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Bulgarian language and alphabet

I. Bulgarian language. Introduction. 

Bulgarian is the official language in the Republic of Bulgaria. Bulgarian is an Indo-European language, part of the Southern branch of the Slavic languages. Other languages belonging to that family are Russian, Polish, Czech and Macedonian.

Bulgarian is the first "Slavic" language attested in writing. It is written in Cyrillic script (unlike English – in the Latin script). Nowadays the national languages of Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Macedonia, Mongolia, Montenegro, Russia,  Serbia, Tajikistan, Ukraine, etc, use the Cyrillic script. With the accession of Bulgaria to the European Union on 1 January 2007, the Cyrillic became the third official alphabet of the EU.

The basis of the Cyrillic alphabet is the Glagolitic. The Glagolitic script was developed by the brothers St. St. Cyril and Methodius in the 9th century A.D. and later on – elaborated by their disciples. They used to call it “Slavic language”. In 11th – 12th century A.D. it was officially renamed to Bulgarian language. In the middle ages the Bulgarian language was influenced by its non-Slavic neighbours in the Balkans, mainly by the Turkish language. In the late 19th century, the Bulgarian language has adopted a large number of words from Western European languages, transcribed phonetically into Cyrillic (French and German per instance). As any other language, the Bulgarian language is currently evolving.


II. Bulgarian alphabet. Transcription, Transliteration and Pronunciation.

Every language course starts with the alphabet. That’s because once you have learned all the letters, than you can pronounce any word – that’s the principal.


The current Bulgarian alphabet consists of 30 letters. The table below shows the Bulgarian print letters in upper and lower cases and their official transliteration, the equivalent in the IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet), the name of the letters and their English equivalent.


 Bulgarian alphabet

 Official transliteration

International Phonetic Alphabet

 Name of Letter

 English equivalent

А а

A a

/a/ or /ɐ/


a as in "adorable"

Б б

B b

/b/ or /p/


b as in "bug"

В в

V v

/v/ or /f/


v as in "vet"

Г г

G g

/ɡ/ or /k/


g as in "god"

Д д

D d

/d/ or /t/


d as in "dog"

Е е

E e



e as in "best"

Ж ж

Zh zh

/ʒ/ or /ʃ/


s as in "treasure"

З з

Z z

/z/ or /s/


z as in "zoo"

И и

I i



i as in "igloo"

Й й

Y y



y as in "yes" or "yoyo"

К к

K k

/k/ or /g/


c as in "cat"

Л л

L l

/l/ or /ɫ/


l as in "call" or "lend"

М м

M m



m as in "man"

Н н

N n



n as in "normal"

О о

O o

/ɔ/ or /o/


o as in "order"

П п

P p



p as in "pet"

Р р

R r



r as in "restaurant"

С с

S s

/s/ or /z/


s as in "sound"

Т т

T t

/t/ or /d/


t as in "top"

У у

U u

/u/ or /o/


оо as in "tool"

Ф ф

F f



f as in "food"

Х х

H h



ch as in Scottish "loch"

Ц ц

Ts ts



ts as in "fits"

Ч ч

Ch ch



ch as in "chip"

Ш ш

Sh sh



sh as in "shot"

Щ щ

Sht sht



sht as in "shtick"

Ъ ъ

A a*

/ɤ/ or /ɐ/


u as in "turn"

Ь ь

Y y

/j/ or not pronounced


soft sign: y as in canyon

Ю ю

Yu yu

/ju/, /jo/, /u/ or /o/


u as in "menu"

Я я

Ya ya**

/ja/, /jɐ/, /a/ or /ɐ/


ya as in "yarn"

Source: Wikipedia as amended; Ordinance on the Transliteration of the Bulgarian Geographical Names in Latin 2006 and the Transliteration Act 2009

 * Please, note: The traditional historical spelling in Latin such as in "България" as "Bulgaria" is an exception.

**Please, note: When the names of people or geographic places end with “ия” they should be transliterated in Latin as "ia", not as "iya".


The rule is that each letter is represented by a unique sound, with the exception of three letters – “щ” (sht= sh+t), “ю” (yu=y+u), and “я” (ya=y+a) that stand for the single expression of combinations of sounds.

The letters “ю” and “я” after consonants mark the softening of the preceding consonant in addition to representing the vowels “u” and “a” (per instance  the word “любов” – “lyubov” meaning “love”).  ю” and “я” are semi-vowels, they consist of a consonant and a vowel. The other vowels are: а, ъ, о, у, е, и.

The sounds “дж” (dʒ) as in “George” and “дз” (dz) as in “towards” on the other hand, do not correspond to separate letters, but are expressed as a combination of two letters (so called “digraphs”).

The letter “ь” marks the softening of any consonant before the letter “о” (per instance in the name of “Кольо”- Kolyo or the word “шофьор”-shofyor meaning chauffeur, driver). The letter „й“is made of the letter “и” with a breve and it is pronounced as “y” in the English word “toy”. The differеnce between „й“ and „ь“ is that „й“ is put in the beginning of a word and after a vowel, while „ь“ is put only after a consonant (per instance in the word “Йордания” – “Yordaniya” meaning “Jordan”, “майка” – “mayka” meaning “mother”).

The names of most of the letters are simple representations of their phonetic values, with the exceptions in the name of the letter „й“ which is “и-кратко ("i-kratko", a short i), in the name of “ъ” which is “ер-голям” ("er-golyam", a large er), and in the name of “ь” which is “ер-малък” ("er-malak", a small er).

As a general rule, the Bulgarian words are spelled the way they are pronounced. However, there are few exceptions. Examples: the verbs ending in –a are usually pronounced closer to an [ɤ] or [ə] sound, rather than a pure [a]. Per instance “лъ̀жа” ("I lie") is pronounced as ['ɫɤʒə], whereas “лъжа̀” ("a lie") is pronounced as [ɫɤ'ʒa]. Some voiced consonants are pronounced unvoiced at the end of a word or if preceding another consonant – e.g. vtori ("second") is pronounced as "ftori", and grad ("city") is pronounced as "grat".

As you have probably noticed in your encounters with Bulgarian, in general, the spoken Bulgarian language emphasises on the consonants, unlike the English language where the right pronunciation of vowels is more essential. Unlike the UK, where de facto the official language is the English (British English), the Bulgarian is the official written and spoken language in the Republic of Bulgaria according to the Bulgarian Constitution. It is the same for the whole territory of the country. In the spoken Bulgarian, however, there are some regional variations, which very slightly differ from each other. The Bulgarians refer to them as dialects, not accents as British people do (dialect is a broader term than accent). They are not recognised as official dialects. The main differences are in the way people pronounce some vowels, as well as some local words used only in particular regions (per instance in Sofia region most of the people say “mlekò” instead of “мляко, mlyàko” meaning “milk” in English; in Rhodope region people use the word “бунелка”, “bunelka” instead of the official word “vilitsa”, “вилица”, meaning “fork” in English).