Old Church Slavonic
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Old Church Slavonic
Old Church Slavonic
Old Church Slavic

slov?n?sk? j?zyk?
Old east slavic in manuscript.jpg
Native toFormerly in Slavic areas under the influence of Byzantium (both Catholic and Orthodox)
Era9th-11th centuries; then evolved into several variants of Church Slavonic including Middle Bulgarian
Glagolitic, Cyrillic
Language codes
chu (includes Church Slavonic)
Glottologchur1257  Church Slavic
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters. For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA.

Old Church Slavonic[1] or Old Slavonic [a] was the first Slavic literary language.

Historians credit the 9th-century Byzantine missionaries Saints Cyril and Methodius with standardizing the language and using it in translating the Bible and other Ancient Greek ecclesiastical texts as part of the Christianization of the Slavs.[11][12] It is thought to have been based primarily on the dialect of the 9th-century Byzantine Slavs living in the Province of Thessalonica (in present-day Greece).

Old Church Slavonic played an important role in the history of the Slavic languages and served as a basis and model for later Church Slavonic traditions, and some Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic churches use this later Church Slavonic as a liturgical language to this day.

As the oldest attested Slavic language, OCS provides important evidence for the features of Proto-Slavic, the reconstructed common ancestor of all Slavic languages.


The name of the language in Old Church Slavonic texts was simply Slavic ( , slov?n?sk? j?zyk?),[13] derived from the word for Slavs (, slov?ne), the self-designation of the compilers of the texts. This name is preserved in the modern native names of the Slovak and Slovene languages. The language is sometimes called Old Slavic, which may be confused with the distinct Proto-Slavic language. Different strains of nationalists have tried to 'claim' Old Church Slavonic; thus OCS has also been variously called Old Bulgarian, Old Croatian, Old Macedonian or Old Serbian, or even Old Slovak, Old Slovenian.[14] The commonly accepted terms in modern English-language Slavic studies are Old Church Slavonic and Old Church Slavic.

The term Old Bulgarian[15] (German: Altbulgarisch) is the only designation used by Bulgarian-language writers. It was used in numerous 19th-century sources, e.g. by August Schleicher, Martin Hattala, Leopold Geitler and August Leskien,[16][17] who noted similarities between the first literary Slavic works and the modern Bulgarian language. For similar reasons, Russian linguist Aleksandr Vostokov used the term Slav-Bulgarian. The term is still used by some writers but nowadays normally avoided in favor of Old Church Slavonic.

The term Old Macedonian[18][19][20][21][22][23][24] is occasionally used by Western scholars in a regional context.

The obsolete[25] term Old Slovenian[25][26][27][28] was used by early 19th-century scholars who conjectured that the language was based on the dialect of Pannonia.


Byzantine missionaries standardized the language for the expedition of the two apostles, Cyril and his brother Methodius, to Great Moravia (the territory of today's western Slovakia and the Czech Republic; see Glagolitic alphabet for details). For that purpose, Cyril and Methodius started to translate religious literature into Old Church Slavonic, allegedly basing the language on the Slavic dialects spoken in the hinterland of their hometown, Thessaloniki,[29] in present-day Greece.

As part of preparations for the mission, in 862/863, the Glagolitic alphabet was developed and the most important prayers and liturgical books, including the Aprakos Evangeliar (a Gospel Book lectionary containing only feast-day and Sunday readings), the Psalter, and the Acts of the Apostles, were translated. (The Gospels were also translated early, but it is unclear whether Cyril or Methodius had a hand in this.)

The language and the Glagolitic alphabet, as taught at the Great Moravian Academy (Slovak: Ve?komoravské u?ili?te), were used for government and religious documents and books between 863 and 885. The texts written during this phase contain characteristics of the West Slavic vernaculars in Great Moravia.

In 885 Pope Stephen V prohibited the use of Old Church Slavonic in Great Moravia in favour of Latin.[30]

King Svatopluk I of Great Moravia expelled the Byzantine missionary contingent in 886. Exiled students of the two apostles, mainly Bulgarians (including Clement of Ohrid and Saint Naum), and then brought the Glagolitic alphabet to the First Bulgarian Empire. Boris I of Bulgaria (r. 852-889) received and officially accepted them; he established the two literary schools: the Preslav Literary School and the Ohrid Literary School.[31][32][33]

Both schools originally used the Glagolitic alphabet, though the Cyrillic script developed early on at the Preslav Literary School, where it superseded Glagolitic as official in Bulgaria in 893.[34] [35][36][37]

The texts written during this era exhibit certain linguistic features of the vernaculars of the First Bulgarian Empire. Old Church Slavonic spread to other South-Eastern, Central, and Eastern European Slavic territories, most notably Croatia, Serbia, Bohemia, Lesser Poland, and principalities of the Kievan Rus' - while retaining characteristically South Slavic linguistic features.

Later texts written in each of those territories began to take on characteristics of the local Slavic vernaculars, and by the mid-11th century Old Church Slavonic had diversified into a number of regional varieties (known as recensions). These local varieties are collectively known as the Church Slavonic language.[38]

Apart from use in the Slavic countries, Old Church Slavonic served as a liturgical language in the Romanian Orthodox Church, and also as a literary and official language of the princedoms of Wallachia and Moldavia (see Old Church Slavonic in Romania), before gradually being replaced by Romanian during the 16th to 17th centuries.

Church Slavonic maintained a prestigious status, particularly in Russia, for many centuries – among Slavs in the East it had a status analogous to that of Latin in Western Europe, but had the advantage of being substantially less divergent from the vernacular tongues of average parishioners.

Example of the Cyrillic alphabet: excerpt from the manuscript "Bdinski Zbornik" written in Old Slavonic, 1360[39]

Some Orthodox churches, such as the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, Russian Orthodox Church, Serbian Orthodox Church, Ukrainian Orthodox Church and Macedonian Orthodox Church - Ohrid Archbishopric, as well as several Eastern Catholic Churches[which?], still use Church Slavonic in their services and chants as of 2021.[40]


A page from the Flowery Triodion (Triod' cvetnaja) polish manuscript of the Swietopelk Printery in Cracow from about 1491, one of the oldest printed Byzantine-Slavonic books, National Library of Poland.

