11 Incredible Facts About the Bulgarian Language

Photo of Maria Angelova
27 December 2017

The Bulgarian language is quite confusing the first time you encounter it; the letters are different and some of them look like the Latin but are pronounced in a completely different way. The words are unlikely to sound familiar unless you know some Russian, and the grammar might drain you with its nine tenses. That’s not all, folks. Here are 11 incredible facts about the Bulgarian language.

The Bulgarian Alphabet has 30 Letters

Six of them are vowels, and the rest are consonants.

Letters that Look Like the Latin Might be Pronounced Differently

The Bulgarian “B” is pronounced like the Latin “V,” and the “H” is actually pronounced as “N.” If you see a P, pronounce it like an “R.” Perplexed? It gets even more complicated when you understand that what looks like a mirror image of R, is the Bulgarian vowel Я (ja), and what looks like a mirror image of N is И (i).

A sign in Cyrillic | © Bruno Girin/Flickr

One Letter Has to Have an “O” Next To It

If you only have the letter ь, you cannot pronounce it until you add an “o” next to it. Then it becomes a ьо [jo]. This is the only letter with that specific feature.

Some Letters Have Two Sounds

The letter ш in Bulgarian, [ʃ] sounds like “sheep,” but there is a щ too, [ʃt] that sounds like “shoe.” There are also the ю [ju] like in “Yuletide,” and я [ja] like in “yard.”

Two Bulgarians Created the Cyrillic Script

In the 9th century, Bulgarian brothers Cyril and Methodius created the Cyrillic script, which is used still used today in Bulgarian, Russian, Serbian, and other Slavic languages.

St. Cyril and St. Methodius | © Мико/Wikimedia Commons

Some Words are Untranslatable and Explain Lifestyles

In Bulgarian, there are words that are impossible to translate because they explain a whole lifestyle or a complex condition. For example, aylyak, one of the guilty pleasure of Bulgarians, explains a relaxed approach to life. Practitioners don’t take anything too personally, they take their time, and they enjoy their time to the fullest.

The Longest Bulgarian Word has 39 Letters

This is непротивоконституционствувателствувайте—don’t even try to pronounce it. It’s more of a tongue twister for drunk people than a word Bulgarians use in the real world. It means “don’t act against the Constitutions.”

Word Order isn’t Concrete

Although there are certain rules, you can arrange the words in many ways, and it will still sound completely natural.

There are Nine Tenses

Although the present tense has only one version, the past and future have several varieties, such as past preliminary or future preliminary in the past.

People talking | © StockSnap/Pixabay

Contemporary Bulgarian has 200,000 Words

Contemporary Bulgarian is mainly a mix of Slavic and Proto-Bulgarian words with foreign words having penetrated the language through the years, including Greek, Latin, Turkish, Russian and English. According to the Bulgarian Academy of Science’s Institute for Bulgarian Language, there are around 200,000 words in the language.

There is a Special Holiday Dedicated to Bulgarian

May 24 is the day when Bulgarians celebrate the Bulgarian language, script, and culture and the day the Bulgarian Orthodox Church celebrates the brothers who invented the Cyrillic script.

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