The question how Interslavic should be written has always been subject to discussion. Because the Slavic languages have different writing standards, a word can often be written in various ways. There is not much point in establishing any of them as the „official” standard for Interslavic, as any such choice would automatically render all other possibilities „inofficial” and therefore „wrong” or at least „non-standard”. In addition, there are not enough letters that all Slavic alphabets have in common to allow for a single alphabet that can be written on any Slavic keyboard. For that reason, Interslavic does not really have an official orthography, and many users tend to write according to their own preferences and possibilities. This situation, however, brings about one major disadvantage: it is confusing and potentially discouraging for people trying to learn Interslavic.
To address both issues, Interslavic uses a different approach: a prototype orthography, which means that every letter refers to a phoneme that in many cases is written and/or pronounced differently in different languages. This prototype alphabet serves as a ”standard” for writing Interslavic, but can also be used as source code for various alternative ways of writing. Although users are encouraged to use this standard alphabet, it is not compulsory: other representations of a phoneme used in the Slavic languages are admissable, too, and those who cannot write a particular character on their own keyboard are free to use alternative solutions.
Because the border between the Latin and Cyrillic writing Slavs runs straight through the middle of Slavic territory, Interslavic can be written in both alphabets. The Latin and Cyrillic alphabets are treated equally. In published texts, it always deserves recommendation to provide versions in both orthographies, so that they can be understood on both sides of the frontier.
The Interslavic Latin alphabet uses 27 letters: 23 letters from the base Latin alphabet (all except q, w and x) plus four consonants with a haček (š, ž, č and ě):
|A B C Č D E Ě F G H I J K L M N O P R S Š T U V Y Z Ž|
The Interslavic Cyrillic alphabet has 28 letters. It uses all characters that the various Cyrillic orthographies have in common, with four additions: ы from Russian and Belarusian as the equivalent of Latin y, ј from Serbian and Macedonian as the equivalent of Latin j (й is too restrictive regarding its surrounding vowels and consonants), ь from East Slavic and Bulgarian to indicate soft consonants, and the archaic letter ѣ as the Cyrillic counterpart of ě:
|А Б В Г Д Е Ж З И Ы Ј К Л М Н О П Р С Т У Ф Х Ц Ч Ш Ь Ѣ|
The practical use of the letter ѣ (the so-called yat) is not recommended, as it is an archaic character that nowadays few people will recognise. Instead, it is better to replace it with е instead, which is how all Slavic languages that use Cyrillic (except Ukrainian) represent it in most positions.
In addition to the above, both alphabets also have three digraphs: dž, lj and nj in Latin, and дж, ль and нь in Cyrillic. In standard Cyrillic orthography, the letter ь (used as a softener) occurs only in the combinations ль and нь.
As noted above, both the Latin and Cyrillic alphabets include characters that cannot be written on every Slavic keyboard. Those who cannot write a character on their own keyboard have several alternatives at their disposal. Here are a few recommendations:
These letters are very important in Slavic. Leaving out the haček (as is often done by native speakers in SMS language) has a negative impact on the understandability of Interslavic, because c s z are entirely different phonemes.
Because Poles do not have the letters on their keyboard, the suggested alternative for them is cz sz ż. Those who do not have ż on their keyboard either can use cz sz zs instead. An alternative solution is cx sx zx, which has the advantage of being consistent and unambiguous, but the disadvantage of being unnatural (and ugly in the eyes of many people). If your keyboard provides a similar alternative (for example ĉ ŝ ẑ if you are an Esperantist), it can be used as a substitute, too.
Other options are better avoided. For example, ch sh zh has the disadvantage that West Slavs would read ch as h [x], while solutions involving non-letter characters (like c^, c*, c') make it look like computer code. At last, do not use characters like q or w (the so-called Volapük encoding) as substitutes, as this would only create confusion.
The importance of ě (the so-called yat) lies in its pronunciation. Whereas in most languages e does not soften its preceding consonant, ě softens it in all languages except Slovene, Serbian and Macedonian, amounting for 96% of the speakers. It is therefore logical that this (rather considerable) distinction is made in Interslavic. The traditional solution is ě, which also makes for an good compromise between, for example, Serbian e and Croatian ije/je. This character has two disadvantages, though. The only languages that have ě in their alphabets are Czech and Sorbian, and its Cyrillic equivalent ѣ is not used in any living Slavic language nowadays, so that few people will even recognise it.
The most obvious alternative for those who cannot write ě is simply writing e. This is a legitimate simplification that puts ě in a position similar to the Russian letter ё, in other words: the diaeresis belongs to official orthography, but more often than not remains unwritten. Those who insist on maintaining the e/ě distinction without using diacritics are suggested to write ie, which, however, can be confusing for South Slavs and may cause problems in transliteration.