Initially Old Church Slavonic was written with the Glagolitic alphabet, but later Glagolitic was replaced by Cyrillic,[41] which was developed in the First Bulgarian Empire by a decree of Boris I of Bulgaria in the 9th century.

The local Bosnian Cyrillic alphabet, known as Bosan?ica, was preserved in Bosnia and parts of Croatia, while a variant of the angular Glagolitic alphabet was preserved in Croatia. See Early Cyrillic alphabet for a detailed description of the script and information about the sounds it originally expressed.


For Old Church Slavonic, the following segments are reconstructible.[42] A few sounds are given in Slavic transliterated form rather than in IPA, as the exact realisation is uncertain and often differs depending on the area that a text originated from.


Labial Dental Palatal Velar
Plosive p b t d k ?
Affricate t?s d?z t
Fricative s z ? ? x
Nasal m n n?
Lateral l l?
Trill r r?
Approximant v j
  • The letter ? denoted different sounds in different dialects and is not shown in the table. In Bulgaria, it represented the sequence /?t/, and it is normally transliterated as ?t for that reason. Farther west and north, it was probably /c(:)/ or /t?/ like in modern Macedonian, Torlakian and Serbian/Croatian[].
  • /dz/ appears mostly in early texts, becoming /z/ later on.
  • The distinction between /l/, /n/ and /r/, on one hand, and palatal /l?/, /n?/ and /r?/, on the other, is not always indicated in writing. When it is, it is shown by a palatization diacritic over the letter ? ? ? ? ? .
A page from the Gospel of Miroslav, Serbian medieval manuscript, printed in 12th century Byzantine-Slavonic book, National Library of Serbia.


Oral vowels
i /i/ y /?/ u /u/
?/? /?/ ?/? /?/
e /e/ o /o/
? /æ/ a /a/
Nasal vowels
Front Back
? /?/ ? /õ/
  • Accent is not indicated in writing and must be inferred from later languages and from reconstructions of Proto-Slavic.
  • The pronunciation of yat (?/?) differed by area. In Bulgaria it was a relatively open vowel, commonly reconstructed as /æ/, but further north its pronunciation was more closed and it eventually became a diphthong /je/ (e.g. in modern standard Bosnian, Croatian and Montenegrin, or modern standard Serbian spoken in Bosnia and Herzegovina) or even /i/ in many areas (e.g. in Chakavian Croatian, Shtokavian Ikavian Croatian and Bosnian dialects or Ukrainian) or /e/ (modern standard Serbian spoken in Serbia).
  • The yer vowels ? and ? (? and ?) are often called "ultrashort" and were lower, more centralised and shorter than their counterparts i and y/u. They disappeared in most positions in the word, already sporadically in the earliest texts but more frequently later on. They also tended to merge with other vowels, particularly ? with e and ? with o, but differently in different areas.
  • The exact articulation of the nasal vowels is unclear because different areas tend to merge them with different vowels. ? // is occasionally seen to merge with e or ? in South Slavic, but becomes ja early on in East Slavic. ? // generally merges with u or o, but in Bulgaria, ? was apparently unrounded and eventually merged with ?.


Several notable constraints on the distribution of the phonemes can be identified, mostly resulting from the tendencies occurring within the Common Slavic period, such as intrasyllabic synharmony and the law of open syllables. For consonant and vowel clusters and sequences of a consonant and a vowel, the following constraints can be ascertained:[43]

  • Two adjacent consonants tend not to share identical features of manner of articulation
  • No syllable ends in a consonant
  • Every obstruent agrees in voicing with the following obstruent
  • Velars do not occur before front vowels
  • Phonetically palatalized consonants do not occur before certain back vowels
  • The back vowels /y/ and /?/ as well as front vowels other than /i/ do not occur word-initially: the two back vowels take prothetic /v/ and the front vowels prothetic /j/. Initial /a/ may take either prothetic consonant or none at all.
  • Vowel sequences are attested in only one lexeme (paina 'spider's web') and in the suffixes /aa/ and /?a/ of the imperfect
  • At morpheme boundaries, the following vowel sequences occur: /ai/, /au/, /ao/, /oi/, /ou/, /oo/, /?i/, /?o/

Morphophonemic alternations

As a result of the first and the second Slavic palatalizations, velars alternate with dentals and palatals. In addition, as a result of a process usually termed iotation (or iodization), velars and dentals alternate with palatals in various inflected forms and in word formation.

Alternations in velar consonants
original /k/ /g/ /x/ /sk/ /zg/ /sx/
first palatalization and iotation /?/ /?/ /?/ /?t/ /?d/ /?/
second palatalization /c/ /dz/ /s/ /sc/, /st/ /zd/ /sc/
Alternations in other consonants
original /b/ /p/ /sp/ /d/ /zd/ /t/ /st/ /z/ /s/ /l/ /sl/ /m/ /n/ /sn/ /zn/ /r/ /tr/ /dr/
iotation /bl'/ /pl'/ /?d/ /?d/ /?t/ /?t/ /?/ /?/ /l'/ /?l'/ /ml'/ /n'/ /?n'/ /?n'/ /r'/ /?tr'/ /?dr'/

In some forms the alternations of /c/ with /?/ and of /dz/ with /?/ occur, in which the corresponding velar is missing. The dental alternants of velars occur regularly before /?/ and /i/ in the declension and in the imperative, and somewhat less regularly in various forms after /i/, /?/, /?/ and /r?/.[44] The palatal alternants of velars occur before front vowels in all other environments, where dental alternants do not occur, as well as in various places in inflection and word formation described below.[45]

As a result of earlier alternations between short and long vowels in roots in Proto-Indo-European, Proto-Balto-Slavic and Proto-Slavic times, and of the fronting of vowels after palatalized consonants, the following vowel alternations are attested in OCS: /?/ : /i/;   /?/ : /y/ : /u/;   /e/ : /?/ : /i/;   /o/ : /a/;   /o/ : /e/;   /?/ : /a/;   /?/ : /?/;   /y/ : /i/;   /?/ : /i/;   /y/ : /?/.[45]

Vowel:? alternations sometimes occurred as a result of sporadic loss of weak yer, which later occurred in almost all Slavic dialects. The phonetic value of the corresponding vocalized strong jer is dialect-specific.


