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

6.1. Modalitäten von Kulturkontakt
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Cultural and Social Interchange of Vocabulary

Mariya Bagasheva-Koleva (University Neofit Rilski in Blagoevrad)


The history of every language, and more specifically of every literary language, shows that it is not possible for it to exist without lexical means adopted from neighboring or more distant language systems. Throughout its centuries of existence and development, a language changes under the influence of external and internal forces. It is like a mirror, which reflects all the political, economic, social and cultural changes in the world and within the country.

The main factor, which influences our language and our life, is the process of globalization. Attempts to globalize the world have been existing for many centuries. And each time there were attempts, quite successful, to impose one language on others. In the 4 th-5 th centuries the Catholic Church imposed Latin as the language of public worship and communication in worldly institutions. Later, in the 17 th-19 th centuries, Latin was replaced by French in the state, social and cultural spheres. France dominated in Europe politically and culturally, which led to the popularization of French history and literature in many countries. The European intellectuals learned the language so as to communicate and read in the original the writings of French philosophers. In Russia, French was the language of the Petersburg's aristocracy, who used their own language only to communicate with their servants. Communication in French was a symbol of aristocracy and a question of honor. This phenomenon was skillfully ironized by A.S.Pushkin in his work "Evgenii Onegin".

Learning a foreign language is connected with great effort, because one is supposed to learn new vocabulary and study many grammatical rules and exceptions. That was the reason why in the 19 th century an idea arose to create an artificial international language, which was to facilitate communication among people of different countries. Several such attempts are known. The most popular and wide-spread artificial language was Esperanto (which means 'hope'), created in 1887 by the Polish doctor L. Zamenhof. It was based on a selective, integral principle. Its vocabulary contained words from the Romance, German and Slavic languages. Its grammar had only 16 rules with no exceptions. Learning Esperanto became wide-spread among the world's intellectuals, yet it could not acquire the status of a global language. It was due to the fact that, as an artificial language, it did not have the social experience of any people, there were no cultural values or literary works written in Esperanto.

Language globalization is very convenient for international contacts and communication because it makes using translators and interprets unnecessary. People, however, do not see it in this way and react rather emotionally to the compulsion not to use one's own native language, because it breaks the connection with the past, with the accumulated national spiritual culture and, as a result, assimilation and national depersonalization become easier.

After the Second World War, the Russian language had a great impact in the East-European countries. For five decades it penetrated their languages in all aspects of social life as an element of political and sociological propaganda. After the end of the Cold War, marked by the Fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989, the countries in Eastern Europe turned to a new direction of political, economic and social development, which gave rise to a new globalizing language - the English language - resulting from the American domnance throughout the world. Consequently, the American influence in all aspects of life affected the languages as well. The Russian words, which were commonly used in these languages, were substituted by English words to mark the end of one era and the beginning of a new one.

Globalization affects all countries and people, dividing them into "big" and "small" people, and respectively, into "big" and "small" languages. According to this classification, "small" people have a "small" language. It mainly refers to the population of a country and, more specifically, to the number of people speaking the language as their native one. This classification is not very correct and is considered to be rather old-fashioned. Having in mind the population of countries like China and India, it becomes clear that the division of languages into 'big' and 'small' ones is rather hazy. I should say that it is the influence of these languages on other languages that makes them 'big' or 'small'. Therefore, it is more correct to say that the classification is based mainly on political, economic and social reasons, which make one language more or less influential on others. So, I will use the terms 'big' and 'small' simply because they are shorter, but referring respectively to 'languages which have greater influence on others' and 'languages which have little influence on others'). Globalization, as a quickly spreading process nowadays, gave birth to the Movement of Anti-globalists, who protest against the unification of the world according to one stereotype, and who fight against the assimilation of "small" languages.

Undoubtedly, English has become the instrument of language globalization, due to the fact that the USA has become a leader in many spheres of life. Consequently, all international events in science, culture, sport, politics, etc. today are in English, which is acknowledged to be the new 'lingua franca'. As a result, "small" languages, such as Bulgarian, have become very susceptible to such language intrusion, with the result that American influence is quite strong in every part of life. This "Americanization" can be witnessed everywhere in Bulgaria. Being able to communicate in English ensures you better chances to find a well-paid job. The better your knowledge of English is, the better the perspectives of your career development. Gradually, English is turning into a second unofficial language in Bulgaria.

Looking back to the historical background of Bulgaria, one could see that in different periods of its development, the Bulgarian language has been affected by many other languages - Turkish, Italian, French, German, Russian, English. The relationships with the neighboring countries have also brought new vocabulary into the language - Greek, Serbian, Romanian. So, Bulgarian vocabulary has become a mixture of words of different origin. Some words have been adapted to the Bulgarian language system, and only by studying their etymology can one discover their foreign origin. Other borrowed words have remained clearly foreign, but are nevertheless in wide use in everyday language. Some words have entered our language directly from another language. Others have been adopted through a medium language, which has borrowed them in the first place. For instance, there are many Spanish and Portuguese words in Bulgarian, which were adopted through French and Russian: armada, estrada, embargo, indigo, savanna, serenada, etc. These linguistic and sociolinguistic processes are common in all languages, especially "small" languages.