For the lack of a good alternative in Cyrillic, and because the ě/e distinction is relevant mostly in languages that use the Latin alphabet, there is no good reason to use anything else in Cyrillic but е. Those who insist on making the distinction anyway can of course use the old Cyrillic letter ѣ, but this is not advised, since it is no longer used in any contemporary Cyrillic alphabet (in 1945, Bulgarian and Rusyn were the last to abolish it), and using it in Interslavic texts would seriously impede intelligibility. Theoretically, it would be possible to use є instead, which has the advantage of being recognisable as something similar to е, but the disadvantage of being etymologically incorrect.
This phoneme is helpful mostly to Russians and Poles. In South Slavic, Ukrainian and spoken Czech and Slovak, it has merged with i. Those who do not have these characters on their keyboard, those who don't know when to make the distinction, and those who are targeting a predominantly South Slavic audience, are free to use i / и in all cases.
The Cyrillic counterparts of lj and nj use the soft sign: ль, нь. However, Serbs and Macedonians may not be able to write this character on their own keyboard. Instead of ль нь they can of course use љ њ.
On the other hand, Russian, Ukrainians, Belarussians and Bulgarians do not have Cyrillic ј. The logical substitute here is й (syllable-initially/finally) or ь (after a consonant). However, that is not the end of the story, because Cyrillic is not very supportive of sequences where these are followed by a vowel. Instead, in most cases ligatures are used:
Whereas the basic alphabets above consists of phonemes that are mostly identical or at least similar in the Slavic languages, the Interslavic Latin alphabet also has a set of optional characters with diacritical marks, representing phonemes that developed in different directions:
|Ę Ų Å Ò Ć Đ Ĺ Ń Ŕ T́ D́ Ś Ź|
These additional characters belong to an alternative orthography called Naučny medžuslovjansky („Scientific Interslavic”), and serve the following purposes:
The vowels ę and ų refer to the nasal vowels ѧ and ѫ in Old Church Slavonic and correspond with East Slavic ja, South Slavic e and the Polish nasal vowels ię/ią and ę/ą.
This set of characters has been devised in such way that standard orthography is obtained by simply leaving out the diacritics (except in the case of ć and đ, which are normally written č and dž). Thus, even when written, these diacritical marks can always be ignored by the reader. Their usage is very flexible, and it is by no means necessary to use the entire set: users are free to pick from it whatever they like. There are only two restrictions:
Although the aforementioned characters are primarily aimed at maximising intelligibility (which makes them especially suitable for unilateral communication like websites), one should realise that some of them are definitely more helpful than others. Most frequent are ę and ų. For Poles, they can serve as reminders that the corresponding phoneme in Polish is a nasal vowel, East Slavs will find out quickly that ę always matches their own ja, and in addition, both vowels can help in distinguishing certain grammatical forms. On the other hand, ś and especially ź occur only in a small number of words, and using them is unlikely to be of any significance to the comprehensibility of a text.
It should be noted that this extended alphabet works only for Latin. Theoretically, it would be possible to find Cyrillic equivalents for most characters, for example ѫ for ų, ћ for ć, ъ for ò, etc. However, using those in Interslavic text would be ill-advised, because they are either no longer used in any living language, or used on a very limited territory only, and unlike their Latin counterparts they bear no similarity to their (undiacriticised in Latin) counterparts, which makes them far from self-explaining. A vast majority of readers will neither recognise them nor understand them intuitively.
At last, sometimes the Latin letter x is used in borrowed international vocabulary, like extra or fax. This is normal in Czech and Slovak, but the remaining Slavic languages use ks/кс in these cases.
For all additional characters from Naučny medžuslovjansky goes that they are merely optional extensions of the standard alphabet. For that reason, there is never any need to represent them in some other way than by simply leaving out the diacritic (the only exceptions are ć and đ, which should be replaced with č and dž). They can, however, also be used for a different purpose: by writing and/or pronouncing them in a different (non-standard) way, a text can be adapted to be better understood by speakers of a particular group of languages.
Whereas Standard Interslavic has two soft consonants (lj nj), Scientific Interslavic has four more (ť ď ś ź ŕ). These last five are largely absent in South Slavic, ś ź also in Czech and Slovak, but if you want to give a text a more North-Slavic look-and-feel, it deserves recommendation to include them. In that case it would of course be logical if all softened consonants were marked the same way, which can be achieved in two ways: either with an acute, or with a caron (haček).
