Should you Localize to Serbian Latin or to Serbian Cyrillic?

In fact, it doesn't really matter - as long as you use the writing system of choice consistently.

Miloš Matović 2016-11-17 Localization 5

Should you Localize to Serbian Latin or to Serbian Cyrillic?
Why Not Use Both Scripts?

Standard Serbian is the only European language written in two writing systems. In addition to being a linguistic and cultural curiosity, this particular feature (scientifically known as full synchronic digraphia) often confuses companies trying to choose the best script for the localization of their products and services upon entering the Serbian market.

The short answer is that it doesn’t matter, as long as the script of choice is used consistently – and this is why:

1. One Language, Two Alphabets

Your computer or smartphone may list Serbian Latin and Serbian Cyrillic as separate languages. They may be assigned different codes, however, with the exception of the writing system, it is one and the same language.

2. Everybody Uses Both Scripts

Every literate native speaker of Serbian can read and write both scripts equally well, meaning there are no target group preferences in this regard – your message will be understood regardless of the script.

What you should keep in mind, though, is that consistency is the priority. Latin and Cyrillic scripts are used synchronically, but not interchangeably, meaning that mixing the two scripts in the same material is a telltale sign of a poor linguistic product and must be avoided.

This, of course, doesn’t apply to the elements that are kept in the Latin script in Cyrillic materials, such as units of measurements, certain acronyms, foreign names and quotes, etc.

3. Cyrillic Script is Official, Latin is More Common

Seeing as the Cyrillic script is official, all government and personal documents are issued either in Cyrillic or in both scripts. The longest-running magazines and newspapers and the packages of some of the products with the longest tradition in the country are printed in Cyrillic. 

However, the Latin script is widely used in the popular media, on the Internet, on most of the product packages and shop signage, with the still low, but steadily rising trend of encouraging a wider use of Cyrillic script in the public arena.

For these reasons you may consider opting for translation to Serbian Cyrillic if you want to add an official, traditional or trendy vintage touch to your product/service and it may be the only marketing aspect for consideration. In all other cases, Serbian Latin is as good as Serbian Cyrillic.

4. Why Not Use Both Scripts?

Microsoft famously offers its products localized to both Serbian Latin and Serbian Cyrillic, most of the open source software is available in both scripts, Wikipedia and many local websites feature the content presented in both Latin and Cyrillic versions, leaving the choice of the writing system to the end user.

At the same time, Facebook, Google and Apple localize their services only to Serbian Cyrillic, or at least use the Cyrillic script as the default one for Serbian.

Depending on the type of your product/service, you may choose to include both scripts. One of the advantageous aspects is that the cost of professional conversion of translated and localized content to either writing system will certainly be significantly lower than a full new translation. Furthermore, the current level of technology enables an easy inclusion of two scripts and this choice most definitely provides a higher level of adaptation to the Serbian market.