1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Bulgaria/Language

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754721911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 4 — - Bulgaria LanguageJames David Bourchier

Language and Literature

Language.—The Bulgarian is at once the most ancient and the most modern of the languages which constitute the Slavonic group. In its groundwork it presents the nearest approach to the old ecclesiastical Slavonic, the liturgical language common to all the Orthodox Slavs, but it has undergone more important modifications than any of the sister dialects in the simplification of its grammatical forms; and the analytical character of its development may be compared with that of the neo-Latin and Germanic languages. The introduction of the definite article, which appears in the form of a suffix, and the almost total disappearance of the ancient declensions, for which the use of prepositions has been substituted, distinguish the Bulgarian from all the other members of the Slavonic family. Notwithstanding these changes, which give the language an essentially modern aspect, its close affinity with the ecclesiastical Slavonic, the oldest written dialect, is regarded as established by several eminent scholars, such as Šafařik, Schleicher, Leskien and Brugman, and by many Russian philologists. These authorities agree in describing the liturgical language as “Old Bulgarian.” A different view, however, is maintained by Miklosich, Kopitar and some others, who regard it as “Old Slovene.” According to the more generally accepted theory, the dialect spoken by the Bulgarian population in the neighbourhood of Salonica, the birthplace of SS. Cyril and Methodius, was employed by the Slavonic apostles in their translations from the Greek, which formed the model for subsequent ecclesiastical literature. This view receives support from the fact that the two nasal vowels of the Church-Slavonic (the greater and lesser ûs), which have been modified in all the cognate languages except Polish, retain their original pronunciation locally in the neighbourhood of Salonica and Castoria; in modern literary Bulgarian the rhinesmus has disappeared, but the old nasal vowels preserve a peculiar pronunciation, the greater ûs changing to ŭ, as in English “but,” the lesser to ĕ, as in “bet,” while in Servian, Russian and Slovene the greater ûs becomes ū or ō, the lesser e or ya. The remnants of the declensions still existing in Bulgarian (mainly in pronominal and adverbial forms) show a close analogy to those of the old ecclesiastical language.

The Slavonic apostles wrote in the 9th century (St Cyril died in 869, St Methodius in 885), but the original manuscripts have not been preserved. The oldest existing copies, which date from the 10th century, already betray the influence of the contemporary vernacular speech, but as the alterations introduced by the copyists are neither constant nor regular, it is possible to reconstruct the original language with tolerable certainty. The “Old Bulgarian,” or archaic Slavonic, was an inflexional language of the synthetic type, containing few foreign elements in its vocabulary. The Christian terminology was, of course, mainly Greek; the Latin or German words which occasionally occur were derived from Moravia and Pannonia, where the two saints pursued their missionary labours. In course of time it underwent considerable modifications, both phonetic and structural, in the various Slavonic countries in which it became the liturgical language, and the various MSS. are consequently classified as “Servian-Slavonic,” “Croatian-Slavonic,” “Russian-Slavonic,” &c., according to the different recensions. The “Russian-Slavonic” is the liturgical language now in general use among the Orthodox Slavs of the Balkan Peninsula owing to the great number of ecclesiastical books introduced from Russia in the 17th and 18th centuries; until comparatively recent times it was believed to be the genuine language of the Slavonic apostles. Among the Bulgarians the spoken language of the 9th century underwent important changes during the next three hundred years. The influence of these changes gradually asserts itself in the written language; in the period extending from the 12th to the 15th century the writers still endeavoured to follow the archaic model, but it is evident that the vernacular had already become widely different from the speech of SS. Cyril and Methodius. The language of the MSS. of this period is known as the “Middle Bulgarian”; it stands midway between the old ecclesiastical Slavonic and the modern speech.