As an ancient Indo-European language, OCS has a highly inflective morphology. Inflected forms are divided in two groups, nominals and verbs. Nominals are further divided into nouns, adjectives and pronouns. Numerals inflect either as nouns or pronouns, with 1-4 showing gender agreement as well.

Nominals can be declined in three grammatical genders (masculine, feminine, neuter), three numbers (singular, plural, dual) and seven cases: nominative, vocative, accusative, instrumental, dative, genitive, and locative. There are five basic inflectional classes for nouns: o/jo-stems, a/ja-stems, i-stems, u-stems and consonant stems. Forms throughout the inflectional paradigm usually exhibit morphophonemic alternations.

Fronting of vowels after palatals and j yielded dual inflectional class o : jo and a : ja, whereas palatalizations affected stem as a synchronic process (N sg. vl?k?, V sg. vle; L sg. vl?c?). Productive classes are o/jo-, a/ja- and i-stems. Sample paradigms are given in the table below:

Sample declensional classes for nouns
Singular Dual Plural
Gloss Stem type Nom Voc Acc Gen Loc Dat Instr Nom/Voc/Acc Gen/Loc Dat/Instr Nom/Voc Acc Gen Loc Dat Instr
"city" o m. grad? grade grad? grada grad? gradu gradom? grada gradu gradoma gradi grady grad? grad?x? gradom? grady
"knife" jo m. no no?u no no?a no?i no?u no?em? no?a no?u no?ema no?i no no no?ix? no?em? no?i
"wolf" o m vl?k? vle vl?k? vl?ka vl?c? vl?ku vl?kom? vl?ka vl?ku vl?koma vl?ci vl?ky vl?k? vl?c?x? vl?kom? vl?ky
"wine" o n. vino vino vino vina vin? vinu vinom? vin? vinu vinoma vina vina vin? vin?x? vinom? viny
"field" jo n. polje polje polje polja polji polju poljem? polji polju poljema polja polja polj? poljix? poljem? polji
"woman" a f. ?ena ?eno ?en? ?eny ?en? ?en? ?enoj? ?en? ?enu ?enama ?eny ?eny ?en? ?enax? ?enam? ?enami
"soul" ja f. du?a du?e du du du?i du?i du?ej? du?i du?u du?ama du du du du?ax? du?am? du?ami
"hand" a f. r?ka r?ko r?k? r?ky r?c? r?c? r?koj? r?c? r?ku r?kama r?ky r?ky r?k? r?kax? r?kam? r?kami
"bone" i f. kost? kosti kost? kosti kosti kosti kost?j? kosti kost?ju kost?ma kosti kosti kost?j? kost?x? kost?m? kost?mi
"home" u m. dom? domu dom?/-a domu domu domovi dom?m? domy domovu dom?ma domove domy domov? dom?x? dom?m? dom?mi

Adjectives are inflected as o/jo-stems (masculine and neuter) and a/ja-stems (feminine), in three genders. They could have short (indefinite) or long (definite) variants, the latter being formed by suffixing to the indefinite form the anaphoric third-person pronoun j?.

Synthetic verbal conjugation is expressed in present, aorist and imperfect tenses while perfect, pluperfect, future and conditional tenses/moods are made by combining auxiliary verbs with participles or synthetic tense forms. Sample conjugation for the verb vesti "to lead" (underlyingly ved-ti) is given in the table below.

Sample conjugation of the verb vesti "to lead"
person/number Present Asigmatic (simple, root) aorist Sigmatic (s-) aorist New (ox) aorist Imperfect Imperative
1 sg. ved? ved? v?s? vedox? ved?ax?
2 sg. vede?i vede vede vede ved?a?e vedi
3 sg. vedet? vede vede vede ved?a?e vedi
1 dual vedev? vedov? v?sov? vedoxov? ved?axov? ved?v?
2 dual vedeta vedeta v?sta vedosta ved?a?eta ved?ta
3 dual vedete vedete v?ste vedoste ved?a?ete
1 plural vedem? vedom? v?som? vedoxom? ved?axom? ved?m?
2 plural vedete vedete v?ste vedoste ved?a?ete ved?te
3 plural ved?t? ved? v?s? vedo ved?ax?

Basis and local influences

Written evidence of Old Church Slavonic survives in a relatively small body of manuscripts, most of them written in the First Bulgarian Empire during the late 10th and the early 11th centuries. The language has a South Slavic basis with an admixture of Western Slavic features inherited during the mission of Saints Cyril and Methodius to Great Moravia (863-885).

The only well-preserved manuscript of the Moravian recension, the Kiev Folia, is characterised by the replacement of some South Slavic phonetic and lexical features with Western Slavic ones. Manuscripts written in the Second Bulgarian Empire (1185-1396) have, on the other hand, few Western Slavic features.

Old Church Slavonic is valuable to historical linguists since it preserves archaic features believed to have once been common to all Slavic languages such as these:

  • Most significantly, the yer (extra-short) vowels: /?/ and /?/
  • Nasal vowels: // and //
  • Near-open articulation of the yat vowel (/æ/)
  • Palatal consonants /?/ and /?/ from Proto-Slavic *? and *?
  • Proto-Slavic declension system based on stem endings, including those that later disappeared in attested languages (such as u-stems)
  • Dual as a distinct grammatical number from singular and plural
  • Aorist, imperfect, Proto-Slavic paradigms for participles

Old Church Slavonic is also likely to have preserved an extremely archaic type of accentuation (probably[] close to the Chakavian dialect of modern Serbo-Croatian), but unfortunately, no accent marks appear in the written manuscripts.

