The Russian alphabet or Cyrillic alphabet, is named for St. Cyril, a monk from Byzantium in the mid 9th century AD. It was developed for the Slavic peoples and was primarily used to write scriptures used by Eastern Orthodox churches. The Cyrillic alphabet is still in use today in many Slavic Orthodox countries, and has been adapted to write more than 50 languages, most of them in Russia, Central Asia and parts of Eastern Europe.
Origins of Cyrillic alphabet
The Cyrillic alphabet is based on the Greek alphabet, with an additional dozen or so letters added. The added letters correspond to Slavic sounds not present in the Greek language. First written in the Middle ages, the letters were large and clean-cut. making them easy to read and reproduce. The basic letters at that time didn't take into account nuances in language, but this was later corrected with additional cursive forms of some of the letters.
It wasn't until the reign of Peter the Great of Russia in the early 18th century, that a major change in the Russian alphabet took place. Besides adding the additional cursive forms of some letters, the alphabet was simplified by removing those letters only used in the Greek language. The last major change in the Cyrillic alphabet took place in 1918 when several more letters were removed, leaving us with the alphabet in use today in many Slavic Orthodox countries.
Using the Cyrillic Alphabet today
People wanting to learn to speak and read Russian are sometimes overwhelmed by the differences in the letters of the Cyrillic alphabet. Surprisingly, this need not be a problem. The Russian Cyrillic alphabet used today consists of 33 letters, of which 10 are vowel sounds, 21 being consonants and 2 being reserved for signs. Many of the letters are similar to their Greek or Latin counterparts and have the same basic sound when pronounced.
When Bulgaria entered the European Union on January 1, 2007, the Cyrillic alphabet became the third script, behind Latin and Greek, to be officially recognized by the E.U. Given the wide-spread use of the Cyrillic alphabet in Eastern Europe, Russia and Central Asia, it wasn't long before computer software was being developed to support the fonts needed in the written language. Regardless of what the alphabet is called, be it the Cyrillic or Russian alphabet, it's use today adds an important flavor and fabric to our language.