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About Bulgarian Language

Bulgarian (български език, pronounced [ˈbəlɡarski ɛˈzik]) is an Indo-European language, a member of the Slavic linguistic group.

Bulgarian demonstrates several linguistic innovations that set it apart from all other Slavic languages except the Macedonian language, such as the elimination of case declension, the development of a suffixed definite article (see Balkan linguistic union), the lack of a verb infinitive, and the retention and further development of the proto-Slavic verb system. Various verb forms exist to express unwitnessed, retold, and doubtful action. Estimates of the number of people around the world who speak Bulgarian fluently range from about 8.5 million to 9 million.

The Bulgarian language is mutually intelligible with the Macedonian language.


The development of the Bulgarian language may be divided into several historical periods.

  • Prehistoric period - occurred between the Slavonic migration to eastern Balkans and the mission of Saints Cyril and Methodius to Great Moravia in the 860s.
  • Old Bulgarian (9th to 11th century, also referred to as Old Church Slavonic) - a literary norm of the early southern dialect of the Common Slavic language from which Bulgarian evolved. It was used by Saints Cyril and Methodius and their disciples to translate the Bible and other liturgical literature from Greek into Slavic. Middle Bulgarian (12th to 15th century) - a literary norm that evolved from the earlier Old Bulgarian, after major innovations were accepted. It was a language of rich literary activity and the official administration language of the Second Bulgarian Empire.
  • Modern Bulgarian - dates from the 16th century onwards, undergoing general grammar and syntax changes in the 18th and 19th centuries. Present-day written Bulgarian language was standardized on the basis of the 19th-century Bulgarian vernacular. The historical development of the Bulgarian language can be described as a transition from a highly synthetic language (Old Bulgarian) to a typical analytic language (Modern Bulgarian) with Middle Bulgarian as a midpoint in this transition.

Bulgarian was the first "Slavic" language attested in writing. As Slavic linguistic unity lasted into late antiquity, in the oldest manuscripts this language was initially referred to as языкъ словяньскъ, "the Slavic language". In the Middle Bulgarian period this name was gradually replaced by the name языкъ блъгарьскъ, the "Bulgarian language". In some cases, the name языкъ блъгарьскъ was used not only with regard to the contemporary Middle Bulgarian language of the copyist but also to the period of Old Bulgarian. A most notable example of anachronism is the Service of St. Cyril from Skopje (Скопски миней), a 13th century Middle Bulgarian manuscript from northern Macedonia according to which St. Cyril preached with "Bulgarian" books among the Moravian Slavs. The first mention of the language as the "Bulgarian language" instead of the "Slavonic language" comes in the work of the Greek clergy of the Bulgarian Archbishopric of Ohrid in the 11th century, for example in the Greek hagiography of Saint Clement of Ohrid by Theophylact of Ohrid (late 11th century).

During the Middle Bulgarian period, the language underwent dramatic changes, losing the Slavonic case system, but preserving the rich verb system (while the development was exactly the opposite in other Slavic languages) and developing a definite article. Consequently, modern Bulgarian is about as far from Russian as Swedish is from German.[citation needed] It was influenced by proto-Bulgar and its non-Slavic neighbors in the Balkan linguistic union (mostly grammatically) and later also by Turkish, which was the official language of the Ottoman Empire, in the form of the Ottoman Turkish language, mostly lexically. As a national revival occurred towards the end of the period of Ottoman rule (mostly during the 19th century), a modern Bulgarian literary language gradually emerged which drew heavily on Church Slavonic/Old Bulgarian (and to some extent on literary Russian, which had preserved many lexical items from Church Slavonic) and later reduced the number of Turkish and other Balkanic loans. Today one difference between Bulgarian dialects in the country and literary spoken Bulgarian is the significant presence of Old Bulgarian words and even word forms in the latter. Russian loans are distinguished from Old Bulgarian ones on the basis of the presence of specifically Russian phonetic changes, as in оборот (turnover, rev), непонятен (incomprehensible), ядро (nucleus) and others. As usual in such cases, many other loans from French, English and the classical languages have subsequently entered the language as well.