The South Slavic nature of the language is evident from the following variations:

  • Phonetic:
    • ra, la by means of liquid metathesis of Proto-Slavic *or, *ol clusters
    • s? from Proto-Slavic *x? < *xai
    • cv, (d)zv from Proto-Slavic *kv?, *gv? < *kvai, *gvai
  • morphosyntactic use of the dative possessive case in personal pronouns and nouns: '? ' (r?ka ti, "your hand"), ' ?' (ot?pu?ten?je gr?xom?, "remission of sins"); periphrastic future tense using the verb '' (xot?ti, "to want"); use of the comparative form '' (m?niji, "smaller") to denote "younger".
    • morphosyntactic use of suffixed demonstrative pronouns ', , ' (t?, ta, to). In Bulgarian and Macedonian these developed into suffixed definite articles.

Old Church Slavonic has some extra features in common with Bulgarian:

  • Near-open articulation [æ] of the Yat vowel (?); still preserved in the Bulgarian dialects of the Rhodope mountains;
  • The existence of /?t/ and /?d/ as reflexes of Proto-Slavic *? (< *tj and *gt, *kt) and *? (< *dj).
  • Use of possessive dative for personal pronouns and nouns, as in ' ' (brat? mi, "my brother"), '? ' (r?ka ti, "your hand"), ' ?' (ot?pu?ten?je gr?xom?, "remission of sins"), ' ?' (xram? molitv?, 'house of prayer'), etc.
  • Periphrastic compound future tense formed with the auxiliary verb '' (xot?ti, "to want"), for example ' ' (xo?t? pisati, "I will write").
Proto-Slavic OCS Bulg. Czech Maced. Pol. Rus. Slovak Sloven. Cro./Serb.
*d? ?d ?d z ? dz ? dz j d?
*?t/kt, *t? ?t ?t ts c ts t? ts t? t?

Great Moravia

The Introduction of the Slavonic Liturgy in Great Moravia (1912), by Alphonse Mucha, The Slav Epic

The language was standardized for the first time by the mission of the two apostles to Great Moravia from 863. The manuscripts of the Moravian recension are therefore the earliest dated of the OCS recensions.[clarification needed] The recension takes its name from the Slavic state of Great Moravia which existed in Central Europe during the 9th century on the territory of today's western Slovakia and Czech Republic.

Moravian recension

This recension is exemplified by the Kiev Folia. Certain other linguistic characteristics include:

  • Confusion between the letters Big yus (?) and Uk () - this occurs once in the Kiev Folia, when the expected form ? v?sud? is spelled v?s?d?
  • /ts/ from Proto-Slavic *tj, use of /dz/ from *dj, /?t?/ *skj
  • Use of the words ma, cirky, pape, pr?facija, klepati, piskati etc.
  • Preservation of the consonant cluster /dl/ (e.g. modlitvami)
  • Use of the ending -?m? instead of -om? in the masculine singular instrumental, use of the pronoun so

First Bulgarian Empire

"Simeon I of Bulgaria, the Morning Star of Slavonic Literature". (1923), by Alphonse Mucha, The Slav Epic

Old Church Slavonic language is developed in the First Bulgarian Empire and was taught in Preslav (Bulgarian capital between 893 and 972), and in Ohrid (Bulgarian capital between 991/997 and 1015).[46][47][48] It did not represent one regional dialect but a generalized form of early eastern South Slavic, which cannot be localized.[49] The existence of two major literary centres in the Empire led in the period from the 9th to the 11th centuries to the emergence of two recensions (otherwise called "redactions"), termed "Eastern" and "Western" respectively.[50][51] Some researchers do not differentiate between manuscripts of the two recensions, preferring to group them together in a "Macedo-Bulgarian"[52] or simply "Bulgarian" recension.[53][54] Others, as Horace Lunt, have changed their opinion with time. In the mid-1970s, Lunt held that the differences in the initial OCS were neither great enough nor consistent enough to grant a distinction between a 'Macedonian' recension and a 'Bulgarian' one. A decade later, however, Lunt argued in favour of such a distinction, illustrating his point with paleographic, phonological and other differences.[55] The development of Old Church Slavonic literacy had the effect of preventing the assimilation of the South Slavs into neighboring cultures, which promoted the formation of a distinct Bulgarian identity.[56]

Preslav recension

The manuscripts of the Preslav recension[57][58][28] or "Eastern" variant[59] are among the oldest[clarification needed] of the Old Church Slavonic language. This recension was centred around the Preslav Literary School. Since the earliest datable Cyrillic inscriptions were found in the area of Preslav, it is this school which is credited with the development of the Cyrillic alphabet which gradually replaced the Glagolic one.[60][61] A number of prominent Bulgarian writers and scholars worked at the Preslav Literary School, including Naum of Preslav (until 893), Constantine of Preslav, John Exarch, Chernorizets Hrabar, etc. The main linguistic features of this recension are the following:

  • The Glagolitic and Cyrillic alphabets were used concurrently.
  • In some documents the original supershort vowels ? and ? merged with one letter taking the place of the other.
  • The original ascending reflex (r?, l?) of syllabic /r/ and /l/ was sometimes metathesized to ?r, ?l; or a combination of the ordering was used.
  • The central vowel ? y merged with ?i.
  • Sometimes the use of letter ⟨?⟩ (/dz/) was merged with that of ⟨?⟩ (/z/).
  • The verb forms ?, (naricaj?, naricaje?i) were substituted or alternated with ?, (nari?jaj?, nari?jaje?i).

Ohrid recension

The manuscripts of the Ohrid recension or "Western" variant[62] are among the oldest[clarification needed] of the Old Church Slavonic language. The recension is sometimes named Macedonian because its literary centre, Ohrid, lies in the historical region of Macedonia. At that period, Ohrid administratively formed part of the province of Kutmichevitsa in the First Bulgarian Empire until the Byzantine conquest.[63] The main literary centre of this dialect was the Ohrid Literary School, whose most prominent member and most likely founder, was Saint Clement of Ohrid who was commissioned by Boris I of Bulgaria to teach and instruct the future clergy of the state in the Slavonic language. The language variety that was used in the area started shaping the modern Macedonian dialects.[49][page needed][64][page needed] This recension is represented by the Codex Zographensis and Marianus, among others. The main linguistic features of this recension include:

