Bulgarian dialects (български диалекти, balgarski dialekti, also български говори, balgarski govori or български наречия, balgarski narechiya) are the regional spoken varieties of the Bulgarian language, a South Slavic language. Bulgarian dialectology dates to the 1830s and the pioneering work of Neofit Rilski, Bolgarska gramatika (published 1835 in Kragujevac). Other notable researchers in this field include Marin Drinov, Konstantin Josef Jireček, Lyubomir Miletich, Aleksandar Teodorov-Balan, Stoyko Stoykov.
Bulgarian dialects are part of the South Slavic dialect continuum, linked with Serbian to the west and bordering Albanian, Greek and Turkish to the south, and Romanian to the north. Bulgarian linguistics and dialectology and many foreign researchers consider all Slavic dialects spoken in the geographical regions of Macedonia and Thrace to be dialects of Bulgarian.
The main isogloss separating the Bulgarian dialects into Eastern and Western is the Yat border, marking the different reflexes of the Old Bulgarian yat form (ѣ), pronounced as either /a/ (variant /ja/) or /ɛ/ to the east (byal, but plural beli, "white") and strictly as /ɛ/ to the west of it (bel, plural beli). In order to avoid political issues, many linguists use interchangeably Western Bulgarian and Macedonian in national and geographical contexts, respectively; however, this is not precise because Western Bulgarian dialects include also non-Macedonian dialects while some dialects in the region of Macedonia (Drama-Ser, Solun, Korca, Radojda-Vevcani dialects) are classified as Eastern Bulgarian on the basis of the Yat isogloss.
In the second half of the 7th century, the fate of the eastern and southern Slavic tribes was forever associated with another people — Bulgars (proto-Bulgarians) — who, led by Asparuh, forced Byzantium after a series of battles to recognize in 681 the new state of Slavs and Bulgars, to conclude a peace treaty with them and pay them an annual tax. Another Bulgar leader, Kuber, with his group settled in Macedonia and from there tried to conquer Solun.
During 6 to 9 century most of the Slavic tribes to the north and south of the Danube were included within the Bulgarian state, which became an attractive center for Slavs, because they considered Bulgars as their defenders and allies against the common enemy Byzantium. Slavs, through their superiority in number, assimilated first the local Thracian population, who had been partly Romanized and partly Hellenized, and then the two Bulgar tribes (one in the northeast and the other in the area of today's Macedonia). Through this process of assimilation, Slavs became the main ethnic component of the Bulgarian nation in the three geographic areas — Moesia, Thrace and Macedonia — that comprised the Bulgarian state during most of its existence until it was conquered by the Ottomans. The name of the new state — Bulgaria — was derived from Bulgars whose families governed the state administration. Such examples are not rare in the political history of European nations. It is enough to indicate the case with the French, a people of Latin origin, who took the name of the Germanic tribe Franks.
It is well known and universally accepted that early Bulgarian (and Slavic, in general) literature is associated with the work of the Solun brothers Cyril and Methodius. Direct incentive for the creation of Slavic alphabet and the first Slavic books was the request of the Moravian Prince Rostislav made in 862 to the Byzantine Emperor Michael, to send him "a bishop and mentor" to preach Christianity in understandable language. For this difficult educational mission, the Byzantine Emperor chose Constantine the Philosopher (Cyril) and his brother Methodius who had been already famous for their knowledge. According to the hagiographies of two brothers-saints, the Emperor chose them because, although they were Byzantines, as citizens of Solun they knew the language of the local Slavo-Bulgarian population. Cyril made a new alphabet (glagolitsa), which was original and cleverly composed to fit the local Slavic language and translated the most important liturgical books from Greek to Slavo-Bulgarian with the help of Methodius.
The mission of the two brothers in Moravia was not successful: their schools were closed and their students were persecuted and driven out of Moravia. Some of the students reached Bulgaria where they were met with respect and jubilation. Bulgaria was ruled at this time by the learned Tsar Boris I, who several years earlier had enforced Christianization of Bulgarians. Boris I needed the alphabet to have Byzantine liturgical books translated from Greek to Bulgarian and immediately organized building of schools and teaching the new Slavic alphabet throughout Bulgaria. Two centers of learning and writing, led by Cyril and Methodius students, were established in Bulgaria: one in the second Bulgarian capital Preslav in the northeast, led by Naum and Ioan Exarch, and the other in Ochrid in the southwest, led by Climent. In the second half of 9th and the first half of 10th centuries these centers, and also schools and monasteries throughout Bulgaria produced the earliest Slavic literature, a period which is known as the Golden Century in Bulgarian culture. The presence of a common written language at such early time preceding the formation of most other European nations was a great unifying factor that gave a strong impetus to the consolidation of the Bulgarian nation and the development of Bulgarian national conscience. In the following centuries during periods of foreign occupation, the effort to preserve the Bulgarian language was the main factor counteracting the assimilatory policies of the occupying powers.
