A Look at the Bulgarian and Macedonian Languages

From here.

A look at how hard the Bulgarian and Macedonian languages are to learn from the POV of an English speaker.

It’s controversial whether Bulgarian is an easy or hard language to learn. The truth is that it may be the easiest Slavic language to learn, but all Slavic language  are hard. Though it is close to Russian, there are Russians who have been living there for 20 years and still can’t understand it well.

It has few cases compared to the rest of Slavic. There are three cases, but they are present only in pronouns. The only case in nouns is vocative. This is odd because most Slavic languages have either lost or are in the process of losing the vocative, and in Bulgarian it is the only case that has been retained. Compared to English, Bulgarian is well structured and straightforward with little irregularity. In addition, Bulgarian has more Romance (mostly French) and Greek borrowings than any other Slavic languages. Romance came in via the Vlahs who lived there before the Slavs moved in and Greek from the Byzantine period. In recent years, many English borrowings have also gone in.

And in Bulgarian you can always tell if a word is a noun, a verb or an adjective. Compare to English, where dance can be either a a verb, a noun or an adjective, and all are spelled the same way:

I will dance (verb)
I like this dance (noun)
I have dance lessons (adjective)

Bulgarian has a suffixed general article that is not found in the rest of Slavic but is apparently an areal feature borrowed from Albanian. The stress rules are nightmarish, and it seems as if there are no rules.

Bulgarian has grammatical gender, with three genders – masculine, feminine and neuter. In addition, adjectives must agree with the gender of the noun they are modifying. In English, adjectives are invariable no matter what the noun is:

pretty man
pretty woman
pretty horse
pretty table

However, the Bulgarian alphabet is comparatively simple compared to other Slavic alphabets. Since 1945, it has only had 30 letters. There are only six vowels, and it has the easiest consonant clusters in Slavic. The orthography is very regular, with no odd spellings. The Cyrillic alphabet is different for those coming from a Latin alphabet and can present problems. For one thing, letters that look like English letters are pronounced in different ways:

В is pronounced v in Bulgarian
E is pronounced eh in Bulgarian
P is pronounced r in Bulgarian

There are a number of Bulgarian letters that look like nothing you have ever seen before: Ж, Я, Ь, Ю, Й, Щ, Ш, and Ч. Bulgarian handwriting varies to a great degree and the various styles are often difficult to map back onto the typewritten letters that they represent.

While Bulgarian has the advantage of lacking much case, Bulgarian verbs are quite complex even compared to other Slavic languages. Each Bulgarian verb can have up to 3,000 forms as it changes across person, number, voice, aspect, mood, tense and gender. Bulgarian has two aspects (perfect and imperfect), voice, nine tenses, five moods and six non infinitival verbal forms.

For instance, each verb has at two aspects – simple and continuous – for each of the tenses, which are formed in different ways. Onto this they add a variety of derivatives such as prefixes, suffixes, etc. that change the meaning in subtle ways:

Aorist or Perfect:

да прочетаto read in whole a single text/book/etc (viewed as fact, that is the duration of the action does not interest us)
да изчетаto read every book there is on the subject (viewed as fact, that is the duration of the action does not interest us)
да дочетаto finish reading something (viewed as fact, that is the duration of the action does not interest us)
да изпоизчетаto read every book/article/etc there is on the subject (humorous) – (viewed as fact, that is the duration of the action does not interest us)

Continuous or Imperfect:

да четаto be reading (viewed as an action in progress)
да прочитамto read in whole a single text/book/etc (viewed as an action in progress)
да изчитамto read every book there is on the subject (viewed as an action in progress)

Mood is very complicated. There are different ways to say the same idea depending on how you know of the event. If you know about it historically, you mark the sentence with a particular mood. If you doubt the event, you mark with another mood.

If you know it historically but doubt it, you use yet another mood. And there are more than that. These forms were apparently borrowed from Turkish. These forms are rare in world languages. One is Yamana, a Patagonian language that has only one speaker left.

Bulgarian is probably the easiest Slavic language to learn.

Bulgarian gets a 4 rating, very difficult.

Macedonian is very close to Bulgarian, and some say it is a dialect of Bulgarian. However, I believe that is a separate language closely related to Bulgarian. Macedonian is said the be the easiest Slavic language to learn, easier than Bulgarian. This is because it is easier to pronounce than Bulgarian. Like Bulgarian, Macedonian has lost most all of its case. But there are very few language learning materials for Macedonian.

Macedonian gets a 3.5 rating, above average difficulty.


Filed under Applied, Balto-Slavic, Balto-Slavic-Germanic, Bulgarian language, Indo-European, Indo-Hittite, Language Families, Language Learning, Linguistics, Slavic

2 responses to “A Look at the Bulgarian and Macedonian Languages

  1. James Schipper

    Dear Robert

    In “I have dance lessons” you state that dance is an adjective. Not so. An adjective is modified by an adverb and can take a comparative, which you can’t do with dance. You can say “I have a very long lesson” or “I have a longer lesson than you”, but you can’t say “I have a very dance lesson” or “I have a dancer lesson than you”. Moreover, when you have adjective + noun, the stress is on the second word, but when you have noun + noun, the stress is on the first word. It is a long LESSON but a DANCE lesson. Dance lesson is a nominal compound, not an adjective + noun. In Dutch and German, it would respectively be written as dansles and Tanzlektion. Much more logical.

    As in all other Germanic languages, an English noun can be modified by another noun by simply putting the other noun in front of it. Unlike the other Germanic languages, English sometimes writes these nominal compounds as one word and sometimes as separate words. It is completely arbitrary. Why do we have to write bloodshed, bloodstream, bloodbath and bloodhound but blood cell, blood bank, blood group and blood sport? it is just totally arbitrary and makes no sense whatever. All those 8 words are simply nominal compounds. Why is it watermelon, watershed and watermark but water cannon, water level and water heater? It would be much easier if in English all nominal compounds were written as one word, as is done in all the other Germanic languages. There is absolutely no difference between taxi driver and Taxifahrer or taxirijder. The fact that in English it is written as 2 words is a spelling convention for which there is no grammatical reason.

    Have a good day. James

  2. I just read the Wikipedia article about Bulgarian verbs.

    All I can say is, no wonder they got rid of cases. Who needs cases when you have such a complicated verb system?!?

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