  • Continuous usage of the Glagolitic alphabet instead of Cyrillic
  • A feature called "mixing (confusion) of the nasals" in which // became [] after /r? l? n?/, and in a cluster of a labial consonant and /l?/. // became [] after sibilant consonants and /j/
  • Wide use of the soft consonant clusters /?t/ and /?d/; in the later stages, these developed into the modern Macedonian phonemes /c/ /?/
  • Strict distinction in the articulation of the yers and their vocalisation in strong position (? > /o/ and ? > /e/) or deletion in weak position
  • Confusion of // with yat and yat with /e/
  • Denasalization in the latter stages: // > /e/ and // > /a/, , ?
  • Wider usage and retention of the phoneme /dz/ (which in most other Slavic languages has d?affricated to /z/);

Czech recension

Czech (Bohemian) recension is derived from Moravian recension and had been used in the Czech lands until 1097. It's preserved in religious texts (e.g. Prague Fragments), legends and glosses. Its main features are:[65]

  • PSl. *tj, *kt(i), *dj, *gt(i) -> c /ts/, z
  • PSl. *stj, *skj -> : *o?istjen?je -> o?ienie
  • ending -?m? in instr. sg. (instead of -om?): obraz?m?
  • verbs with prefix vy- (instead of iz-)
  • promoting of etymological -dl-, -tl- (sv?tidl?na, v?sedli, inconsistently)
  • suppressing of epenthetic l (pr?stavenie, inconsistently)
  • -?- in original stem v?ch- (vch) after 3rd palatalization
  • development of yers and nasals coincident with development in Czech lands
  • fully syllabic r and l
  • ending -my in first-person pl. verbs
  • missing terminal -t? in third-person present tense indicative
  • creating future tense using prefix po-
  • using words prosba (request), zagrada (garden), po?adati (to ask for), potr?bovati (to need), conjunctions aby, nebo etc.

Later recensions

Later use of the language in a number of medieval Slavic polities resulted in the adjustment of Old Church Slavonic to the local vernacular, though a number of South Slavic, Moravian or Bulgarian features also survived. Significant later recensions of Old Church Slavonic (referred to as Church Slavonic) in the present time include: Slovene, Croatian, Serbian and Russian. In all cases, denasalization of the yuses occurred; so that only Old Church Slavonic, modern Polish and some isolated Bulgarian dialects retained the old Slavonic nasal vowels.

Serbian recension

The Serbian recension[66] was written mostly in Cyrillic, but also in the Glagolitic alphabet (depending on region); by the 12th century the Serbs used exclusively the Cyrillic alphabet (and Latin script in coastal areas). The 1186 Miroslav Gospels belong to the Serbian recension. They feature the following linguistic characteristics:

  • Nasal vowels were denasalised and in one case closed: *? > e, *? > u, e.g. OCS r?ka > Sr. ruka ("hand"), OCS j?zyk? > Sr. jezik ("tongue, language")
  • Extensive use of diacritical signs by the Resava dialect
  • Use of letters i, y for the sound /i/ in other manuscripts of the Serbian recension

Due to the Ottoman conquest of Bulgaria in 1396, Serbia saw an influx of educated scribes and clergy who re-introduced a more classical form, closer resembling the Bulgarian recension. The letter ? was also created, in place of the sounds *d, *t?, *d? and d,also used during the Bosnian recession.

Russian recension

The Russian recension emerged after the 10th century on the basis of the earlier Bulgarian recension, from which it differed slightly. Its main features are:

  • Substitution of [u] for the nasal sound /õ/
  • Merging of letters ? and ja[67]

Middle Bulgarian

The line between OCS and post-OCS manuscripts is arbitrary, and terminology varies. The common term "Middle Bulgarian" is usually contrasted to "Old Bulgarian" (an alternative name for Old Church Slavonic), and loosely used for manuscripts whose language demonstrates a broad spectrum of regional and temporal dialect features after the 11th century.[68]

Bosnian recension

The Bosnian recension used the Bosnian Cyrillic alphabet (better known as Bosan?ica) and the Glagolitic alphabet.[69][70]

  • Use of letters i, y, ? for the sound /i/ in Bosnian manuscripts. The letter ? was used in place of the sounds *t? *?t and *?

Croatian recension

The Croatian recension of Old Church Slavonic used only the Glagolitic alphabet of angular Croatian type. It shows the development of the following characteristics:

  • Denasalisation of PSl. *? > e, PSl. *? > u, e.g. Cr. ruka : OCS r?ka ("hand"), Cr. jezik : OCS j?zyk? ("tongue, language")
  • PSl. *y > i, e.g. Cr. biti : OCS byti ("to be")
  • PSl. weak-positioned yers *? and *? in merged, probably representing some schwa-like sound, and only one of the letters was used (usually '?'). Evident in earliest documents like Ba?ka tablet.
  • PSl. strong-positioned yers *? and *? were vocalized into a in most ?tokavian and ?akavian speeches, e.g. Cr. pas : OCS p?s? ("dog")
  • PSl. hard and soft syllabic liquids *r and r? retained syllabicity and were written as simply r, as opposed to OCS sequences of mostly r? and r?, e.g. krst? and trg? as opposed to OCS kr?st? and tr?g? ("cross", "market")
  • PSl. #v?C and #v?C > #uC, e.g. Cr. udova : OCS. v?dova ("widow")


The core corpus of Old Church Slavonic manuscripts is usually referred to as canon. Manuscripts must satisfy certain linguistic, chronological and cultural criteria to be incorporated into the canon: they must not significantly depart from the language and tradition of Saints Cyril and Methodius, usually known as the Cyrillo-Methodian tradition.

For example, the Freising Fragments, dating from the 10th century, show some linguistic and cultural traits of Old Church Slavonic, but they are usually not included in the canon, as some of the phonological features of the writings appear to belong to certain Pannonian Slavic dialect of the period. Similarly, the Ostromir Gospels exhibits dialectal features that classify it as East Slavic, rather than South Slavic so it is not included in the canon either. On the other hand, the Kiev Missal is included in the canon even though it manifests some West Slavic features and contains Western liturgy because of the Bulgarian linguistic layer and connection to the Moravian mission.

