The Bulgarian Language

December 5, 2004 by  
Filed under News

The Bulgarian language belongs to the South Slavic branch of the Slavic languages and uses the Cyrillic alphabet: The history of the language covers three periods: old (9th century – 11th century), middle (12th century-14th century), and modern (15th century through present day). The modern literary language was formed during the Bulgarian National Revival (18th-19th centuries).

The Bulgarian language is unique among the Slavic languages for several reasons. The definite article is added as a suffix, coming after the noun. It has lost the case system from Common Slavic and prepositions have replaced cases to show the relationships between parts of a sentence. The language has 9 tenses, but the infinitive verb form no longer exists.
The Cyrillic alphabet was developed in 9 century by the two Byzantium missionaries Cyril and Methodius. It is the alphabet on which the modern languages of Russia, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia and of the former Soviet republics are based.

Before the 9th century Bulgaria and other parts of the area around the Mediterranean and Black Sea, were parts of the Roman Empire. While the Romans were losing power (3rd to 4th Century), tribes from Asia started an invasion of Europe. One of these tribes, called the Bulgars, reached this area and gradually mixed with the local population. The Bulgar king united all the different tribes into the first Bulgarian empire in 681.

The Bulgarians were the first people to use the Cyrillic alphabet immediately after its inception in the 9th century. The invention of the Cyrillic alphabet is attributed traditionally to Sts. Cyril and Methodius, Byzantine missionaries, whose purpose was to translate the New Testament into the then-common language of the Slavic peoples. However, the two brothers created the Glagolithic alphabet, not the Cyrillic. It was their disciple Saint Climent, the Bulgarian archbishop of the town of Ohrid, who invented the simpler Cyrillic alphabet and named it in honor of his teacher. The Cyrillic alphabet, like the Roman, stems from the Greek; additional characters, however, were devised to represent Slavic sounds that had no Greek equivalents. From Bulgaria, the cultural center of the medieval Slavs, the Cyrillic alphabet spread to the neighboring countries, such as Serbia, and to the far-lying Eastern Slavs, the Russians, the Ukrainians, and the Belarussians. The Cyrillic alphabet, in various forms, is used currently in Russian, Ukrainian, Belarussian, Serbian, and Bulgarian, but not in Polish, Czech, Slovak, or Slovenian, which are written in modified Roman alphabets.

Since Cyril and Methodius were from the city of Thessaloniki, they 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 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. Until that time St. Climent’s original Cyrillic alphabet, containing 44 letters for 44 sounds, had been used; 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.