The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






Bulgarian language

Bulgarian is an Indo-European language, a member of the Southern branch of the Slavic languages, along with Macedonian, Serbo-Croatian, and Slovenian. Some linguists, including all Bulgarian and Greek ones, however, are of the opinion that Macedonian is only a regional norm of Bulgarian (see Macedonian language).



Bulgarian is the official language of the Republic of Bulgaria. It is also spoken in Canada, Greece, Hungary, Israel, Moldova, Republic of Macedonia, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Turkey, Ukraine, and the United States, with an estimated total of 12 million native speakers.


The development of Bulgarian language can be divided into several historical periods. The prehistoric period (essentially proto-Slavic) occurred between the Slavonic invasion of the eastern Balkans and the mission to Moravia in the 9th century. Old Bulgarian (9th to 11th century) was the language used by St. Cyril, St. Methodius and their disciples to translate the Bible and other liturgical literature from Greek. It is also referred to as Old Church Slavonic. Middle Bulgarian (12th to 15th centuries) was a language of rich literary activity and major innovations. Modern Bulgarian dates from the 16th century onwards. The present-day written language was standardized on the 19th-century Bulgarian vernacular. Some words and structures remain from the language of the Bulgars, the Central Asian people who moved into present-day Bulgaria and eventually adopted the local Slavic language. The proto-Bulgar language, probably a member of the Iranian language family (Pamir languages), was otherwise unrelated to Bulgarian.

Old Bulgarian (Old Church Slavonic) is the first Slavonic language attested in writing. As Slavonic linguistic unity lasted into late antiquity, in the oldest manuscripts this language is initially referred to as ѩӡыкъ словѣньскъ (языкъ словяньскъ), "the Slavonic language". Consequently it was called ѩӡыкъ блъгарьскъ (языкъ блъгарьскъ).

General characteristics

Bulgarian demonstrates several linguistic innovations that set it apart from other Slavic languages, such as the elimination of noun declension, the development of a suffixed definite article (possibly inherited from the Bulgar language), the lack of a verb infinitive, and the retention and further development of the proto-Slavic verb system. There are various verb forms to express nonwitnessed, retold, and doubtful action.

Bulgarian is part of the Balkan linguistic union, which also includes Greek, Romanian, Albanian and some Serbian dialects. Most of these languages share some of the above-mentioned characteristics (e.g., definite article, infinitive loss, complicated verb system) and many more. However, the complete loss of case declension seems to set Bulgarian apart both from the Balkanic and from the Slavic languages (even though it might be argued that it is a logical development of "Balkanization"). The "nonwitnessed action" verb forms have been attributed to Turkish influences by some linguists.


In 886 AD, Bulgaria adopted the Glagolitic alphabet which was devised by the Byzantine missionaries Saint Cyril and Methodius in the 850s. The Glagolitic alphabet was gradually superceded in the following centuries by the Cyrillic alphabet, which was developed around the Preslav Literary School in the beginning of the 10th century. Most of the letters in the Cyrillic alphabet were borrowed from the Greek alphabet; those which had no Greek equivalents, however, represent simplified Glagolitic letters.

Under the influence of printed books from Russia, the Russian "civil script" of Peter I (see Reforms of Russian orthography) replaced the old Middle Bulgarian/Church Slavonic script at the end of the 18th century. 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 (, called "double e"), and yus (ѫ ) were removed from the alphabet. Thus, the present Bulgarian alphabet has 30 letters.

The following table gives the majuscule forms of the letters in the Bulgarian alphabet, along with IPA values for the sound of each letter:


1 softens consonants before 'o'

Most letters in the Bulgarian alphabet stand for one specific sound and that sound only. Three letters stand for the single expression of combinations of sounds, namely щ (sht), ю (yu), and я (ya). Two sounds do not have separate letters assigned to them, but are expressed by the combination of two letters, namely дж (like j in Jack) and дз (dz). The letter ь is not pronounced, but it softens any preceding consonant before the letter о.



The Bulgarian vowel system consists of the following six vowels:

Script IPA X-SAMPA Description English RP approximation
и [i] [i] front closed unrounded machine
е [ɛ] [E] front half-open unrounded ten
а [a] [a] central open unrounded father
ъ [ə] [@] central half-open unrounded about
у [u] [u] back closed rounded soon
о [ɔ] [o] back half-open rounded moth

The Bulgarian vowels may be grouped in three pairs according to their articulation: front, central and back. All vowels are relatively lax, as in most other Slavic languages, and unlike the vowels, for example, in the Germanic languages. Unstressed [a], [ə], [ɔ], [u] tend to be shorter and weaker compared to their stressed counterparts, approaching each other, though without merging completely. Similar reduction of [ɛ] and [i] is, however, not allowed.