Manuscripts are usually classified in two groups, depending on the alphabet used, Cyrillic or Glagolitic. With the exception of the Kiev Missal and Glagolita Clozianus, which exhibit West Slavic and Croatian features respectively, all Glagolitic texts are assumed to be of the Macedonian recension:

All Cyrillic manuscripts are of the Preslav recension (Preslav Literary School) and date from the 11th century except for the Zographos, which is of the Ohrid recension (Ohrid Literary School):

  • Sava's book (Sa, Sav), 126 folios
  • Codex Suprasliensis, (Supr), 284 folios
  • Enina Apostle (En, Enin), 39 folios
  • Hilandar Folios (Hds, Hil), 2 folios
  • Undol'skij's Fragments (Und), 2 folios
  • Macedonian Folio (Mac), 1 folio
  • Zographos Fragments (Zogr. Fr.), 2 folios
  • Sluck Psalter (Ps. Sl., Sl), 5 folios

Sample text

Here is the Lord's Prayer in Old Church Slavonic:

Cyrillic IPA Transliteration Translation

? ?·
? ?·
? ?
? :
? ·
? ? ?
? ? ?·
? ?
? ? ? ?

ot?t?e na
i?e jesi na nebesæx?
da sv?tit? s? im? tvoje
da pridet? tsæsarzdvije tvoje
da bdet? vol?a tvoja
jako na nebesi i na zeml?i.
?læb? na nast?n?i
da?d? nam? d?n?s?
i ot?pusti nam? dl?g? na
jako i m? ot?pu?tajem?
dlnikom? na?im?.
i ne v?vedi nas? v? isku?enije
n? izbavi n? ot? neprijazni,
jako tvoje jest? tsæsarzdvije
i sila i slava v? væk? vækom?

ote na
I?e jesi na nebes?x?.
Da sv?tit? s? im? tvoje
da pridet? c?sar'?stvije tvoje
da b?det? volja tvoja
jako na nebesi i na zeml'i.
hl?b? na nast?nyi
da?d? nam? d?n?s?
i ot?pusti nam? dl?gy na
jako i my ot?pu?tajem?
dlnikom? na?im?
i ne v?vedi nas? v? isku?enije
n? izbavi ny ot? neprijazni.
jako tvoje jest? c?sar'?stvije
i sila i slava v? v?ky v?kom?.

Our father
Thou who art in the heavens.
May hallowed be thy name
may come thy empire
may become thy will
as in heaven, also on Earth.
Our supersubstantial bread
give us this day
and release us of our debts
as we also release
our debtors,
and do not lead us to temptation
but free us from the evil.
As thine is the empire
and the power and the glory unto the ages of ages.


The history of Old Church Slavonic writing includes a northern tradition begun by the mission to Great Moravia, including a short mission in the Lower Pannonia, and a Bulgarian tradition begun by some of the missionaries who relocated to Bulgaria after the expulsion from Great Moravia.

Old Church Slavonic's first writings, translations of Christian liturgical and Biblical texts, were produced by Byzantine missionaries Saint Cyril and Saint Methodius, mostly during their mission to Great Moravia.

The most important authors in Old Church Slavonic after the death of Methodius and the dissolution of the Great Moravian academy were Clement of Ohrid (active also in Great Moravia), Constantine of Preslav, Chernorizetz Hrabar and John Exarch, all of whom worked in medieval Bulgaria at the end of the 9th and the beginning of the 10th century. The Second Book of Enoch was only preserved in Old Church Slavonic, although the original most certainly had been Greek or even Hebrew or Aramaic.

Modern Slavic nomenclature

Here are some of the names used by speakers of modern Slavic languages:

  • Belarusian: ? (staras?avianskaja mova), 'Old Slavic language'
  • Bulgarian: (starob?lgarski), 'Old Bulgarian' and ,[71] (staroslavjanski), 'Old Slavic'
  • Czech: staroslov?n?tina, 'Old Slavic'
  • Macedonian: (staroslovenski), 'Old Slavic'
  • Polish: staro-cerkiewno-s?owia?ski, 'Old Church Slavic'
  • Russian: ? (staroslavjánskij jazýk), 'Old Slavic language'
  • Serbo-Croatian Latin: staroslovenski / staroslavenski, Serbo-Croatian Cyrillic: / , 'Old Slavic'
  • Slovak: staroslovien?ina, 'Old Slavic'
  • Slovene: stara cerkvena slovanina, 'Old Church Slavic'
  • Ukrainian: ' ? (starotserkovnoslovjans'ka mova), 'Old Church Slavic language'

See also


  1. ^ It is also known as Old Church Slavic,[1][2] Old Slavic , Paleo-Slavic (Paleoslavic), Palaeo-Slavic (Palaeoslavic),[3] (not to be confused with Proto-Slavic), or sometimes as Old Bulgarian, Old Macedonian or Old Slovenian.[4][5][6][7][8][9][10]


