Macedonian phonology

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This article discusses the phonological system of Standard Macedonian (unless otherwise noted) based on the Prilep-Bitola dialect. For discussion of other dialects, see Macedonian dialects. Macedonian possesses five vowels, one semivowel, three liquid consonants, three nasal stops, three pairs of fricatives, two pairs of affricates, a non-paired voiceless fricative, nine pairs of voiced and unvoiced consonants and four pairs of stops.


Front Central Back
Close i u
Mid ɛ (ə) ɔ
Open a


The schwa is phonemic in many dialects (varying in closeness to [ʌ] or [ɨ]) but its use in the standard language is marginal.[3] When writing a dialectal word and keeping the schwa for aesthetic effect, an apostrophe is used; for example, к’смет, с’нце, etc. When spelling aloud, each consonant is followed by the schwa. The individual letters of acronyms are pronounced with the schwa in the same way: МПЦ ([mə.pə.t͡sə]). The lexicalized acronyms СССР ([ɛs.ɛs.ɛs.ɛr]) and МТ ([ɛm.tɛ]) (a brand of cigarettes), are among the few exceptions.

Vowel length[edit]

Vowel length is not phonemic. Vowels in stressed open syllables in disyllablic words with stress on the penult can be realized as long, e.g. Велес [ˈvɛːlɛs] 'Veles'. The sequence /aa/ is often realized phonetically as [aː]; e.g. саат /saat/ [saːt] 'colloq. hour'.


Map of the use of the intervocalic phoneme kj in the Macedonian language (1962)
Map of the use of the intervocalic phoneme gj in the Macedonian language (1962)
Labial Dental Alveolar Alveolo
Palatal Velar
Nasal m ³ ɲ
Stop p b c¹ ɟ¹ k g
Affricate ts̪ dz̪
Fricative f v ʃ ʒ x
ɫ̪2 ³ l2
Trill r³

^1 Depending on dialect, /c/ and /ɟ/ may be alveolo-palatal affricates ([t͡ɕ], ([d͡ʑ]) as in some of the Northern Macedonian dialects while in the urban Prilep subdialect of the Prilep-Bitola dialect, they have merged to /t͡ʃ/ and /d͡ʒ/, respectively.

^2 Neither Lunt (1952) nor Friedman (2001) recognize the existence of a palatalised (/lʲ/) or palatal (/ʎ/) lateral in Standard Macedonian. This is in contrast with the surrounding related languages (Bulgarian and Serbo-Croatian). However, a /lj/ cluster does occur (spelled лј) which in rapid speech can coalesce. Both of these scholars also assert that there is a phonemic contrast between the velarised lateral /ɫ/ and the nonvelarised /l/. While they admit that /l/ and /ɫ/ occur mainly before front and non-front vowels, respectively (where they are both written л), they state that, at least in the prescribed norm[6] or in some words,[7] /l/ may also occur before non-front vowels (where it is written љ). Hence minimal pairs like бела /ˈbɛɫa/ (adj. fem. sg. 'white') versus беља /ˈbɛla/ (n. fem. sg. 'trouble') express this phonemic contrast.

^3 The alveolar trill (/r/) is syllabic between two consonants; for example, прст [ˈpr̩st] 'finger'. The dental nasal (/n/) and dental lateral (/ɫ/) are also syllabic in certain foreign words; e.g. њутн [ˈɲutn̩] 'newton', Попокатепетл [pɔpɔkaˈtɛpɛtɫ̩] 'Popocatépetl', etc.

The labiodental nasal [ɱ] occurs as an allophone of /m/ before /f/ and /v/ (e.g. трамвај [ˈtraɱvaj] 'tram'). The velar nasal [ŋ] similarly occur as an allophone of /n/ before /k/ and /ɡ/ (e.g. англиски [ˈaŋɡliski] 'English'). The latter realization is avoided by some speakers who enunciate.

The velar fricative /x/ does not occur natively in the language. It has been introduced or retained in Standard Macedonian under the following circumstances: (1) new foreign words: хотел /xɔˈtɛɫ/ 'hotel', (2) toponyms: Ohrid, (3) Church Slavonicisms: дух /dux/ 'spirit', (4) new literary words: доход /ˈdɔxɔt/ 'income', and (5) to disambiguate between potential homophones: храна /ˈxrana/ 'food' vs. рана /ˈrana/ 'injury, wound'.[8]

Phonological processes[edit]

At morpheme boundaries (represented in spelling) and at the end of a word (not represented in spelling), voicing opposition is neutralized.


The word stress in Macedonian is antepenultimate, meaning it falls on the third from last syllable in words with three or more syllables, and on the first or only syllable in other words. This is sometimes disregarded when the word has entered the language more recently or from a foreign source. The following rules apply:

  • Disyllabic words are stressed on the second-to-last syllable.

For example, дете [ˈdɛtɛ] 'child', мајка [ˈmajka] 'mother' and татко [ˈtatkɔ] 'father'.

For example, планина [ˈpɫanina] 'mountain', планината [pɫaˈninata] 'the mountain' and планинарите [pɫaniˈnaritɛ] 'the mountaineers'.

Exceptions include:

  • Verbal adverbs: e.g. викајќи [viˈkajci] 'shouting', одејќи [ɔˈdɛjci] 'walking'.
  • Foreign loanwords: e.g. клише [kliˈʃɛ] 'cliché', генеза [ɡɛˈnɛza] 'genesis', литература [litɛraˈtura] 'literature', Александар [alɛkˈsandar], 'Alexander', etc.



  • Bojkovska, Stojka (2008), Grammar of the Macedonian language, Skopje: Prosvetno Delo 
  • Friedman, Victor (2001), "Macedonian", in Garry, Jane; Rubino, Carl, Facts about the World's Languages: An Encyclopedia of the Worlds Major Languages, Past and Present, New York: Holt, pp. 435–439 
  • Friedman, Victor (2001), Macedonian, SEELRC 
  • Lunt, Horace G. (1952), Grammar of the Macedonian Literary Language, Skopje