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"Lacinka" (sometimes "Lacinika" or (Belarusian) abeceda) is the name of the Latin-script Belarusian writing. Although the first known appearance of a book  in Latin (language) within the present Belarusian borders was supposedly the beginning of the 11th century, and Latin literacy was typical for an educated man there from the Middle Ages till the 19th century (see Nicolas Hussovianus ), writing in Belarus developed predominantly in the Cyrillic script until the late 16th century. Due to the domination of the Greek Orthodox tradition of Christianity in most of the country in the early Middle ages,  the written standard of the archaic Belarusian (the official language of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania) remained  strongly influenced by the sacred Church-Slavonic language - the language of the Bible and liturgy in the Slavonic Orthodox tradition.

   However, in the middle of the 16th century massive Reformation took place in Belarusian lands. The Reformation, Counter-Reformation, and the expansion of Western style education seem to be among the major  factors which led to the considerable "cleaning" of the archaic Belarusian written language from the Church-Slavonic features by the end of the 16th century. At the same time, this was the epoch when  Belarusian texts begin increasingly be  written in the Latin script.

   Visiting the National History Museum in Miensk, one may see the  Privileum by the  King and Grand Duke Zygimont III Vaza (for  Poland, Sigismundus, Zygmunt Waza) to the city of Viciebsk (Vitebsk), granting it the "Magdeburg Law" right of self-government, dated 1597. This document illustrates the archaic, or "old-Belarusian", Lacinka. The Lacinka of the 16th-18th centuries resembled in several aspects the old-Polish and old-Czech writing: it used  "cz" for [ch] (as in 'church'),  "sz" for  [sh], "" for [zh],"w" for [v] as  in 'very', and  "y" for both "y" and  for (what now is) "j" (e.g. "moy" would stand for "moj").

   On the other hand, unlike in Polish, it generally was making no distinction between the ""-letter and the "l", and assumed that every "L"  is just as firm a sound as the (still occasionally used) "": e.g.  it spells "Inflianski" not "Inflanski".  Further, unlike in Polish, the soft [t'] was depicted as, still, a "t" and not a "c", e.g. "wolnosti", not "wolnosci". Equally, [d'] was spelled as "d" and not "dz", e.g. "di" and not "dzi", "dedyczny" and not "dziedyczny", etc. Further, the oldest Belarusian Lacinka, unlike the Polish standard, seem generally not to use the "g" letter, only the "h" (i.e. rather like in Czech). When the [g] sound was still specifically required by pronunciation, such as in foreign words, they spelled it as "kh", e.g. "Khotski"  (while in Polish it is "Gotski"). It is only at a later point that some frequently used foreign names and terms begin to be spelled with the "g"-letter: "Zygimont", "prawa Magdeburskaho". Still many endings, such as "ij" (iy) in adjectives, clearly derive from Church-Slavonic features, although used inconsistently, and "e" stands for both "e" and "je", a feature borrowed from the Cyrillic writing of that age. One may probably  argue therefore that the initial archaic Belarusian Lacinka  emerged as somewhat a transliteration from the archaic Belarusian Cyrillic system (see e.g. the "-ti" and the "kh" patterns), which conclusion might be in fact close to the truth.

    It appears also worthwhile mentioning that already at this very early stage of its development the Latin-script old-Belarusian writing was not entirely confined to paper (or parchment) documents only, but was equally used for a variety of other kinds of official and public inscriptions. This fact is exemplified by the rare surviving Lacinka inscription dating from 1583, on the bell (formerly belonging to the church in Moladava), displayed in the Museum of Old-Belarusian Culture of the Academy of Sciences in Miensk.

Latin-script inscription in archaic Belarusian on the bell from Moladava, 1583

   Despite the earlier Cyrillic heritage, at the period when the Belarusian written language evolves in the 17th century to something very close to what it is today, it comes to existence predominantly in its Latin script. For references see, in addition to numerous judicial documents, also examples such as the "legends" on the seals of many Belarusian cities of that epoch. Same can be said about the literary language, see examples such as used in the "Bychaviec Chronicle", written also in the archaic Belarusian Lacinka (see the illustration). While the Cyrillic-script old-Belarusian book-printing dates from 1517, the earliest printed text in the old-Belarusian Lacinka appears to be in "Witanie na Pierwszy Wiazd z Krolowca do Kadlubka Saskiego Wilenskiego", [Wilno] 1642 (a Jesuite anti-Lutheran publication).

