Sava Mrkalj was born in the hamlet of Mrkalji, Lasinjski Sjeničak village, in 1783. Having completed his primary school education in Sjeničak and a theological seminary in Plaški in 1789, he got a job as a teacher at the Slavonic-Serb School in Gospić. Later, he moved to Zagreb to attend a higher education institution named archigymnasium, before studying philosophy. Mrkalj took his degree in philosophy and mathematics at the University of Pest in today’s Budapest. It was there that he in 1810 published his lifetime achievement Salo debeloga jera libo azbukoprotres (Fat of the Thick Yer, i.e. Alphabet Reshuffling), which shocked the scientific audience and fascinated philologists Jernej Kopitar and Vuk Karadžić.

In his Pismenica in 1814, Karadžić uses Mrkalj’s alphabet “because for the Serbian language there cannot be an easier or a clearer one”. This is owing to the fact that, in his Salo debeloga Jera libo azbukoprotres, Mrkalj had advocated a reform of the then outdated and incomprehensible grammar used in church and literature, and a phonetic script based on the language spoken by people. He radically reformed the current alphabet and proposed a new one based on the “write as you speak” rule. He is considered Vuk Karadžić’s predecessor. Mrkalj knew Latin and French, and had an understing of Greek and Hebrew, which was of great benefit to his philological talent. He also wrote sonnets.

In July 1811 Mrkalj asked to enter a monastic order at the Gomirje Monastery and was soon accepted. He was ordained as Brother Julian. Having come to odds with Church authorities and Metropolitan Stratimirović, Mrkalj was stripped of his rank by the Consistory in 1813 and dismissed from the monastery. Subsequently, he worked as a private tutor. Fearing retributions from the Church hierarchy, in 1817 Mrkalj published a book entitled Palinodija, in which he retracted his alphabet and orthographic reform. Sava Mrkalj died in a Vienna mental hospital in 1833.