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Speaking the LanguageBack to top Back to main Skip to menu
Bulgaria - Speaking the Language
According to the 2001 census, 84.5% of the country's population speaks Bulgarian natively. The 2001 census defines an ethnic group as a "community of people, related to each other by origin and language, and close to each other by mode of life and culture", and one's mother tongue as "the language a person speaks best and usually uses for communication in the family (household)".
Turks make the largest minority group in the country. The Turks in Bulgaria are descendants of Turkish settlers who came from Anatolia across the narrows of the Dardanelles and the Bosporus following the Ottoman conquest of the Balkans in the late 14th century. There were also many Bulgarian converts to Islam during the centuries of Ottoman rule in Balkans.
The Roma are the second largest minority group in the country. The Roma in Bulgaria are descendants of Romani nomadic migrants who came from India across the narrows of the Dardanelles and the Bosporus, in the late 13th century and following the Ottoman conquest of the Balkans in the late 14th century, but also during the five centuries of Ottoman occupation.
According to a Eurobarometer survey conducted in 2005, Russian was the most commonly spoken foreign language in Bulgaria, with 35% of population claiming a working knowledge of it, followed by English with 23%, Italian and Spanish with 12%, and French with 9%. In the 2012 Eurobarometer survey, the situation was slightly different, with 25% of people saying they know English well enough in to be able to have a conversation, and only 23% answering Russian, which was a decrease of 12 points. This happened because many people who used to learn Russian in school come from an older generation and many of them have forgotten how to speak the language. The other reason is that Russian is not so common anymore in schools in Bulgaria.
When asked which two languages, other than their mother tongue, would be the most useful for children to learn in their future, a vast majority of respondents said English (90%), with German coming second (36%), and Russian third (14%).
Bulgarian is an Indo-European language, and also a member of the Southern branch of the Slavic language family, along with Macedonian, Serbian, Croatian, Slovenian, Bosnian and Montenegrin. It is the language of the Bulgarians and Pomaks. Bulgarian, along with the closely related Macedonian language, with which it forms the East South Slavic languages group, has several characteristics that set it apart from all other Slavic languages. These differences include the elimination of case declension, the development of a suffixed definite article and the lack of a verb infinitive, but it retains and has further developed the Proto-Slavic verb system. With the accession of Bulgaria to the European Union on 1 January 2007, Bulgarian became one of the official languages of the European Union as well.
The development of the Bulgarian language can be easily divided into several periods.
Prehistoric period – occurred between the Slavonic migration to eastern Balkans and the mission of Saints Cyril and Methodius to Great Moravia in the 860s.
Old Bulgarian (9th to 11th century) – also referred to as Old Church Slavonic, it is a literary norm of the early southern dialect of the Common Slavic language from which Bulgarian evolved. It was used by Saints Cyril and Methodius and their disciples to translate the Bible and other liturgical literature from Greek into Slavic.
Middle Bulgarian (12th to 15th century) – a literary norm that evolved from the earlier Old Bulgarian, after major linguistic innovations were introduced. It was a language of rich literary activity and the official administration language of the Second Bulgarian Empire.
Modern Bulgarian – dates from the 16th century, undergoing general grammar and syntax changes in the 18th and 19th century. Modern written Bulgarian was standardized on the basis of the 19th century Bulgarian vernacular. The historical development of the Bulgarian language can be described as a transition from a highly synthetic language to a typical analytic language with Middle Bulgarian as the main point of this transition.
As the size of Bulgaria's English-speaking community grows, the prevalence of this language is also visible. It is the most common second language in the Sofia, where a wide range of facilities are available for English-speaking expats. Some people may also speak German or French. Until 1989, all Bulgarian children had to learn Russian in school, though many people chose not to speak it in public. Nowadays, children learn either English or German instead. The Russian and Bulgarian languages have much in common, so Russian speakers can communicate in Bulgaria more easily than visitors from other countries.
Bulgarian is a southern Slavic language, written with the Cyrillic alphabet. A significant amount of Turkish vocabulary has infiltrated the language, due to the influence of the lengthy Ottoman occupation. Though Bulgarian can be a difficult language to master, it is much easier to make some progress once the alphabet is learned. It can be extremely beneficial to learn Bulgarian when moving to this country because communicating effectively with officials is important, as well as reading road signs. Each area in Bulgaria offers language courses to expats, and it might be best to ask other expats for their recommendations. Bulgarian television and newspapers can also be very helpful when learning the language. It is important and interesting fact that Bulgarians actually shake their head for "Yes" and nod for "No".
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