Introductory remarks

Symbols used in Bulgarian phonetic transcription

The list we offer is primarily based on the seminal 1968 book by the founder of Modern Bulgarian dialectology Stojko Stojkov (Стойков, С. 1993: 42–43).


Bulgarian phonetic symbolIPA equivalent(s)Description
ааopen central un-rounded
ėranges between e and raised close mid front un-rounded
еranges between ɛ and eclose mid front un-rounded
êranges between ɛ and a, mostly ænear open front unrounded
̂used for more open pronunciation of any vowel
ӥyclose front rounded
ыɨclose central un-rounded
ъɤmid close back un-rounded
ɯclose back un-rounded; traditionally termed “velar” or “velarized ъ
уuclose back rounded
ooclose mid back rounded
ôɔopen mid back rounded
ъ̂ʌopen mid back un-rounded
åɒopen back rounded
mid-centralized close mid front un-rounded; often termed “Miletich’s e
ɐDot under the letter indicates vowel reduction, i.e. raised pronunciation of open vowels but it is sometimes also used to indicate lowered pronunciation of close vowels.
ranges between ʊ and near close back rounded
̜less rounded


Bulgarian phonetic symbolIPA equivalent(s)Description
й or or jpalatal
у̯ or ўwlabio-velar


Bulgarian phonetic symbolIPA equivalent(s)Description
пpvoiceless bilabial stop
бbvoiced bilabial stop
φфvoiceless bilabial fricative
wβvoiced bilabial fricative
фfvoiceless labiodental fricative
вvvoiced labiodental fricative
θθvoiceless dental fricative; very rare
ððvoiced dental fricative; very rare
тtBulgarian consonants т, д, с, з, ц, s, л almost invariably described as “алвеодентали” or denti-alveolar and laminal. Laminal articulation indicated with underwritten rectangle: ̩̻.voiced alveolar or denti-alveolar stop
дdBulgarian consonants т, д, с, з, ц, s, л almost invariably described as “алвеодентали” or denti-alveolar and laminal. Laminal articulation indicated with underwritten rectangle: ̩̻̩ .voiced bilabial stop
сsBulgarian consonants т, д, с, з, ц, s, л almost invariably described as “алвеодентали” or denti-alveolar and laminal. Laminal articulation indicated with underwritten rectangle: ̩̻̩.voiceless alveolar or denti-alveolar fricative
зzBulgarian consonants т, д, с, з, ц, s, л almost invariably described as “алвеодентали” or denti-alveolar and laminal. Laminal articulation indicated with underwritten rectangle: ̩̻̩. voiced alveolar or denti-alveolar fricative
цts͡ or ts͜Bulgarian consonants т, д, с, з, ц, s, л almost invariably described as “алвеодентали” or denti-alveolar and laminal. Laminal articulation indicated with underwritten rectangle: ̩̻̩. voiceless alveolar or denti-alveolar affricate
sdz͡ or dz͜Bulgarian consonants т, д, с, з, ц, s, л almost invariably described as “алвеодентали” or denti-alveolar and laminal. Laminal articulation indicated with underwritten rectangle: ̩̻̩. voiced alveolar or denti-alveolar affricate
шʃvoiceless post-alveolar fricative
жƷvoiced post-alveolar fricative
чtʃ͡ or tʃ͜voiceless post-alveolar affricate
џdƷ͡ or dƷ͜voiced post-alveolar affricate
jjvoiced palatal fricative; termed “fricative jota” in older description as opposed to “non-fricative” or
кkvoiceless velar stop
гgvoiced velar stop
хxvoiceless velar fricative
γɣvoiced velar fricative
χħvoiceless pharyngeal fricative
hhvoiceless laryngeal fricative
’palatalized consonant (e.g., п’ palatalized voiceless bilabial stop etc.); the symbols l’ and n’ can be rendered with and
ʺused to indicate stronger palatalization; the symbols and can be rendered with ʎ and ɲ
˺used to indicate slightly palatalized consonants
лlBulgarian consonants т, д, с, з, ц, s, л almost invariably described as “алвеодентали” or denti-alveolar and laminal. Laminal articulation indicated with underwritten rectangle: ̩̻̩. alveolar or denti-alveolar lateral consonant
lretracted alveolar or post-alveolar lateral
łɫvelarized alveolar or denti-alveolar lateral
лʺʎpalatal lateral
мmbilabial nasal
нnalveolar nasal
ŋŋvelar nasal
нʺɲpalatal nasal
рralveolar trill
̥̩used under a symbol to indicate syllabicity: р̥ and л̥ - and
̅̅used to indicate length of any segment


Bulgarian phonetic symbolIPA equivalent(s)Description
̀ˈused to indicate primary stress; written on top of the syllable nucleus e.g. коза̀koˈzа
̋ˌused to indicate secondary stress e.g. ка̀мъните̋ˈkаmɤniˌte

More rarely used symbols

Bulgarian phonetic symbolIPA equivalent(s)Description
äranges between æ and a more open variant of ê (a, or open front un-rounded)

Since the Bulgarian “soft” counterparts of postalveolar consonants, found for example in Rupa dialects of Bulgarian, are realized as palatalized postalveolar rather than alveolo-palatal, we do not list any special symbols for them.

