Ever wondered what Polish would look like if it were written in Cyrillic? Perhaps you have. Or not. In any case, I have. That's what happens when you spend half of your life working on language projects that one way or another are related to Polish or the Slavic languages in general. Toying around with Polish, Slavic, as well as with several Slavic orthographies, it is hard not to think about the possibilities of a Cyrillic orthography for Polish.
Many people have argued that Cyrillic would be unsuitable for Polish. I disagree with that opinion. Granted, Polish phonology differs from that of the other Slavic languages in several ways, but these two facts remain: Polish is a completely Slavic language by any standard, and Cyrillic, unlike the Latin alphabet, was made especially to fit Cyrillic phonology, and therefore is perfectly suited for it. Therefore, I am convinced that Polish and Cyrillic are a perfect match. Much more so, in fact, than Polish and the Latin alphabet. Latin orthographies of Slavic languages always have one of the following two disadvantages: either they are full of diacritical marks, or they look horribly like English or another Western language. Slovene manages best, but still has š, ž and č. Other languages have more of those babies. Polish orthography has managed to avoid hačeks, but has a whole bunch of other diacritics instead: ą, ę, ł, ż, ć, ń, ó, ś, ź. Besides, Polish in addition tends to favour digraphs like sz and ie, so Polish words tend to be appear longer than they actually are.
Now, I am quite fond of Polish orthography, and therefore my Cyrillic orthography of Polish should by no means be treated as a serious proposal to replace Polish orthography. If anyone would ever make such a proposal, I would be the first to stand up against it. This project, therefore, is primarily a thought experiment, my answer to the question if such an orthography would be possible at all.
The idea, by the way, is not new at all. If we have to believe Wikipedia, Russia's czar Nikolay I intended to cyrillify Polish in the mid-19th century as a means for russification, although at last nothing came of his plans. Here is a sample:
Поврóтъ Таты, пр̌езъ А. Мицкевича
A few pecularities in this text deserve our attention:
My own Cyrillic orthography for Polish is largely based on the same premises, but there are a few differences as well, which I will describe below. By the way, it should be noted that the transcription quoted above is not the only attempt at a Cyrillic alphabet for Polish. Several people have played with the idea, seriously or less seriously. An interesting example is Jusowica (Юсовица), created by Szymon Pawlas.
The biggest problem related with the Cyrillisation of Polish are sounds that do not exist in other languages, nor do they correspond closely with anything else that exist in them: the nasal vowels ą and ę. The 19th century Russian solution is in fact a pretty funny one: it simply teleports the ogonek to Cyrillic, thus producing four characters that have never seen before in Cyrillic: а̨, э̨, я̨ and е̨ (the latter two representing ją and ję respectively). A funny solution indeed! And an unnecessary one to that, because Old Church Slavonic has precisely four Cyrillic characters for exactly these four sounds: ѫ, ѧ, ѭ and ѩ. True, they are uncommon, because the only living Slavic language that preserved these sounds is Polish, a language that happens to be written in Latin alphabet. But since these letters are around, why shouldn't we simply use them? After all, they exist, and are indefinitely more Cyrillic than Cyrillic letters with ogoneks beneath them. Besides, the choice for а̨ and я̨ is equally unlogical as the Polish letter ą itself, since it is pronounced as nasalised o; it is not for nothing that the Latin transcription of Old Church Slavonic uses ǫ.
Another specifically Polish letter is the ó, pronounced as [u] (its Czech equivalent is ů). The transcription mentioned above conveniently keeps it. But why would we? It has no pronunciation of its own; the only thing that distinguishes it from u is that it alternates with o. Incidentally, mixing up those two is the most common spelling mistake in Polish. As far as I am concerned, there is no reason to keep it. Since miasto alternates with mieście (and not with miæście or something), why can't grud alternate with grodzie? So let's be bold and use у instead.
The characters ć and dź could of course be rendered like Belarusian (and in a way, Polish) does, by using ць and дзь, but I'd much prefer ть and дь. Etymologically speaking, this is more correct; after all ć/dź are the softened equivalents of t/d, not of c/dz. Sequences like ti and di are rare in Polish and occur only in foreign words. In these rare cases, we could write радио and тиара (a Pole will know that they are to be read as radio and tiara and not like radzio or ciara). Or, if we want to be really sure that the t will not be softened in these cases, we could use the hard sign and write радъио and тъиара.
Using ть/дь instead of ць/дзь has one more advantage: now at least will not have to worry about the sequence cja, which is unambiguously rendered as ця.
Same goes for the digraphy rz, which in Polish is pronounced like ż. Another common source of spelling errors. Yet, I wouldn't propose transcribing it to ж, for the same etymological reasons: rz comes from softened r, while ż comes from softened g. The fact that it sounds very different does not change that fact. Therefore, we simply use рь (and not this weird creation from the 19th century, р̌). Just like ti and di, ri is a rare sequence in Polish that occurs only in foreign words, so I propose the same solution for it as well.
And then we have the letter e. Because in Polish palatalising e is way more numerous than its non-palatalising equivalent, we will use Cyrillic e for the former (usually rendered as je or ie) and э for the latter. This is also what the 19th century version does.
The choice for other Cyrillic letters is merely a matter of picking an option. For example, how do we represent i and y? Do we follow the Russian model and pick и/ы or do we prefer the Ukrainian model and pick і/и? Both are possible, but I've decided to follow the Russian model. Also, when preceded by cz, sz or ż we write и instead of ы – just like Russian does. Again, a matter of etymology.
So, let's see now what Cyrylica Polska looks like.
Cyrylica Polska has 37 letters. Exactly the same as the 33 letters of the Russian alphabet, with four additional characters for the nasals:
|А Б В Г Д Е Ë Ж З И Й К Л М Н О П Р С Т У Ф Х Ц Ч Ш Щ Ъ Ы Ь Э Ю Я Ѧ Ѫ Ѩ Ѭ|
Every vowel has a hardening and a softening version. Both can occur in two possitions: either it follows a consonant, or it doesn't (in that case it is either word-initial or after another vowel). In Polish orthography, when a softening vowel follows a consonant, it is preceded by i, unless the consonant in question is inherently soft. In other positions this vowel is preceded by j. The only exceptions are i, which is softening by definition, and y, which is never softening.
Just like i and y form a pair, in Cyrillic all vowels come in pairs, as you can see in the table below:
Now that the question of palatalised vs. non-palalalised consonant has been resolved by the vowels that follow them, the consonants have suddenly become very simple to handle. Here goes:
A few notes:
To give an example of Polish Cyrillic, let's use the same text as the one quoted above:
Powrót Taty, przez A. Mickiewicza
Поврут Таты, през А. Мицкевича
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