     As widely known, the great Russian invasion of 1654-1667 devastated Belarusian cities, around 80% of urban population in Belarus perished (while the overall population loss was about 50%), and the Belarusian cultural tradition was seriously disrupted. Although by 1710 the "old-Belarusian" language became officially abandoned in favour of Polish, it is not possible to say that the Belarusian written tradition was completely extinct at any point. There are still many documents written in Belarusian in the 18th century, while the Uniate (Roman-Catholic of the Byzantine rite, also called Greek-Catholic) Church undertook some printing of its religious books, such as hymnals, in Belarusian Lacinka (e.g. 10 songs in "Wzory Doskonalosci Panienskiey..." Suprasl 1722, several editions of Kantyczki from 1770s, printed in Suprasl, and "Kantyczka, abo nabozne piesni w narzeczu Polockim". Polock (SocJes), 1774 ). Prayers in archaic Belarusian Lacinka were also published in "Nauka Dobrey smierci .. w kosciele Societatis Jesu ... w Wilnie", 1754. It is a curious fact that the old-Belarusian Lacinka was printed even in the Gothic font, i.e. the Credo in "Wiara Prawoslawna Pismem Swietym ..." Wilno, 1704 & 1747, pp. 9-14. See also the example of the Greek-rite Paschalia calendar for 1780, in a mixture of Church-Slavonic and archaic Belarusian, printed in the "old-Belarusian" Lacinka (see picture). Some manuscripts of drama and verse kinds, in Belarusian Lacinka, have also survived from the 18th and early 19th centuries, see the picture of an "old-Belarusian" Lacinka part in the drama manuscript by Marašeŭski (Maraszewski), from 1770s-1780s. Furthermore, the legal act which eventually left Polish as the only (apart from Latin) official language in the country also confirmed the judicial force of earlier documents in their original language(s). Hence in the 18th century an official copy of an earlier paper would be usually issued in "old-Belarusian" if that was the language of the original, naturally in Lacinka. Below, see two examples of that kind, from the collections of the Francis Skaryna Belarusian Library and Museum in London.

   An archaic Belarusian Lacinka document, copy dated 1741, regarding possessions inherited from the Dukes of the palatinate of Miensk (sic!).    A real estate related document in archaic Belarusian Lacinka, copy dated 1785, on possessions inherited from Maciej Maciewicz Puszkin.

   Discussing the subject of Belarusian writing, it is common to concentrate just on examples from manuscripts and printed documents. However, there is also some evidence that, long after adopting Polish officially as the only language of court, Belarusian writing de-facto  continued up till the final partitions of the "Republic of the Two Nations" in "semi-official" use, meaning public purposes other than legal. This point can be illustrated by citing gravestone inscriptions from the late 18th century. Here is a picture of a gravestone from a cemetery in a (formerly predominantly Uniate) town in central-eastern Belarus. It reads, inter alia: "1794 [...] IHNATKAWA". Clearly, in Polish it would have been "IGNATKOWA". I do realise that many will insist it is in Polish - "merely" spelled with two mistakes. But I would still suggest that, for the purpose of manufacturing a relatively fancy grave-stone, they would be most likely to have used the "codified", publicly-correct, way of writing it there at that point, so I would doubt simple illiteracy here. Furthermore, this "incorrect Polish" inscription is suspiciously identical to what a correct Belarusian inscription should have been, and considering the background I do believe that the latter should be in fact recognised as the case. (Even though it certainly would not be named "Belarusian" at that time, see "The Name of Belarus" (in Belarusian) for a historical sketch on the use of the name.) Unfortunately, there is no comprehensive study of such "semi-official" inscriptions in Belarus of that period available.

  An important change in system of Belarusian writing, which occurred while it was out of  any official use in the 18-19th centuries, was a drift towards a phonetically-based, rather than etymological, spelling. In the first half of the 19th century that became more or less commonly accepted, especially since most printing and writing examples in Belarusian at that time were either folklore or folklore-styled texts. The spelling in the Belarusian verses by Jan Cacot (Czeczot) printed in Vilnia (Wilno) in 1840s, is already clearly based on the phonetic principle (see the illustration, "Da milych..."). Yet another example of the Belarusian phonetic Latin-script printing, from 1863-4, is the  "Muzyckaja Prauda" (illustration) issues, attributed to Kastus Kalinouski (Kalinowski), circulated during the anti-Russian uprising. Same pattern is used in Kalinouski's hand-written "List z-pad szybienicy" (see illustration). Despite the legal impossibility to print in Belarusian in the Russian Empire in any script, Lacinka rather than any alternative remained a natural choice for the early modern-Belarusian writers, and not solely because of their own strong Polish cultural background. It should be remembered that the only widely available kind of publications in Belarusian remained the late 18 cen. hymnals (Kantyczki), used in some remote places up till the early 20th cen., which were more or less the only source of literacy for many. Hence when Wincent Dunin-Marcinkiewicz in late 1850s applied for the Russian censorship authorities' permission to publish his works, he cited the (then) common knowledge that the overwhelming majority of literate common people in Belarus were literate in terms of namely the Latin alphabet, especially amongst the peasants. He did not get such a permission however, and apparently did not even get his manuscript back. Still he managed to circumvent the Russian censorship prohibition in several instances, printing some of his Belarusian works in Minsk under front-pages in Polish, such as "Dudarz Bialoruski", "Hapon" (see the illustrations). Meanwhile, Belarusian-language publishing was at that time developing prodominantly in emigration, although Polish-language title pages and introductions to Belarusian texts were practiced there as well, e.g. Rypinski Alexander (1811-1900), "Niaczyscik. Ballada bialoruska." Poznan 1853. 2nd edition, s.l. 1853. 3rd edition, 1853. 

