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In The Netherlands, we learn to write Latin characters in cursive in school, but most adults write block letters in practice. My experience is that in other countries using the Latin alphabet, most adults use block letters as well. How is this in Cyrillic? Does handwritten Cyrillic by a typical adult Russian more closely resemble upright "block letters"¹, italic print, or the cursive taught in school?

The difference can be quite large (д/д, т/т, и/и) and a source of confusion to learners (for example, see Why does italic 'т' look like 'm', What is the stroke order for Cyrillic?, What are these Russian characters that aren't in the alphabet in my learning material?, What Russian letter is this?); and lower case д actually has three different shapes. I can read upright block letters quite well, italic block letters with some difficulty, how much may I need cursive?

Related: What is the preferred form of Cyrillic to use for handwriting?


¹I'm not sure if this term is correct for Cyrillic!

  • 6
    in Cyrillic these are called print letters - печатные буквы – Баян Купи-ка May 29 at 17:24
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    in this age of computers, relevance of ability to understand cursive is in decline, and if god forbid you need medical help, even knowledge of cursive won't help you to understand health workers' handwriting on medical documents which are still filled out by hand, no one told them that patients need to understand their summaries, they mostly communicate with each other and a patient only serves as an errand boy to deliver the documents – Баян Купи-ка May 29 at 17:29
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    it's so pervasive you can't help but to generalize, and if they don't have computers or printers, there's no way for them to put together documents other than by handwriting, and no one, dare i say literally no one ever writes in print letters, because they're not required to by any regulation, as if they would follow the rules had there been any, and doing that of their own accord would be too big a favor to a disposable invisible patient – Баян Купи-ка May 29 at 20:58
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    I cannot comment on Cyrillic, but my experience with Latin script is that cursive is still very common among educated professionals (and even expected/demanded in several professional settings.) I guess it could vary from country to country. – luis.espinal May 30 at 13:39
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    For what it’s worth, my experience does not match yours. I haven’t spent much time in the Netherlands and don’t remember observing anyone writing there, but from an Anglo-Scandinavian point of view, at least 80–90% of adults whose writing I’ve encountered have using joined-up writing. Not necessarily the classical cursive (this), but definitely joined-up (this). – Janus Bahs Jacquet May 30 at 22:19
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In school it's taught cursive and only cursive, in many "serious" places (like government jobs, jobs in financial sector etc.) it will be considered very non-professional if you can not do cursive. In fact it's even hard to imagine that somebody does not.

However I have to admit that things are gradually changing and even Russian language teachers are adopting for such changes, although very slowly and very gradually. For instance, in 90s you were very lucky if your Russian language or Literature teacher (well, natural sciences teachers were more liberal) accept T form for lowercase. Now from what I see how my son is doing his homework - such deviations from the standard are tolerated.

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    won't this be strict only for primary schoolers? I don't know about current situation, but in 90s I haven't met teachers unaccepting of different writings of т or р or other letters in the middle school or high school and I went to three schools. I think primary school is the only period where anyone cares about your handwriting and afterwards it's you own choice (as long as it's legible) – Darya Shcherbakova May 29 at 19:45
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    well, @DaryaShcherbakova you were lucky, that's all I can say. – shabunc May 30 at 9:28
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    @J... "it's equally difficult to imagine someone in an adult/professional context writing in block print" – I'm in UK/US academia, in a tech-related area which admittedly is not always the most "professional," but I can't remember the last time I saw someone write in cursive beyond a signature. For sure it was not recently. – Dougal May 31 at 16:52
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    @Dougal And when was the last time you saw someone write with a manual implement at all? I'm not talking about annotations on an SLD or other niche cases where you would want to write in block or caps, just like a hand-written letter or note, document, etc. – J... May 31 at 16:59
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    @Dougal Now, I'll grant that, especially among young people, handwriting anything is increasingly rare - to the point where some people can barely do it at all. It doesn't come out as cursive or print, but just a kind of chaotic scribble. I wouldn't necessarily say that this is because printing in block letters is becoming the norm over cursive, however, but rather that people are simply losing the ability to write text with a pen or pencil altogether. – J... May 31 at 17:10
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Things may be changing, but I dare say an overwhelming majority of 'adult' Russians (those finished primary school 10+ years ago) write in cursive - when they have to hand write at all.