In the case of Ĺ Ń Ŕ T́ D́ Ś Ź, the problem is that t́ and d́ do not exist in any language, and even in Unicode they can only be written with the help of a combining diacritic. The problem with hačeks is that Ľ Ň Ř Ť Ď are possible, but Š and Ž already fulfill a different function. Thus we are stuck with both ť ď and ś ź (note that in most fonts the haček appears as an apostrophe in ľ, ť and ď). In the remaining cases both solutions are equally valid: ń (Polish, Sorbian, Belarussian Łacinka, Ukrainian Latynka) = ň (Czech, Slovak); and ŕ (Slovak, Lower Sorbian, Ukrainian Latynka) = ř (Czech, Upper Sorbian). Instead of using ľ or ĺ (both encountered in Slovak only), it is also possible to use l for the soft [ʎ] and ł for the hard [l]. This method is used in Polish, Sorbian and some forms of Belarusian Łacinka and Ukrainian Latynka.
Representation in Cyrillic is never a problem: in all cases, the soft sign ь will do the trick.
The letters ć and đ are usually rendered as č and dž, but in a more South Slavic flavourisation they can be kept (written ћ and ђ in Cyrillic). Never use ћ and ђ for ть and дь, as these are separate etymological entities!
The sequence šč (Cyrillic: шч) can be flavourised št in a South Slavic. In Cyrillic, it can also be written щ.
As mentioned above, the vowel y is of significance only to North Slavs. In a South Slavic flavourisation, it can be replaced with i.
The (historically nasal) vowel ę is normally written e, but the merger of ę with hard e occurs only in South Slavic. A more North Slavic flavour can be achieved by substituting it with ja (or ia), after a soft consonant a.
The vowel ų matches u in most Slavic languages (except Polish, Slovene, Macedonian and Bulgarian, which have ą/ę, o, а and ъ respectively) and therefore remains u in any flavourisation.
The letter å does not exist in any Slavic language as a separate phoneme and does not have any Cyrillic equivalent at all. In Standard Interslavic and a more Southern oriented flavourisation, it is written and pronounced as a, but to give the text a more North Slavic flavour, o can be used instead.
The letter ò represents a strong hard jer. Usually it will be written o, but a West Slavic flavour can be added by using e, a South Slavic flavour by using ă (in Cyrillic: ъ).
When r or ŕ are preceded by a consonant and not followed by a vowel, they constitute a separate syllable, pronounced more less like [ǝr] and [jǝr]. In South Slavic flavourisation they merge, but for a more North/East Slavic flavour, you can write or for syllabic r and er for syllabic ŕ.
As can be seen from the above, there are several possibilities for writing the same word. The general guideline is: as long as it is understandable, it is okay. However, there are a few things to keep in mind:
The following table shows the correspondences between the letters mentioned above (letters that are unused nowadays are shown in grey). The transliterator makes it possible to transliterate between the various types of Latin and Cyrillic.
|A||A||А||А||A||A||[ɑ] ~ [a]|
|Ć||Č (CZ, CX)||Ћ||Ч||Č||Ć||[ʨ]|
|Č||Ч||Č||[ʧ] ~ [tʂ]|
|D́ (Ď)||ДЬ||Ď||[dʲ] ~ [ɟ]|
|DŽ||ДЖ||DŽ||[ʤ] ~ [dʐ]|
|E||E||Е||Е||E||E||[ɛ] ~ [e]|
|Ě||Ě (E)||Ѣ||Ѣ (Е)||Ě||Ě||[ʲɛ]|
|G||G||Г||Г||G||G||[g] ~ [ɦ]|
|I||I||И||И||I||I||[i] ~ [ɪ]|
|Y||Y (I)||Ы||Ы (И)||Y||[i] ~ [ɨ]|
|L||L||Л||Л||L (Ł)||L||[l] ~ [ɫ]|
|Ľ||ЛЬ||Ľ (L)||[ʎ] ~ [l]|
|LJ||LJ||ЛЬ||ЛЬ (Љ)||Ľ (L)||LJ||[ʎ] ~ [l]|
|Ń||НЬ||Ń (Ň)||[nʲ] ~ [ɲ]|
|NJ||Ń||НЬ||НЬ (Њ)||Ń (Ň)||NJ||[nʲ] ~ [ɲ]|
|O||O||О||О||O||O||[ɔ] ~ [o]|
|Ŕ||РЬ||Ŕ (Ř)||[rʲ] ~ [r̝]|
|Ś||СЬ||Ś||[sʲ] ~ [ɕ]|
|Š||Š (SZ, SX)||Ш||Ш||Š||Š||[ʃ] ~ [ʂ]|
|T́ (Ť)||ТЬ||Ť||[tʲ] ~ [c]|
|Ų||Ѫ||[ʊ] ~ [u]|
|V||V||В||В||V||V||[v] ~ [ʋ]|
|Ź||ЗЬ||Ź||[zʲ] ~ [ʑ]|
|Ž||Ž (Ż, ZS, ZX)||Ж||Ж||Ž||Ž||[ʒ] ~ [ʐ]|