  The outlook of the mid-19th century Belarusian Lacinka remained still quite a "Polish-like" . However, in the late 19th  century, when the "founding fathers" of the modern Belarusian literary language and literature were publishing their works, the Lacinka evolved closer to its modern standard, when, after some earlier examples in Czaczot's and D.-Marcinkiewicz's publications, the non-syllabic "u"-character, i.e. the distinct Belarusian ""as we know it today, was finally introduced in the several Krakow editions of Franciszak Bahuszewicz see more his first "Dudka Bialaruskaja" edition of 1891 for an illustration. In fact, in Jan Cacot's (Czeczot) Vilnia (Wilno) editions, e.g. the 1846 example discussed above, that letter was already printed as a "u" with some accent mark (although Kalinouski did not use it). Still apart from that new character, the traditional "Polish-looking" features - the "", "cz", "sz", "" were preserved till the reform of 1900s. Naturally, "", "", "", "" were used for soft "t", "s", "z", and "n" respectively.
There were altogether 38 titles of books in Belarusian printed in the 19th century (compare with 191 in 1900-1916), predominantly outside the Russian Empire. These include:
 - Staraja pryzkazka. Lwow 1887.
 - Bahuszewicz F. Dudka bialaruskaja Macieja Buraczka. Krakow 1891. 2nd edition: Krakow 1896.
 - Bahuszewicz F. Smyk bielaruski, Poznan 1894.
 - Bahuszewicz F. Tralalonaczka. Krakow 1892.
 - Hutarka staroha dzieda. Poznan (?), 1861. Paris, 1862.
 - Dziadzka Anton, abo hutarka... Wilno (in fact, Tilzit) , 1892.
 - Piesni naboznyja. [Warszawa?] 1861.
 - Pczycki F. Kryuda i prauda. Hutarka bielaruskaja. S.l. 1863.
 - Krotkie zebranie nauki Chrzescijanskiej. Wilno, 1835.
 - Pan Tadeusz. Dwanatcac szlacheckich bylic napisau Adam Mickiewicz. Pieraviarnuu na bielaruskuju havorku Wincenty Dunun-Marcinkiewicz. Wilno, 1859.
 - Pan Tadeusz, poemat. Pieralazyu z polskaho na bielaruski jazyk A.Jelski. Lwow, 1893.
   Additionaly, there were several attempts to publish periodicles in Belarusian (Lacinka) in the 19th century:
 - Hutarka dwoch susiedou. Bielastok, 1861-1862. 4 issues were published.
 - Hutorka. Bielastok, 1862-3. Kastus Kalinouski.
 - Muzyckaja Prauda. Bielastok. 1862-3 Kastus Kalinouski. 7 issues.
 - Zmowa-kupis-susistarimas-hromadzki zhowor (ogloszenie). Zurich. 1870. No.1, 15 July 1870 (In Belarusian, Lithuanian and Polish)
   There was also a leaflet in Belarusian (Lacinka) published in Krakow in 1893: "Haspadary, da was piszym heta apawiadannie...".

   Hence, as far as the modern Belarusian literary language and the Belarusian literature are concerned, they surely emerged in the Latin-script writing.

  Printing in Belarusian, and specifically in the Latin script, was effectively prohibited in the Russian Empire, except for limited ethnographic of folklore-related purposes. There was only one case, as Janka Stankievic mentions,  when someone circumvented the prohibition printing a collection of  Belarusian songs in St-Petersburg under the title of Bulgarian songs, in Lacinka, in 1890s. This situation continued until the liberalisation of the press law after the 1905 Russian revolution, which made possible to begin larger-scale Belarusian publishing. 

     In 1907  a Belarusian publishing company called  "Zahlanie sonca i w nasze wakienca", printed  its Belarusian elementary reading  book, in which they reformed the Belarusian Latin script. Hence - apparently following the example of a simlar (much earlier) reform in the Czech and Slovak writing - they introduced the "", instead of the "Polish-looking" "cz", for the sound of [ch] (-'church'), as well as  letters "" and "" for the sounds of [sh] and [zh] respectively. Still, they left the "", as well as the "w" for [v]. 

