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Basic Bulgarian, Pronunciation - Consonants, Last Call

This is Part 2 of my Pronunciation guide to Bulgarian consonants.

For the pronunciation guide on vowels, check this out.

Здравейте! Как сте? :)

I'm sorry there's been a bit of a lull in my Basic Bulgarian lesson sequence, but work has just been crazy lately. I'll try to get most of the next few lessons done this weekend, so I can send them out over the coming week. This is what I've currently got in the pipeline:

  • Pronunciation: this lesson, which is about pronouncing consonants correctly when they appear in certain combinations, or at the end of words. Having covered the alphabet, the pronunciation of vowels, and the pronunciation of consonants, you will only need to know where the stress falls in different words in order to read any text in Bulgarian! From now on, I will just have to indicate the stress in new vocabulary words, and you'll be able to use the rules for pronouncing vowels and consonants to figure out how to say the entire word. I'll continue making recordings on Memrise for a while, but you will see that your intuition will give you the right answer 99.99% of the time.
  • More basic phrases: saying thanks, goodbye, see you soon and other useful things. We'll meet some characters who'll guide us through a series of simple, but very much real-life, dialogues using the Bulgarian we've learned so far.
  • Introductions: what's your name, where are you from, what do you do, where did you hide the body, etc.
  • Grammar notes: how to ask questions in Bulgarian, and the first of what will be an on-going (and fun! yay? ...) series on Bulgarian nouns and verbs.
  • Bonus materials: words with which to practice the soft/hard consonant distinction (as explained in the previous lesson on consonants); and words with which to practice the stuff we'll cover in this lesson.

And now, let's conquer consonants, taking a large step towards being able to read anything in Bulgarian!

<h1>Silence of the consonants</h1>

The difference between voiced and voiceless consonants

In the previous lesson, we talked about what consonants were, and compared English and Bulgarian consonants. We also discussed a few different kinds of consonants - stops (like p, t, k), fricatives (like f, v and s), nasals (m and n), affricates (ch in chips, j in jeep), and "the remaining ones".

Today, we'll focus on one more major distinction between consonant sounds - voiced vs. voiceless. Let's use an example - say "v" and hold it for 15-20 seconds. While you're doing that, put your hand on your throat, and notice the vibration coming from your vocal chords. Now do the same, except this time hold "f". Notice that the vibration is gone. That's an example of a voiced consonant (the "v") compared to a voiceless consonant (the "f").

Notice also that the only difference between these two sounds was the "voiced" part - your lips and tongue stayed in the exact same place. This is no coincidence: voiced and voiceless consonants often come in pairs. Here are the pairs in English, with the voiced consonant followed by its voiceless counterpart:

  • [b] - [p]
  • [g] - [k]
  • [d] - [t]
  • [v] - [f]
  • [z] - [s]
  • [ʒ] - [ʃ] (garage - garish)
  • [dʒ] - [tʃ] (bridges - britches)
  • [ð] - [θ] (breathe - breath)

The consonants [l, m, n, ŋ, r, j, w] in English don't have any voiceless counterparts - they are all voiced. Because they are special in that way, we want to give them a name, and one already exists - they are called "sonorants". Voiceless sonorants, while absent in English, do exist; however they are extremely rare - only about 5% of the world's languages have them. One example is Welsh, which has a voiceless "l" (written "ll") as in the famous place name Llanfair...ogogogoch. In the Germanic family, Icelandic also has voiceless sonorants.

The voiced-voiceless pairs in Bulgarian are similar, with a few differences:

  • Bulgarian doesn't have [ð] and [θ], and also it has the voiceless affricate [ts] (the voiced version [dz] occurs only in loanwords, so it's not usually listed as one of the sounds of Bulgarian)
  • As we discussed in the previous lesson, soft consonants are distinct from their hard consonant counterparts, so we also have the pairs [bj - pj, gj - kj, dj - tj, vj - fj, zj - sj].
  • Bulgarian sonorants also have a hard/soft distinction, so the additional sonorants in Bulgarian are [mj, nj, lj]. Bulgarian lacks [w] (except in loanwords), and [ŋ] is not considered a separate sound, but rather a version of [n] before [k, g].

Rule #1: voiced consonants become voiceless at the end of words

This rule exists in a number of other languages. For example, in the German phrase "Guten Tag", the second word ("day") is pronounced [ta:k] as opposed to [ta:g]. This phenomenon is common to all Slavic languages, except apparently Ukrainian and the standard dialect of Serbian, so getting used to it will help you if you ever consider Russian, Czech, or any of the other Slavic languages soon to be offered on Duolingo. Note that it is not the case in English - the words "bend" and "bent" are pronounced differently, and voicing changes the meaning of the word.

Here are some Bulgarian example words where voiced consonants become voiceless at the end of words:

  • град [grat] - city
  • роб [rɔp] - a slave
  • белег - ['bɛlɛk] - a scar
  • гараж - [gɐ'raʃ] - garage
  • аз - [as] - I
  • сив - [sif] - gray

Quick note: the process of turning a voiced sound into a voiceless one is called "devoicing". When it happens at the end of the word, it is called "word-final devoicing". I'll use word-final devoicing from now on to talk about this process a bit more succinctly.

Rule #2: A voiced consonant followed by a voiceless consonant becomes voiceless. A voiceless consonant followed by a voiced consonant becomes voiced, except when that second consonant is a sonorant or "v".