The territorial distribution of dialects is to a large degree also a result of the major migratory movements, which have been in our particularly strong for Bulgaria. From 10th century up till modern times large Bulgarian ethnic masses often moved in one direction or another, changed their territory and this has had an enormous impact on the formation, evolution and territorial distribution of today's Bulgarian dialects. As early as 10th century Bulgarian Bogomils (heretics) migrated en masse to Byzantium. In the the 13th century, large numbers of Bulgarians from the Danubian plain were forcibly re-settled to Transylvania (Siebenbürgen) by Magyars and sold as slaves. The Bulgarian national conscience and unity were very negatively influenced by the invasion of the Turks that commenced in mid-14th century and resulted in their complete settlement in Bulgaria at the end of that century. The Turkish rule caused indescribable sufferings to the Bulgarian people and caused significant changes in the ethnographic situation in Bulgaria. As early as the first decades of the Turkish rule some regions lost completely their Bulgarian character. In the northeastern Bulgaria those were Ludogorieto (Deliorman), Tuzluk and the foothills of Eastern Balkan Mountains, in the southeastern Bulgaria — almost the whole Thracian plain and Eastern Rhodopes. A part of the Bulgarian population in these areas was uprooted: either killed or captured and sold into slavery. Another part escaped in inaccessible and remote mountainous areas in the Balkans and the Central Rhodopes. A third part was forcibly removed to other places in order to free up space for the Turkish colonists. For instance, some of the few surviving citizens of the capital Tarnovo after its fall in 1393 were resettled in the Malko Tarnovo region, and others in the Central Rhodopes where they founded several settlements, e.g. Ustovo. At the time, a significant number of Bulgarians were resettled to Asia Minor. In general, in 14th and 15th century the Bulgarian population in the great plains — the Danubian and Thracian, was almost completely destroyed. Since 16th and especially 17th century, however, the Bulgarians began to climb into these lowland areas from the Balkan and Rhodopes mountains and gradually settled there, first as part-time and later as permanent workers in the Turkish chifliks (manors) and as independent farmers and shepherds.
Major changes in Bulgaria occured in the 16th century with forced Islamisation and Turkifications in the Rhodopes, Lovech, Teteven, and Gerlovo regions. Some of the Bulgarians in these areas were Turkified and others ran to faraway lands. Great changes occurred in Northern Bulgaria after the unfortunate Tarnovo uprising in 1598. In the 17th century after the failure of Chiprovtsi uprising in 1688 significant parts of northwestern Bulgaria were almost completely de-Bulgarised. Part of the population was killed, and others run to exile in Wallachia and Banat.
Some linguistic features of the Slavo-Bulgarian dialects before the appearance of Slavic books (9th century) can be inferred through the analysis of the numerous local Slavic names, preserved since that distant era in areas populated by Slavo-Bulgarians, and by old Bulgarian loan words that entered the Albanian, Greek, Romanian and Hungarian languages. Best suited for this purpose are Slavic toponyms in today's Greece, particularly in its southern parts. Slavo-Bulgarian population in Greece was assimilated by Greeks (Hellenized) much earlier than in the trans-Danubian regions. Furthermore, the Greek lands were far from any later influence from another Slavic language. Compared with the very few Slavic loan words in the Greek language, the Greek toponyms of Slavic origin in today's Greece surprise with their great number and antiquity. Most of them reflect the very old phonetic features of the language of the Bulgarian Slavs who penetrated as already noted, deep in southern Greece. It was not so with the trans-Danubian regions that are now occupied by Hungary and Romania. Surrounded from all sides by other Slavic nations, they had been experiencing their varied impact over the following centuries.
Between 6th to 9th century A.D. the Slavic languages gradually separated by a slow but constant departure from the original proto-Slavic language. In this period the Bulgarian national language slowly took shape on the basis of tribal dialects of the Slavo-Bulgarian population, whose main mass had already been located in the south-eastern regions of the Balkan Peninsula. The earliest differences between the emerging Slavic languages were phonetic. Thus, for example, in the dialects of the Slavo-Bulgarian tribes the proto-Slavic palatals *tj and *dj were already pronounced as diphtongs шт /ʃt/ (or шч /ʃtʃ/) and жд /ʒd/ (or ждж /ʒdʒ/), cf. свѣшта from pr.-Sl. свѣ/*tj/а and межда from pr.-Sl. ме/*dj/а. In all other Slavic languages these sounds underwent a different change specific for each language. An early difference between the Slavo-Bulgarian dialects and the dialects of other Slavic peoples is found in the evolution of the typical proto-Slavic vowel ѣ /*ja/ (yat). Only in the dialects of the Slavo-Bulgarians, ѣ evolved in wide e (either я /ʲa/ or е /ɛ/) which is very typical even for the modern Bulgarian language, cf. e.g. хляб /hlʲab/ (bread) or dial. хлеб /hlɛb/ from pr. Sl. хлѣбъ.