Bulgarian possesses one semivowel: /j/, equivalent to the English <y> in yes. The /j/ always immediately precedes or follows a vowel. The semivowel is most usually expressed graphically by the letter й, as, for example, in най /naj/ ("most") and тролей /trolej/ ("trolleybus"). The letters ю and я are, however, also used, for example ютия /jutija/ "(flat) iron". After a consonant, ю and я signify a palatalized consonant rather than a semivowel: бял /al/ "white".


Bulgarian has a total of 33 consonant phonemes (see table below). Three additional phonemes can also be found ([], [ʣ] and [ʣʲ]), but only in foreign proper names like Хюстън /xʲustən/ ("Houston"), Дзержински /dzεrʒinski/ ("Dzerzhinsky"), and Ядзя /jaʣʲa/, 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].

Hard and palatalized consonants

The Bulgarian consonants б /b/, в /v/, г /g/, д /d/, з /z/, к /k/, л /l/, м /m/, н /n/, п /p/, р /ʀ/, с /s/, т /t/, ф /f/, ц /ʦ/ can have 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 /ʤ/ do not have palatalized variants, as they are essentially soft (palatal) consonants by nature in Bulgarian.

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

  • it is followed by the soft sign ь;
  • it is followed by the letters я / ʲa/ or ю / ʲu/;

(я and ю are used in all other cases to represent the semivowel /j/ before /a/ and /u/.)

Consonants are never soft before the vowels /i/ and /ɛ/ in standard Bulgarian, palatalization before these two vowels is, however, common in Eastern Bulgarian dialects.


During the palatalization of most hard consonants (the bilabial, labiodental and alveolar ones), the middle part of the tongue is lifted towards the palatum resulting in the formation of a second articulatory centre whereby the specific palatal "clang" of the soft consonants is achieved. The articulation of alveolars /l/, /n/ and /r/, however, usually does not follow that rule, the palatal clang is achieved by moving the place of articulation further back towards the palatum so that /ʎ/, /ɲ/ and /rʲ/ are actually alveopalatal (postalvelolar) consonants. Soft /g/ and /k/ (/gʲ/ and /kʲ/, respectively) are articulated not on the velum but on the palatum and are considered palatal consonants.

Table of Bulgarian consonants

Cyrillic script IPA X-SAMPA Description English approximation
б [b] [b] voiced bilabial plosive boom
бьо/бю/бя [bʲ] [b'] voiced palatalized bilabial plosive beauty
в [v] [v] voiced labiodental fricative vase
вьо/вю/вя [vʲ] [v'] voiced palatalized labiodental fricative view
г [g] [g] voiced velar plosive game
гьо/гю/гя [gʲ] [g’] voiced palatal plosive ague
д [d] [d] voiced alveolar plosive day
дьо/дю/дя [dʲ] [d'] voiced postalveolar plosive need you
ж [ʒ] [Z] voiced postalveolar fricative vision
дж [ʤ] [dZ] voiced postalveolar affricate jack
з [z] [z] voiced alveolar fricative zone
зьо/зю/зя [zʲ] [z’] voiced palatalized alveolar fricative as you
к [k] [k] voiceless velar plosive come
кьо/кю/кя [kʲ] [k’] voiceless palatal plosive cure
л [l] [l] lateral alveolar approximant love
льо/лю/ля [ʎ] [L] palatal lateral approximant volume
м [m] [m] bilabial nasal man
мьо/мю/мя [mʲ] [m'] palatalized bilabial nasal meow
н [n] [n] alveolar nasal no
ньо/ню/ня [ɲ] [J] palatal nasal canyon
п [p] [p] voiceless bilabial plosive park
пьо/пю/пя [pʲ] [p'] voiceless palatalized bilabial plosive Pyong-yang
р [r] [r] alveolar trill rolled (vibrating) r as in Spanish carramba
рьо/рю/ря [rʲ] [r'] palatal trill (palatoalveolar trill) rolled (vibrating) r as in Spanish riesga
с [s] [s] voiceless alveolar fricative son
сьо/сю/ся [sʲ] [s’] voiceless palatalized alveolar fricative kiss you
т [t] [t] voiceless alveolar plosive take
тьо/ тю/ тя [tʲ] [t'] voiceless postalveolar plosive tude
ф [f] [f] voiceless labiodental fricative phase
фьо/фю/фя [fʲ] [f'] voiceless palatalized labiodental fricative few
х [x] [x] voiceless velar fricative loch
ц [ʦ] [ts] voiceless alveolar affricate tsunami
цьо/цю/ця [ʦʲ] [ts’] voiceless alveolar affricate lets you
ч [tʃ] [tS] voiceless postalveolar affricate china
ш [ʃ] [S] voiceless postalveolar fricative shake

