The Thin Tweed Line
Navigation Bar Home Faculty Administration Students Trustees Government Tuition

The Preslav Literary School of Bugaria was unlike any school today. The single goal of this institution was was to create a script for their spoken language and to translate works into this new language. In the early 19th century a similar movement to create a syllabary for a spoken language was being undertaken by a man named Sequoyah. This was the Cherokee language. These two developments of a written language are different in reason and devolopment, but similar in their long term imapct. The Preslav Literary School was developing script for a religious purpose, while Sequoyah’s reason was to gain social and military advantage.

The Preslav Literary School was founded in the First Bulgarian Empire under the rule of Boris I. A group of disciples of Saint Cyril and Saint Methodius arrived at the Empire in 886 seeking refugee after being exiled from the Great Moravia. Among these refugees was a man maned Naum of Preslav. Naum quickly worked on establishing an education center in the Bulgarian capital of Pliska to continue his development of Slavonic letters and liturgy. (Chary) This education center became known as the Pliska Literary School but would change into the Preslav Literacy School with the move of the capital. Although it was called called a school, the Pliska Literacy School was far different from the typical school of the modern age. For example, the Preslav Literary School had no main building or campus. Instead, this school was created in a system of scriptorium spread throughout the empire with the common goal of developing Naum’s script and translating works into this new script. A scriptorium is a term in medieval Europe referring to a small study room in a church or monastery dedicated to the copying of religious text by priests or monks. The script that Naum was working on, and that the scriptoriums were translating into was the Cyrillic script. Named after his teacher Saint Cyril, the Cyrillic script was created from Saint Cyril and Methodius’s original attempt at a script called the Glagolitic alphabet. (Chary) The development of this script was not easy, as the school was continually tested and strained though Bulgaria’s harsh history.

After getting the school up and running, Boris abdicated the throne in 889 and became a monk, leaving the throne to his eldest son Vladimir. Unlike Boris, Vladimir had a different direction in mind for the empire and attempted to reinstate a pagan religion. Upon hearing this news, Boris came out of retirement in 893 and took drastic action. He promptly removed his son from the throne and blinded him. (Curtis) Boris’s third son, Simeon I, took the throne and Boris returned to the monastery. Simeon was a military leader and campaigned against many neighboring empires including the Byzantines, Magyarsm and Serbs expanding the Bulgarian empire. Soon after, as a means to better control the empire, the capital was moved to Preslac. With the move of the capital the school also moved and became known as the Preslav Literary School. Shortly after the move, the Cyrillic script and Slavic language was declared the official script and language of the First Bulgarian Empire.

This wasn’t the only time a written script was created for a language. This happened once again with the Cherokees in the early 19th century. Fascinated by the “talking leafs” of the white settlers and convinced this was the source of their power and success, an illiterate Cherokee know as Sequoyah attempted to make a written script for his own language. (Wilford) This task was going to be especially hard for him as being illiterate he had no idea what the marks of the “talking leafs” were and how they went together. Despite this difficulty of having no other script to base his off of, he comprised 85 characters that each represented a unique sound in the Cherokee language that when put together formed all of the spoken words in their language. Sequoyah finishing in 1821 accomplished this task in less then 12 years, marking the only time in recorded history a non-literate group, much less a single person, invented an effective writing system. (Wilford) The Cherokee tribe officially adopted Sequoyah’s script in 1825 and with this the Cherokee literacy rate went from almost non to surpassing that of the European-American settlers. The reason for this almost instantaneous literacy rate lays in how the Cherokee literacy system was constructed. Instead of using letters that follow strict rules such as in many modern languages, Sequoyah used syllabary were each symbol in the script represents a sound or syllable. Syllabary created the need for more symbols to be used but also made it so anyone who knew the language only needed to learn what each of the 85 symbols sounded like and then could both read in write.

Both the Preslav Literacy School and Sequoyah created a written script for a preexisting language but differed greatly in their process and reason but accomplished the same result. What made the process for creating the scripts so different was the fact the Sequoyah was illiterate and Naum read latin. Also Naum was creating Cyrillic from the works of his teacher Saint Cyril. With all of this background knowledge of different written languages it is easy to understand why the Cyrillic script was a letterform script, were each symbol corresponds with a short sound or sounds. On the other side, Sequoyah had no knowledge of written language to base his work off of. This lead to a more timely process and the script being extraordinarily simple to learn and use. This was accomplished by instead of having each symbol represent a letter, they represented syllables. With this system, a word like apple would be written with only two symbols, one for ‘ap’ and one for ‘ple’, instead of 5. Amazingly, Sequoyah was able to develop this system with the use of only 85 symbols.

Not only were the two scripts different in their development, but they were different in their reason for being created. Naum lived in a time where masses of the population spoke their native language while all religious services and books were still written in latin. Saint Cyril and Naum saw the importance of making religious works available to the masses and decided to create a written script that could be read in Slovak languages. This created a script for the purpose of the availability and spread of christianity. Sequoyah, on the other hand, had no need to translate religious but instead a different motive. He watched as the white settlers in the Americas were able to pass slips of paper around and communicate without words. Not even understanding how they work of what they said, Sequoyah knew that this was the source of their power and success. The creation of a similar system became a way to help his society be able to survive and prosper in his eyes.

Even though these scripts were created in different ways and for different reasons, they accomplished the same result. In both instances, the literacy level of the community they were developed in went from nonexistent to a vast majority of the populations being literate. All types of works of literature were translated into both languages and both languages were so successful they are still here today.




The development of a written language: Preslav Literary School and the Cherokee Language


Page Author: Jordan A. Vidmore

Sunday, 4 March, 2012 19:30



Chary, Frederick B. The History of Bulgaria. Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood, 2011. Print.

Curtis, Glenn Eldon. Bulgaria: A Country Study. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1993. Print.

Justice, Daniel Heath. Our Fire Survives the Storm: A Cherokee Literary History. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 2006. Print.

WILFORD, JOHN NOBLE. "Carvings From Cherokee Script’s Dawn." The New York Times. The New York Times, 23 June 2009. Web. 18 Feb. 2012.

Zernov, Nicolas. Eastern Christendom; a Study of the Origin and Development of the Eastern Orthodox Church. New York: Putnam, 1961. Print.


Editorial Policy

Correspondence to the student authors of this website may be sent to this e-mail address. Make sure your subject includes the name of the author and the article you are referring to along with it's URL. Article copyright is held by their author.

Submissions of original new materials may be made electronically by PDF as long as significant authorship is by undergraduates enrolled in a non-profit educational institution. All materials are peer reviewed by a group of undergraduates.

Editorial articles, lecture presentations, and basic FAQs are marked as such on this website. These articles generally have open copyright and may be used in academic, non-profit settings as long as the author is given full attribution.

The Thin Tweed Line, ©2012 by Steve N. Jackson