Trans Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 16. Nr. Juni 2006

1.5. Cultural Dynamism and Language Contact
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Language Change and Social Practices - the Mirror Effect

Ellie Boyadzhieva (South-Western University of Blagoevgrad, Bulgaria)



Language change is a phenomenon which has always provoked questions in society such as whether it is a signal for corruption or for improvement. One thing that has always been indisputable is that it is an objective reality observed in every natural language. Very often it is due to sheer necessity, or the striving for prestige, or both.

Borrowings have been seen as one of the main sources of language change. The presentation dwells on recent Anglicisms in Bulgarian in several social spheres in the time of transition from one social and economic system to another, a political process gaining speed especially before the accession of Bulgaria in the EU. The problem is approached two-ways - why borrowings are readily accepted in Bulgarian, and how they can help to remodel the picture of the world in the mind of the Bulgarian users of English.



Bulgarian is a small language in the big world of languages compared to, for example, Mandarin Chinese, Hindi, German and others. It is small in terms of the number of its speakers as there are no small languages from the viewpoint of linguistics. According to the latest census, there are about 7,800,000 speakers living on the territory of Bulgaria.

The social and economic changes in the country started in the late autumn of 1989 as in most countries of the Eastern block. A transition from one social and political reality to another started and it has lasted for 15 years. This period was more successful for those of the ex-Soviet countries that have already become members of the EU, and is still an ongoing process of transition for others.

There are four basic types of countries in Europe nowadays in relation to the European Union: the founding countries, such as France and Germany forming the core of the EU; Eastern European countries that became full-members after 1989 such as Poland; countries that are ready to join the Union, but have not yet accomplished its requirements; and finally, countries which for one reason or another do not intend to become members of the EU, such as Norway and Switzerland.

Bulgaria belongs to the third group of countries. Together with Romania we are expecting to become full-members of the EU on 1 January 2007. Both countries have gone a long way by passing new laws, introducing new practices in the economic and social life, harmonizing the existing legislation with that of the EU.

Thus Europe today is divided into two: the Europe of the Union and the other Europe. The Europe of the Union can be seen as a union of nations sharing the same hopes for the future, enduring the same difficulties of the present, both in politics and the economy. On the other hand, one of the broadly discussed problems since the very beginning of the EU has been the preservation of the national specificities of the peoples within the union, an issue rooted in the democratic ideology the Union is based on. In this way, the EU member-states face one basic contradictory problem: being nations sharing one and the same geographical space on the Globe, their goal is to build a unified world with shared morality and values in which each of the nations will find an equal place and will be recognized as different from the others. A manifestation of this is the fact that the EU regulations recognize every national language within the union.

A natural way out from this situation is to choose a means of communication that will satisfy the need of unified documentation and the natural need of communication between the people of different nations, which means using a common language. This language is indisputably English as it has become a world lingua franca long before the EU was officially formed.

From the viewpoint of Modern Bulgarian, three basic periods of borrowing from English can be established. The first period encompasses the 19 th century, the second one may be said to start after the end of the Second World War in 1945, and the third period, which is of particular interest here, started around 1989 and is still an ongoing process at present. It is characterized by a sharp rise in the number of Anglicisms especially intensive in the spheres of politics, the economy, technology, popular culture etc. After the changes in 1989, the process of borrowing from English has also affected everyday Bulgarian mostly through the Internet and pop culture.

Of course, in most cases the reason for the influx of Anglicisms in Bulgarian is the sheer necessity to fill in the gaps for new notions entering the Bulgarian reality in the period after 1989 and especially in the last 5 years when Bulgaria is preparing to join the EU.



Consequently, slowly but steadily the influence of English on Bulgarian could be observed. Of course, the most affected area of the language is the vocabulary. The most frequent borrowings are those words which enter a language as a result of various political and cultural factors.

This high-speed flow of Anglicisms in Bulgarian raises the question as to how such a dynamic social situation of rapid changes is mirrored in the language on the one hand, and how new English borrowings in Bulgarian contribute to, or even create a changing or would-be-changed cultural reality.



The basic goal of this paper is firstly, to give an overview of the latest borrowings from English outlining the social spheres which are most open to them and elaborating on the reasons for that process from the viewpoint of social anthropology. Secondly, to analyze to what extent they are adapted to the structure of the Bulgarian language from the linguistic perspective and internalized in everyday use by the native speakers of Bulgarian, thus building new cultural concepts.


