Karadžić, Vuk Stefanović


Karadžić, Vuk Stefanović
born Nov. 6, 1787, Tršić, Serbia, Ottoman Empire
died Feb. 6, 1864, Vienna

Serbian language scholar and folklorist.

He was largely self-taught as a writer. After the failure of a Serb revolt against Turkish rule, he left for Vienna (1813), where he was introduced to formal scholarship by the Slavist Jernej Kopitar. In 1814 he published a grammar of Serbian (see Serbo-Croatian language) and in 1818 a dictionary; both promulgated a reformed Cyrillic alphabet and a new literary language based on colloquial Serbian rather than the prevailing literary language, which mixed archaic Serbian with Russian Church Slavic (see Old Church Slavonic language). After decades of resistance and polemicizing, the renascent Serbian state accepted his reforms in 1868.

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▪ Serbian language scholar
born Nov. 6, 1787, Tršić, Serbia [now in Yugoslavia], Ottoman Empire
died Feb. 6, 1864, Vienna [Austria]

      language scholar and the father of Serbian folk-literature scholarship, who, in reforming the Cyrillic alphabet for Serbian (Serbo-Croatian language) usage, created one of the simplest and most logical spelling systems.

      Karadžić learned to read and write in the old monastery Tronosha (near his native village). Mostly in the position of a scribe to different military leaders, sometimes as schoolteacher, he served his country during the first Serbian uprising against the Turks (1804–13). At the collapse of the uprising he left Serbia, but, instead of following Karadjordje and other leaders to Russia, he went to Vienna. There he was introduced to Slavic scholarship by Bartholomäus Kopitar, a government official and scholar from Slovenia, and was encouraged to collect poems and folk songs and to write a grammar of the popular Serbian language and a dictionary.

      Karadžić established that Serbian contains 30 distinct sounds, for six of which the Cyrillic alphabet had no special letters. He introduced new letters for those sounds, at the same time discarding 18 letters for which Serbian had no use. In 1818 he first published his Srpski rječnik (“Serbian Lexicon”), a Serbian-German-Latin dictionary containing 26,270 words and many important sidelights on folklore. The second edition (1852), expanded to about 47,000 words, remains a classic. Though there was strong opposition to his reform from the church and from writers, the Serbian government in 1868 finally adopted Karadžić's amended alphabet. Karadžić's work influenced some 19th-century Croatian language codifiers (see Serbo-Croatian language).

      In his effort to collect folk literature, Karadžić traveled throughout Serbia, Bosnia, Croatia, and other areas of the region. The results of his travels appeared largely in Srpske narodne pjesme, 4 vol. (1823–33; “Serbian Folk Poems”). Other works include a book of popular stories (1821), a collection of Serbian proverbs (1837), and a Serbian translation of the New Testament (1847).

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Universalium. 2010.

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