    More publishing companies followed this example, in Vilnia (Wilno), Miensk (Minsk), and St-Petersburg. Below are some examples of Belarusian Lacinka printing from 1906-1914.

As a result of this reform, their new Lacinka, which soon after became the common standard, known as the "Naša Niva" Lacinka (since became popular owing to the "Naša Niva" newspaper which used it), employed less of characters in words but more diacritics. Since it soon was the fact that the overwhelming majority of all available items printed in Belarusian were printed in this way, the diacritical system of Belarusian writing became commonly accepted not only in printing, but equally every way including private correspondence, personal notes and general handwriting standard (see Janka Kupala's autograph, "Epigrama ..." from 1910s), as well as in commercial advertising (see the example from 1912). In general, the system served quite well to the requirements of the Belarusian pronunciation, and is used still today with minor changes. The reform which introduced the diacritics was resisted only by some clerical publishers, e.g. Pacobka and those around the Bielarus Catholic newspaper. Here is an example of their production:

   During the same period of time, starting from 1902-4, Belarusian publishers began to develop the Belarusian Cyrillic set of characters as well. Literacy in Russian had been substantially expanded by that time in Belarus (especially since no alternative was available), and the publishers' aim was then to make publications in Belarusian readable for as many as possible. Hence many felt the necessity to develop Belarusian writing in the Russian alphabet. First Cyrillic printing experiments in modern Belarusian (e.g. Janka Luczyna's poems in Russian papers) usually followed the Russian etymological spelling in all possible ways, including the distinct "Jat'" character. Another early Cyrillic example in Belarusian were the three brochures published in London by the "Polish Socialist Party in Luthuania" in 1902-3. Those spell Belarusian words as if writing them first in Polish - spelling according to the Polish etymology - and then transliterating into the Russian Cyrillics. Neither of sich early Cyrillic systems for modern Belarusian can be regarded as Belarusian Cyrillics sensu stricto. Other early Cyrillic examples, such as Janka Luczyna's poem collection (1903) and the Cyrillic version of "Naša Dola" newspaper (1906), adopt the Russian Cyrillic alphabet as well, but their spelling structure shows strong influence of the contemporary Belarusian Lacinka system. Yet, the problem remained for a long tome that Belarusian publishers could not agree on the standard of Belarusian Cyrillics, so that some used the Cyrillic letter of "" for the [i], while others used the Latin-looking  (or otherwise Cyrillic "i-decimal") character of "i", while printing the rest still in the Russian set of Cyrillic letters. Eventually, they arrived to a mixed (and some might say inconsistent) variant, in which the (vowel) [i] is written as the Latin "i", while the [j] (the same but a consonant) is still written as the Russian Cyrillic "", which system is used still today.

   Apart from such inconsistancies, the emergence of the modern Belarusian Cyrillics was practically the mirror image of the origins of the archaic Belarusian Lacinka in the 16th century - only reverted. As the Old-Belarusian Lacinka emerged initially quite much as a transliteration from the Old-Belarusian Cyrillic spelling, the modern-Belarusian Cyrillics as we know it was essentially a transliteration from the (modern-)Belarusian Lacinka system, and has still preserved all the features of that Lacinka system up till the present day. This point is very obvious from a comparison of the two systems of the (modern) Belarusian writing with regard to two consonants - "d" and "t". When soft they are treated differently from all other consonants in the Belarusian Lacinka, which approach was copied in the Belarusian  (modern) Cyrillic system, since it inherited the Lacinka structure. That is, the Belarusian 19th century Lacinka's representation of the soft [d'] was the "Polish-looking" (i.e. the historical) "dz" (that is, practically, ). The modern-Belarusian Cyrillics simply transliterates this from Lacinka, always writing  the [d'] as "" (practically, ) - and never as (would have been) Cyrillic "". Likewise, the Belarusian Lacinka representation of the soft [t'] is "", and the modern-Belarusian Cyrillics simply transliterates it from the Lacinka pattern writing it as "" - and never as "". The very name of "Lacinka", containing what should have been a soft [t'] (i.e. [latinka]), is spelled with the "c" in Belarusian Lacinka -- and with the corresponding letter in the Belarusian Cyrillics. Finally, the modern Belarusian Cyrillics picked up "Bahuszewicz Lacinka's" "ł". Its Cyrillic mirror-image, the "ў",  hence became a distinct feature of the Belarusian Cyrillic writing (does not exist in any other national Cyrillic writing system).