Basic hypothesis

Language reflects the national culture in its broadest anthropological sense. In circumstances of dramatic social change, a new cultural environment is being created for which the native language may lack both concepts and words to refer to them. To make up for this deficiency in the native language word stock, an intensive process of borrowing from other languages comes to help. In this way borrowings not only introduce words that have been non-existent, but they are also a vehicle for introducing new concepts in a cultural environment that lacks them and thus adjusting to the real changes in society. So, on particular occasions language seems to be more flexible and anticipating than the culture itself.


Theoretical considerations

1. Language and Culture

The issue about the relation between language and culture can be traced as far back as to the Herder-Humboldt tradition in European anthropology, saying there are no universals of language and culture. Later on, in the 1920s, following their intellectual predecessors, the American anthropologists and linguists Sapir and Whorf formulated and extended a hypothesis, which in the 50s became famous as the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis. It incorporated two notions, that of relativism and determinism.

In its extreme version, the Sapir -Whorf Hypothesis states on the one hand the following: we are in all our thinking "at the mercy of the particular language which has become the medium of expression for society" because we cannot see and hear and otherwise experience in terms different from the categories and distinctions encoded in language. On the other hand, the categories and distinctions encoded in one language system are unique to this system and incommensurable with those of other systems ( Sapir, 1921: 162) .

An interesting question that has come to the fore presently is: ‘What happens in Modern times when almost every European is bilingual and in most cases the second language is English?’ As J. Lyons says, "One might argue that the bilingual has two incompatible views of the world and switches from one to the other as he switches from one language to the other. [...] bilinguals do not manifest any obvious symptoms of operating with radically incompatible world-views..." (Lyons, 1968: 305).

2. Borrowings are manifestations of natural language change

The general tendency of mutual understanding between the nations in a given multicultural environment brings to the forefront the need to use a common language as a basic means of communication. Borrowings "reflect the predominance of different languages in specific domains of use at particular periods of time" (Schendl, 2001: 56). The establishment of English as a lingua franca in the world after World War II influenced the European countries as well, English being originally one of the basic European languages. Putting aside the question why English is nowadays the language of international communication, we cannot deny the fact that it is. For one reason or another, (or just by lucky coincidence), it is the new lingua franca of the world.

An interesting observation is that English, which has been borrowing throughout its historical development, has become a language that nowadays contributes most to the enlargement of other national languages’ word stock.

There can never be a moment of true standstill in language, just as little as in the ceaselessly flaming thought of men. By nature it is a continuous process of development (W.von Humboldt, 1836 ).

The extent of borrowing is influenced by different factors, one of which is the social need, and another - the perceived prestige of the donor language. Once having entered the recipient language, borrowings start to live their own life getting into systemic relations with the other words existing at the period of borrowing in the host language. According to the degree of formal adherence loans can be classified into different classes: 1. direct borrowings, when they are both formally and semantically borrowed; 2. transcriptions, when the words or phrases of the source language are formally adapted to the recipient orthographic system; 3. translations, when the borrowings are translated into the recipient language; 4. a specific group present the so called ‘loan translations’ or calques, where a literal translation of every meaningful element takes place.

There are a few important regularities to be mentioned when borrowing as a natural language change process is concerned. First, one and the same borrowing can change its connotations due to a different social and political situation. Second, the prestige factor can allow two words (a native and a borrowed one) to coexist at one and the same time in a language, thus violating the economy principle in linguistics. In such cases the native word tends to develop a negative connotational meaning compared to the borrowing. Thirdly, once a borrowing has settled in a language it can further develop, narrow, broaden or shift their meanings independently from the original one.



The words (and phrases) that are discussed below are recent borrowings from English in Bulgarian. Most of them have appeared in the language in the last 5 years and have quickly become part of the everyday language. The particular examples analyzed here do not present an exhaustive list of all English borrowings but rather illustrate how language reflects the social and cultural changes in different areas of everyday life in Bulgaria. Some of the examples can be defined as terms, but, as mentioned above, these have become part of everyday Bulgarian and are frequent in both written and spoken discourse.