Word stress

Bulgarian word stress is dynamic. Stressed syllables are louder and longer than unstressed ones. Stress is also free and mobile, it may fall on any syllable of a polysyllabic word and its position may vary in inflection and derivation, for example, мъж /m'əʒ/ ("man"), мъжът /məʒ'ət/ ("the man"). Bulgarian stress is also distinctive: for example, в'ълна /v'əlna/ ("wool") and вълн'а /vəln'a/ ("wave") are only differentiated by stress.


Nominal morphology

Nouns, adjectives and pronouns are inflected for grammatical gender, number, case (to a very limited extent) and definiteness in Bulgarian. Adjectives and adjectival pronouns agree with nouns in number and gender.


There are three grammatical genders in Bulgarian: masculine, feminine and neuter. The gender of the noun can largely be determined according to its ending. The vast majority of Bulgarian nouns ending in a consonant (zero ending) are masculine (for example, град “city”, син “son”, мъж “man”). Feminine nouns include almost all nouns that have the endings –а/–я (жена “woman”, дъщеря “daughter”, улица “street”), a large group of nouns with zero ending expressing quality, degree or an abstraction (мъдрост “wisdom”, любов “love”), and another, much smaller group of irregular nouns with zero ending which define tangible objects or concepts (кръв “blood”, кост “bone”, вечер “evening”). Nouns ending in –е, –о, or –у are almost exclusively neuter (дете “child”, езеро “lake”, табу “taboo”). Plural nouns do not have gender.


Two numbers are distinguished in Bulgarian — singular and plural. Masculine nouns use a separate count form with cardinal numbers, which stems from the proto-Slavonic dual: двама/трима мъже (“two/three men”) versus две/три жени (“two/three women”) or две/три деца (“two/three children”). Plurals are formed with a variety of suffixes; exceptions, irregular declension and alternative plural forms are very common.


The complex proto-Slavonic case system is almost completely dissolved in modern Bulgarian. Vestiges are well preserved only in the personal pronouns and the masculine personal interrogative pronoun кой (“who”), which have nominative, accusative and dative forms. Vocative forms are still in use for masculine and feminine nouns (however, not for neuter ones), but endings in masculine nouns are determined solely according to the stem-final consonant of the noun. In all other cases, the proto-Slavonic case system has been replaced by prepositional and other syntactic constructions.

Definiteness (article)

The disappearance of the case declension has resulted in the development of the category of definiteness in Bulgarian. Definiteness is expressed by a definite article which is postfixed to the noun (indefinite: човек, “man”; definite: човекът, “the man”) or the first nominal constituent of definite noun phrases (indefinite: добър човек, “a good man”; definite: добрият човек, “the good man”), much like in the Scandinavian languages or Romanian. There are four singular definite articles: –ът/–ят (“–ə t/–jət”) for masculine nouns that are grammatical subjects, –а/–я for masculine nouns that are grammatical objects, –та for feminine nouns, and –то for neuter nouns. There are two plural articles, –та and –те, depending on the final vowel in the plural ending. The two masculine definite articles may also be considered as two grammatical forms of the same article.

Verbal morphology

Finite verbal forms

Finite verbal forms are simple or compound and agree with subjects in person (first, second and third) and number (singular, plural) in Bulgarian. In addition to that, compound forms using participles show gender in the singular (masculine, feminine, neuter). There are three tenses in the indicative mood — present, past and future — which, combined with other categories, produce nine formations:

  • present tense is a temporally unmarked simple form made up of the verbal stem and a complex suffix composed of the vowel /e/, /i/ or /a/ and the person/number ending (уча "I study");
  • past imperfect tense is a simple verb form used to express an action which is contemporaneous or subordinate to other past actions; it is made up of the present-tense verbal stem and a complex suffix composed of the vowel /e<>ja/ and the person/number ending (учех "I was studying");
  • past aorist tense is a simple form used to express a temporarily independent, specific past action; it is made up of the aorist stem and the person/number ending (учих "I studied");
  • future tense is a compound form made of the particle ще and present tense (ще уча "I will study"); negation is expressed by the construction няма да and present tense (няма да уча "I will not study");
  • present perfect tense is a compound form used to express an action which was completed in the past but is relevant for or related to the present; it is made up of the present tense of the verb съм "be" and the aorist past active participle (съм учил "I have studied");
  • past perfect tense is a compound form used to express an action which was completed in the past and is relative to another past action; it is made up of the past tense of the verb съм "be" and the aorist past active participle (бях учил "I had studied");
  • future perfect tense is a compound form used to express an action which is to be completed in the future before another future action; it is made up of the future tense of the verb съм "be" and the aorist past active participle (ще съм учил "I will have studied");
  • past future tense is a compound form used to express an action which was to be completed in the past but was future as regards another past action; it is made up of the imperfect past tense of the verb щя "will, want", the particle да "to" and present tense of the verb (щях да уча "I was going to study");
  • past future perfect tense is a compound form used to express a past action which is future with respect to a past action which itself is prior to another past action; it is made up of the past future of щя "will, want", the particle да "to", the present tense of the verb съм "be" and the aorist past active participle of the verb (щях да съм учил "I would have studied").

The conditional mood in Bulgarian is a compound form using the aorist past form of the stem би- (“be”) and the aorist past active participle (бих учил, “I would study”). The imperative mood may be expressed by both simple and compound forms. There are simple forms for the second person singular and plural using the suffixes /-i/ and /-ete/, respectively (учи, 2nd p. sing., учете, 2nd p. pl.). There are compound forms for all persons and numbers. Bulgarian has developed a special mood for nonwitnessed events, the so-called retold (renarrated) mood, which has five tenses.

Bulgarian verbs express aspect: perfective verbs signify the completion of the action of the verb; imperfective ones are neutral with regard to it. Most Bulgarian verbs have perfective-imperfective pairs (imperfective<>perfective: идвам<>дойда “come”, уча<>науча “study”). Perfective stems are usually formed from imperfective ones by suffixation or prefixation.

Nonfinite verbal forms

The proto-Slavonic infinitive and supine have been replaced by phrases with да (“to”) and present tense (искам да уча, “I want to study”). Bulgarian has the following participles:

  • the present active participle is formed from imperfective present stems with the addition of the suffixes –ащ/–ещ (учащ, “studying”, also “a student”); it is used only attributively;
  • the imperfect past active participle is formed from imperfective present stems with the addition of the suffixes –ел–/–ал– (учел, “studied”); it is used only in retold (renarrated) mood and is a Bulgarian innovation;
  • the aorist past active participle is formed from aorist stems with the addition of the suffix –л– (учил, “studied”); it is used attributively and in compound verbs;
  • the past passive participle is formed from aorist stems with the addition of the suffixes –(е)н–/–т– (учен, “studied”); it is used predicatively and attributively;
  • the gerund is formed from imperfective present stems with the suffix –(е)йки (учейки, “[while] studying”); the gerund relates an action contemporaneous with and subordinate to the main verb and is a Western Bulgarian form.


Main article: Bulgarian lexis

Most of the word-stock in Modern Bulgarian consists of derivations of reflexes of some 2,000 words inherited from proto-Slavonic through the mediation of Old and Middle Bulgarian. The influence of the old Bulgar language is otherwise relatively insignificant, and fewer than 200 words of Bulgar origin have survived in Modern Bulgarian. Thus, the native lexical terms in Bulgarian (both from proto-Slavonic and from the Bulgar language) account for 70% to 75% of the word-stock of the language.

The remaining 25% to 30% are loanwords from a number of languages, as well as derivations of such words. The languages which have contributed most to Bulgarian are Latin and Greek (mostly international terminology), and to a lesser extent French and Russian. The vast majority of the numerous loanwords from Turkish (and, via Turkish, from Arabic and Persian) which were adopted into Bulgarian during the long period of Ottoman rule have been largely substituted with native terms or borrowings from other languages. As in much of the rest of the world, English has had the greatest influence over Bulgarian over recent decades.

Common Bulgarian Expressions

  • Здравей (zdravei) — hello
  • Здрасти (zdrasti) — hello (informal)
  • Добро утро (dobro utro) — good morning
  • Добър ден (dober den) — good day
  • Добър вечер (dober vecher) — good evening
  • Лека нощ (leka nosht) — good night
  • Довиждане (dovijdane) — good-bye
  • Как си (kak si) — how are you?
  • Добре съм (dobre sum) — I'm fine
  • Всичко най-хубаво (vsichko nai-hubavo) — all the best
  • Поздрави (pozdravi) — regards
  • Благодаря (blagodarya) — thank you

See also

External links

Last updated: 06-02-2005 13:45:03
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