10 Facts About Bulgarian: Cyrillic, Articles and Genders

The Bulgarian language (български, pronounced bălgarski) is a Southern Slavic language spoken by somewhere around six to eight million people. It’s the native language of most people living in Bulgaria, but it’s also widely spoken in various South European countries and further abroad in the Bulgarian diaspora. Since 2007, it has been one of the official spoken languages of the European Union.

The following are some facts about this interesting language, its phonics, its development, and its cultural spread. Learning about languages is imperative to keeping them healthy and alive, and to bring us all closer together.

1. Several other Eastern European countries have large native populations of Bulgarian speakers

The major examples of these are: Albania, Greece, Romania, North Macedonia, Moldova, Serbia, Turkey, and Ukraine (as well as Bulgaria itself).

2. Along with Macedonian and some dialects of other languages, it forms the Eastern South Slavic subset of languages

These subsets differ from other Slavic languages in a number of ways, including word formation and verb declension.

3. Bulgarian is written in a Cyrillic alphabet but also sometimes uses Latin

Most of the letters represent one sound, while five represent sounds that in English require two letters. One letter also changes the sound of following letters by softening the palate.

The letters, their Latin official transliteration, and their sounds are in the table below. The official Latin translation is not always the same as the ISO 9 transliteration, but the official is what is listed.

Letter (upper/lower case)Latin Equivalent (upper/lower case)Sounds like
А / аA / aAside or ban or tada
Б / бB / bBut or spun
В / вV / vVine or tough
Г / гG / gGood or bake
Д д / дD / dDig or Stat 
E / eE / eRest
Ж / жZh / zhMeasure or lotion
З / зZ / zZap or saw
И / иI / iPoutine
Й / йY / yYet
К / кK / kKing or goal
Л / лL / l (changes sounds depending on following letter)Left (before и or e) or Trillion (before ю, я and ь) or bull (all other cases)
М / мM / mMap
Н / нN / nNote
O / oO / oTaupe or beau
П / пP / pPat or bat
Р / рR / rSimilar to berry
C / cS / sSun or zoo
T / tT / tStuck or suds
У / уU / uPut or beau or zoo
Ф / фF / fFish or vase
Х / хH / hLoch
Ц / цTs / tsPits
Ч / чCh / chChurch
Ш / шSh / shMeasure or lotion
Щ / щSht / shtShtick
Ъ / ъA / aLike French euh or burn or stru
Ь / ьY / y[Silent softening of the next consonant] or onion
Ю / юYu / yuYouth or Yoke
Я / яYa / yaYard

4. Some Bulgarian Cyrillic letters are written very differently in cursive than in typed form

These are a (а), в (в), д (ɡ/д), и (и), й (й), л (л), п (п), т (т), ц (ц), ш (ш), and щ (щ).

5. There are three grammatical genders in Bulgarian

In general, masculine nouns end in consonants, feminine sounds end in –а/–я, and neuter sounds end in –е or –о (and –и, –у, and –ю for loan words). There are exceptions to these rules, of course. Many feminine nouns carry consonant endings, mostly those describing concepts. Many common masculine nouns also end in vowels.

In plural form, it can be harder to distinguish gender.

6. The definite article is added at the end of words

For example, топка (topka) means ‘ball’, while топката (topkata) means ‘the ball’. There are a few different definite article endings:

ArticleUsed for
–ът/ –ятMasculine nouns with consonant endings if they are the grammatical subjects of the sentence.
–а / –яMasculine nouns with consonant endings that are not the grammatical subject of the sentence
–таFeminine nouns with consonant endings or nouns that end in –а/–я
–тоNouns that end in –e/–o
–теPlural nouns except those with –та (below)
–таPlural nouns whose plural ends in –а/–я
–ят/–яMasculine adjectives
–таFeminine adjectives
–теNeuter adjectives

7. Several diaspora communities speak Bulgarian as their mother tongue either in place of or along with the lingua franca.

As well as the Eastern European countries mentioned above, huge communities include those in: the USA (300,000 Bulgarian citizens), Spain (250,000 citizens), Germany (227,000 citizens), and Canada (70,000),

There are also communities in South Africa (20,000), the United Arab Emirates (3,500), Mexico (500), Singapore (350), and many others in various sizes. There is also a small community of around 50 Bulgarians in Nicaragua.

8. Bulgarian and Macedonian are mutually intelligible

Though they are technically considered international languages, the languages are so close and the dialects of Bulgarian and Macedonian so varied that they are occasionally considered instead dialects of one another. 

9. There are two broad dialects of Bulgarian

These are western dialect (harder speech) and eastern dialects (softer speech).

10. Bulgarian uses clitic doubling or pronominal reduplication, where pronouns appear with the full noun phrases for colloquial speech or emphasis

It’s obligatory in some cases including specific special expressions. However, it’s inappropriate in formal speech and writing otherwise.

Final Thoughts

Bulgarian is a language that blends seamlessly into another, and together they exist in a little world of their own. Knowledge about how this fascinating language works is a gift that can’t be overestimated, and these basic building blocks will help bring the language more into Western mindsets and understandings.

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