    For the first two decades of the 20th century the two systems coexisted in the Belarusian writing. Books were printed in such a way that one part of the circulation was produced in Lacinka, while another printed in the Cyrillic set of characters. Periodicals were printed in either way. The aforementioned "Naša Niva" newspaper was even printing  some number of copies of every issue in Lacinka, and other copies of the same issue in Cyrillics. In 1910, in the view of financial difficulties, "Naša Niva" first considered switching to a single script. It conducted a poll amongst its readers regarding their script of choice, and discovered that there was a large constituency in favour of Cyrillics - and another in favour of Lacinka. At the same time, it appeared that those in favour of Lacinka were more tolerant, i.e. inclined still to read the publications even if it would be printed in Cyrillics only, while those favouring the Cyrillic script were less prepared to read an all-Lacinka version. "Naša Niva" continued to publish in both versions until the end of October 1912, when a new financial crisis forced it to choose. The editorial board declared that they had either to close the paper or continue in some one script, since, as they said, the cost of producing every single issue was double. Considering the 1910 poll, the choice was made in favour of the Cyrillic script. However, "Naša Niva" continued to publish its calendars and supplements in Lacinka as well as Cyrillics.

There exists a widespread opinion that preference towards either Latin or Cyrillic printing was, ceteris paribus, based on religious identity, i.e. that Roman-Catholic Belarusians preferred Lacinka while Russian-Orthodox Belarusians preferred Cyrillics. While in some cases the religious background could indirectly influence their choice (due to their either Russain-based or Polish-based initial literacy), still it appears that general cultural orientation was what mattered. The main practical factor was indeed that education in Belarusian was practically not available in the Russian Empire even after 1905, and Belarusian readers had to base their skills in reading Belarusian on their familiarity with either the Russian writing, or Polish. While apparently all the literate Catholics in Belarus were at that point literate in Russian (and hence Cyrillics) and many were in Polish, still it was not typical at that time for an Orthodox in Belarus to be equally literate in Polish (and hence the Latin script). Nevertheless, Lacinka was also used in some Orthodox publications e.g. the basic prayer book published in 1918 (see picture some further down).

Apart from book-printing, there were several Belarusian periodicles published in either Lacinka alone, or in Lacinka as one of two versions:
 - Bielarus. Tydniowaja katalickaja hazeta. 1913-1915.
 - Homan. Bielaruska-Wilenski czasopis. 1916-1918
 - Kolas bielaruskaj niwy. Hrodno, 1913.(small circulation, crudely printed)
 - Krynica. Bielaruskaja hazeta. No. 1-6, 1917.
 - Naša Dola. Wilnia (Cyrillic and Latin versions. The first issue, for example, was 6000 copies in Cyrillics and 4000 in Lacinka). 6 issues in 1906.
 - Naša Niwa. Wilnia. (Latin-script and Cyrillic versions from 1906 to 18/31 October 1912, Cyrillic version continued until August 1915).
 - Swietac. Bielaruskaja stotydniowaja hazeta. Pietrahrad, No. 1-7, 1916.

   Although the two systems coexisted, it appears that the Latin-script tradition of Belarusian writing was practically regarded as in a way the more legitimate of two at that time. That is, when in 1915, having occupied Vilnia (Wilno), Paul von Hindenburg recognised, on behalf of Seine Majestät's Wehrmacht, the official status of the Belarusian language (first after the more than two century long interval), he recognised it in its namely Lacinka version. So, if we ever thankfully build a monument to Fieldmarshal von Hindenburg in Belarus, it will be a must that we inscribe his name there in Latin letters (joke). Likewise, one of the first international dictionaries ever to include the Belarusian language, the German-published "Sieben-Sprachen Wörtbuch: Deutsch / Polnisch / Russisch / Weißruthenisch / Litauisch / Lettisch / Juddisch. Herausgeben in Auftrage des Oberbefehlshabers Ost. Verlag: Presseabteilung Oberbefehlshabers Ost" [1918], presented Belarusian words in their Lacinka outlook. No lack of Cyrillic fonts can be blamed, since Russian words are printed (naturally) in Cyrillics in that dictionary.

    In the eastern part of Belarus that belonged to the USSR after 1921, the Lacinka was apparently never used, at least officially. At the same time, I am not aware of any formal ban on it in the Soviet Belarus. Moreover, the issue of which system was more suitable was debated in press still during 1920s, and occupied a lot of attention at the Academic Conference on the Belarusian language in Minsk in 1926. The "ultimate argument" of the opponents of Latinka was that since Russia was the natural leader of the world proletarian revolution, so its Cyrillic script was to become the natural basis for the world-wide proletarian-culture writing of the future - not to mention Belarusians. Overall, while the proponents of Lacinka argued on grounds of e.e. linguistic adequacy or other expediency, the opponents drew their arguments mainly from the area of the "class struggle" theory and Communist ideology -- and so the dispute was truly unequal...

