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  5. Intro to Bulgarian, Part 5.3 …


Intro to Bulgarian, Part 5.3 - Where we finally conquer all of the Cyrillic alphabet!

Previously on Intro to Bulgarian - Part 5.2, the letters З, Л, П, Ф, Ц and Ч

We're almost there! In this episode, we're finally going to conquer the last of the Cyrillic letters you need to know in order to read Bulgarian! Let's jump right in.

Ш ш

This little comb-looking letter represents the "sh" sound as in "shop" or "shy". According to some sources, this was borrowed from Hebrew "shin" (ש) via the older Glagolitic letter "sha" (Ⱎ). This is another example of a sound Greek didn't have, so the Glagolitic letter was used instead.


  • шок - shock
  • машина - machine
  • парашут - parachute
  • шорти - shorts
  • гейша - geisha
  • шоу - show
  • Шопен - Chopin

Щ щ

This is a letter that stands for two sounds - "sh" + "t". It is pronounced like the "shed" in "wished" and "smashed". It also came into Cyrillic via Glagolitic (Ⱋ).

Russian learners beware! This letter stands for a different sound combination in Russian - "sh" + "ch", or a long "sh". Bulgarian is the only Slavic language which preserves the original Old Church Slavic pronunciation of "sht".

Interestingly, in German the letter combination "st" often stands for "sh" + "t", as in "Stein" (stone) and "stehen" (stand). It is not a coincidence that a number of Bulgarian words with щ are German loanwords, and therefore genetically closer to English.


  • щанд - stand (as in a lemonade stand, compare German "Stand")
  • щат - state (as in the United States, compare German "Staat")
  • Айнщайн - Einstein (compare with the German pronunciation of the name)

Ъ ъ

This letter represents probably the most distinctive Bulgarian sound, which sets it apart from the other Slavic languages. It is a bit darker than the unstressed "a", and is close to the "u" in "column" or the "o" in "collect". Notably, it is found in the name of both our country and our language - that's the true phonetic value of the "u" in Bulgaria and Bulgarian.

Russian learners beware, once again! In Russian, this is known as the "hard sign" - it has no sound value, whereas in Bulgarian it is a full vowel.


  • български - Bulgarian (e.g. Bulgarian language)
  • българин - a Bulgarian
  • скиптър - scepter
  • динозавър - dinosaur
  • дилър - dealer
  • Майкъл - Michael


Wait, where's the capital letter? There is none! At least not in Bulgarian Cyrillic. It stands for the same sound as "й" - which, if you remember, is the same as "y" in "play" or "young". The difference is only in writing - ь is used between a consonant and 'o', й is used everywhere else. There are a number of French loanwords with "ьо" in them, because that "y" + "o" combination is the closest Bulgarian can get to the "eu" sound in words like "couleur" and "chauffeur".

Both ъ and ь have a long and complex history. If you are interested, check this out.


  • ордьовър - hors d'oeuvre
  • миньор - miner (not minor, compare French "mineur")
  • актьор - actor (compare French "acteur")
  • шофьор - chauffeur (loaned itself in English from French)
  • боксьор - boxer (as in the sport, compare French "boxeur")

Ю ю

Hooray, one more letter which represents two sounds! This is the combination "y" + "u", and is pronounced pretty much like the English word "you", or the "u" in "menu".


  • меню - menu
  • ревю - revue
  • мюзикъл - a musical
  • маникюр - manicure
  • бюро - bureau
  • дюни - dunes
  • Манчестър Юнайтед - Manchester United

Я я

Ladies and gents, we have reached the last letter in the Cyrillic alphabet! And isn't she a beauty - looks like a backward R, so much so that when I first saw the name of the rock band KoЯn I went "what, wait a second..." Somewhat fittingly, it is again a letter that stands for two sounds - "y" + "a". Think German "ja" (yes), Russian "я" (I) or the "ya" in "yard" and "yarn".


  • яхта - yacht
  • дявол - devil
  • папая - papaya
  • як - yak
  • ярд - yard
  • Япония - Japan
  • Югославия - Yugoslavia
  • България - Bulgaria (finally!)

