History of the Bulgarian Language

The Bulgarian language belongs to the family of Slavic languages. It’s the official tongue in Bulgaria, and is spoken by about 12 million people in the world. Bulgarian is unique in many aspects within in its family and generally. Bulgarian was the first language to adopt the Cyrillic alphabet and spread it to other Slavic nations. It was identified with Old Church Slavic in old times, from which several Slavic languages derived. Bulgarian was the language of the three Bulgarian kingdoms, one of which had borders on three seas and dominated even over Byzantium for a while.

The Bulgarian language is a Slavic language. It’s classified by linguists to the South Slavic languages and is spoken mainly on the Balkans. Three main factors were crucial for the formation of the Bulgarian language – the substrates (Slavic tribal languages and the language of the Thracian tribes, which lived on the territory of Bulgaria before the Slavs) and the adstrat – the Bulgarians who invaded the Balkan Peninsula in the 7th Century and founded the state. Bulgarian was later influenced by Turkish and Russian.

Official Language

Bulgarian is the official language in the Republic of Bulgaria. With the accession of Bulgaria to the EU in 2007, it became official for the Union, thus introducing the Cyrillic alphabet as the third official alphabet in the Union. Bulgarian is also spoken in Moldova, Ukraine, Serbia, Macedonia, Romania, Greece, Turkey and by emigrant groups all over the world.


The Bulgarian language has two major variety groups – the Eastern and the Western norm, differentiated by the process of palatalization of consonants. Official Bulgarian was based on the Eastern norm. Significant varieties are also detected in the groups of ethnic Bulgarians, who were formed in Ukraine, Moldova, Serbia, Romania and Greece due to historical and political reasons. They speak a Bulgarian language which has been strongly influenced by the official languages in these countries, but also by the separation from the mother-state, thus resulting in a somewhat archaic variety of modern Bulgarian.

Brief History

Officially, the development of the Bulgarian language is divided into four major periods.

The prehistoric period encompasses the centuries from the invasion of the Slavic tribes to the Balkans to the adoption of the Cyrillic alphabet. This first period is the time when Slavic languages absorbed the local Thracian ones to form a hybrid. Later, the Bulgarians came from Asia after the collapse of the Bulgarian Empire, and established a state on the Balkans co-living with the Slavic tribes. Thus a new language was formed, based on Slavic and influenced by Bulgarian. The language, the state and its official terms were taken from Bulgarian, and most of the remaining vocabulary from Slavic.

The second period, called Old Bulgarian, is largely known as Old Church Slavic – the language from which the main Slavic languages evolved, including modern Bulgarian. The key event for this period was the adoption of the Cyrillic alphabet. It was ordered by the Bulgarian King, who aimed to unify its growing kingdom by strengthening the state. At that time, Christianity had just become the one official religion (9th Century). First, the Glagollitic alphabet was developed by the saint brothers Cyril and Methodius to correspond to the phonetics of Bulgarian. Later on, the Cyrillic was developed by their disciples, based on both the Glagollitic and Greek alphabets.

The third period is known as middle Bulgarian, and covers the period of the Second Bulgarian Empire during the 12th to 15th Centuries. It marks the consolidation of the state and nation, as well as a period of major glory for the Kingdom of Bulgaria.

The Modern Bulgarian period starts with the 'dark years' of Turkish domination, which lasted for five centuries. During that time, development slowed down until the Bulgarian Renaissance, or the élan. This élan was triggered mainly by literate people, clergy and so on and started with the first attempts to write a Bulgarian history in Bulgarian after the collapse of the Kingdom.

After the liberation and independence of Bulgaria at the end of the 19th Century, the state was much smaller than before, which explains why there are groups of ethnic Bulgarians living in Moldova, Ukraine, and elsewhere which still speak the language without being citizens of Bulgaria.

Did you know?

Some 10 to 11 centuries ago, the Bulgarian King was crowned Rex of Bulgaria and Byzantium. Cyrillic was the alphabet first adopted by Bulgaria. It was later spread to other Slavic countries through the influence of the Bulgarian Empire. With the accession of Bulgaria to the EU, Cyrillic became the third official alphabet of the Union.

The Bulgarian language is unique among Slavic languages, having eliminated the case system and transformed the definite article into a suffix system.