So, "First of all, it is necessary to establish who is more interested in the reform of alphabets on the basis of the Latin script: the proletariat or the bourgeoisie?.." - insisted e.g. Uladzimier Dubouka, a promenent Soviet Belarusian writer, in his "Kirylica ci Lacinika?" brochure of 1926. He argued against the option of Lacinka for the Belarusian language, dismissing it as "bourgeoise" and "imperialist". And after all, according to him, the fact that Belarusians did not need Lacinka was as obvious as that there was no need for the tube (subway, metro) in Moscow (still a project at that time) (!!). On the other hand, Dubouka proposed to introduce certain new characters in the Cyrillic script for the Belarusian language, such as single-character transliterations for the sounds spelled now as "дзь" and "дж".

However, such debates, and any ideas on some new "non-Russian" characters, were regarded by the Soviet Communist authorities as more or less subversive in their own right, and could not be continued for any longer  when the Stalinist terror was reaching its full scale. The post-1933 Soviet Belarus publications categorically declared that sympathies to Lacinka constituted "the highest degree of counter-revolutionary activity" (i.e. high treason), that is:

... etc. Meanhile, Dubouka found himself in a concentration camp in Siberia for a decade.

     In the western part of Belarus that became a part of Pilsudski's Poland, the two scripts continued to coexist. The first edition of Belarusian Grammar book by Branislau Taraškievic (1918) was published in two version - Cyrillic and Latin. In the "classical" edition of the Grammar Book by Taraškievic (1929), which codified the Belarusian literary language, one finds both Cyrillic "bielaruski alfabet" and Latin "bielaruskaja abeceda" sets, although the basic script of that edition is Cyrillic. Occasionally both scripts were used even in the same publication, such as in calendars and newspapers ("Krynica", "Slach Moladzi").

The issue of script was debated in west-Belarusian press as well. However, unlike in the Soviet-controlled Belarus, with its imperative rationale of the "class struggle", the debates in the west-Belarusian intellectual community rotated mainly around the choices between the expediency of using the script of the whole Western world on the one hand, and the desirability of keeping Cyrillics as a feature making Belarusian clearly distinct from the dominant Polish on the other hand. Some, like Konstancja Skirmuntt (in Fascynacja nazwy i potega litery, Wilno 1928) argued, that the Belarusian people would hardly be able fully to join, and to benefit from, the modern European and Western civilisation, unless they free themselves from the Russian "Eurasian" sphere of influence (moreover Communist at that time), and they could hardly escape from the Russian sphere unless they abandon the confusing bi-alphabetism and adhere decisively to Lacinka. So, she wrote, the Cyrillic letter for the Belarusian people is "an enemy of its [the nation's] freedom". Yet during 1930s in particular, reacting to the polonisation and assimilating policies advocated by the Polish dominant political ideology of "en-decja", and in fact officially carried out especially under the regime of "sanacja", many Belarusians in the interwar Poland come to regard Cyrillics as the Belarusian alphabet, and hence began politically to favour writing and publishing in the Cyrillic script.

   Despite the political leaning in Western Belarus towards the Cyrillic script, many books and periodicals in the western Belarus were still published in Lacinka. The credit should be given first of all to the efforts of the Belarusian Christian Democracy activists, such as Fr Adam Stankievic, Fr Hadleuski, and others. The major periodical publications of that kind were "Krynica" and "Chryscijanskaja Dumka" ("Christian Thought"). Both were  began as Catholic periodicles, but in 1930s were made to transform into officially secular publications, under the pressure of certain (unfriendly inclined) Polish church authorities. However, the new feature was that articles in Lacinka and Cyrillics would be often placed one next to another in the same paper, as opposed to publishing two complete versions as was practiced earlier. See the illustrations, some advertisements from it, below.

    A considerable number of books was also published in the Belarusian Lacinka, most of them in Vilnia (Wilno). As follows from Turonek's "Ksiazka bialoruska w II RP" (Warsz. 2000), the share of Lacinka in the west-Belarusian book titles in 1921-1939 was about 35.3%.  Again, the credit should be given to the Belarusian Christian Democracy, which established the Francis Skaryna Belarusian publishing house in Vilnia. Since authors such as Fr Stankievic were clergymen, they needed church approval to print many of their works. They were getting the imprimatur in Lwow (Lviv) rather than Vilnia, and that is what title pages often state as the place of publication. In reality, all books of that kind were published in Vilnia (Wilno).