Writing in block letters has always been considered 'childish': only small kids do it because they haven't learnt any better yet. (But again, things are changing, and perception too).

Perhaps, because of less practice, the script can be inconsistent (I might even write т and т interchangeably), but it will be cursive nevertheless.

The main advantage of cursive is that it's much faster to write. Those who still have to write a lot by hand (like those proverbial doctors) always use cursive. The difference is not so much how a particular letter is written but the fact that they are joined together, and you don't need to lift the pen off paper as much.

I, for one (having finished my primary school still in the USSR) tend to write cursive even in English - unless I'm filling in a form or writing just a word or two.

  • I've learned in a school (in Russia) with in-depth study of German (it was in the early and mid-2000s), so we learned both German and English in primary and secondary school. Interestingly, we've been taught cursive in German, but block letters in English. (Now I use cursive for both - although I very seldom do encounter German - just because it's much simpler and faster to write.) – trolley813 May 30 at 8:25
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As already said, all Russians are taught in school how to write in cursive and use it in everyday life. Writing with cursive letters is much more faster but everyone has his own style, that is sometimes hard to read, so sometimes you are asked you use block letters. That's why when you fill a form, for example when you apply for a new ID, you have to use block letters to write your name and other information to avoid any mistakes.

5

Many responders have already mentioned the cursive handwriting as faster...

In fact, perhaps unlike some cursive scripts I see daily used in Europe/US at least, the seeming purpose of Russian cursive writing is to write a word, or large parts thereof, as one line without picking up the pen from the paper and seeking to a new position to start the next letter of the same word. This "built-in" habit from the school impacts my handwriting in other languages, which some native-speakers (and native-readers) then reported to be curious and not the way they would write the same words and sentences.

I think this also impacts the aspect mentioned above, like interchangeability of "т" and "m" for the same letter - I also have this habit without a second thought, but if I give it a thought, the choice likely relies on what liason from the previously written letter would be simplest to implement without extra momentum to the hand... or maybe adding one if it feels tired from holding one position for a while and needs the slight massage of a more jagged writing :)

My schooling was in late USSR/early Russia, and while there was a strong emphasis (and significant grading impact) during Russian classes regarding legibility of what was written, I don't think there was much stress regarding the choice of variants to write same letters same way consistently.

UPDATE: I asked around, and my wife whose schooling was in early post-USSR years said they were drilled on proper cursive writing with one true font. Variations like the "T" examples above were not tolerated, treated as a mistake - that they twitched and put some garbage in the page and skipped a real letter from a word, thus wrote it incorrectly.

For schoolkids today parents can apparently sign a request on how their children should be taught writing - with cursive scripts and further enhancing that skill, or with block scripts and further move into typing/tapping rather than penning.

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    The purpose of cursive writing was originally, and remains still, to avoid having to lift the pen while writing. I distinctly remember handwriting lessons in elementary school where we were taught that the pen must never leave the paper except between words – the only exception being dotting i’s and j’s (which was done after you’d written the whole word out). As a leftie, I always loathed this, because writing long words was a huge strain when you couldn’t lift and recentre your hand. – Janus Bahs Jacquet May 30 at 22:14
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    @JanusBahsJacquet Historically this was important when everyone used fountain pens, but it's actually more comfortable to not use cursive with ballpoint pens, see https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2015/08/ballpoint-pens-object-lesson-history-handwriting/402205/. Plus there's the leftie thing. – Elizabeth Henning May 31 at 0:34
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    Putting "т" and "m" in italics makes them display the same in my browser. It's confusing to read "interchangeability of m and m", which is what your post seems to say. – sumelic May 31 at 3:55
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    @sumelic This is indeed a fine demonstration of said interchangeability. – Mr Lister May 31 at 6:12
  • Interesting, for typical wordprocessing fonts italicised "т" is just skewed. I updated the post to make the original letters better visible, thanks :) – Jim Klimov Jun 4 at 11:47
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I wanna add my $0.02. As someone who grew up in Russia and went through school there. I'd say, writing other than cursive would just slow me down. Because in cursive your blue line just flows from one letter to the other. In block letters you would always have to stop, pause, find a new spot for your letter and continue writing.

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Cursive or intersections with some block letters (like @Jum Klimov mentioned). No one uses block letters on their own when handwriting. It's way too slow.

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