The examples of recent borrowing are divided into three basic groups according to the areas of application as follows: social life, economy and arts. The borrowings in the sphere of technology and communications are not subject to analysis in this paper, as I believe they need special attention.

1. Social Life

1.1. The basic social spheres of radical changes in the past few years have been those of health care, education and social insurance. New practices have been introduced and with the collapse of the old social system the needs of the new reality brought about the need for new words. In health care, a totally new system of health service was introduced which dramatically changed the old state and free service by a paid one. New institutions, positions and vocations were established. The term general practitioner (GP) was introduced. Now it exists in everyday Bulgarian in two forms - as a loan translation: общопрактикуващ лекар and as джипи , the transcription of the English abbreviation. In this case two borrowings coexist in the language, but they belong to different registers and styles. The loan translation belongs to the official written administrative style of the language, and the second, which is much shorter and much closer to the English original, is used elsewhere except in official state documents.

One problem with the adaptation of the abbreviation GP in Bulgarian arises due to the mismatch between the English and Bulgarian grammatical systems. In English general practitioner is not marked for gender. In Bulgarian, gender is a grammatical category and the recipient system insists on masculine or feminine marking of the borrowing. As the process of assimilation is not yet complete, the following funny situation is observed. GP is perceived as neuter as the use of the definite article shows - джипито . This is the non-marked form, used for both men and women doctors. In addition to it, a new form marked for feminine starts to appear - джипка. The latter coincides with an old borrowing - jeep - джип , which exists in Bulgarian in two forms - джип which is masculine and джипка which is feminine. The derivational model is ROOT-Masculine + KA Feminine marker. One possibility is that the grammatically neuter джипи will keep on being used for male and female doctors and most possibly gain a position in the official written language as it is shorter, non-marked and stylistically neutral.

1.2. Another important sphere of changes is that of education. In higher education, the three European stages and the respective BA and MA degrees have been introduced, which in Bulgarian present translations: бакалавърска степен and магистърска степен . So nowadays Bulgarian possesses terms for the two basic academic degrees but does not have at its disposal terms for undergraduate, graduate and postgraduate students. The old term for the first postgraduate degree " кандидат на науките" was replaced by the title ‘doctor’ as a shortened form for a PhD holder and as this results in a homonym for ‘medical doctor’ a joke about doctors that cure patients and those that do not, because they are scientists, became widespread. In relation to this, the old " кандидатска дисертация" (candidate’s dissertation) was widely replaced by a new calque " докторска теза" (doctoral thesis), although generally the term dissertation is still in use. The reason for this may be the fact that the old borrowing from Latin thesis in the Bulgarian version means statement or claim and in this meaning is not related to a written piece of scientific text.

1.3. Another area that is experiencing great changes is that of secondary education. It has been on the programme of two Bulgarian governments now. The basic idea is to introduce two stages in secondary education - a common and an advanced one. Each of them will be bound with a national examination and only the successful accomplishment of the second stage will allow students to apply to universities. Such a secondary education structure is absolutely new for the Bulgarian educational system, and socially there is still a lot of resistance as to its implementation. If it becomes accepted in the coming years (the deadline for its introduction is 2007), the language must invent terms for the two types of exams and the corresponding diplomas and as the system is a close copy of the British secondary school system, equivalents of O-Levels and A-Levels exams as well as for GCSEO and GCSEA will most probably appear in the language. Supposedly, they will be either borrowings or calques. For the time being, the working terms correspond to the English ‘first stage diploma’ and ‘second stage diploma’.

2. Economy

The second sphere where an overwhelming abundance of English borrowings is observed is the economic sphere. Perhaps it is the sphere where Bulgarian has allowed for most borrowings. This is not surprising in view of the fact that the Bulgarian economic system changed from a state-owned economy to a market type economy within a decade. The rapid changes needed new terms and the majority of them came from English.

2.1. In the sphere of finance and banking terms such as documentary (letter of credit), monetary and fiscalpolicy, overdraft, futures,debit and creditcards, e-pay etc. are now in everyday use. From the linguistic point of view, there are several and quite different groups to be isolated.

