CHAPTER III. LANGUAGE OF THE BULGARIANS.
According to the opinion of the Russian, and especially of the Bohemian philologians, Bulgaria and the adjacent regions of Macedonia, are the real home of the Old Slavic language; which was here, as they suppose, the language of the people in the time of Cyril, who was born in Thessalonica. No other Slavic dialect however, as Kopitar remarks, has been so much affected as the Bulgarian by the course of time and foreign influence, both in its grammatical structure and its whole character. It has an article, which, as if in order to show whence it was borrowed, is put after the word it qualifies, like that of the Walachians and Albanians. Of the seven Slavic cases, only the nominative and vocative remain to it; all the rest being supplied by means of prepositions. As Bulgaria has been for centuries the great thoroughfare of other nations, the Slavic natives have become mixed with Rumenians, Turco-Tartars, and perhaps Greeks, It is in this way, that the state of their language may be accounted for.
Up to 1392, when Bulgaria was an independent kingdom,—tributary to the Greek empire, until the decline of the latter encouraged them to break the weak tie of vassalage.—their writings were in the Old Slavic language; and many documents in it are still extant in monastic libraries. Venelin, a young Russian scholar, who by his researches on the Bulgarian, or, as he would fain call it, the Bolgarian language, had excited great hopes in the learned Slavic world, was sent in 1835 to Bulgaria, by the Russian Archaeographical Commission, to search, after historical documents and to examine the language. The publication of a “Bolgarian Grammar,” and two volumes of a “History of the Bolgarians,” were the result. While engaged in preparing a third volume, he died; less regretted by the literary world, it is said, than would have been anticipated some years before; since his productions had not justified the expectations raised by his zeal. He seems to have been one of those visionary etymologists, who found their conclusions on the analogy of sound and similar accidental features; a class of scholars, which, in our age of philosophical research, has no longer much chance of success.
The history of the Bulgarians is a series of continued warfare with the Servians, Greeks, and Hungarians, on the one hand; and on the other, with the Turks, who subdued them, and put an end to the existence of a Bulgarian kingdom in A.D. 1392. The people, first converted to Christianity by Cyril and Methodius, had hitherto adhered to the Greek church; except for a short interval in the last half of the twelfth century, when the Roman chair succeeded in bringing them under its dominion. Since the establishment of the Turkish government, apostasy to Muhammedanism has been more frequent in Bulgaria, than in any other of the Christian provinces of the Porte. Still, the bulk of the population has remained faithful to the Slavic Greek worship. The scanty germs of cultivation sown among them by two or three of their princes, who caused several Byzantine works to be translated into the Bulgarian dialect, perished during the Turkish invasion. The few books used by the priesthood in our days, are obtained from Russia. They have no trace of a literature, and the only point of view from which their language, uncultivated as it is, can excite a general interest, is in respect to their popular songs. In these this dialect likewise is said to be exceedingly rich.
The Russian Bible Society had prepared a Bulgarian translation of the New Testament, intended more especially for the benefit of the Bulgarian inhabitants of the Russian province of Bessarabia. But the specimen printed in 1823 excited some doubt as to the competency of the translator in respect to his knowledge of the Bulgarian language; and it was deemed advisable to put a stop to its further progress. Among the Albanian portion of its inhabitants, the New Testament has been distributed by the British and Foreign Bible Society.
In the dearth of all philological helps in respect to the Bulgarian language, it is matter of grateful acknowledgment to Slavic scholars, that an American missionary, the Kev. E. Biggs, stationed at Smyrna, should recently have taken up the subject, and furnished us with a brief sketch of the principal features of the Bulgarian grammar. It seems that the Bulgarians have availed themselves of the printing establishment founded by the American missionaries at Smyrna; and some books in this language have been there printed. Mr. Kiggs says of the language, that “its literature is very slender, consisting almost entirely of a few elementary books, printed in Bucharest, Belgrad, Buda, Cracow, Constantinople, and Smyrna.” A Bulgarian translation of Gallaudet's “Child's Book on the Soul,” was sent by the same gentleman to New York. From the same source we learn that a Bulgarian version of the New Testament was printed at Smyrna in 1840, for the British and Foreign Bible Society; and that in 1844 the first number of a monthly magazine, entitled “Philology,” was issued from the same press.
[Footnote 1: See above, pp. 27, 28.]
[Footnote 2: Wiener Jahrbucher der Literatur, 1822, Vol. XVII.]
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