...one last thought: дж

"дж" is, funnily, the opposite situation of a lot of the letters we saw - it's two letters representing one sound - the "j" in "job" and "Jack".


  • джип - jeep
  • джаз - jazz
  • мениджър - manager
  • имидж - image (as in "public image")
  • Джеймс Бонд - James Bond
  • Том и Джери - Tom and Jerry
  • Майкъл Джексън - Michael Jackson

...one last last thought: ѝ

This isn't a separate letter or sound, it's just "и" with an accent (don't mistake it with й). It's meant to distinguish the words "и" (and) - "ѝ" (her, as in "give her the book"). Again, that's only a distinction in writing, not in pronunciation.

I lied again. We're missing one crucial ingredient...

... which is the proper order of the letters in the Bulgarian alphabet - you can find it [here].(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bulgarian_alphabet#List).

<h1>And we're done!!!</h1>

Thank you guys for sticking it out with me, and allowing me to introduce you to the Bulgarian Cyrillic alphabet. Take a moment and feel the sense of accomplishment you should be feeling right about now. Let's also take a moment to thank the languages that helped us illustrate things - Russian, German, French, Greek, Spanish, Italian and Latin - as well as the alphabets that gave us these wonderful letters - Greek, Hebrew, and Glagolitic. Back in the late 9th century, Cyrillic started as a student project, and a thousand years later, it is used by more than 250 million people.

Having traveled 1000 years in time and through several former and current countries and empires, our journey is still in its infancy. Coming up next, I'm thinking of starting a Basic Bulgarian course, where we use our knowledge of the alphabet to start speaking some Bulgarian! I'm taking suggestions for the kind of vocabulary, phrases and expressions you guys would like to learn.


P.S. I'll probably do a recap of the Intro series in a next post, with links to useful resources if you want to read more about Bulgaria, Cyrillic, or any of the other topics we touched upon. Someone suggested that I do a page similar to Learning Finnish, and I like the idea.

September 16, 2015



I can understand certain topics in Bulgarian fairly well already but I always enjoy your posts, you have one of the best or quite possible THE BEST presentation of the subject matter! Good luck with the future posts and hope you're full of enthusiasm in every post you make. Thank You!

PS Letter Ъ is a very tricky letter, even for an advanced Slavic learners. I can honestly say I'm still sort of unsure about its proper sound after spending good amount of time with Bulgarian. I somewhat settled on a sound that's between Ukrainian Е and И :)


Start with a broad "a" like in "aaah", and slowly start closing your lips without rounding them (i.e. avoid making an 'o'-like sound). A little bit before you close your lips, you reach Ъ.


Yes, I very much agree with your first paragraph


Is я always pronounced ya?

I'm reminded of https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yat#Bulgarian , which says that Bulgarian used to use another letter "yat" (Ѣ ѣ) for a sound that was pronounced sometimes e and sometimes я, depending on dialect and word.

Apparently, "the spelling was changed to conform to the Eastern pronunciation" after yat was removed, but does the standard pronunciation match the spelling, or does one (for example) write "мляко" but say "млеко"?


Standard Bulgarian always pronounces the Я as a "ya". The situation with the old Yat vowel is complex, because in the standard language it gets replaced sometimes by я, and sometimes by "e". For example, you have "мляко", and the standard pronunciation is "mlyako". However, the adjective is "млечен", as in "млечен шоколад" (milk chocolate), pronounced "mlechen". Both of these words used to have a yat, and now they are spelled using different letters. The point is that the pronunciation of modern Я is not affected by the ways in which the old "yat" vowel split into "ya" and "e" depending on context. It is always pronounced as "ya" in Standard Bulgarian, but not in the western Bulgarian dialects. The link you posted has some information on dialect differences in Bulgarian.


Again, very well done! Благодаря!


Did you ever make the basic Bulgarian course? Thank you


I ended up posting several lessons - you can find them if you search for "Basic Bulgarian". I haven't had much time for it in the last several months, but I'm hoping to get back to it towards the end of the summer.


Awesome. I am very eager to learn Bulgarian. Много ти благодаря for everything you have already posted/taught.

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