Modern Bulgarian was based essentially on the Eastern dialects of the language, but its pronunciation is in many respects a compromise between East and West Bulgarian (see especially the phonetic sections below).


The language is mainly split into two broad dialect areas, based on the different reflexes of the Common Slavic yat vowel (Ѣ). This split, which occurred some time in the middle ages, led to the development of Bulgaria's:

  • Western dialects (informally called твърд говор/tvurd govor - "hard speech")
  • the former yat is pronounced "e" in all positions. e.g. млеко (mlekò) - milk, хлеб (hleb) - bread.
  • Eastern dialects (informally called мек говор/mek govor - "soft speech")
  • the former yat alternates between "ya" and "e": it is pronounced "ya" if it is under stress and the next syllable does not contain a front vowel (e or i) - e.g. мляко (mlyàko), хляб (hlyab), and "ye" otherwise - e.g. млекар (mlekàr) - milkman, хлебар (hlebàr) - baker. This rule obtains in most Eastern dialects, although some have "ya", or a special "open e" sound, in all positions.
The literary language norm, which is generally based on the Eastern dialects, also has the Eastern alternating reflex of yat. However, it has not incorporated the general Eastern umlaut of all synchronic or even historic "ya" sounds into "e" before front vowels - e.g. поляна (polyana) vs полени (poleni) "meadow - meadows" or even жаба (zhaba) vs жеби (zhebi) "frog - frogs", even though it co-occurs with the yat alternation in almost all Eastern dialects that have it (except a few dialects along the yat border, e.g. in the Pleven region).

Relationship to Macedonian

Most sources in and out of Bulgaria before the Second World War referred to the southern Slavonic dialect continuum covering the area of today's Republic of Macedonia as a group of Bulgarian dialects. The local variants of the name of the language are balgàrtski, bolgàrtski, bulgàrtski[11], bògartski, bogàrtski, bùgarski or bugàrski.

After WWII, the question about the Bulgarian character of the language in the territory of the Republic of Macedonia was put aside in the name of Bulgarian-Yugoslavian friendship under the pressure of the Soviet Union. After 1958 when the pressure from Moscow decreased, Sofia turned back to the view that the Macedonian language did not exist as a separate language.


In 886 AD, the Bulgarian empire introduced the Glagolitic alphabet which was devised by the Saints Cyril and Methodius in the 850s. The Glagolitic alphabet was gradually superseded in later centuries by the Cyrillic alphabet, developed around the Preslav Literary School in the beginning of the 10th century. Most letters in the Cyrillic alphabet were borrowed from the Greek, Hebrew, and Glagolitic and Gothic alphabets.

Several Cyrillic alphabets with 28 to 44 letters were used in the beginning and the middle of the 19th century during the efforts on the codification of Modern Bulgarian until an alphabet with 32 letters, proposed by Marin Drinov, gained prominence in the 1870s. The alphabet of Marin Drinov was used until the orthographic reform of 1945 when the letters yat (Ѣ, ѣ, called "double e"), and yus (Ѫ, ѫ) were removed from the alphabet, reducing the number of letters to 30.

Nowadays the Bulgarian language is written in the Cyrillic script (and occasionally in the Latin, but this is only for names such as on road signs and street signs, which are almost always written in the two scripts).

With accession of Bulgaria to the European Union on January 1, 2007, Cyrillic became the third official alphabet of the EU.

Most letters in the Bulgarian alphabet stand for just one specific sound. Three letters stand for the single expression of combinations of sounds, namely щ (sht), ю (yu), and я (ya). Two sounds do not correspond to separate letters, but are expressed as the combination of two letters, namely дж (/dʒ/) and дз (dz). The letter ь marks the softening (palatalization) of any consonant before /ɔ/.

