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Bulgarian is the official language of the Republic of Bulgaria and is spoken as their native language by about 8.5 million people within the boundaries of Bulgaria. It belongs to the groups of South Slavonic languages, alongside Serbo-Croat and Slovene, and is also one of the Balkan languages (forming the Balkan Sprachbund), together with Romanian, Albanian, Modern Greek and, partially, Serbian.

The issue of the Macedonian language, in official use as separate literary language in the Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia since 1944 (about 1.5 million speakers), is heavily charged with political emotions on the part of Bulgaria, Greece, and the former Yugoslavia, and has to be approached carefully.

From a strictly linguistic point of view Macedonian can be called a Bulgarian dialect, as structurally it is most similar to Bulgarian. Indeed, Bulgarian scholars reject Macedonian as an individual language, but since it now has the status of a literary language most other scholars accept its independent existence.

The name 'Bulgarian' goes back to the Proto-Bulgarian tribes or Bulgars who in the seventh century AD settled in the eastern part of the Balkan Peninsula, to which a number of Slavic tribes had moved in the previous century. The Bulgars were Turkic (as distinct from Turkish) tribes who coalesced with these Slavs to form the future Bulgarian people (the first Bulgarian state was formed in 681 AD). Their language was soon absorbed by Slavonic, and only very few remnants of it are left.

The adoption of Orthodox Christianity in the second half of the ninth century brought about the necessity of creating a Slavonic literary language to serve the purposes of the Church. This was achieved by the so-called 'Slav apostles,' the brothers Cyril and Methodius, who produced the first translation of the Christian Scriptures from Byzantine Greek into Slavonic.

This Slavonic language was 'Old Church Slavonic,' which is also sometimes called 'Old Bulgarian,' 'Old Slavonic' or even 'Old Macedonian'. Essentially it was a literary language based on the dialect used by the two brothers.

The first alphabet used was the 'Glagolitic' alphabet, whereas the 'Cyrillic' alphabet, from the name of Cyril, was created by the brothers' disciples. The Cyrillic alphabet is mainly based on the Greek alphabet, supplemented by new graphemes to render specifically Slavonic phonemes.

The original manuscripts have survived only in the form of later copies.

The history of the Bulgarian language can be divided into three periods: 'Old Bulgarian' (ninth to eleventh centuries), Middle Bulgarian (twelfth to fourteenth centuries), and 'Modern Bulgarian' (fifteenth century onwards).

Old Bulgarian was a synthetic language, still quite close to 'Proto-Slavonic' or Common Slavonic.'
Middle Bulgarian was a transitional stage during which the language underwent crucial changes leading to its emergence as a 'Balkan' language with analytic characteristics; owing to the strong tradition of the liturgical literature, however the actual changes found in the vernaculars were hardly reflected in the manuscripts.
The vernaculars of Modern Bulgarian provided the basis of the Modern Bulgarian literary language. The same evolution was followed in principle also by Macedonian.

The history of the Bulgarian language has to be treated differently from the history of the literary language with its codified character.

Both the Old Bulgarian literary language of the ninth century and the Modern Bulgarian literary language of the nineteenth century were initiated in the western or 'Macedonian' territories. However, in both cases the focus of literary activities then moved eastwards.

The Modern Bulgarian literary language is mainly based on the North-East Balkan dialects of the eastern territories with a few elements from the West Bulgarian dialects, whereas literary Macedonian is based on the central dialects of the 'West Bulgarian linguistic territory.'

This, of course, led to certain differences in the forms of the now two literary languages.

Attempts to create a Macedonian literary language started only this century.
Modern Bulgarian uses a Cyrillic alphabet, which after the orthographic reform of 1945 is virtually identical to the Russian Cyrillic alphabet.
The Cyrillic alphabet used by literary Macedonian is based on the Serbian variant of Cyrillic.

In a simplified picture, the Bulgarian linguist territory is divided into the East Bulgarian and the West Bulgarian dialects.

In the 1990s Macedonian, as well as the dialect of the Bulgarian capital, Sofia, are part of the West Bulgarian dialects.

The main distinction lies in the realization of Proto-Slavonic "'e" (called 'yat'), which yielded "ja" and "e" in East Bulgarian, but only "e" in the West, e.g., "melko" 'milk' > South Slavonic "ml'eko" > East Bulgarian "mljako", but "mleka" (plural) and West Bulgarian and Macedonian "mleko", "mleka". Macedonian further distinguishes between Northern, Central and Southern dialects.

Late twentieth-century literary Bulgarian and Macedonian have to be regarded as representatives of both the 'Slavonic' languages and the 'Balkan' languages.

Owing to historical circumstances Bulgarian and Macedonian have acquired a large number of Turkish and Greek loan-words and loan-expressions.

In Bulgarian most of them are avoided in the literary language, but they survive in colloquial speech. Only a few of them are part of the basic vocabulary, for instance, "tavan" 'ceiling' (Turkish), "moliv" 'pencil' (Greek).

Macedonian developed a more 'benevolent' attitude towards them.

Furthermore, the Bulgarian lexicon is full of Russian elements (mainly from the nineteenth century), whereas Macedonian has experienced an analogous influence from Serbian.

Sample sentences:

Bulgarian: Toj chranese naroda sas slovoto, onzi istinski chljab, kojto ukrepva sarcata, no v sastoto vreme toj ne zabravjase da chrani i telesno onezi, za koito vidja, ce imat nuzda ot takava chrana.

Macedonian: Toj go hranese narodot so slovoto, onoj vistinski leb sto gi ukrepuva srcata, no vo isto vreme toj ne zaboravase da gi hrani i telesno onie sto gledase oti imaat nuzda ot takva hrana.

The two sentences render the same original, which may be translated:

'He nourished the people with the word, that real bread which fortifies the heart, but at the same time he did not forget to nourish also with earthly food those who he realized needed such food'

A literal translation of the Bulgarian: 'He nourished people-the with words-the, that real bread, which fortifies hearts-the, but in same-the time he not forgot that [he] nourishes also physically those, about whom [he] saw, that [they] have need of such food.'

A literal translation of the Macedonian: 'He it nourished people-the with word-the, that real bread that them fortifies hearts-the, but at [the] same time he not forgot that [he] them nourishes also physically those that [he] looked/saw that [they] have need of such food'.


Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics (1994), vol.1, p.429

Edited by R.E.Asher and J.M.Y.Simpson (Oxford, New York, Seoul and Tokyo: Pergamon Press).

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