Subtle shades of pronunciation are sometimes indicated by superscript letters.

Correlation between the Bulgarian phonetic transcription and the IPA

Most symbols for the consonants could survive automatic change but the vowels would pose difficulties if automatic change is applied to unedited texts, primarily due to different manners in which vowel reduction was indicated. Thus can phonetically be equivalent to ė, and reduced a can be written with a separate symbol (ә) or as . It would also be very hard to indicate the stress in the way prescribed by the IPA without considering syllabic boundaries.

The phonetic transcription used in this part of the project is based entirely on the symbols prescribed by the IPA. The transcription is narrow, which means that all perceivable phonetic variation is taken into account, except for purely physiological and accidental processes, such as vowel nasalization between nasal consonants or word-finally. Other phonetic details, frequently deemed automatic and hence of no linguistic value, including vowel reduction, consonant palatalization before front vowels, voicing assimilation and devoicing of final obstruents will be represented.

The reason for such an approach is two-fold. In order to claim that a variation has phonemic versus purely phonetic significance, it is necessary to offer a comprehensive phonological analysis which could prove hard to attain in view of sometimes incomplete material, not to speak of the possibility of theoretically biased analysis. More importantly, consistent dialect differences could be found on sub-phonemic level and nevertheless they can be not only of classificatory importance for investigators but may be recognized by native speakers as markers of local identity or as sociolinguistic variables.

The sound system of each locality is represented as a list of the inventory of phonetic segments with their full description by the IPA recommended terms, e.g. voiceless palatalized bilabial stop commonly written п’ in Bulgarian transcription (we find it redundant to add “pulmonic egressive”), followed by the IPA symbol .

Pending the reaction of the users, some of the lesser known symbols could be replaced by less accurate but better known symbols for the sake of accessibility.

Principles of phonetic description

The vowels are compared to the vowels of standard Bulgarian. In turn they can be positioned in the well-known system of cardinal vowels developed by Daniel Jones (Jones, D. 1962: 31–41), which serves as a base of the IPA vowel chart. Their positions can be described as follows (the abbreviation CV stands for “cardinal vowel”):

и (i) – very close to 1CV;

е (e) – between 2CV and 3CV;

ъ (ɤ) – centralized 15CV;

а (ä) – low central vowel (the use of а for ä is accepted in phonetic publications);

у (u) – very close to 16CV;

o (o) – between 7CV and 6CV.

map 2
⚫ Vowels of standard Bulgarian
⚫ Cardinal vowels
Positions of the vowels of standard Bulgarian vs Cardinal vowels

When the dialect vowels are in same region as their standard counterparts, this is briefly stated in the beginning of the transcription. In most villages this is the case with the vowels i, ɤ, a, u. In many villages the vowels e and o are raised approximately to 2CV for e and 7CV for o, which is explicitly stated in the description. In addition, they may have closed on-glide, j for e, and w for o. In the former case, the j is combined with the preceding consonant into a palatalized consonant, and in the latter case, as labialized consonants do not exist in the inventory, it is interpreted as a separate sound.

Vowels that are far from any of the cardinal vowels, like ы (ɨ), are adequately described by the position of the symbol in the IPA vowel chart. If an allophone of such a vowel is close to a cardinal vowel, it is used as a reference point, as in the case with ɯ, which approximates 16CV.

The raised pronunciation of e and o is found in many villages in the Corpus. It occurs in all subdivisions of the two major dialect types – western and eastern. On the other hand, in each subdivision there are villages in which such raising does not occur. The raised o is slightly more frequent than the raised e. Only future research can determine whether this is an old feature brought from the previous locations in Bulgaria, or an instance of Romanian influence.

The vowel reduction is found in eastern dialects, in addition to some minor, exceptional cases in the eastern-most subdivision of the western group; for example Atârnáţi from the Iskŭr-Vit group, where a and o may be reduced respectively to ә and u.

The two Pavlikjani dialects in the Corpus, Popéşti-Leordéni and Cióplea, can be compared to the Pavlikjani villages in Bulgaria. The latter can be divided in two groups according to the development of etymological e (and some other features that are irrelevant here). In some of them, like Trŭnčovica and Malčika, е was raised to the closed variant of е known in Bulgarian dialectology as “narrow е”, and in others, like Belene and Oreš, е was raised to i (Неделчев, Н. 1988: 125). In both Popéşti-Leordéni and Cióplea, the second type of raising is found, which confirms Romanski’s claim that the inhabitants of Popéşti-Leordéni came from the village of Oreš and is also evidence that the inhabitants of Cióplea came from either Belene or Oreš.

