The name of the alphabet comes from the Old Slavic glagolъ, which means utterance (and is also the origin of the Slavic name for the letter "G"). Since glagolati also means to speak, the Glagolitsa is poetically referred to as "the marks that speak".
There are multiple popular versions concerning the authorship of Glagolitsa and the etymology of its name. There are alternative names as well. See later sections for more details.
The name "Glagolitic" is in Bulgarian and Macedonian глаголица (transliterated glagolica), Croatian glagoljica, Czech hlaholice, in Polish głagolica, in Russian глаго́лица (transliterated glagolitsa), in Serbian глагољица / glagoljica, in Slovenian glagolica, in Slovak hlaholika, in Ukrainian глаголиця (transliterated hlaholytsia), in Belarusian глаголіца' (transliterated hlaholitsa), etc.
Glagolitic letters were also used as numbers, similarly to Cyrillic numerals. Unlike Cyrillic numerals, which inherited their numeric value from the corresponding Greek letter (see Greek numerals), Glagolitic letters were assigned values based on their native alphabetic order.
Rastislav, the Knyaz (Prince) of Great Moravia, wanted to weaken the dependence of his Slavic empire on East Frankish priests, so in 862 he had the Byzantine emperor send two missionaries, Saints Cyril and Methodius, to Great Moravia. Cyril created a new alphabet for that purpose: the Glagolitic. The alphabet was then used in Great Moravia between 863 (when Cyril and Methodius arrived there) and 885 for government and religious documents and books, and at the Great Moravian Academy (Veľkomoravské učilište) founded by Cyril, where followers of Cyril and Methodius were educated (also by Methodius himself).
In 886, an East Frankish bishop of Nitra named Wiching banned the script and jailed 200 followers of Methodius (mostly students of the original academy). They were then dispersed or, according to some sources, sold as slaves by Franks. Many of them (including Naum, Clement, Angelarious, Sava and Gorazd), however, reached Bulgaria and were commissioned by Boris I of Bulgaria to teach and instruct the future clergy of the state into the Slavic languages. After the adoption of Christianity in Bulgaria in 865, religious ceremonies and Divine Liturgy were conducted in Greek by clergy sent from the Byzantine Empire, using the Byzantine rite. Fearing growing Byzantine influence and weakening of the state, Boris viewed the introduction of the Slavic alphabet and language in church use as a way to preserve the independence of Slavic Bulgaria from Greek Constantinople. As a result of Boris's measures, two academies in Ohrid and Preslav were founded.
From there, the students traveled to various other places and spread the use of their alphabet. Some went to Croatia (into Dalmatia), where the squared variant arose and where the Glagolitic remained in use for a long time. In 1248, Pope Innocent IV gave the Croats of southern Dalmatia the unique privilege of using their own language and this script in the Roman Rite liturgy. Formally given to bishop Philip of Senj, the permission to use the Glagolitic liturgy (the Roman Rite conducted in Slavic language instead of Latin, not the Byzantine rite), actually extended to all Croatian lands, mostly along the Adriatic coast. The Holy See had several Glagolitic missals published in Rome. Authorisation for use of this language was extended to some other Slavic regions between 1886 and 1935. In missals, the Glagolitic script was eventually replaced with the Latin alphabet, but the use of the Slavic language in the Mass continued, until replaced by the modern vernacular languages.
Some of the students of the Ohrid academy went to Bohemia where the alphabet was used in the 10th and 11th century, along with other scripts. Glagolitic was also used in Russia, although rarely.
In Croatia, from the 12th century onwards, Glagolitic inscriptions appeared mostly in littoral areas: Istra, Primorje, Kvarner and Kvarner islands, notably Krk, Cres and Lošinj; in Dalmatia, on the islands of Zadar, but there were also findings in inner Lika and Krbava, reaching to Kupa river, and even as far as Međimurje and Slovenia.
Until 1992, it was believed that Glagolitsa in Croatia was present only in those areas, and then, in 1992, the discovery of Glagolitic inscriptions in churches along the Orljava river in Slavonia, totally changed the picture (churches in Brodski Drenovac, Lovčić and some others), showing that use of Glagolitic alphabet was spread from Slavonia also.
At the end of the 9th century, one of these students of Methodius who was settled in Preslav (Bulgaria) created the Cyrillic alphabet, which almost entirely replaced the Glagolitic during the Middle Ages. The Cyrillic alphabet is derived from the Greek alphabet, with (at least 10) letters peculiar to Slavic languages being derived from the Glagolitic.