The names of the letters are simple representations of their phonetic values, with all consonants being followed by /ə/ - thus the alphabet goes: /a/ - /bə/ - /və/, etc. Й is known as "и-kratko" (short /i/), Ъ as "er-golyam" (large Er), and Ь as "er-maluk" (small Er). (When saying the alphabet fast, people often omit to say Й and Ь, and pronounce Ъ simply as /ə/.)

For the transliteration of Bulgarian into the Latin alphabet (romanization), see romanization of Bulgarian.


Bulgarian's six vowels may be grouped in three pairs according to their backness: front, central and back. All vowels are relatively lax, as in most other Slavic languages, and unlike the tense vowels, for example, in the Germanic languages. Unstressed vowels tend to be shorter and weaker compared to their stressed counterparts, and the corresponding pairs of open and closed vowels approach each other with a tendency to merge, above all as low (open and open-mid) vowels are raised and shift towards the high (close and close-mid) ones. However, the coalescence is not always complete. The vowels are often distinguished in emphatic or deliberately distinct pronunciation, and reduction is strongest in colloquial speech. Besides that, some linguists distinguish two degrees of reduction, as they have found that a clearer distinction tends to be maintained in the syllable immediately preceding the stressed one. The complete merger of the pair /a/ - /ɤ/ is regarded as most common, while the status of /ɔ/ vs /u/ is less clear. A coalescence of /ɛ/ and /i/ is not allowed in formal speech and is regarded as a provincial (East Bulgarian) dialect feature; instead, unstressed /ɛ/ is both raised and centralized, approaching ъ /ɤ/.[13] The /ɤ/ vowel itself does not exist as a phoneme in other Slavic languages. It is often transcribed as /ə/, also in this article.


The Bulgarian language possesses one semivowel: /j/, being equivalent to y in English like in yes. It is expressed graphically with the letter й, as in най /naj/ ("most"), тролей /trɔlɛj/ ("trolleybus"), except when it precedes /a/ or /u/, in which case the combination of two phonemes is expressed with a single letter, respectively я or ю: (e.g. ютия /jutija/ "(flat) iron").

The semivowel /j/ does not occur after consonants. Thus, after a consonant, я, ю, and ьо signify its palatalisation rather than a semivowel: бял /bʲal/ "white", плюя /plʲuja/ "I spit", льос /lʲɔs/ "loess".


Bulgarian has a total of 35 consonant phonemes (see table below). Three additional phonemes can also be found ([xʲ], [dz] and [dzʲ]), but only in foreign proper names such as Хюстън /xʲustən/ ("Houston"), Дзержински /dzɛrʒinski/ ("Dzerzhinsky"), and Ядзя /jadzʲa/, the Polish name "Jadzia". They are, however, normally not considered part of the phonetic inventory of the Bulgarian language. According to the criterion of sonority, the Bulgarian consonants may be divided into 16 pairs (voiced<>voiceless). The only consonant without a counterpart is the voiceless velar fricative /x/. The contrast 'voiced vs. voiceless' is neutralized in word-final position, where all obstruents are pronounced as voiceless (as in most Slavic languages); this neutralization is, however, not reflected in the spelling.

Hard and palatalized consonants

The Bulgarian consonants б /b/, в /v/, г /ɡ/, д /d/, з /z/, к /k/, л /l/, м /m/, н /n/, п /p/, р /r/, с /s/, т /t/, ф /f/, ц /ts/ can denote both a normal, "hard" pronunciation, as well as a "soft", palatalized one. The hard and the palatalized consonants are considered separate phonemes in Bulgarian. The consonants ж /ʒ/, ш /ʃ/, ч /tʃ/ and дж /dʒ/ do not have palatalized variants, which is probably connected with the fact that they have arisen historically through palatalization in Common Slavonic. These consonants may still be somewhat palatalized in some speakers' pronunciation, but as a rule this is not the case.

