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Intro to Bulgarian, Part 3 - The Cyrillic you already know

Previously on Intro to Bulgarian: Part 2 - Brothers, sisters, and your distant Bulgarian cousin

No way, I've never used or seen Cyrillic in my life! Except maybe when I watched Borat...

<h1>Some History</h1>

Well, turns out you have. Once upon a time, there used to be the Greek alphabet. The city-states of ancient Greece had achieved a high level of literacy, long before the other inhabitants of old Europe. Many centuries later, as the Roman Empire was gathering strength, its scholars looked back in search of a model, a "perfect language", and Ancient Greek provided that model because it had preserved the cultural and scientific heritage of the civilization that used it. That civilization is at the heart of what we call today Western Civilization. So the Romans adapted the Greek alphabet, and the Latin alphabet was born.

Again, time passed, and about five centuries after the Roman Empire was dead and gone (except for its easternmost branch - the Byzantine Empire), two brothers - Cyril and Methodius - were sent on a mission to Christianize the Slavs, who were pagan and largely illiterate. As part of their mission, they started on a quest to write down Slavic languages, which at the time (9th century AD) were still functioning more or less like dialects of the same language. The brothers chose the dialect that was spoken around Thessaloniki - then within the boundaries of Bulgaria - and invented a brand new alphabet for it, the Glagolitic script. They translated the Bible and other important religious texts in the Thessaloniki dialect - later known as Old Church Slavic, and essentially Old Bulgarian - using this new alphabet.

However, towards the end of the 9th century, Cyril and Methodius's disciples decided that it would be more culturally and politically expedient to base the Slavic writing system on a pre-existing, "model" writing system. This should be getting familiar by now. And indeed, they modified the Greek alphabet, and added several letters to it from the Glagolitic alphabet for the sounds found in Slavic but not in Greek. And thus the Cyrillic script, named affectionately after their teacher and mentor, came to life.

<h1>How This Is Going To Work</h1>

Our study of Bulgarian Cyrillic will be done in three parts:

  1. The Cyrillic you already know (this part) - in which we learn the Cyrillic letters that both look and sound like their Latin equivalents
  2. The Cyrillic you think you know (next part) - in which we learn the Cyrillic letters that look like Latin letters, but sound differently
  3. The Cyrillic that's just Greek to me (although not really) - in which we go over the letters that look like nothing else you love and hold dear
<h1>Let's Dive In - Letters You Already Know</h1>

А а

This is the familiar first letter of all three alphabets. When the stress of the word falls on it, it is pronounced like the "a" in "father" or "say ahh" - in other words, pretty much like the "a" in Romance languages like Spanish. When the stress doesn't fall on it, it is pronounced like the first "a" in "again" or the second "a" in "parachute". So the word mama, which means what it sounds like, is pronounced like MAH-muh, with the first "a" nice and crisp and stressed, and the second "a" darker and unstressed.

Е е

This is the same as "E e" as in the words "bend", "blend", "end", etc. It is the same as Romance langues - e.g. Spanish "leche" (milk), Italian "a rivederci" (see you later). It always sounds the same regardless of word stress.

О о

When stressed, this sounds like the "o" in Romance languages (e.g. Spanish "poco"), or like the highlighted sounds in the following English words: fall, roll, call. When not stressed, it is pronounced with the lips more relaxed and less open, almost as if you're trying to make an "oo" sound, but without rounding your lips. I'll find some high-quality YouTube videos to attach here, but for now we're more interested in being able to just recognize Cyrillic letters.

К к, М м, Т т

These are pretty much the same as in English. Notice how the lower-case letters are just smaller versions of the upper-case letters, as opposed to "k", "m" and "t" in English. Going back to an earlier example, "mommy" is spelled "мама".

Notice that in English, there are two slightly different pronunciations of "k", "t" and "p". With the back of your hand close to your lips, say these pairs of words: "kin - skin", "tack - stack", "pin - spin". Repeat them back and forth. Notice how there is a slight puff of air when you say the first word, but not the second. That puff of air is called "aspiration", and sounds with aspiration are aspirated sounds. In Bulgarian, p, t and k are never aspirated, so they always sound like in the second word of the pairs above.

Let's Make Some Words

With just these six letters, we can already make a bunch of Bulgarian words that you actually know. Here are a few examples. I'm using accents to show you where the stress falls, but Bulgarian doesn't use accent signs in writing.

  • мáма - mommy
  • мóка - mocha
  • áтом - atom
  • акт - act
  • ек (екот) - (loud) echo, thunderous sound
  • том - tome, volume (of a book series)
  • тон - ton (or 'tonne' if you're British)
  • тéма - theme, topic
  • кóма - coma
  • кóтка - cat
  • комéта - comet
  • окó - eye (as in English "ocular", "binoculars"; compare Latin "oculus", Spanish "ojo")

Here is a Memrise link for the pronunciation of these words.

Next stop: Part 4 - tricky Cyrillic letters that look like one thing but sound like another. So much fun!

September 13, 2015



Браво за идеята, дано има заинтересовани :)


И аз така се надявам! Сега основно ми трябва начин да разпространя тази поредица до хората на които би им било интересно. Малко е трудно, понеже тукашните дискусии не позволяват като че ли да създадеш отделна тема, и ми се налага да пиша в Duolingo in English. Ако имате познати дуолинговци които биха били заинтересовани, пратете им линк :)


Great introductory course, I love the tone of the post... Looking forward to what's next!


I'm glad you like it!


Браво, препоръчвам да кандидатсваш за курс по български тук.


Кандидатствах, ама не ми се чака :)


Добра идея за категоризиране на буквите! ("тон" има буква от втората категория)


You forgot about ТОМКАТ though.

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