The tradition that the alphabet was designed by Saint Cyril and Saint Methodius has not been universally accepted. A less common belief, contradicting allochtonic Slovene origin, was that the Glagolitic was created or used in the 4th century by St. Jerome, hence the alphabet is sometimes named Hieronymian.
It is also acrophonically called azbuki from the names of its first two letters, on the same model as 'alpha' + 'beta'. (Actually, the word means simply "alphabet", see its a bit later form azbuka for the Cyrillic alphabet). The Slavs of Great Moravia (present-day Slovakia and Moravia), Hungary, Slovenia and Slavonia were called Slověne at that time, which gives rise to the name Slovenish for the alphabet. Some other, more rare, names for this alphabet are Bukvitsa (from common Slavic word 'bukva' meaning 'letter', and a suffix '-itsa') and Illyrian.
Till end of the 18th century, a strange but widespread opinion dominated, that the glagolitic writing system which was in use in Dalmatia and Istria with neighbor islands, as well as the translation of the Holy Scripture, owe their existing to the famous church's father St. Jerome. Knowing him as author of Latin "Vulgata", considering him - as a Dalmatia-born - a Slav, and especially a Croatian, the home-bred slavic intellectuals in Dalmatia very early began to ascribe him the invention of glagolitsa: possibly on purpose, with the intention to more successfully defend both Slavic writing and Slavic holy service against prosecutions and prohibitions from the Rome hierarchy's side, thus using the honourable opinion of the famous Latin holy father to protect their church rituals which were inherited from the Greeks Cyril and Methodius. We don't know who was the first to put in motion this based on nothing scientific tradition about St. Jerome's authorship of glagolitic script and translation of the Holy Scripture, but in 1248 this version has come to the knowledge of Pope Innocent IV. <…> The belief in St. Jerome as an inventor of glagolitic script lasted many centuries, not only at his homeland, i.e. in Dalmatia and Croatia, not only in Rome, due to Slavs living there… but also in the West. To the Czechia, the legend was brought in the 14th century by Croatian monks-glagolitas, and even the Emperor Charles IV got believed them
The epoque of traditional attribution of the script to Jerome ended probably in 1812. In modern times, only certain marginal authors share this point of view, usually "re-discovering" one of already known mediaeval sources.
The following table lists each letter in order, giving a picture (round variant), its name, its approximate sound in the IPA, the presumed origin (if applicable), and the corresponding modern Cyrillic letter. The names Yer to Yus are sometimes written Jer to Jus. There are several letters that have no modern counterpart, such as the nasal vowels Yus.
|Picture||Unicode character||Old Church Slavic name||Church Slavic name||Sound||Presumed origin||Modern slavic Cyrillic equivalent|
|Ⰰ||Az'||Az||/ɑ/||The sign of the cross, or Hebrew Alef א||(А а) A|
|Ⰱ||Buky||Buky||/b/||Unknown; Samaritan /m/ is the same letter mirrored||(Б б) Be|
|Ⰲ||Vede||Vedi||/ʋ/||Probably from Latin V||(В в) Ve|
|Ⰳ||Glagolji||Glagoli||/ɡ/||(Γ γ) Greek Gamma||(Г г) Ghe; see also (Ґ ґ) Ukrainian Ghe|