  1. ^ a b Wells, John C. (2008), Longman Pronunciation Dictionary (3rd ed.), Longman, ISBN 9781405881180
  2. ^ Jones, Daniel (2003) [1917], Peter Roach; James Hartmann; Jane Setter (eds.), English Pronouncing Dictionary, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, ISBN 978-3-12-539683-8
  3. ^ Malkiel 1993, p. 10.
  4. ^ Lunt, Horace G. (1974). Old Church Slavonic grammar – With an epilogue: Toward a generative phonology of Old Church Slavonic. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton. p. 3. ISBN 978-3-11-119191-1. Since the majority of the early manuscripts which have survived were copied in the Bulgaro-Macedonian area and since there are certain specifically Eastern Balkan Slavic features, many scholars have preferred to call the language Old Bulgarian, although Old Macedonian could also be justified. In the nineteenth century there was a theory that this language was based on the dialect of Pannonia, and accordingly the term Old Slovenian was adopted for a time.
  5. ^ Lunt, Horace G. (1974). Old Church Slavonic grammar - With an epilogue: Toward a generative phonology of Old Church Slavonic. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton. pg 4. ISBN 978-3-11-119191-1. "The older term "Middle Bulgarian", invented to distinguish younger texts from "Old Bulgarian" (=OCS), covers both the fairly numerous mss from Macedonia and the few from Bulgaria proper. There are some texts which are hard to classify because they show mixed traits: Macedonian, Bulgarian and Serbian."
  6. ^ Gamanovich, Alypy (2001). Grammar of the Church Slavonic Language. Printshop of St Job of Pochaev: Holy Trinity Monastery. p. 9. ISBN 0884650642. The Old Church Slavonic language is based on Old Bulgarian, as spoken by the Slavs of the Macedonian district. In those days the linguistic differences between the various Slavic peoples were far less than they are today...
  7. ^ S. Flier, Michael (1974). Aspects of Nominal Determination in Old Church Slavic. De Gruyter Mouton. p. 31. ISBN 978-90-279-3242-6. "Old Church Slavic" is only one of many terms(1) referring alternately to the language of a number of translations made by Cyril and Methodius in the middle of the ninth century to be used for liturgical purposes in the Great Moravian State,... (For example, Old Church Slavonic, Old Bulgarian, Old Slovenian.)
  8. ^ Adams, Charles Kendall (1876). Universal Cyclopædia and Atlas, Volume 10. D. Appleton. p. 561. ISBN 9781230102061. Constantine (later called Monk Cyril) founded a literary language for all the Slavs - the so-called Church Slavonic or Old Bulgarian (or Old Slovenian), which served for many centuries as the organ of the Church and of Christian civilization for more than half of the Slavic race.
  9. ^ Adams, Charles Kendall (1876). Universal Cyclopædia and Atlas, Volume 10. D. Appleton. pp. pg 562. ISBN 9781230102061. "At the outset Dobrowsky recognized in it a southern dialect, which he called at first Old Servian, later Bulgaro-Servian or Macedonian. Kopitar advanced the hypothesis of a Pannonian-Carantanian origin, which Miklosich followed with slight modifications. From these two scholars comes the name Old Slovenian. Safarik defended the Old Bulgarian hypothesis, more on historical than on linguistic grounds. The name Old Slovenian is still used because in native sources the language was so-called, slovenisku (slovenica lingua), but it is now known to have been a South Slavic dialect spoken somewhere in Macedonia in the ninth century, having the most points of contact not with modern Slovenian, but with Bulgarian."
  10. ^ Arthur De Bray, Reginald George (1969). Guide to the Slavonic Languages. J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd. p. 16. ISBN 9780460039130. This book starts with a brief summary of the phonetics and grammar of Old Slavonic (also called Old Bulgarian).
  11. ^ Waldman & Mason 2006, p. 752: "There is disagreement as to whether Cyril and his brother Methodius were Greek or Slavic, but they knew the Slavic dialect spoken in Macedonia, adjacent to Thessalonika."
  12. ^ ?i?evskij, Dmitrij (1971). "The Beginnings of Slavic Literature". Comparative History of Slavic Literatures. Translated by Porter, Richard Noel; Rice, Martin P. Vanderbilt University Press (published 2000). p. 27. ISBN 9780826513717. Retrieved 2019. The language of the translations was based on Old Bulgarian and was certainly close to the Old Bulgarian dialect spoken in the native region of the missionaries. At the same time, the brothers [Cyril and Methodius] probably used elements, particularly lexical, from the regions where they were working. [...] The Slavic language used in the translations was at the time intelligible to all Slavs.
  13. ^ Nandris 1959, p. 2.
  14. ^ Kamusella 2008, p. 34.
  15. ^ Ziffer, Giorgio - On the Historicity of Old Church Slavonic UDK 811.163.1(091) Archived 2008-06-27 at the Wayback Machine
  16. ^ A. Leskien, Handbuch der altbulgarischen (altkirchenslavischen) Sprache, 6. Aufl., Heidelberg 1922.
  17. ^ A. Leskien, Grammatik der altbulgarischen (altkirchenslavischen) Sprache, 2.-3. Aufl., Heidelberg 1919.
  18. ^ J P Mallory, D Q Adams. Encyclopaedia of Indo-European Culture. Pg 301 "Old Church Slavonic, the liturgical language of the Eastern Orthodox Church, is based on the Thessalonican dialect of Old Macedonian, one of the South Slavic languages."
  19. ^ R. E. Asher, J. M. Y. Simpson. The Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics, Introduction "Macedonian is descended from the dialects of Slavic speakers who settled in the Balkan peninsula during the 6th and 7th centuries CE. The oldest attested Slavic language, Old Church Slavonic, was based on dialects spoken around Salonica, in what is today Greek Macedonia. As it came to be defined in the 19th century, geographic Macedonia is the region bounded by Mount Olympus, the Pindus range, Mount Shar and Osogovo, the western Rhodopes, the lower course of the river Mesta (Greek Nestos), and the Aegean Sea. Many languages are spoken in the region but it is the Slavic dialects to which the glossonym Macedonian is applied."