2.1.1. The first group consists of old (in terms of the time of borrowing) loan words such as documentaryletter of credit, monetary funds etc. These present transcriptions in Bulgarian: документарен акредитив, монетарни фондове. An interesting observation is that they are not translated and not adjusted to the Bulgarian grammatical system, as illustrated by the existence of документален филм, монетен двор etc. One possible explanation is that terms when borrowed do not easily undergo the process of assimilation. The two forms discussed obviously do not belong to the Bulgarian morphological derivational pattern and exist along with fully assimilated forms.

2.2.2. The second group consists of words as overdraft, futures,debit and credit (cards). These are transcribed, but they are grammatically fully assimilated in accordance with the systemic rules of the recipient language. So we can talk of овърдрафтът ( masculine, definite article); фючърсните сделки (adjective formed from futures, plural , definite article), кредит (masculine, singular); кредитна k арта (adjective derived from the root credit, feminine as there is agreement between the attribute and the N within the NP in Bulgarian) .

The frequency of use is one of the reasons for the rapid adaptation of this type of borrowings. For several years now people can get debit cards and use the cash machines, most of the companies’ managements tend to insist on paying salaries through banks and debit cards. So using debit (and sometimes) credit cards has become a common practice in everyday life.

2.2.3. The third group is illustrated by the term e-pay, a method of payment through the internet, using your debit card, which came into practice about a year ago. It works for a limited number of people and a limited number of banks offer this service. What is interesting - the term is neither translated nor transcribed. It is used in Bulgarian in its English - Latin version. This last group of words and expressions are often seen in written mass-media discourse. The non-change of the original word in its form gives grounds to refer to them as direct borrowings.

2.2. In the economic sphere, another group of words consisting mainly of terms referring to different types of companies and working positions within the firm can be elicited. This has been a direct result of the rapid development of trade, while in the same time failures in the domain of production have been observed. Trade has kept a steady pace, forming the national market and establishing firm international relations.

2.2.1. Most of the newly established Bulgarian companies dealt with in the field of trade and services and along with it a prevailing part of them adopted practices which were unknown before. Together with them new terms were borrowed to denote different phenomena new to Bulgaria, such as: offshore companies, manager, boss etc. An interesting term is the common term offshore companies. It exists in Modern Bulgarian in two forms: as a transcription офшорни компании from which the one-word diminutive офшорки has been derived. Both of them function as terms but they are differently marked stylistically. The transcribed phrase is neutral and behaves as an economic term, whereas the derivative is strongly negatively marked and used to refer to the grey economy, money drain and corruption.

2.2.2. Along with new borrowings, another phenomenon is being observed: namely, old borrowed words are undergoing a change in their primary borrowed meaning, thus changing their connotation. A typical example is the verb speculate and its correspondent noun speculation. Most probably under Russian influence of the 1920s, those two words have for a long time been marked as strongly negative, related to illegal dealings on the black market, which was quite different from their originally neutral meaning in English. Recently they are being used as terms in trade and stock exchange practices, regaining their original neutral meaning in English. One reason for this seems to be the fact that the economic basis has changed and the developing market economy has to do with long-term marketing policy.

2.2.3. An interesting language phenomenon is observed through the list of near synonyms in Modern Bulgarian generally denoting ‘employer’: работодател, началник, шеф, бос, мениджър . The semantic relations among the items listed are presented in the table below:



Social prestige





























+/ -



The first two are relatively recent borrowings from English, 3 and 4 are old borrowings from French and the last two are native Bulgarian words. As it is seen from the table, all of them are marked as used to refer to prestigious social positions by virtue of their denotative (conceptual) meaning. All of them except 2 and 3 are used to denote an official position in an institution. Бос (Eng) and шеф (Fr) belong to everyday Bulgarian and do not function as terms. In addition бос is strongly negatively marked (which is said to be the current situation in Modern English as well), while шеф is neutral in that its positive or negative connotations depend on the context created by the speaker. As a result three words are used as terms, are marked positively, refer to socially prestigious working positions amongst which one is native, the second is an old borrowing and the third is a recent Anglicism. Of course, each of them appear in different collocations.

3. Judicial practices

There have been quite a lot of changes in the traditional judiciary in Bulgaria and it is still an ongoing process. This is one of the chapters that was closed last and threatens to be opened again in the pre-accession negotiations of this country and the EU. Thus the whole judicial system is still under reconstruction and quite a few new institutions and legal practices have been established. One term that has been borrowed to mark the establishment of a new type of court with specific prerogatives was magistrate court and a magistrate, referring to the judge in this court.