|Ⰴ||Dobro||Dobro||/d/||(Δ δ) Greek Delta (compare /v/ as /d/ turned upside down)||(Д д) De|
|Ⰵ||Jest'||Jest||/ɛ/||Probably Samaritan /he/ or Greek number sampi (900)||(Е е) Ye; see also (Э э) E and (Є є) Ukrainian Ye|
|Ⰶ||Zhivete||Zhivete||/ʒ/||Probably Coptic janja (Ϫϫ)||(Ж ж) Zhe|
|Ⰷ||Dzelo||Dzelo||/ʣ/||Probably Greek stigma (Ϛϛ)||(Ѕ ѕ) Macedonian Dze|
|Ⰸ||Zemlja||Zemlja||/z/||(Θ θ) Variant of Greek Theta||(З з) Ze|
|,||Ⰺ, Ⰹ||Izhe||Izhe (Octal I)||/i/, /j/||(Ι ι) Greek Iota with dieresis||(И и) I; also (Й й) Short I|
|Ⰻ||[I]||I (Decimal I)||/i/, /j/||Source unknown, probably combination of Christian symbols circle and triangle||(І і) Belarusian/Ukrainian I; also (Ї, ї) Ukrainian Yi|
|Ⰼ||[Djerv']||/ʥ/||Source unknown||(Ћ ћ) Serbian Tshe and later (Ђ ђ) Serbian Dje|
|Ⰽ||Kako||Kako||/k/||From Hebrew Qof ק||(К к) Ka|
|Ⰾ||Ljudije||Ljudi||/l/, /ʎ/||(Λ λ) Greek Lambda||(Л л) El|
|Ⰿ||Mislete||Mislete||/m/||(Μ μ) Greek Mu||(М м) Em|
|Ⱀ||Nash'||Nash||/n/, /ɲ/||Source unknown||(Н н) En|
|Ⱁ||On'||On||/ɔ/||Source unknown||(О о) O|
|Ⱂ||Pokoji||Pokoj||/p/||(Π π) Greek Pi||(П п) Pe|
|Ⱃ||Rtsi||Rtsi||/r/||(Ρ ρ) Greek Rho||(Р р) Er|
|Ⱄ||Slovo||Slovo||/s/||Source unknown, probably combination of Christian symbols circle and triangle||(С с) Es|
|Ⱅ||Tvrdo||Tverdo||/t/||(Τ τ) Greek Tau||(Т т) Te|
|Ⱆ||Uk'||Uk||/u/||Ligature of on and izhitsa||(У у) U|
|Ⱇ||Frt'||Fert||/f/||(Φ φ) Greek Phi||(Ф ф) Ef|
|Ⱈ||Kher'||Kher||/x/||Unknown, compare /g/ and Latin h||(Х х) Ha|
|Ⱉ||Oht'||Oht, Omega||/ɔ/||Ligature of on and its mirrored image||(Ѿ ѿ) Ot (obsolete)|
|Ⱋ||Shta||Shta||/ʃt/||Ligature of Sha on top of Cherv (or of Tverdo, less probably)||(Щ щ) Shcha|
|Ⱌ||Tsi||Tsi||/ʦ/||(ץ) Hebrew Tsade, final form||(Ц ц) Tse|
|Ⱍ||Chrv'||Cherv||/ʧ/||(צ) Hebrew Tsade, non-final form||(Ч ч) Che|
|Ⱎ||Sha||Sha||/ʃ/||(ש) Hebrew Shin ש||(Ш ш) Sha|
|Ⱏ||Yer'||Yer||/ɯ/||Probably modification of On||(Ъ ъ) hard sign|
|ⰟⰊ||Yery||Yery||/ɨ/||Ligature, see the note under the table||(Ы ы) Yery|
|Ⱐ||Yerj'||Yerj||/ɘ/||Probably modification of On||(Ь ь) soft sign|
|Ⱑ||Yat'||Yat||/æ/, /jɑ/||Maybe from epigraphic Greek Alpha Α, or ligature of Greek E+I||(Ѣ ѣ) Yat (removed from Russian in 1917–1918, from Bulgarian in 1945)|
|Ⱖ||/jo/||(Ё ё) O iotified (a hypothetical form)|
|Ⱓ||Yu||Yu||/ju/||Simplified ligature IOV||(Ю ю) Yu|
|Ⱔ||[Ens']||Ya, Small Yus||/ɛ̃/||(Ѧ ѧ) Yus Small, later (Я я) Ya|
|Ⱗ||[Yens']||[Small Iotified Yus]||/jɛ̃/||Ligature of Jest and nasality||(Ѩ ѩ) Yus Small Iotified (obsolete)|
|Ⱘ||[Ons']||[Big Yus]||/ɔ̃/||Ligature of On and nasality||(Ѫ ѫ) Yus Big (removed from Bulgarian in 1945)|
|Ⱙ||[Yons']||[Big Iotified Yus]||/jɔ̃/||(Ѭ ѭ) Yus Big Iotified (removed from Bulgarian in 1910s)|
|Ⱚ||[Thita]||Fita||/θ/||(Θ θ) Greek Theta||(Ѳ ѳ) Fita (removed from Russian in 1917–1918)|
|Ⱛ||Izhitsa||Izhitsa||/ʏ/, /i/||Ligature of Izhe and Yer||(Ѵ ѵ) Izhitsa (officially obsolete in Russian since 1870s, but used till 1917–1918)|
Note that Yery is simply a digraph of Yer and I. In older texts, Uk and three out of four Yuses also can be written as digraphs, in two separate parts. The order of Izhe and I varies from source to source, as does the order of the various forms of Yus. Correspondence between Glagolitic Izhe and I - and Cyrillic И and I - is not known; textbooks and dictionaries often mention one of two possible versions and keep silence about the existence of the opposite one.