  20. ^ R. E. Asher, J. M. Y. Simpson. The Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics, History, "Modern Macedonian literary activity began in the early 19th century among intellectuals attempt to write their Slavic vernacular instead of Church Slavonic. Two centers of Balkan Slavic literary arose, one in what is now northeastern Bulgaria, the other in what is now southwestern Macedonia. In the early 19th century, all these intellectuals called their language Bulgarian, but a struggled emerged between those who favored northeastern Bulgarian dialects and those who favored western Macedonian dialects as the basis for what would become the standard language. Northeastern Bulgarian became the basis of standard Bulgarian, and Macedonian intellectuals began to work for a separate Macedonian literary language. "
  21. ^ Tschizewskij, Dmitrij (2000) [1971]. Comparative History of Slavic Literatures. Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt University Press. ISBN 978-0-826-51371-7. "The brothers knew the Old Bulgarian or Old Macedonian dialect spoken around Thessalonica."
  22. ^ Benjamin W. Fortson. Indo-European Language and Culture: An Introduction, pg. 431 "Macedonian was not distinguished from Bulgarian for most of its history. Constantine and Methodius came from Macedonian Thessaloniki; their old Bulgarian is therefore at the same time 'Old Macedonian'. No Macedonian literature dates from earlier than the nineteenth century, when a nationalist movement came to the fore and a literacy language was established, first written with Greek letters, then in Cyrillic"
  23. ^ Benjamin W. Fortson. Indo-European Language and Culture: An Introduction, pg. 427 "The Old Church Slavonic of Bulgaria, regarded as something of a standard, is often called Old Bulgarian (or Old Macedonian)"
  24. ^ Henry R. Cooper. Slavic Scriptures: The Formation of the Church Slavonic Version of the Holy Bible, pg. 86 "We do not know what portions of the Bible in Church Slavonic, let alone a full one, were available in Macedonia by Clement's death. And although we might wish to make Clement and Naum patron saints of such as glagolitic-script, Macedonian-recension Church Slavonic Bible, their precise contributions to it we will have to take largely on faith."
  25. ^ a b Birnbaum, Henrik (1974). On Medieval and Renaissance Slavic Writing. ISBN 9783111868905.
  26. ^ Lunt 2001, p. 4.
  27. ^ The Universal Cyclopaedia. 1900.
  28. ^ a b Kamusella 2008, p. .
  29. ^ Slavs had invaded the region from about 550 CE.
    Curta 2006, p. 214: "At the emperor's request, Constantine and his brother started the translation of religious texts into Old Church Slavonic, a literary language most likely based on the Macedonian dialect allegedly used in the hinterland of their home-town, Thessalonica."
  30. ^ Alexander 2005, p. 310.
  31. ^ Price, Glanville (2000-05-18). Encyclopedia of the Languages of Europe. ISBN 9780631220398.
  32. ^ Parry, Ken (2010-05-10). The Blackwell Companion to Eastern Christianity. ISBN 9781444333619.
  33. ^ Rosenqvist, Jan Olof (2004). Interaction and Isolation in Late Byzantine Culture. ISBN 9781850439448.
  34. ^ Curta 2006, pp. 221-222
  35. ^ Silent Communication: Graffiti from the Monastery of Ravna, Bulgaria. Studien Dokumentationen. Mitteilungen der ANISA. Verein für die Erforschung und Erhaltung der Altertümer, im speziellen der Felsbilder in den österreichischen Alpen (Verein ANISA: Grömbing, 1996) 17. Jahrgang/Heft 1, 57-78.
  36. ^ "The scriptorium of the Ravna monastery: once again on the decoration of the Old Bulgarian manuscripts 9th-10th c." In: Medieval Christian Europe: East and West. Traditions, Values, Communications. Eds. Gjuzelev, V. and Miltenova, A. (Sofia: Gutenberg Publishing House, 2002), 719-726 (with K. Popkonstantinov).
  37. ^ Popkonstantinov, Kazimir, "Die Inschriften des Felsklosters Murfatlar". In: Die slawischen Sprachen 10, 1986, S. 77-106.
  38. ^ Gasparov, B (2010). Speech, Memory, and Meaning. ISBN 9783110219104.
  39. ^ "Bdinski Zbornik [manuscript]". lib.ugent.be. Retrieved .
  40. ^ -?, . ? ? ?, ? ? , 1 2021 ?.
  41. ^ Lunt 2001, pp. 15-6.
  42. ^ Huntley 1993, pp. 126-7.
  43. ^ Huntley 1993, pp. 127-8.
  44. ^ Syllabic sonorant, written with jer in superscript, as opposed to the regular sequence of /r/ followed by a /?/.
  45. ^ a b Huntley 1993, p. 133.
  46. ^ Ertl, Alan W (2008). Toward an Understanding of Europe. ISBN 9781599429830.
  47. ^ Kostov, Chris (2010). Contested Ethnic Identity. ISBN 9783034301961.
  48. ^ Zlatar, Zdenko (2007). The Poetics of Slavdom: Part III: Njego. ISBN 9780820481357.
  49. ^ a b Lunt 2001, p. .
  50. ^ Vlasto 1970, p. 174.
  51. ^ Fortson, Benjamin W (2009-08-31). Indo-European Language and Culture. ISBN 9781405188968.
  52. ^ Birnbaum, Henrik; Puhvel, Jaan (1966). Ancient Indo-European Dialects.
  53. ^ Sussex & Cubberley 2006, p. 43.
  54. ^ "Razmyshlenija o makedonskom "sreze"... - I. Kaliganov". kroraina.com.
  55. ^ See: "American contributions to the Tenth International Congress of Slavists", Sofia, September 1988, Alexander M. Schenker, Slavica, 1988, ISBN 0-89357-190-3, p. 47.
  56. ^ Crampton 2005, p. 15.
  57. ^ Metzger, Bruce Manning; Metzger, Collard Professor of New Testament Emeritus Bruce M (1977). The Early Versions of the New Testament. ISBN 9780198261704.
  58. ^ Sussex & Cubberley 2006, p. 64.
  59. ^ Birnbaum 1991, p. 535.
  60. ^ Curta 2006, p. .
  61. ^ Hussey, J. M (2010-03-25). The Orthodox Church in the Byzantine Empire. ISBN 9780191614880.
  62. ^ Stolz, Titunik & Dole?el 1984, p. 111: "Specific phonological and lexical differences led Jagi? (and many others after him, notably Vaillant) to distinguish carefully between the Western (or Macedonian) OCS of the glagolitic manuscripts and the Eastern (or Bulgarian) OCS of the Suprasliensis..."
  63. ^ Vlasto 1970, p. 169.
  64. ^ Macedonian, Victor Friedman, Facts about world's languages, 2001
  65. ^ Alena A. Fidlerová; Robert Dittmann; Franti?ek Martínek; Kate?ina Voleková. "D?jiny ?e?tiny" (PDF) (in Czech). Retrieved 2020.
  66. ^ Lunt 2001, p. 4.
  67. ^ Cubberley 2002, p. 44.
  68. ^ The definite article in contemporary standard Bulgarian, Gerald L. Mayer, Freie Universität Berlin. Osteuropa-Institut, Otto Harrassowitz, 1988, p. 108.
  69. ^ Marti 2012, p. 275: "[T]he first printed book in Cyrillic (or, to be more precise, in Bosan?ica)..."
  70. ^ Cleminson, Ralph (2000). Cyrillic books printed before 1701 in British and Irish collections: a union catalogue. British Library. ISBN 9780712347099.
  71. ^ ?-? 1969. ?-?. , ? - . ? ?. ? ? ? 1100 ? , . 45-62.


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