Bulgarian lexis

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The lexis of Bulgarian, a South Slavic language, consists of native words, as well as borrowings from Greek, Ottoman Turkish, Russian, French, English and other languages.

Native lexical items[edit]

Around three-quarters of the vocabulary in the standard academic dictionaries of Bulgarian consist of native lexical items. Some 2,000 of these items are directly inherited from proto-Slavonic through Old and Middle Bulgarian. These include much of the most common and basic vocabulary of the language, for example body parts (Bulgarian: ръка “hand”) or cardinal numbers (Bulg.: две “two”). The number of words derived from the direct reflexes of proto-Slavonic is more than 20 times greater, accounting for more than 40,000 entries (for example, ръчен “manual”; двуместен “double-place”).

The old Bulgar language has otherwise left only slight traces in Modern Bulgarian. Apart from a small corpus of proper names (for example, Борис “Boris”; Крум “Krum”) and military and administrative titles from the time of the First Bulgarian Empire, only a handful of Bulgar words has survived in Modern Bulgarian. Words which are considered to be almost certainly of Bulgar origin are, for example: бъбрек “kidney”, бисер “pearl”, кумир “idol”, чертог “castle”. Some of these words even spread to other Slavic languages through Old Church Slavonic.

Patterns of borrowing[edit]

As of the beginning of the 1960s, loanwords amounted to some 25% of the vocabulary of the standard dictionary of Bulgarian. The most important source of loanwords in recent centuries has been Russian. Two other important sources of borrowing were Latin and Medieval and Modern Greek, each accounting for around a quarter of all borrowings. French and Turkish (along with Arabic and Persian) each totalled around 15%, whereas loanwords from Russian accounted for 10% of the borrowings. Lesser but still significant influence was exerted by Italian, German and English.

Character of borrowing[edit]

Loanwords from Greek were the first to enter the lexis of Bulgarian, as early as the time of Old Bulgarian, (for example, икона “icon” or патриарх “patriarch”) as a product of the influence of the liturgical language of the Orthodox Church.. During the period of Ottoman rule, Bulgarian adopted from Greek both common lexical material (хиляда “a thousand”) and international vocabulary of Greek origin (граматика “grammar”). The loanwords from Latin were adopted into the language mainly in the second half of the 19th and the first half of the 20th centuries, many Latin terms entered the language through Romanian, Aromanian, and Megleno-Romanian during Bulgarian Empires. The vast majority of them are international terms in the areas of politics, civil administration, medicine, law, etc. (for example, администрация “administration”). Borrowings from French cover a similar time span and are concentrated in the areas of social and political life, military affairs, cooking, the arts, etc. (бюфет “buffet”).

Loanwords from Turkish (and through Turkish from Arabic and Persian) are a legacy of the period of Ottoman rule (1422–1878) and are divided into two stylistic layers. The first one is neutral and is represented by a corpus of some 800 words, mostly items of clothing, foods and household items (чорап “sock”; чекмедже “drawer”). The remainder consists of colloquial or slightly vulgar terms which occur particularly often in expressive speech and frequently have a humoristic or even pejorative nuance. They generally have neutral native synonyms (cf акъл from Turkish vs ум from common Slavic, both meaning “wits, intelligence”). There is a fluent transition between this group and a large amount of more or less obsolete words that only occur in archaic or dialectal speech.

English is the only language that has significantly influenced Bulgarian since the 1950s. The share of English borrowings at present is much larger than the 2% in the 1960s and most likely lies between 10% and 15% of all borrowings. The impact of English is particularly strong in technology, sports, dress, the arts, music and popular culture: корнер “corner” (football), пънк “punk”.

See also[edit]