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Bosnian Cyrillic is an extinct Cyrillic script,that had mainly been used in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia, Dalmatia and Dubrovnik in particular. Its name in Croatian and Bosnian is bosančica and bosanica (Croats also call it Croatian script, Croatian-Bosnian script or Western Cyrillic). Serbs sometimes use the term bosančica, but prefer the designation Bosnian Cyrillic- in order to stress its affiliation with greater Cyrillic cultural areal.
History and characteristic features
It is hard to ascertain when features of characteristically Bosnian type of Cyrillic had begun to appear, but paleographers consider that the Humac tablet from 11th century (supposedly) is the first document of this type of script. It is preserved in Franciscan monastery of Humac near Ljubuški in Herzegovina. In this stone inscription are visible patterns that will follow the development of Bosnian Cyrillic throughout history: the mixture with the Glagolitic script (actually, the Humac tablet contains a few Glagolitic letters along Cyrillic ones) and its location in the area belonging to the Western, Catholic Christianity.
Other earliest documents include the Povlja lintel on Povlja at the Croatian island Brač, 1180 (or, 1184) and various documents addressed to early medieval Dubrovnik. Among them, the status of the Kulin ban charter, from 1189, is uncertain since paleographic analysis did not show peculiarities characteristic to Bosnian script, and it is virtually the same in script as the majority of documents in ordinary Church Slavonic. This is far from true for other, genuine Bosnian Cyrillic script documents, like legal charters from the island of Brac in 1250, or letters of Croatian noble Đuro Kačić to Dubrovnik in 1278.
Historically, a few areas of Bosnian Cyrillic had been prominent:
- passages from the Bible in documents of Bosnian Church adherents, 14th and 15th century.
- numerous legal and commercial documents (charters, letters, donations) of nobles and royalty from medieval Bosnian state in correspondence with Dubrovnik and various cities in Dalmatia, beginning in the 12th and 13th century, and reaching its peak in the 14th and 15th centuries
- tomb inscriptions on marbles in medieval Bosnia and Herzegovina, chiefly 14th and 15th centuries
- legal documents in central Dalmatia, like the statute of Poljica principality (1440) and other numerous charters from this area
- liturgical works (missals, breviaries, lectionaries) of the Catholic Church from Dubrovnik, 15th and 16th century (the most famous is printed breviary from 1520)
- the comprehensive body of Bosnian Croat literacy, mainly associated with Franciscan order, from early 1600s (actually, 1611) to mid-1700s and early 1800s. This is by far the most abundant corpus of works written in Bosnian Cyrillic, covering various genres, but belonging to the liturgical literature: numerous polemical tractates in the spirit of Counter-Reformation, popular tales from the Bible, catechisms, breviaries, historical chronicles, local church histories, religious poetry and didactic works. Amusingly enough, the founder of vernacular Croatian literature in Bosnia, Matija Divković, called this script "Serbian" (sarpskie slova), probably inferring to its connection with central Serbian script. However, Divković called the language Illyrian, Bosnian and Slovin, and his books were on sale in the 17th century Venice in the part known interchangeably as "Slovin road" or "Croatian road".
- after the Ottoman conquest, Bosnian Muslim or Bosniak nobility used this script (along with Arabic), chiefly in correspondence, mainly from 15th to 17th centuries-although isolated families and individuals could write in it even in the 20th century
The conclusion on main traits of Bosnian Cyrillic would be:
- it was a form of Cyrillic script mainly in use in Bosnia and Herzegovina, central Dalmatia and Dubrovnik
- its first monuments are from the 11th century, but the "golden epoch" covered the period from 14th to 17th centuries. From the late 1700s it rather speedily fell into disuse to be replaced by Latin script
- its primary characteristics (scriptory, morphological, orthographical) show strong connection with Glagolitic script-unlike "ordinary" Church Slavonic form of Cyrillic associated with Eastern Orthodox churches
- it had been in use mainly in Catholic and Bosnian Church circles, and, peripherally, in Muslim and Serbian Orthodox ones
- the form of Bosnian Cyrillic has passed through a few phases, so although culturally it is right to speak about one script, it is evident that features present in Bosnian Croat Franciscan documents in 1650s differ from the charters fom Brac island in Dalmatia in 1250s.
Controversies and polemic
The polemic about "ethnic affiliation" of Bosnian Cyrillic started in 1850s and is not settled yet. Essentially, the main motive for controversy was to extend the area of one's national influence- be it Serbian, Croatian and, more recently, Bosniak. Since the core land of Bosnian Cyrillic, from the beginning in the Humac tablet in the 11th century to the twilight of Bosnian Franciscan literature at the end of 18th century was Bosnia and Herzegovina- the question of all questions was: is it, historically, Croat or Serb ? Or autonomously Bosnian ? Without going into nuances and details, the polemic about attribution and affiliation of Bosnian Cyriliic texts seems to rest on further arguments:
- Serbian scholars claim that it is just a variant of Serbian Cyrillic; actually, a minuscle, or Italic script devised at the court of Serbian king Dragutin. This general claim ranges from the contention that other nations had been using a form of Serbian script to the rather ludicrous idea that all who wrote in Bosnian Cyrillic were ethnically Serb. According to them, all Bosnian Cyrillic texts belong to the corpus of Serbian literacy. This is still the dominant mode of thinking among leading Serbian paleographers
- Croatian approach is more nuanced and falls, roughly, into two categories: one school of paleography claims that since the majority of the most important documents of Bosnian Cyrillic had been written either before any innovations devised at the Serbian royal court happened, or did not have any historical connection with it whatsoever- the Serbian claims on the origin of Bosnian Cyrillic are unfounded, and the script, since belonging to the Croatian cultural sphere should be called not Bosnian, but Croatian Cyrillic. Another school of Croatian philologists acknowledges that "Serbian connection", as exemplified in variants present at the Serbian court of king Dragutin, did influence Bosnian Cyrillic- but, they aver, it was just one strand, since scriptory innovations have been happening both before and after the mentioned one. First school insists that all Bosnian Cyrillic texts belong to the corpus of Croatian literacy, and the second school that all texts from Croatia and only a part from Bosnia and Herzegovina are to be placed into Croatian literary canon (they exclude ca. half of Bosnian Christian texts, but include all Franciscan and the majority of legal and commercial documents). Also, the second school generally uses the name Western Cyrillic instead of Croatian Cyrillic (or Bosnian Cyrillic, for that matter).
- Bosniak scholars have started to consider the issue only recently. Their opinion is that Bosnian Cyrillic is neither Croat nor Serb, but "ethnically" Bosnian. Since this interpretation is plagued with questions about what Bosnian identity actually means, it has not attracted much attention.
The irony of the contemporary status of Bosnian Cyrillic is as follows: the Latin script, in Croatian variant, seems to be triumphant all over Bosnia and Herzegovina (although Serbian authorities try to halt this course of events), and, in the same time, scholars are still trying to prove that Bosnian Cyrillic is ethnically "theirs"- while simultaneously relegating the corpus of Bosnian Cyrillic written texts to the periphery of national culture. This extinct form of Cyrillic is peripheral to Croatian paleography which focuses on Glagolitic and Latin script corpora, as is for Serbian, with emphasis on Serbian Cyrillic (ie., literary heritage belonging to the Eastern Orthodox culture), while Bosniaks, although paying lip service to Bosnian Cyrillic heritage, have been focusing efforts on their vernacular literature in modified Arabic script. The heated dispute on the nature and status of Bosnian Cyrillic is, in all probability, destined to remain confined to specialist academic circles.
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