It would be however incorrect to conclude that Lacinka was used solely by Roman Catholics in Western Belarus during this time. That is, on the one hand, the Catholics themselves were not at all fanatically devoted to the Latin script. In 1929, the issue of script was debated in "Belaruskaja Krynica" (a publication of the Belarusian Christian Democracy party), and from that time on the BChD publications included articles in both scripts (See A. Stankievic. Biel. Chrysc. Ruch. Vilnia, 1939). On the other hand, Lacinka was used not by Belarusian Roman-Catholics only, but also by the Uniats (Greek Catholics; e.g. "Zlucennie" magazine, 1938), Protestants and Orthodox (see images below).

An Orthodox (1918), Methodist (1925) and Roman Catholic (1927) editions in the Belarusian Lacinka

In the late 1930s the last transformation of the Belarusian Lacinka occurred, when some publishers, apparently struggling against the much-hated at that time "Polish features", began to abandon the historical "w" in favour of the "v" character (the [v]-sound like in "very"). This process was formally completed during  the Second World War, when in the Lacinka version of the new book of Belarusian orthography (Bielaruski pravapis) by Jazep Losik, authorised for primary schools (printed in Minsk, 1943, and later re-printed in the USA), the "w" was gone.

   I am not aware of any war-time or post-WW2 publications which would use the "w" for "v", apart from several misprints. In fact, the WW2-era Belarusian publications were predominantly Cyrillic, although Lacinka was tolerated. The use of Lacinka in Belarus during WWII was somewhat limited after 1943, since the ultra-Orthodox party there was trying to convince the Germans that the Lacinka was a "Polish intrigue". Nevertheless, below see a 1944 advertisement in Lacinka, printrd in the (otherwise all-Cyrillic at that time) Ranica, a Belarusian newspaper in Berlin.

   From the late 1940s until the new Belarusian revival of 1980s-early 1990s, the Lacinka printing occasionally continued just in emigration. In some cases that was rather because no Cyrillic fonts were available, but in some it appear rather a matter of principle (e.g. Vaclau Panucevic's publications, Chicago). Considerable Belarusian  printing in Lacinka was undertaken in Rome in 1940s-1970s, mainly by Fr Dr P. Tatarynovič, the director of the Belarusian service of Radio Vatican. From 1950 to 1975 he published 120 issues of "Źnič" (Belarusian religious journal). His other publications included, besides several religious editions, also his Belarusian translation of H. Sienkiewicz's "Quo Vadis?" (1956) (see illustration) , and the poem "Kałychanka" by Ryhor Krušyna (title page date 1953, but in fact 1963). Meanwhile, certain Belarusian emigre publications contained in fact some parts printed in Lacinka and some in Cyrillics, e.g. several books by the "Zaranak" Publishing in New York (1960s-70s).

In the post-war USSR, the use of Belarusian Lacinka would be regarded as something deeply subversive, nationalist and anti-Soviet. Nevertheless, it is a curious fact to mention that Belarusian-Lacinka public inscriptions were occasionally made in the Soviet Belarus as well. Some Belarusian Lacinka inscriptions found on gravestones at the graveyard of the village of Kluščany, Astraviecki district, date from as late as mid-1970s (!). 

Since Belarus became independent in 1991, however, some efforts were also made to revive Lacinka, this original script of the modern Belarusian literary language. For   example, the revived "Naša Niva" newspaper published one all-Lacinka issue in 1993 (see image below), where not only the articles but also all the commercial advertisements were in Lacinka. Some articles in Lacinka occasionally continued to appear in "Naša Niva" up to most recently. The three issues of the revived "Chryscijanskaja Dumka" (see image) journal equally contained particular articles in Lacinka. About a dozen of 1920s-30s all-Lacinka editions were reprinted in Belarus during the early 1990s. Still, the revival of Lacinka lost some momentum after 1995, when the regime of Lukashenka re-introduced the Russian language as official and began effectively to expel the Belarusian language, in any form, from every area of official and public use in Belarus. Nevertheless, in 1998-99 several pieces were printed in Lacinka in "Spadčyna/Heritage" journal (see image). Some number of articles have appeared in Lacinka in Arche and Arche-Skaryna journals. Another curious example is private advertisements in Lacinka appearing in almost every issue of Naša Niva. Finally, it not uncommon to encounter Belarusian Lacinka publications on the Internet. There is even a public internet-based software to convert Belarusian Cyrillic web-sites into Belarusian Lacinka.