Here are examples of a voiceless consonant making the preceding consonant voiceless as well:

  • надпис ['natpis] - inscription
  • дъвка ['dɤfkɐ] - chewing gum
  • приказка ['prikɐskɐ] - fairy tale
  • вторник ['ftɔrnik] - Tuesday

Since Bulgarian doesn't have voiceless sonorants, a sonorant followed by a voiceless consonant doesn't change.

Here are examples of voiced consonants making the preceding consonant voiced:

  • отговор ['ɔdgovor] - an answer
  • сбор [zbɔr] - sum; gathering
  • отбор [od'bɔr] - (sports) team
  • сграда ['zgradɐ] - a building

As stated in the rule, sonorants (l, m, n, r, j), which are always voiced in Bulgarian as well as English, don't cause a voicing of the preceding consonant:

  • след [slɛt] - after
  • сред [srɛt] - amidst
  • смет [smɛt] - trash, garbage
  • снимка ['snimkɐ] - a photograph, a picture
  • сьомга ['sjɔmgɐ] - salmon

And finally, "v" which is a voiced fricative and not a sonorant also seems to be an exception to the rule, in that it doesn't make a preceding voiceless consonant voiced:

  • кварц [kvarts] - quartz
  • светлина - [svɛtli'na] - light
  • швед - [ʃvɛt] - a Swede

Note that when words are next to each other in a sentence, the voicing process may trigger at the end of the first word and the beginning of the next one. So even though "град" is pronounced [grat], "град Варна" (the city of Varna) is pronounced [grad 'varnɐ] because of the voiced "v" in "Varna".

The linguistics term for one sound becoming more like another in some way is "assimilation". That term is not unique to linguistics - I'm sure you can think of many examples of assimilation outside the realm of languages. Because in our case assimilation involves the consonant quality of voicing, it is called "voicing assimilation".

Word-final devoicing and voicing assimilation are two of the very few cases where Bulgarian consonants are not pronounced just as they are written. Fortunately, as you can see, the rules you have to remember are not too bad.


Now that we've covered vowel and consonant pronunciation, you've got almost everything you need to read any Bulgarian text! Woohoo!

The only ingredient missing, as I said towards the beginning of this post, is word stress. So from now on, I'm going to introduce new words by highlighting the stressed vowel.

Flash quiz: how is the word "сватба" (wedding) pronounced? Hint: part of the answer is in this lesson, and another part is in the lesson on vowels.

For those of you who are curious, here's more info on:

October 4, 2015



I'm going to guess... ['svadbɐ].

The /v/ doesn't trigger assimilation, but the /b/ does. The first /a/ is tense since it's stressed and the second one is reduced word-finally.

Also, if I'm not mistaken, there's no final devoicing in the standards for Croatian and Bosnian as well as Serbian. It occurs dialectally though. Final devoicing is also present in Turkish (for stops but not fricatives) and German, and I think also Dutch, as far as languages on Duo go.

Glad to see the lessons back. I'm learning linguistics just as much as Bulgarian.


You've got it! :) And I'm particularly happy you used IPA in your answer!

As for Croatian, Bosnian and Serbian, they are all based on the Shtokavian dialect of Serbo-Croatian, and that's the dialect that doesn't exhibit word-final devoicing. Kajkavian and Chakavian do, according to Wikipedia. That's what I was sort of trying to convey by "the standard dialect of Serbian", but I can see how it can be misleading and I'll change it.

I hope you are enjoying the linguistics bits that I'm putting into these lessons. I went back and forth a lot in my mind on whether to include some of the technical terms and explanations, since my goal is above all to make the lessons accessible and fun. But to me personally, linguistics is a tool to better understand language, and the rules that make language work, and you can reuse those tools every time you pick up a new course. Let me know if it ends up being too heavy though, I can definitely find ways to space new terms and definitions out a bit more.


Perfect! I figured it was the best way to represent it, short of saying it. As for the linguistics, I'm the wrong person to say if it gets too heavy. I love linguistics, and I totally agree that it's the best way to understand it.

As far as the Croatian/Bosnian/Serbian thing... Don't sweat it. Any mention of these languages (or dialects? varieties? linguoids?) has the potential to be both confusing and contentious. But Shtokavian doesn't, and Chakavian and Kajkavian do. Got it.


Linguists often use BCS to refer to the fact that Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian are different literary standards of the same language. It is considered a pluricentric language just like English, which has different regional standards that mostly differ in pronunciation and certain word choices . BCS is used more these days than Serbo-Croatian, but even so, unless you care about South Slavic languages, you probably wouldn't recognize its meaning.


I know the term BCS, I just wasn't sure how common it was. As I'm sure you can tell, I do care about South Slavic languages. :) Thanks for the info.


I know :) I was using "you" in the collective sense - I figured that for most people, seeing "BCS" would probably raise more questions than it would answer. I very much appreciate your continued interest in South Slavic, and of course Bulgarian! :)


I really hope duolingo decides to add a Bulgarian course to the incubator.. I've been waiting for one ever since the incubator was announced!


Hi, thank you for your interest in Bulgarian! We've written to the Incubator, but at least I haven't gotten any response from them yet. What they advise people to do is upvote forum topics that have to deal with the language they want to see, and I get that - after all, Duolingo probably wants to offer courses that will attract a sizable number of learners.

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