Sunday, March 30, 2014

Old Bulgarian, Modern Bulgarian, Balkanisms

Bulgaria is one of the oldest European States. It was founded in 681 C.E. and its language, as well as its alphabet, are probably the basis for many other Slavic languages.

Cyril and Methodius, Byzantine Greek brothers who were sent to Great Moravia as Christian missionaries, invented the Glagolitic Alphabet between 862 and 863, the first script used to transcribe the proto-language known as Old Church Slavonic.

This marks the beginning of a period in the history of the Bulgarian language known as Old Bulgarian. At that time, and until about the end of the 11th century, Bulgarian was a much more synthetic language than it is today. Its main characteristics are listed below:

1. Use of nasalized vowels
2. Morphosyntactic case-markings: Nouns, adjetives, numerals and pronouns had seven cases
3. Dual forms (singular, dual, plural)
4. Eleven declensions
5. No definite articles, but there were combinations of nouns and demonstrative pronouns that later gave rise to the postposited articles
6. Pronouns only for the first and second persons (singular and plural)
7. Adjectives had short and long forms
8. The comparative forms were synthetic
9. Numerals 1 through 4 were adjectives and had gender variation. Numerals 5 through 10 were singular nouns.
10. Three verb moods: indicative, imperative and conditional
11. No specific future form
12. Infinitive and supine

In many senses, Old Bulgarian was much more like other modern Slavic languages than Modern Bulgarian. Throughout the centuries, that highly inflected language became a mostly analytical language.

From the 12th century until the end of the 14th century, a period known as Middle Bulgarian, many of today's features were introduced. Nasal vowels disappeared, the case suffixes gradually suffered lenition and the language clearly showed signs that it was bound for analyticity.

From the 15th century on, during the rise of the Modern Bulgarian language, many of the most influential Bulgarian authors started to declare their cultural independence from the Turkish political oppression and the Greek religious dominance. The texts produced at the time, known as будители, favored the everyday language and its dialects. This is probably the reason why today's Standard Bulgarian is closer to what people really speak than most of the other Slavic languages.

Modern Bulgarian differs from other Slavic languages in many aspects, including:

1. In Bulgarian, voiced consonants may not constitute the nucleus of a syllable
2. Bulgarian is the only Slavic language, together with Slovene, that has kept the Old Church Slavonic [ə] sound
3. There are no distinctions between short and geminated vowels in Bulgarian
4. The particle да has made the infinitive form obsolete and it is no longer used
5. The future form uses the particle ще
6. There is no dual form, except with masculine nouns preceded by cardinal numbers
7. There are no more case markings, except for a moribund vocative, used almost exclusively with masculine nouns
8. There are postposited definite articles, -ът/-а, -та and -то for masculine, feminine and neutral nouns, respectively
9. The numeral един (one) is used as an indefinite article. Indefiniteness may also be expressed by 0-article
10. Comparative forms are analytical, по- (for comparative) and най- (for superlative)
11. There is a clear distinction in usage between aorist and perfect
12. There is the so-called "renarrative mood", used to account for facts one has not self-evidenced

However, some other aspects of Old Church Slavonic were kept, namely:

1. Three genders: masculine, feminine, neutral. Bulgarian has more neutral nouns than other Slavic languages, but there seems to be a recent tendency to replace them with masculine or feminine nouns
2. Bulgarian is the Slavic language that has kept most of the original temporal and aspectual system of its proto-language: There are more past tenses in Bulgarian than in the other Slavic languages
3. The distinction in aspect, a general feature of Slavic languages, is clearly marked in Bulgarian: свършен вид (perfective aspect) and несвършен вид (imperfective aspect) account for various nuances in meaning. In the Slavic languages, perfectiveness is accomplished by means of prefixes. The only differences among them is the inventory of those prefixes. Imperfectiveness, a more recent feature, varies greatly among Slavic languages. In Bulgarian, the only way to form imperfective verbs is by attaching suffixes.

Many of the changes observed throughout the history of Bulgarian may be explained with the notion of the Balkan Sprachbund, the 500+-year period in which the Balkans were dominated either by Turks, Greeks or Bulgars that brought their languages, Greek, Bulgarian, Macedonian, Romanian and Albanian together to form a "linguistic league" (belonging to the same language family, the Indo-European languages) whose members do not share the same Elementarwörter (core vocabulary), but do share many of its syntactic and morphological features. I will detail Balkanisms in a future post, but compare some of the aforementioned features with corresponding forms in other Balkan languages:

1. Postposited articles

friend (n.) > the friend
приятел > приятелят
prieten > prietenul (Romanian)

2. Particle + subjunctive/no infinitive

I have to go now.
Трябва да отида сега.
Πρέπει να πάω τώρα. (Greek)
Trebuie plec acum. (Romanian)

3. Future with particle

I will sleep now.
Сега ще спя.
Acum o să dorm.
Τώρα θα κοιμηθώ.

4. Analytic comparative forms.

This house is bigger than that one.
Тази къща е по-голяма от онази.
Această casă este mai mare decât acea.
Αυτό το σπίτι είναι πιο μεγάλο από εκείνο.

5. Aorist vs. Perfect

Have you been to Sofia? Yes, I went there last Summer.
Бъл ли си в София? Да, отидох там миналото лято.
Έχεις πάει στη Σόφια; Ναι, πήγα εκεί το περασμένο καλοκαίρι.

Thanks for reading this.


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