   Among  young Belarusian intellectuals, writing in Lacinka, or at least such a skill, gradually becomes a matter of "good taste". The problem now is however also about "which Lacinka?". These uncertainties proved to be very harmful. For example, during the Founding Congress of the Belarusian Popular Front youth's "Young Front" organisation in September 1997 there was a proposal to adopt the Lacinka as the only official script used in the organisation's documents (in Belarusian), but this proposal was put aside because of, inter alia, disagreements on what exactly the Lacinka should be like. Firstly, there is an old uncertainty about spelling the combinations of the "i" preceded by a vowel. While the traditional spelling is e.g. "akademii", "Rasiei", "racyi", "dla ich", some actually printed it as "akademiji", "Rasieji", "racyji", and "dla jich". Secondly, some have been urging to "upgrade" the traditional Lacinka, to make it supposedly 'more convenient' for modern purposes, or to 'simplify' it. There is (was?) a fairly active group urging to replace the "ŭ" (the "u"-consonant), with the "w" character (as the latter letter has otherwise remained "unemployed" since WW2). Their argument was that the "ŭ" was not in the standard computer character set. This has been, however, not the case after the Unicode fonts become available, such as for the MS Office 97, and there is the UTF-8 encoding option in the Netscape and Explorer. To know whether your computer has that feature, see if your software displays the Belarusian Łacinka characters right:

Ćć-Čč-Łł-Ńń-Śś-� š-Ŭŭ-Žž-Źź.

Secondly, it appears valid to argue that if it were impossible to type the "ŭ" character, one could have safely put it always as "u" - since all the "u" always are "ŭ" before any vowel in Belarusian (except in several known foreign words).

Others have proposed that the "ł" is to be abolished, arguably for the sake of simplicity and uniformity in denoting the softness of consonants (although it is not clear how then to denote the difference betweed such words as "stoł" (table) and "stol" (ceiling)). Further, some have suggested that the "g" character should always be used instead of the "h", regardless the difference in pronunciation. The most original idea of that kind was probably to replace the Lacinka's "ch" (as in English "loch") with the Cyrillic "x" character, on the grounds that the Latin "x" is not used anyway, except in foreign names.

   These disagreements and "original ideas" will most likely disappear after there is published a sufficient amount of texts in certain Lacinka version, which will effectively revive Lacinka to some wider public use, and hence establish its standard by the virtue of practice, like in 1910s. In the meantime, the 'classic' (Naša Niva/Taraškievič) version is best to use to stay 'correct'. That is what I practically do, at least.

      So far, the Belarusian Lacinka can be of practical use to spell Belarusian names and words when necessary to do so in Latin characters. It is natural that Poles, Czechs, Slovaks, Croatians, Slovenians, Germans, French, Spanish, and all other nations using a [national version of] Latin script do not transliterate their words and names into say English, such as according to some US Congress Library System, but write them as they are, with all the diacritics or without. Since Belarusians actually have had their own proper Latin script tradition as well, they can (should) legitimately do the same. The BPF (Belarusian Popular Front) follows this policy in spelling in all (I think) its documents in Western languages.

   The practice of the official use of Lacinka for this purposes in Belarus could become the first step towards its official re-introduction/re-recognition. The next step can be the recognition of Lacinka as a parallel officially-acceptable system of writing, so that those who wish would have the right to do so, and students in primary schools would be made familiar with Lacinka. Such an official act should be adopted to stimulate this process and to authorise Lacinka's presence in school programmes, even though, to my knowledge, there have been no law ever formally prohibiting Lacinka. The benefits, in the long run, could include making it easier for Belarusians to join/adjust to the world information flows, to simplify foreign language learning, generally speaking to reinforce Belarus's European/Western identity in general terms, etc. &c. 

   In fact, there have been signals that even under Lukashenka's regime of official re-russification, there is an increasing attitude even in the state structures in favour of recognising and employing the Lacinka for the purposes of international spelling of Belarusian words and names. According to the information in the "Bielaruskija imiony", Miensk 2001 (a dictionary of Belarusian names giving their Cyrillic as well as (traditional) Lacinka spelling), the State Toponymics Commission of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus in co-operation with the State Map Foundation are preparing the official Dictionary of names of Belarusian cities, towns, and villages, where (some?) Lacinka spelling of the names will be shown alongside the Cyrillic one. However, until the Dictionary is published one may remain suspicious about the kind of Latin-script spelling they are going to suggest, because some maps published in mid-1990s in Belarus spelled the names in a strange set of Latin characters apparently of the publishers' own choice, rather than in the traditional Belarusian Lacinka.

    It is hard to say what correlation in the use of the two scripts in Belarusian may emerge in the final outcome. Still, I'd like to believe that there can be some brighter future for the Belarusian Lacinka. As a precondition, however, there is still an urgent need to insure some brighter prospect for the Belarusian language, and Belarus itself.


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Click this link to see a comparative chart of Belarusian
Cyrillic-based (Kirylica) and Latin-basced (Lacinka)
writing, with the LOC transliteration instructions
(from Cyrilics), for English speakers.
(Except that the distinction between the "g" and "h" is not there)

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