4. Social practices and attitudes

With the opening of the frontiers, the contacts of the Bulgarian people with the outside world expanded enormously and this became more palpable not only with the development of new high technologies (the Internet with its all numerous possibilities for communication) but also by licensing private TV channel operators to work in the country. The Bulgarians were suddenly overwhelmed with new information, often clashing with their traditional moral values, introducing them to new behaviour (or to behavious which was just not much spoken about)and social practices, getting them to know new genres in literature and music.

4.1. A new discipline was introduced in some universities in the Departments of Humanities and namely, Gender Studies. The name of the discipline is either transcribed in Bulgarian: джендър стъдиз , or more often it is translated descriptively as ‘Social research of sex relations’, and as it sounds clumsy most often ‘gender studies’ is neither translated nor transcribed but appears in its original Latin form in the university curricula. Leaving aside the question of the place of gender studies as a university subject in Bulgaria nowadays, I would rather raise another interesting vocabulary problem which is closely related to the problems of gender and political correctness.

4.2. Along with many colloquial expressions, Modern Bulgarian most frequently uses two words denoting a male homosexual: the recent borrowing gay, transcribed in Bulgarian as гей and педераст , which is an old borrowing from Greek. The new borrowing is more neutral and although it has a negative connotation in the Bulgarian society, it is much less negative compared to pederast. The fact that in certain social layers the negative attitude towards alternative sexual orientation is not likely to change in the near future, but that there is a shared consensus about the interpretation of the two words, is reflected in the following joke: Two fathers are talking and one of them is complaining: "You won’t believe me, but my son turned out to be a gay". The other one answers: "Well, you are lucky then. Mine is still a common pederast".


Final notes

The above analysis outlines some of the economic and social spheres, in which borrowing from English has been quite intensive in recent years. The examples illustrate basically two different situations: the borrowing of words in those cases where new realia require the introduction of terms, and the second, where new borrowings compete with already existing words (native or older borrowings). As J. Aitcheson says:

The spread of language change is essentially a social phenomenon, which reflects the changing social situation. Changes do not occur unless they have some type of prestige. They are markers of group membership (Aitcheson, 1981).

The examples above support this viewpoint. The analysis, though not exhaustive shows that borrowings do not always enter recipient languages with their meanings in the source language but rather the whole process of borrowing can be regarded as bidirectional. The new reality needs new words to denote new objects/phenomena and to serve communication and secure understanding, but it is also true that new meanings introduce new concepts that have not been part of the recipient reality before and in this way contribute to the development of cognition. This intrinsic relation between reality and language can be referred to as the ‘mirror effect’.

One important thing about the mirror effect is to say that if we know what new realia will be entering our lives, we can easily predict what new terms will be needed to satisfy the future situation, which is an important issue in language planning on a national scale.

One final note is to say that in my opinion the world in Europe is pretty unified and the national differences, although important, are not that many to destroy the feeling of general European belonging and sameness. If, in addition to this, we consider the idea of using a common lingua franca in the international European space, then it becomes obvious that the question of the relation between language and culture in terms of relativism and determinism seems to be outdated and in this way irrelevant to the present situation in our common European world.

© Ellie Boyadzhieva (South-Western University of Blagoevgrad, Bulgaria)


Aitcheson, Jean (1981) Language Change: Progress or Decay?, London: Fontana Paperbacks.

Humboldt, Wilhelm von (1836) The Heterogeneity of Language and its Influence on the Intellectual Development of Mankind (orig. Über die Verschiedenheit des menschlichen Sprachbaus und seinen Einfluss auf die geistige Entwicklung des Menschengeschlechts) Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.

Lyons, John ( 19 68) Introduction to Theoretical Linguistics, Cambridge. Cambridge University Press.

Sapir, Edward (1921) An Introduction to the Study of Speech, New York: Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.

Schendl, Herbert (2001) Historical Linguistics. Oxford Introductions to Language Study. Ed. by H. G. Widdowson. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press.

Yankova, Diana (2004) Legal Language Made Simple: Statutory Provisions in English and Bulgarian, Sofia: Tip-Top Press.

1.5. Cultural Dynamism and Language Contact

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