In both Romanian villages the retracted variant of the vowel ɨ, transcribed here as ɯ, is very frequent. In Bulgarian Pavlikjani locations, according to my own observations, this variant appears when e˃i (e.g. in Rakovski), but not when e˃ (e.g. in Trŭnčovica and Žitnica).

The basic difference in the consonant inventories concerns the palatal correlation. In the eastern dialects, all but post-alveolar consonants have palatalized correlates functioning as separate phonemes, including the lateral l and the nasal n. These palatalized consonants are traditionally referred to as “soft”. In western dialects no such correlation exists and only the consonants k, g, l, and n have soft counterparts, however, as Stojko Stojkov asserts, their softness is very strong (Стойков, С. 1993: 213). Leaving aside the soft correlates of k and g for now, that means that the western soft counterparts of l and n have primary palatal place of articulation (ʎ and ɲ), unlike the eastern soft l and n, which are alveolar with secondary articulation in the palatal region – and . Benjo Conev used the term “fused palatality” for the former and “separate palatality” for the latter (Array [613] 3: 212).

In strict phonetic terms, the soft counterparts of k and g, in both eastern and western dialects, also have their articulation displaced in the palatal region, rather than secondary articulation imposed on the primary velar one. However, it was decided not to use the symbols for the palatal stops – c and ɟ – for two reasons. Firstly, the articulation of the these soft counterparts remains dorsal and in the back part of the palate, and, more importantly, k and g have exactly the same articulation before front vowels, but this fronting is no more salient than in other languages and does not affect the perception of the consonants as essentially velar, leaving aside the problem of readability.

As can be expected, this difference can become blurred near the boundary. Thus, in the eastern-most part of the western dialects a number of palatalized consonants may appear, as in the dialect of Atârnáţi (Iskŭr-Vit group).

Compared to standard Bulgarian, almost all the villages in the Corpus have a different pronunciation of the phonologically “hard” consonant l. It is retracted to the post-alveolar region and palatalized, but not to the same degree as the phonologically soft l. This variant is very close to the lateral consonant pronounced before front vowels in the standard language and has a distinct “clear” acoustic quality. The palatalization of l is stronger before front vowels.

Syllabic liquids are another feature that clearly delineates eastern from western dialects. Their pronunciation is unstable in most cases and one can hear a full or shorter schwa-like vowel on either side of the liquid, especially if a voiced segment is involved; yet the fact that no one would be tempted to indicate a syllabic consonant in an eastern dialect is evidence, albeit elusive, of their phonetic reality in western dialects.

Poiána Máre
Púntea de Gréci
Válea Drágului
Author: Vladimir Zhobov
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Special Symbols Conformity Table
(character codes and names according to © The Unicode Standard, v. 6.2, 2012)
GlyphCodeUnicode name
æ00e6small ae latin
ð00f0small eth latin
ħ0127small h stroke latin
ł0142small l stroke latin
ŋ014bsmall eng latin
ɐ0250small turned a latin
ɒ0252small turned alpha latin
ɔ0254small open o latin
ə0259small schwa latin
ɛ025bsmall open e latin
ɟ025fsmall dotless j latin
ɣ0263small gamma latin
ɤ0264small rams horn latin
ɨ0268small i stroke latin
ɫ026bsmall l middle tilde latin
ɯ026fsmall turned m latin
ɰ0270small turned m with long leg latin
ɲ0272small n left hook latin
ʃ0283small esh latin
ʊ028asmall upsilon latin
ʌ028csmall turned v latin
ʎ028esmall turned y latin
ʒ0292small ezh latin
ѕ0455small dze cyrillic
џ045fsmall dzhe cyrillic
1e3bsmall l line below latin
e849small hard sign stroke cyrillic [private]
ʲ02b2small j modifier
ʹ02b9prime modifier
ʺ02badouble prime modifier
ˈ02c8vertical line modifier
ˌ02cclow vertical line modifier
˺02faend high tone modifier
̀0300grave accent combining
̂0302circumflex accent combining
̆0306breve combining
̇0307dot above combining
̈0308diaeresis combining
̊030aring above combining
̋030bdouble acute accent combining
̜031cleft half ring below combining
̝031dup tack below combining
̣0323dot below combining
̥0325ring below combining
̩0329vertical line below combining
̯032finverted breve below combining
̲0332low line combining
̻033bsquare below combining
̽033dx above combining
͜035cdouble breve below combining
͡0361double inverted breve combining

© Olga Mladenova & Darina Mladenova 2001-2018

Principles of transcription of dialect texts. IPA vs. Traditional Bulgarian dialectological mode of transcription. Dialectology.

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