The First Slavic Language
Slavic is a rarity among language history, as it is a parent language that survived with a great deal of unity well into the period known as Late Antiquity when most other parent languages had already begun to fracture into different dialects that eventually became distinct languages unto themselves. As a result, Bulgarian’s pre-historic period doesn’t end until the middle of the 9th century, which is remarkable. Up until then, the languages spoken in this region of the Balkans was referred to simply as the Slavic Language.
In the middle of the 9th century, Christian missionaries Saints Cyril and Methodius arrived in the region, and created the Glagolitic alphabet in order to transcribe the church teachings for the locals, not yet known as Bulgarians. At this point the language was still closely related to Slavic in general, and was more of a southern dialect used in literary and church writings. This is now classified as Old Bulgarian, and persisted until the 11th century.
Bulgaria enjoyed a period of military, political, and cultural expansion during the Second Bulgarian Empire between the 12th and 14th centuries, and Bulgarian evolved quickly, taking on many linguistic innovations from other languages. During this period (and through the 15th century) the language is classified as Middle Bulgarian.
Modern Bulgarian is considered to have begun in the 16th century, with a consolidation and standardisation occurring in the 19th century that ‘set’ the language as it exists today. This last period of standardisation is not uncommon in modern languages, as it took the introduction of widespread printed works to inspire a desire for a more standard and consistent language.
Modern Bulgarian is also partially a product of what is known as the “National Awakening” of Bulgaria, a movement spurred on by the revolutions of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, bringing concepts of freedom and national identity to Bulgaria, which at that point had been a client state first to the Ottoman Empire and then to the Russian Empire, which claimed the right of authority over Bulgaria’s Christian citizens. This movement towards independence and nationalism spurred an interest in defining the Bulgarian language, which set off a struggle between eastern and western dialects that was eventually settled in compromise.