In the first half of the 16th century the characteristic features of the modern language became apparent in the literary monuments. These features undoubtedly displayed themselves at a much earlier period in the oral speech; but the progress of their development has not yet been completely investigated. Much light may be thrown on this subject by the examination of many hitherto little-known manuscripts and by the scientific study of the folk-songs. In addition to the employment of the article, the loss of the noun-declensions, and the modification of the nasal vowels above alluded to, the disappearance in pronunciation of the final vowels yer-golêm and yer-malúk, the loss of the infinitive, and the increased variety of the conjugations, distinguish the modern from the ancient language. The suffix-article, which is derived from the demonstrative pronoun, is a feature peculiar to the Bulgarian among Slavonic and to the Rumanian among Latin languages. This and other points of resemblance between these remotely related members of the Indo-European group are shared by the Albanian, probably the representative of the old Illyrian language, and have consequently been attributed to the influence of the aboriginal speech of the Peninsula. A demonstrative suffix, however, is sometimes found in Russian and Polish, and traces of the article in an embryonic state occur in the “Old Bulgarian” MSS. of the 10th and 11th centuries. In some Bulgarian dialects it assumes different forms according to the proximity or remoteness of the object mentioned. Thus zhena-ta is “the woman”; zhena-va or zhena-sa, “the woman close by”; zhena-na, “the woman yonder.” In the borderland between the Servian and Bulgarian nationalities the local use of the article supplies the means of drawing an ethnological frontier; it is nowhere more marked than in the immediate neighbourhood of the Servian population, as, for instance, at Dibra and Prilep. The modern Bulgarian has admitted many foreign elements. It contains about 2000 Turkish and 1000 Greek words dispersed in the various dialects; some Persian and Arabic words have entered through the Turkish medium, and a few Rumanian and Albanian words are found. Most of these are rejected by the purism of the literary language, which, however, has been compelled to borrow the phraseology of modern civilization from the Russian, French and other European languages. The dialects spoken in the kingdom may be classed in two groups—the eastern and the western. The main point of difference is the pronunciation of the letter yedvoïno, which in the eastern has frequently the sound of ya, in the western invariably that of e in “pet.” The literary language began in the western dialect under the twofold influence of Servian literature and the Church Slavonic. In a short time, however, the eastern dialect prevailed, and the influence of Russian literature became predominant. An anti-Russian reaction was initiated by Borgoroff (1818–1892), and has been maintained by numerous writers educated in the German and Austrian universities. Since the foundation of the university of Sofia the literary language has taken a middle course between the ultra-Russian models of the past generation and the dialectic Bulgarian. Little uniformity, however, has yet been attained in regard to diction, orthography or pronunciation.

The Bulgarians of pagan times are stated by the monk Khrabr, a contemporary of Tsar Simeon, to have employed a peculiar writing, of which inscriptions recently found near Kaspitchan may possibly be specimens. The earliest manuscripts of the “Old Bulgarian” are written in one or other of the two alphabets known as the glagolitic and Cyrillic (see Slavs). The former was used by Bulgarian writers concurrently with the Cyrillic down to the 12th century. Among the orthodox Slavs the Cyrillic finally superseded the glagolitic; as modified by Peter the Great it became the Russian alphabet, which, with the revival of literature, was introduced into Servia and Bulgaria. Some Russian letters which are superfluous in Bulgarian have been abandoned by the native writers, and a few characters have been restored from the ancient alphabet.

Literature.—The ancient Bulgarian literature, originating in the works of SS. Cyril and Methodius and their disciples, consisted for the most part of theological works translated from the Greek. From the conversion of Boris down to the Turkish conquest the religious character predominates, and the influence of Byzantine literature is supreme. Translations of the gospels and epistles, lives of the saints, collections of sermons, exegetic religious works, translations of Greek chronicles, and miscellanies such as the Sbornik of St Sviatoslav, formed the staple of the national literature. In the time of Tsar Simeon, himself an author, considerable literary activity prevailed; among the more remarkable works of this period was the Shestodnev, or Hexameron, of John the exarch, an account of the creation. A little later the heresy of the Bogomils gave an impulse to controversial writing. The principal champions of orthodoxy were St Kosmâs and the monk Athanas of Jerusalem; among the Bogomils the Questions of St Ivan Bogosloff, a work containing a description of the beginning and the end of the world, was held in high esteem. Contemporaneously with the spread of this sect a number of apocryphal works, based on the Scripture narrative, but embellished with Oriental legends of a highly imaginative character, obtained great popularity. Together with these religious writings works of fiction, also of Oriental origin, made their appearance, such as the life of Alexander the Great, the story of Troy, the tales of Stephanit and Ichnilat and Barlaam and Josaphat, the latter founded on the biography of Buddha. These were for the most part reproductions or variations of the fantastical romances which circulated through Europe in the middle ages, and many of them have left traces in the national legends and folk-songs. In the 13th century, under the Asên dynasty, numerous historical works or chronicles (lêtopisi) were composed. State records appear to have existed, but none of them have been preserved. With the Ottoman conquest literature disappeared; the manuscripts became the food of moths and worms, or fell a prey to the fanaticism of the Phanariot clergy. The library of the patriarchs of Trnovo was committed to the flames by the Greek metropolitan Hilarion in 1825.

