Scripts and politics in modern Central Europe

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At present two scripts are employed in Central Europe, Latin and Cyrillic, or three,if we include Greece in the region. In this article I set out to problematise this oversimplisticpicture drawing at examples from the past and pointing to various politicaland identificational uses of scripts today. Until the mid-20th century, also other scripts(and different types of the Latin and Cyrillic script, for that matter) were used forofficial purposes and in book production, namely Arabic, Armenian, Church Cyrillic,Gothic and Hebrew. In addition, Glagolitic and Runes (both Nordic and Hungarian)were sometimes recalled for ideological reasons. Each of these scripts was used forwriting in numerous languages. Initially, script choices were dictated by religion(Latin letters for Western Christianity, Church Cyrillic for Slavophone OrthodoxChristians, or the Arabic writing system for Muslims), usually connected to a holybook in an ecclesiastical language committed to parchment in a specific script. Whenvernaculars began to make an appearance in writing, especially in the 16th centuryand later, their users stuck to the scripts of their holy books. Two factors, the processof building ethnolinguistically defined nation-states and changing ideas about whatmodernity should be about in the sphere of culture, radically limited the number ofscripts in official and de facto use. Only in Bosnia-Hercegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia,Moldova, Montenegro and Ukraine are two scripts in official use, to varying degrees inthe different countries. The European Union already uses three official scripts, Cyrillic,Greek and Latin; if its actions follow its words and it admits some or all of thesestates to membership, it stands a good chance of reviving the tradition of Europeanmultiscripturality, alongside its legally enshrined commitment to multilingualism.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1
Pages (from-to)9-42
JournalMitteilungen der Österreichischen Geographischen Gesellschaft
Early online date31 Dec 2012
Publication statusPublished - 2012


  • Scripts
  • Politics
  • Writing
  • Literacy
  • Language politics
  • Central Europe


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