The Language of Bulgaria


Bulgaria is a mountainous land whose history is steeped in conflict. Emerging from centuries of Ottoman rule, the country found itself drawn into World War II’s losing axis by mid-century and then dragged along with the Soviet Union as it collapsed. The experience left lasting marks on the nation’s culture, landscape and psyche.

Today’s standard Bulgarian is a fusional language that no longer exhibits case inflection, as do most Slavic languages, though some personal pronouns do retain case forms and three distinct cases are used to mark aspects of the verb (perfective/aorist and imperfective) and mood (indicative, accusative and dative). Adjectives agree with their nouns in number and gender and may show three forms in addition to the common finite simple or compound forms.

The modern Cyrillic alphabet has 30 letters, including a pair of vowels that are unique to the Bulgarian language — ya and a — which are pronounced identically. The ya/a pronunciation is used for the majority of words in standard Bulgarian, while the a/ya pronunciation is used in dialects and for some foreign loanwords.

Some of the most distinctive features of Bulgarian are its abstract particles that admonish or express various emotions, such as kazhi mi – tell me (insistence); taka li – is it so? (derisive); and vyarno li – you don’t say! (pleading).

Aside from these particles, Bulgarian shares most of its grammatical characteristics with other Slavic languages. The verbal system is characterized by the absence of an infinitive and by a complex evidential system that distinguishes between witnessed and several kinds of unwitnessed information. A complex morphological system is also present, with more than 40 formations, ranging from the simple past to the perfective aspect and five moods.

In vocabulary, a large portion of the Bulgarian language is derived from the classical languages, particularly Latin and Greek. Many terms are also borrowed from Turkish and, via Romanian and Aromanian, from ancient Bulgarian. Bulgarian also contains numerous loans from Russian and from Arabic.

One of the most challenging aspects of learning Bulgarian is that cognates in English often don’t translate exactly into Bulgarian, so it’s important to understand and remember these differences. For example, the literary norm is that Bulgarian yat should be pronounced as e (vidyal, videli) but some Western Bulgarians will maintain their local dialect and pronounce it with a ya sound, like vidyali, videli. The best way to learn these irregularities is to spend some time listening to a native speaker and paying attention to their pronunciation. This will help you avoid making the same mistakes when speaking Bulgarian yourself. Learn more about the most common Bulgarian mistakes from our expert podcasts on this page! The definite article in Bulgarian is a weak form that’s added at the end of the noun, rather than before it as it is in some other Slavic languages. There are two forms for masculine gender – long (-t, -iat) and short (-a, -ia). The same is true of the plural article, which can either be long or short.