Abundant evidence shows that in the language of the Slavo-Bulgarians the palatinized *tj and *dj were pronounced as /ʃt/ and /ʒd/ and the yat vowel was pronounced as /*ja/. Those are found primarily in archaic Slavo-Bulgarian toponymy in today's Greece and South and Central Albania, i.e. in areas that were densely populated by Slavo-Bulgarian population. Thus, in today Greece there are local names as Κορύστιανη = Кориштане, Πεστά = Пешт, Μεσδάνι = Междане. South and Central Albanian toponyms are Пештер, Лешта, Хоштова, Гаждени. The fact that the yat vowel ѣ in the language of the Slavo-Bulgarians was pronounced as я /*ja/, is demonstrated by the presence of archaic Slavic toponyms in Greece as ̒Ρεάχοβου = Ряхово, Λιασκοβέτσι = Лясковец, Δρανίτσα = Дряница. In today's South and Central Albania one finds archaic Slavic toponyms like Лясковик, Лябово, Сяново, etc. Hence, it is evident why all researchers of archaic Slavic toponymy in Greece and Albania clearly state that it is a remnant of a Slavic population who spoke Bulgarian language. The diphtongs шт and жд (the diphtong шт later acquired a letter, шт = щ) and the yat vowel ѣ as in хлѣб, мѣсто, грѣх remain typical for a large part of the Bulgarian dialects.
Old Bulgarian shows many common features with stages of development of the other Slavic languages. However, the translations of the Solun brothers show a number of morphological and syntactic features that were typical only for the Bulgarian population of 9th to 11th centuries, mostly word combinations like сестра еи (bg:сестра ӣ, her sister), братъ емоу (bg:брат му, his brother), рѫка ти (bg:ръката ти, your hand) that were not used by other Slavs. The main morphological features of Old Bulgarian are presence of cases, the presence of a variant of the infinitive form called supine form, synthetic adjective comparison forms, past imperfect, past perfect, and future simple verb tenses, etc.
The Bulgarian character of the language of Cyril and Methodius was scientifically proven as early as 19th century during the emergence of Slavic linguistics on the basis of the above phonetic features. The most important evidence are the above mentioned diphtongs шт and жд that appear in old Bulgarian manuscripts instead of the proto-Slavic palatals *tj and *dj. This is a typical feature only for Bulgarian: all other Slavic languages have other replacements of these proto-Slavic phonemes. Thus, e.g., the proto-Slavic forms свѣт/*tj/а, ме/*dј/а in old manuscripts are written as свѣшта, межда (as they are spoken in modern Bulgarian) unlike the Serbo-Croatian свећа, међа, Russian свеча, межа, Polish swieca, miedza, Czech svice, meze. Moreover, the шт/жд reflex is a feature, characteristic for the whole Bulgarian dialect area. Data from old manuscripts, toponyms, and modern dialects show convincingly that the modern ќ /c/, ѓ /ɟ/ instead of шт, жд, e.g. свеќа, граѓанин for свешта, гражданин in some Western Bulgarian dialects, especially in those from the central and northern part of Vardar Macedonia and also in some Thracian dialects, are a much later phenomenon. It is indicative in this respect that words with old шт, жд are used alongside the new ќ, ѓ in many of these dialects, e.g. свеќа alongside with свештник and мошне. Cf. also веќе, ќи, ќерка, but къшча, свешча, чуждина, прежда, веждите, etc. (Kostur dialect); куйќа, полноќ, помеѓу, нейќит, but рождат, нош, фаштат, свешча, гашчи, чуж, etc. (Resen dialect). In contrast to the great variety of reflexes in the modern western Bulgarian dialects, old manuscripts contain only шт, жд forms, irrespective of the region from which they originate. Important in this respect is the comparatively recent Bulgarian-Greek dictionary that was written in the Kostur region in 16th century. The dictionary has only шт, жд forms: кашта, вяжда, рожда.
Another important evidence for the Bulgarian character of the Cyril and Methodius language is the above-mentioned pronunciation of ѣ, which was written in words like хлѣбъ, млѣко, вѣра, etc. Yat (ѣ) was pronounced as /*ja/ or wide е /*e/ which is suggested by the fact that in the glagolithic alphabet invented by Cyril there is only one common letter for ѣ and ѩ. Reliable data show that in 9th-11th century the wide pronunciation of ѣ was spread on the whole language area that included the regions Moesia, Thrace, and Macedonia. As already noted, the former /*ja/ pronunciation of ѣ in the western Bulgarian regions is mainly inferred from old Greek names of some Slavic toponyms in today's Ekavian regions like Πριλιάπος = Прилѣпъ, Πρίσδριανα = Призрѣнъ, Δεάβολις = Дѣволъ, Χτεάτοβο = Хтѣтово, Тетово, Τριάδιτσα = Срѣдьць, etc. Western Bulgarian forms like цадим (OBg:цѣдити), цаним (OBg:цѣнити), цалувам (OBg:цѣловати), цапам (OBg:цѣпити) with a de-palatized (hardened) consonant ц /ts/ in front of the wide vowel /ʲa/ or /e/ are another evidence that the western Bulgarian pronunciation цел, хлеб, место, тесно is a late phenomenon.