The softness of the palatalized consonants is always indicated in writing in Bulgarian. A consonant is palatalized if:

it is followed by я / ʲa/, ю / ʲu/, or ьо / ʲɔ/. (Note: ь occurs only before о in Bulgarian) (When я and ю aren't preceded by a consonant, they signal that the vowels /a/ and /u/ are preceded by the semivowel /j/. For /jɔ/, Bulgarian uses "йо", as in Ню Йорк, "New York".)

Even though palatalized consonants are phonemes in Bulgarian, they may in some cases be positionally conditioned, hence redundant. In Eastern Bulgarian dialects, consonants are always allophonically palatalized before the vowels /i/ and /ɛ/. This is not the case in Standard Bulgarian, but that form of the language does have similar allophonic alternations. Thus, к /k/, г /ɡ/ and х /x/ tend to be palatalized before /i/ and /ɛ/, and the realization of the phoneme л /l/ varies along the same principles: one of its allophones, involving a raising of the back of the tongue and a lowering of its middle part (thus similar or, according to some scholars, identical to a velarized lateral), occurs in all positions, except before the vowels /i/ and /ɛ/, where a more "clear" version with a slight raising of the middle part of the tongue occurs. The latter pre-front realization is traditionally (and incorrectly) called "soft l", even though it is not palatalized (and thus isn’t identical to the /lʲ/ signalled by the letters ьо, я and ю). In some Western Bulgarian dialects, this allophonic variation does not exist.

Furthermore, in the speech of many young people the more common and arguably velarized allophone of /l/ is often realized as a labiovelar approximant [w].[14] This phenomenon, colloquially known as мързеливо "л" (lazy "l") in Bulgaria, was first registered in the 1970s and isn't connected to original dialects. Similar developments, termed L-vocalization, have occurred in many languages, including Polish, Serbo-Croatian and certain dialects of English such as Cockney and AAVE.

It is important to point out that even though it is traditionally accepted that palatal and non-palatal consonants are different phonemes, some researchers claim that only the non-palatal consonants can be considered phonemes (with hard and palatalized allophones). The reason for this is that words with a palatal consonant can be considered as having an "underlying" /j/ after the consonant (which is also reflected in the spelling). This palatal approximant makes the consonant palatal through regressive assimilation. This theory is supported by the fact that these palatal allophones do not normally appear in syllable-final position as in other Slavic languages, such as Russian.

Word stress

Bulgarian word stress is dynamic. Stressed syllables are louder and longer than unstressed ones. Stress, like Russian and other East Slavic languages, is also lexical rather than fixed as in French, Latin or the West Slavic ones, i.e. it may fall on any syllable of a polysyllabic word and its position may vary in inflection and derivation, for example, мъж /məʃ/ ("man"), мъжът /məˈʒət/ ("the man"). Bulgarian stress is also distinctive: for example, в'ълна /ˈvəlna/ ("wool") and вълн'а /vəlˈna/ ("wave") are only differentiated by stress. Stress usually isn't signified in written text (one notable exception being the single dative female pronoun ѝ ("to her", to differentiate it from simple "и", meaning "and"), which should always be stressed in writing. It may, however, be indicated in cases with minimal pairs like the above, where disambiguation is needed, or in order to signify the dialectal deviation from the standard language pronunciation. In such cases, stress is signified by placing an grave accent on the vowel of the stressed syllable. Usually an accent is put in Bulgarian-language books and dictionaries and, an accent is sometimes used to distinguish words that are written the same, but stressed on a different syllable.


The parts of speech in Bulgarian are divided in 10 different types, which are categorized in two broad classes: mutable and immutable. The difference is that mutable parts of speech vary grammatically, whereas the immutable ones do not change, regardless of their use. The five classes of mutables are: nouns, adjectives, numerals, pronouns and verbs. Syntactically, the first four of these form the group of the noun or the nominal group. The immutables are: adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions, particles and interjections. Verbs and adverbs form the group of the verb or the verbal group.


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