The monk Païsii (born about 1720) and Bishop Sofronii (1739–1815) have already been mentioned as the precursors of the literary revival. The Istoria Slaveno-Bolgarska (1762) of Païsii, written in the solitude of Mount Athos, was a work of little historical value, but its influence upon the Bulgarian race was immense. An ardent patriot, Païsii recalls the glories of the Bulgarian tsars and saints, rebukes his fellow-countrymen for allowing themselves to be called Greeks, and denounces the arbitrary proceedings of the Phanariot prelates. The Life and Sufferings of sinful Sofronii (1804) describes in simple and touching language the condition of Bulgaria at the beginning of the 19th century. Both works were written in a modified form of the church Slavonic. The first printed work in the vernacular appears to have been the Kyriakodromion, a translation of sermons, also by Sofronii, published in 1806. The Servian and Greek insurrections quickened the patriotic sentiments of the Bulgarian refugees and merchants in Rumania, Bessarabia and southern Russia, and Bucharest became the centre of their political and literary activity. A modest bukvar, or primer, published at Kronstadt by Berovitch in 1824, was the first product of the new movement. Translations of the Gospels, school reading-books, short histories and various elementary treatises now appeared. With the multiplication of books came the movement for establishing Bulgarian schools, in which the monk Neophyt Rilski (1793–1881) played a leading part. He was the author of the first Bulgarian grammar (1835) and other educational works, and translated the New Testament into the modern language. Among the writers of the literary renaissance were George Rakovski (1818–1867), a fantastic writer of the patriotic type, whose works did much to stimulate the national zeal, Liuben Karaveloff (1837–1879), journalist and novelist, Christo Boteff (1847–1876), lyric poet, whose ode on the death of his friend Haji Dimitr, an insurgent leader, is one of the best in the language, and Petko Slaveikoff (died 1895), whose poems, patriotic, satirical and erotic, moulded the modern poetical language and exercised a great influence over the people. Gavril Krstovitch, formerly governor-general of eastern Rumelia, and Marin Drinoff, a Slavist of high repute, have written historical works. Stamboloff, the statesman, was the author of revolutionary and satirical ballads; his friend Zacharia Stoyanoff (d. 1889), who began life as a shepherd, has left some interesting memoirs. The most distinguished Bulgarian man of letters is Ivan Vazoff (b. 1850), whose epic and lyric poems and prose works form the best specimens of the modern literary language. His novel Pod Igoto (Under the Yoke) has been translated into several European languages. The best dramatic work is Ivanko, a historical play by Archbishop Clement, who also wrote some novels. With the exception of Zlatarski’s and Boncheff’s geological treatises and contributions by Georgieff, Petkoff, Tosheff and Urumoff to Velnovski’s Flora Bulgarica, no original works on natural science have as yet been produced; a like dearth is apparent in the fields of philosophy, criticism and fine art, but it must be remembered that the literature is still in its infancy. The ancient folk-songs have been preserved in several valuable collections; though inferior to the Servian in poetic merit, they deserve scientific attention. Several periodicals and reviews have been founded in modern times. Of these the most important are the Perioditchesko Spisanie, issued since 1869 by the Bulgarian Literary Society, and the Sbornik, a literary and scientific miscellany, formerly edited by Dr Shishmanoff, latterly by the Literary Society, and published by the government at irregular intervals.