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Bulgarian Citations Bulgarian Links Select a New Language
Number of Speakers: 9 million
Key Dialects: Palityan (Palitiani, Bogomil)
Geographical Center: Bulgaria
Bulgarian is spoken by 7,986,000 in Bulgaria or 85% of the population (1986). The total number of speakers of the language in all countries is 9,000,000 (1999 WA). There are also small populations of speakers in adjacent countries: Greece (30,000); Moldova (360,000, 68% of which speak it as their mother tongue); Romania (10,439); Turkey (270,000, including refugees from Bulgaria); Yugoslavia. It is also spoken in Canada (1,630), Hungary, Israel, Ukraine (234,000), and the USA.
Bulgarian is a Slavic language belonging to a group of South Slavic languages that includes Old Church Slavonic (a liturgical language), Slovene, Serbian/Croatian, and Macedonian. The modern South Slavic languages form a continuum of a series of mutually intelligible dialects. The two end points, Slovene and Bulgarian, are not mutually intelligible, but the transition between Serbian/Croatian and Macedonian, and Bulgarian and Macedonian is gradual and mutual intelligibility is high. It is most closely related to Macedonian.
The official and spoken literary dialect is Contemporary Standard Bulgarian (Scatton, 1983). Palityan is functionally intelligible with Standard Bulgarian. When the Bulgarian nation was liberated from the Turks in 1878 the vernacular dialect spoken in the north-eastern area of modern Bulgaria became the official language since most of the leading public figures came from that area and the temporary capital of the country, Turnovo, was in the center of it. However, after the capital was moved to Sofia, in the western part of the country, the original northeastern dialect started undergoing a number of changes accommodating the different dialects spoken in and around the new capital, forming the Contemporary Standard Bulgarian as spoken today. (Scatton, 1983).
Bulgarian, like many Slavic languages, uses the Cyrillic alphabet. The original Cyrillic alphabet contained 44 letters for 44 sounds; however, by the 19th century the Bulgarian sound system had changed dramatically and contained fewer sounds. That necessitated an alphabet reform, which reduced the number of letters used from 44 to 32; this modified alphabet was used until the Orthographic reform of 1945. The alphabet used after 1945, the modern Bulgarian alphabet, has 30 letters.
Contemporary Standard Bulgarian is a fusional, inflecting language. The Bulgarian noun is inflected for number and gender (masculine, feminine, and neuter) while the case inflection, contrary to other Slavic languages, has been lost. The adjective agrees with the noun it modifies in number and gender. There is a small number of adjectives of Turkish origin that show no inflection. Adjectives have comparative forms formed with the addition of two preposed stressed particles. Personal pronouns follow the inflectional pattern of nouns with the addition of person and case inflection (nominative, accusative, and dative). The definite article in Bulgarian is a weak form attached as a suffix to the first stressed nominal constituent of the noun phrase. The verb in Bulgarian has a number of simple, compound, and hybrid forms. The simple forms include a vestigial infinitive, which is not inflected, the present tense form, an imperfect tense inflected for person and number, an aorist also inflected for number and person, and an imperative with only two forms, second person singular and plural. The hybrid forms include a number of participial forms (present active, imperfect past active, aorist past active, and past passive, all inflected for number and in the singular also for gender) and a substantive, and adverbial forms. Future tenses are compound forms created by present tense verbal forms with the addition of an auxiliary. Each verbal stem denotes either perfective or imperfective aspect. There is no voice inflection. Voice distinctions are generally conveyed by lexical and syntactic devices. There are five moods: indicative, re-narrated (reported) which marks the speaker’s explicit assertion that he has learned what he is relating from a source other than his or her personal experience, imperative, subjunctive, and conditional. There is a Subject-Verb-Object word order preference especially in neutral pronunciations of sentences, in Bulgarian. However, word order is relatively free and many permutations of ordering of subject, object and verb can be found. Noun Phrase internal elements like adjectives, demonstratives, and numerals usually precede the noun.
ROLE IN SOCIETY
The speakers of Contemporary Standard Bulgarian constitute the dominant speech community in Bulgaria. There are a number of other languages and dialects spoken in Bulgaria: Turkish (845,550 or 9% of the population spoken in the Kurdzhali Province and its neighboring areas of South Bulgaria, along the Danube, and various regions of East Bulgaria); Romani, Balkan (187,900 or 2% of the population); Romanian, Macedo (2,000 to 3,000); Crimean, Turkish (6,000); Gagauz (12,000); Albanian (1,000); Romani, Vlax (500); and Macedonian (an undetermined number of inhabitants of the Pirin region in Bulgaria claim Macedonian as their mother tongue, living in the area of Bulgaria bordering the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia).
After the Great Migration of the Slavs (by the end of the 6th century they started migrating south of the Danube and settling in the Balkans) the Common Slavic language slowly disintegrated and the modern Slavic languages began to develop. Although the Bulgars were originally a Turkic-speaking people from Asia, they merged with the Slavic tribes whom they conquered in the 7th cent. A.D. in the territory of present-day Bulgaria and took over their Slavic language.
The development of the Bulgarian language began in the 9th century and is divided into three periods: old, middle, and modern. The Old Bulgarian Period lasted from the 9th century through the 11th century, and it was during that time that the Bulgarians were the first among all Slavs to adopt the Cyrillic alphabet. Cyril and Methodius chose the dialect of the Bulgarian Slavic tribes residing in the area as the foundation for the creation of the new alphabet. Hence the language written in this alphabet is known as Old Bulgarian, Old Slavonic or Old Church Slavonic and is still used as a liturgical language in Eastern Orthodox Slavic churches.
For most of the middle ages Old Bulgarian was the language of the ecclesiastical literature and of official and diplomatic documents of the Eastern Orthodox Slavs. The Middle Bulgarian Period lasted from the 12th century through the 14th century. The Turkish conquest of Bulgaria in 1396 seriously hampered the development of the Bulgarian language for several centuries. The Modern Bulgarian Period started in the 15th century, but the modern literary language, which is quite different from Old Bulgarian, formed only during the 19th century. After the Bulgarians achieved independence in 1878, a modern literary language based on the vernacular emerged. Modern Bulgarian, which dates from the 16th century, borrowed many words from Greek and Turkish during the period of Turkish domination; more recently it has borrowed words from Russian, French, and German.
Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. 1980. The Unity of the Bulgarian Language in the Past and Today. Sofia: Publishing House of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences.
Campbell, G. L. 1991. Compendium of the World's Languages, Vol. 1 -2. London and New York: Routledge.
Grimes, B. F., ed. 1992. Ethnologue, Languages of the World. Dallas, TX: Summer Institute of Linguistics.
Gyllin, Roger. 1991. The genesis of the modern Bulgarian literary language. Uppsala: Uppsala University.
Hauge, Kjetil Rε. 1999. A short grammar of contemporary Bulgarian. Bloomington, Ind.: Slavica
Linguistic Society of America. 1992. Directory of Programs in Linguistics in the United States and Canada. Washington, DC.
Ruhlen, M. 1987. A Guide to the World's Languages, Vol. 1: Classification. London: Edward Arnold.
Scatton, Ernest. 1983. A Reference Grammar of Modern Bulgarian. Columbus, OH: Slavica Publishers, Inc.
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