque ‘Ј’ used in Macedonian. To represent /w/, I’ll pick ‘Ў’ from the Belarusian orthography.

One must then wonder: what to do with ‘Щ’? This normally represents a consonant cluster /ʃt͡ʃ/ (‘sh’ + ‘ch’) which is not particularly common in English. But if we swap out the ‘sh’ for a ‘s’ and the ‘ch’ for a ‘t’, we get ‘st’ /st/, which is a much more common consonant cluster in English. Let’s use ‘Щ’ for /st/.

  • Ц ц /ts/ -> /θ/
  • Ѕ ѕ /dz/ -> /ð/
  • Ґ ґ /g/
  • Г г /ɦ/ -> /h/
  • Њ њ /ɲ/ -> /ŋ/
  • Й й -> /j/
  • Ў ў -> /w/
  • Щ щ -> /st/ (the closest approximation to its typical pronunciation in the languages that use Cyrillic)

The end result is a Cyrillic alphabet for English that visually looks kinda like Ukrainian with a bit of Macedonian influence. It does not use obsolete letters like Ѳ and modded letters developed for non-Slavic languages like Ң and Ҙ, ensuring that it can be easily rendered by Cyrillic fonts with no difficulty.

Letters

Consonants Консоньнтс

/p/ П п (port)/b/ Б б (best)/f/ Ф ф (fun)/v/ В в (van)/m/ М м (moon)
/t/ Т т (test)/d/ Д д (done)/θ/ Ц ц (thank)/ð/ Ѕ ѕ (the)/n/ Н н (new)
/k/ К к (call)/g/ Ґ ґ (get)/x/ Х х (loch)./ŋ/ Њ њ (sing)
/s/ С с (soon)/z/ З з (zoo)/ʃ/ Ш ш (share)/ʒ/ Ж ж (closure).
/tʃ/ Ч ч (change)/dʒ/ Џ џ (just)...
/w/ Ў ў (way)/ɹ/ Р р (run)/l/ Л л (laugh)/j/ Й й (yell)/h/ Г г (house)

Special contractions Спешьл контрэкшьнс

/st/ Щ щ (post)

Vowels Вауьлс

/a/~/ʌ/ А а (sun)/æ/ Э э (can)
/ɛ/ Е е (head)/ə/~/ɜ/ Ь ь (sure)
/ɪ/ І і (bid)/iː/ И и (bead)
/ɔ/ О о (pot)/ɔː/ Оо оо (bought)
/ʊ/ У у (pull)/uː/ Оу оу (pool)

Diphthongs Діфцоњс

/aɪ/ Я я (high)/aʊ/ Ау ау (now)
/ɔɪ/ Оі оі (toy)/oʊ/~/əʊ/ Ё ё (dough)
/eɪ/ Є є (day)/ɪə/ Ї ї (ear)
/ʊə/ Уь уь (tour)/ju/ Ю ю (use)

Triphthongs Тріфцоњс

/aɪə/ Яь яь (higher)/aʊə/ Ауь ауь (tower)
/jʊə/ Юь юь (cure).

Rhotic vowel sequences Ротік вауьл сікўьнсьс

/aː(ɹ)/ Ар ар (far)/ɔː(ɹ)/ Ор ор (north)
/ɛə(ɹ)/ Ер ер (chair)/ɜː(ɹ)/ Ьр ьр (nurse)

Letter ordering

There are 2 ways to order the letters of the YACEA alphabet: the ‘traditional’ Cyrillic ABV order and my custom linguistically-based PBF order.

Traditional ABV-based order

Letters are arranged based on a combination of the Belarusian, Macedonian, Russian and Ukrainian Cyrillic orderings.

Hence the order shall be: А Б В Г Ґ Д Е Ё Є Ж З Ѕ И І Ї Й К Л М Н Њ О П Р С Т У Ў Ф Х Ц Ч Џ Ш Щ Ь Э Ю Я.

Custom PBF order

I also devised a letter ordering inspired by those in South and Southeast Asian scripts such as Devanagari and Khmer that groups letters based on the linguistic features of their sounds: (1) bilabial consonants, (2) alveolar consonants, (3) velar consonants, (4) sibilants, (5) affricates (including /st/ Щ), (6) approximants + glottal consonants, and (7) vowels.

The PBF order, including groups, shall be: П Б Ф В М, Т Д Ц Ѕ Н, К Ґ Х Њ, С З Ш Ж Щ, Ч Џ, Ў Р Л Й Г, А Э Е І И, Ь О У, Я Є Ї Ё Ю.

Syllable structure

Cyrillic is a linear alphabet that works just like Latin does.

E.g. /stɹaɪk/ = щряк

Sample texts

Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Юнівьрсьл Декльрєшьн оф Гюмьн Рятс

Ол гюмьн бињс ар борн фри энд ікуьл ін діґніті энд рятс. Ѕє ар ендауд ўіц ризьн энд коншьнс энд шуд экт тоўьрдс ўан ьнаѕьр ін ь спіріт оф браѕьргуд.

(Артікьл 1 оф ѕі Юнівьрсьл Декльрєшьн оф Гюмьн Рятс)

Excerpt from a short story I wrote a while ago

For comparison, you can view the original one here.

Я гэд ь щрєнџ дрим ѕэт нят.

Ін ѕэт дрим, Я фаунд мяселф ьўєкьніњ, ляіњ он софт ґрин ґрас, ін ь фэнтьсі 8-біт ўьрлд сьраундьд бя компютьрс. Ѕь луміньнс оф бліњкіњ мёдемс энд ўорм, чїрфул чіптюн мюзік філд ѕі ер. Олѕё евріціњ лукд блокі энд скўер, іт броот мі бэк ту ѕёз дєс. Оф ол ѕь компютьрс Я соо, 1 оф ѕем ўьс плєіњ мя фєврьт соњ! Я џамп энд лип ін џоі ёвьр ѕь сят. Я ѕен соо мя гаус, энд Я сед “Гя” ту мя бещ мєтс, гу ўьр ўєтіњ аутсяд. Ўі ўоокд туґеѕьр, гэвіњ ь чїрі чэт ьбаут ѕь компютьр ґєм Я ўьс ўьркіњ он ьрлїр.

“Сё ўатс ѕэт кул ґєм ґона бі ьбаут, є?” ўан оф ѕем аскд.
“Іф ю львд Маріё, юл льв ѕіс!” Я сед.
“Оосьм!!! Кэнт ўєт ту сі іт!” Інсяд мі ѕь фяьр ту кип мі ґёіњ бікєм щроњґьр.

Ўі ўоокд інту ь вівід сансет. Я ремінісд ѕь меморіс оф пащ самьрс, плєіњ ретрё відіё ґємс ін ѕь кул шєд, івьн ѕё ѕь сан аутсяд пикд эт 42 діґрис энд мелтьд евріціњ елс.

YACEA Keyboard Layout

To type YACEA efficiently, I created a QWERTY-based keyboard layout that contains all the letters required. The only difference from the standard QWERTY keyboard is that the semicolon is replaced with the ‘У’ letter for easier access – the colon and semicolon are accessed by pressing the Right Alt and Right Alt + Shift keys respectively.

The letters highlighted in green above are all accessed by pressing the Right Alt key on the keyboard.

Download links

Want to try YACEA on your computer? Download the Windows, Linux and Android (Multiling O) keyboard layouts here:

You can find more information on how to install keyboard layouts here.

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