Writer and Serbian language reformist Vuk Stefanović Karadžić was born on November 6, 1787 – Vuk went the path from a sick village boy /he limped/ to a Viennese PhD student and one of the most significant figures in Serbian history.
His greatest contribution is the recording of folk literature which was then communicated only verbally, and the reformation of the Serbian language, by which he crated one of the simplest and most logical systems of orthography.
HE USED ADELUNG’S PRINCIPLE
The “Write as you speak and read as it is written” quote is usually ascribed by our people to Vuk Karadžić. However, the orthographic principle was devised by Johann Christoph Adelung, a German grammarian and philologist.
Karadžić used his principle to reform the Serbian language. Vuk believed that every sound needed only one letter, so he threw out all unnecessary signs from the then alphabet, which were used even though they did not have their corresponding sounds.
“SERBIAN LANGUAGE” HIS MAJOR WORK
Karadžić published many collections of folk songs and stories, as well as customs, Serbian grammar and “Serbian Language” which contained the words spoken by the people, even cuss words.
As he recorded vast amounts of folk culture and spoken language of Serbia, Karadžić is usually called, even today, only by his name – Vuk – as a term of endearment.
Vuk learned to read and write on his own and spent some time in the Tronoša monastery. His father sent him there to be educated by monks, but when they ordered him to take care of cattle instead of learning, his father brought him back home.
Vuk acquired his most important knowledge by listening to folk customs, stories, and songs he then wrote down.
The Turks re-occupied Serbia in 1813 and Vuk then went to Vienna to get educated. There he learnt German and Latin and enjoyed the Western culture.
Upon his arrival, he drew the attention of Jernej Kopitar, an Austrian critic who had read Vuk’s article written in the popular Serbian language. Kopitar became Karadžić’s friend, advisor and great supporter.
Vuk published his first collection of folk songs in 1814 – “Mala prostonarodna slaveno-serbska pjesnarica” and a grammar “Pismenica serbskoga jezika,” in order to help readers understand his book as well as possible…
In order to find support for his research and writing, he went to Russia in 1818 and then came back to Serbia to collect additional material for his extended collection of songs which he intended to publish in four volumes.
GRIMM BROTHERS “TURNED SERBS”
In 1832, Vuk met Jacob Grimm, the elder brother of Wilhelm Grimm with whom he shot to fame by publishing a collection of German fairy tales. Jacob Grimm wrote a positive review of Vuk’s third collection of songs and introduced him to the famous Johann Wolfgang Goethe.
Vuk kept in touch with the Grimm brothers, who knew the Serbian language and took some of their fairy tales from Serbian.
CHURCH OPPOSED VUK’S WORK AT FIRST
Between 1828 and 1832, Vuk served Prince Miloš Obrenović. Vuk’s duties included teaching the prince’s sons French, translating Napoleon’s laws into Serbian and writing the history of Serbia.
Karadžić’s business relationship with the Obrenovićs ended in 1832 when the Orthodox Church rejected Vuk’s alphabet and folk songs as vulgar and subversive.
The repulsion of his work did not discourage Vuk. In 1833, he was allowed to return to Austria where he published the fourth book of folk songs despite the Church ban.
Until 1835, protests against Vuk calmed down and he was finally given recognition for his contribution to Serbia.
After he retired, Karadžić had time to travel, collect the material and re-examine his earlier collections which make an important part of the Serbian tradition, culture and history.
ANTHROPOLOGIST AND ETHNOGRAPHER
Apart from his greatest contribution in literature, Vuk gave a major contribution to the Serbian anthropology combined with the ethnography of the time.
In addition to his ethnographic writings, he left writings on the physical characteristics of the human body. He brought a rich terminology about body parts from head to toe into the literary language.
HIS WORKS OUTLIVED EVERYONE
Soon after arriving in Vienna, Vuk met Ana Maria Krauss, the daughter of a rich Austrian merchant with whom he had as many as 13 children and only two of them outlived their parents: daughter Wilhelmina Mina, the famous painter, and son Dimitrije, a military officer.
In relation to that, Vuk once said: “It seems that out of all my children, only my works will outlive me.”
Vuk Karadžić died in Vienna in 1864.