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The Bulgarian language

The Bulgarian language

The Bulgarian Language

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 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. From Bulgaria, the cultural center of the medieval Slavs, the Cyrillic alphabet spread to the neighboring countries, such as Serbia, and to the eastern Slavs, the Russians, the Ukrainians, and the Byelorussians.

St. Climent’s original Cyrillic alphabet contained 44 letters for 44 sounds, by the 19th century the Bulgarian sound system had changed and contained fewer sounds. That necessitated an alphabet reform, which reduced the number of letters used from 44 to 32; this version was used until the orthographical reform in 1945, when the letters yat and yus were removed. Thus the modern Bulgarian alphabet has 30 letters.

One of the most observed national holidays is celebration of the Cyrillic alphabet and Slavic Culture on 24 May, the day of Sts. Cyril and Methodius.

If you learn some Bulgarian, you will have an advantage:

  • to touch the spirit of the Old Slavic Script and Culture
  • to read and understand other Slavic Languages that use Cyrillic alphabet lake Serbian, Russian, Ukrainian, Byelorussian
  • to know the common Slavic lexical basis thus to understand some Polish, Slovenian, Slovakian and Czech

Meet and enjoy this challenge through our guide-book.

The challenge to read Bulgarian

Although it looks that Bulgarian is a very different language to speak and read, this is not really the true. Bulgarian words are pronounced in general the same way as they are written. Most letters stand for one specific sound and that sound only. Three letters stand fir the single expression of sounds, namely щ (sht), ю (yu), я (ya). Two sounds do not have letters, namely дж (like j in Jack) and дз (dz).

Since the purpose of this book is to help you to read Bulgarian and to orient easier in the city, we will use not the official phonetic transcription (which is quite scientific), but letters or letter combination of the English variant of the Latin alphabet that roughly correspond to the Bulgarian letters. The accented vowels are underlined.

Here is the Bulgarian Alphabet:
A, Б, В, Г, Д, Е, Ж, З, И, Й, К, Л, М, Н, О, П, Р, С, Т ,У, Ф, Ф, Ц, Ч, Ш, Щ, Ь, Ъ, Ю, Я

Some letters (like Α, Ε, Κ, Μ, Ο, Τ) are very easy to identify since they are similar in English. Others are just confusing (? makes an v sound, Η makes an n sound, Ρ makes an r sound, ? makes an s sound and ? makes an ou sound) because they sound different than one would expect. And there are some absolutely unique to the Bulgarian language (like Б, Г, Д, Ж, З, И, Й, Л, П, Ф, Ф, Ц, Ч, Ш, Щ, Ь, Ъ, Ю, Я).

The Signs in Dobrich will guide you through all Bulgarian letters one by one but here is a reading guide through some of Dobrich signs to start with:

Letter Bulgarian word Pronunciation Engl. Letter/letter combination used in the book
А а Аптека like a in attention a
Б б Банка like b in bank b
В в
Вино like v in vase v
Г г
Гараж like g in ground g
Д д
Добре like d in dog d
Е е
Етнографски комплекс
like e in elephant e
Ж ж
Животни like s in treasure j
З з
Затворено like z in zero z
И и
Иконопис like i in big i
Й й
Йордан Йовков
like y in yes y
К к
Кафене like ? in ?ick k
Л л
Лев like l in long l
М м
Магазин like m in mother m
Н н
Напред like n in north n
О о
Отворено like o in old o
П п
Поща like p in post p
Р р
like r in river r
С с
Свобода like s in street s
Т т
Такси like t in town t
У у
Улица like oo in book u
Ф ф
like f in fire f
Х х
Хотел like h in horse h
Ц ц
Цветарница like ts in cats ts
Ч ч
Добрич like ch in child ch
Ш ш
Избираш like sh in she sh
Щ щ
Община like sh + t sht
Ъ ъ
България like ea in early â
- ь

softens consonant before o -
Ю ю
Меню like you in you yu
Я я
Ядки like you in young ya