A third very characteristic feature of the Cyril-Methodius' language is the peculiar nasal pronunciation of the vowels ѫ /*oⁿ/ and ѧ /*eⁿ/. Pronunciation of these vowels is supposed to has been similar to the French /ɔ̃/ in bon and /ɛ̃/ in bien. This is a typical feature of the 9th to 11th century Bulgarian, with a Slavic analog only in Polish language. That in the past this feature was characteristic for the whole language area is concluded, as already pointed out, again from the archaic Slavic toponymy in Greece, from some phonetic features of the old Slavic loan words in Romanian and Albanian language, from the language of the so-called Cherged prayers, reflecting the speech of old re-settlers from Svishtov region of 16th century. Traces of the old nasal pronunciation are found in forms like зъмби, мънка, пънт, рънка, дъмп, скъмп, крънгове, братученд, глендам, гренда, ерембица, чендо, ендзик, etc. in the speech of re-settlers from Solun, Kostur, Korca, western Aegean, and other regions. Individual cases of nasalism are found in the Rhodopes dialects.
These typical features for Old Bulgarian has been lost or modified as a result of various influences in the course of language evolution but have persisted and are best preserved in southern dialects — Rhodopes, Southern Thrace and Southern Macedonia. Today the wide ѣ pronunciation, replacements шт, жд for the old palatals *tj, *dj, traces of ы, traces of case forms, traces of archaic pronunciation of ѫ and ѧ, the identical pronunciation of ѣ and ѩ (/hlʲab/ or /hlɛb/, /ʲama/ or /ɛma/), the reduction of vowels а, о, е, the reflex of /a/ in /ɛ/ behind fricatives (чаша — чеши), etc., approximate the southern Macedonian dialects with the Thracian and Rhodopes dialects. Solun dialects are of eastern Bulgarian (Rup) type.
As well known, on the basis of pronunciation of the old yat vowel, Bulgarian dialects are divided into two major dialect groups — western (Ekavian) and eastern (Yakavian). In the north, the border between Ekavian and Yakavian goes along the river Vit, in the south — along river Mesta in a general direction Nikopol-Solun (see map of the Yat border). Archaic pronunciation of wide e occurs in some dialects along the Yat border, in the Rhodopes and some other southern dialects. In general, to the east of the Yat border, the Old Bulgarian vowel ѣ, when stressed, is pronounced as wide vowel /ʲa/ (/mlˈʲako/, /(h)lˈʲap/) while to the west of the Yat border ѣ is pronounced as /ɛ/ (/mlɛko/, /(h)lɛp/). Data from the old manuscripts, some old toponyms, Bulgarian loan words in other Balkan languages, etc., show that the yat division is relatively recent — the first certain cases of ekavism occur in writings of 13th century. The south-western dialects are partly in the Ekavian, and partly in Yakavian areas. The wide pronunciation of ѣ is preserved in some archaic dialects (Solun, Ser (also Syar /sʲar/), Korca). The above mentioned Bulgarian-Greek dictionary written in 16th century in Kostur reflects the old wide yat sound in words like колѩно, невѩста, млѩко.
As repeatedly emphasized in linguistic literature, these are the most important features that highlight the specifics of Bulgarian language. It can be definitely said that a Slavic population, whose language structure is characterized by these four factors has been Bulgarian.
Other important characteristics of Middle Bulgarian are:
As a Dachsprache, standard Bulgarian is generally divided into the following dialectal groups and individual dialects:
Eastern Bulgarian dialects:||
Western Bulgarian dialects:||Among the traditional diaspora:|
Noun archaic for man (human male), see werewolf, weregild, world.
Verb Second-person singular simple past tense indicative of be.
John, you were the only person to see him.
First-person plural simple past tense indicative of be.
We were about to leave.
Second-person plural simple past tense indicative of be.
Mary and John, you were right.
Third-person plural simple past tense indicative of be.
They were a fine group.
Simple past tense subjunctive in all persons of be.
I wish it were Sunday. I wish I were with you.
with "if" omitted, put first in an "if" clause:
Were it simply that she wore a hat, I would not be upset at all. (= If it were simply...) Were father a king, we would have war. (= If father were a king,...)