Interesting is the fact that vocabulary which is adopted in a language during a period of political and economic dependence is swept away when this dependence comes to an end or becomes substituted by another one. During the period when Bulgaria was dependent on the former Soviet Union, many Russian words entered the language. A great deal of them were called "sovietisms", because they were ideologically coloured. The lexical compatibility between the systems of both languages made it possible for many Russian words to be directly used in Bulgarian. For example, петилетка, бригадир, отличник, самодейност, съботник, политбюро.

Apart from this politically affected vocabulary, there are other words which were adopted in many other areas in life - in science, culture, art, literature, etc. Naturally, due to the ideological propaganda at that time, a great part of the borrowed words were politically coloured. New words and phrases became constantly used in everyday speech, turning into political set phrases and clichés. New terminology appeared as a result of the scientific development of technology: automatic system, automatization, automatic regulation, self-adjusting system, etc, which was quickly adopted in Bulgarian alongside with the adoption of the respective technology. Together with the new words, many suffixes entered Bulgarian language and are productively used to coin new words: - ство, -ество,-тел, -нича, -ир-, etc. ( качество, равенство, възпитател, нервнича, адресирам ) .

Many abbreviations were created analogous to Russian ones from the "Soviet era": нармаг, политбюро, спецкурс; БАН, БКП, ВУЗ, etc.

The Russian language has always affected Bulgarian because both of them are Slavic and are closely related. Naturally, they follow different lines of development.

For centuries, the Russian language has been a source of many foreign words in Bulgarian. A lot of Old Greek and Latin words came to Bulgarian through Russian: constitution, revolution, conference, civilization, culture,temperature, structure, etc., which entered other languages as well and have turned into international words.

In 1990, the Soviet era came to an end and as a result, the vocabulary associated with the period of Communism became stigmatized and was never used again. There are two main reasons for that:1/ Many of the referents did not exist any more; 2/ Bulgarians tend to avoid using this vocabulary since it reminds them of the Communist era.

After 1990, a new era started - the Era of American influence. Today, 15 years later, our language has become fully 'Americanized'. Words like office, business, fashion, weekend, etc., have become part of our everyday life, and even elderly people, who otherwise do not speak English, use them fluently in their speech.

English words invaded almost every sphere of life, mainly politics, technology, economy, science, arts, and others. News bulletins and newspaper articles are full of English words, which, to a certain extent, is acceptable, because many English words denote objects and ideas which do not exist in Bulgarian, therefore there are no Bulgarian words for them. For instance, computer, the Internet, integration, privatization, etc., which have acquired the quality of international words. Using English words together with Bulgarian ones gives the speaker the feeling of adopting a sophisticated manner of speaking. Politicians, economists, social researchers, analysts, etc., tend to use English words a lot since they denote specific terms in these fields. But using a foreign word freely sometimes causes confusion and a comic effect, if the speaker is not aware of the exact meaning and usage of the word.

A few years ago, the word-combination 'mini-supermarket' was quite a common one, before it became clear that this is an oxymoron (that is, incompatible because the parts have an opposite meaning). The compound noun 'supermarket' had acquired the meaning of 'a store' in Bulgarian, and 'mini' referred to 'a small store in the neighbourhood'. Nowadays, of course, such cases are very rare since English has been integrated into all spheres of life. The haphazard use of English words in everyday life, however, is rather worrying because people tend to use them even when there are Bulgarian counterparts, simply to show fluency in scientific language, and therefore to show intellectual sophistication and prestige.

This phenomenon is not a new one. Every time when a foreign language becomes imposed on Bulgarian as a result of various historical and political reasons, there are people who tend to overuse the foreign lexis and neglect the native one as a less prestigious one. Such was the case with Turkish, French, German, Russian, and now English.

The struggle against foreign words started in the 18 th century when some people tried coining new Bulgarian words to substitute the Greek and Turkish ones. Then the movement of the Purists (from Latin 'purus') appeared, who fought against every foreign word and justified the usage of newly-coined Bulgarian lexis. Since then, many distinguished Bulgarian linguists have represented and defended this idea - Dr. Ivan Bogrov (1818-1892), Al. T.-Balan (1859-1959), St. Mladenov (1880-1963), M. Moskov and others.

Nevertheless, Bulgarian language was and is still full of various foreign lexis which enters our language every day.

The problem of borrowing and using foreign words has a sociolinguistic and stylistic character and relates directly to the individual linguistic competence and the ability to select the appropriate strategy in communication.

The 'small' languages are those which are mainly affected by the 'big' ones. But, sometimes, they are also a source of new words which enter the other languages, even the 'big' ones. These cases concern the words denoting objects specific for one country only and associated with their unique culture and historic experience. They are called 'exotisms' or exotic words. Examples are numerous:

from Hungarian - gulash (their national dish); from Dutch - harpoon (a missile like a spear with a rope attached); from Spanish and Portuguese - armada, bolero, embargo, cocoa, cocaine, savanna, flamenco, etc.; from Indian - veranda, jungle, maharaja (an Indian prince); from Chinese - typhoon; from Italian - pizza, piazza, macaroni, spaghetti; from Japanese - geisha, judo, kimono, sake, rickshaw, samurai, bonsai, origami, etc.; from Russian - dacha (a holiday house), matryoshka, perestroika, sputnik; from Bulgarian - banitza, rakiya; from Greek - tavern, ouzo, sirtaki;

All these examples show that no matter whether the language is 'big' or 'small', the people who speak it and their culture are unique and all of them enrich and contribute to the world's communication among people.

© Mariya Bagasheva-Koleva (University Neofit Rilski in Blagoevrad)


Michail Videnov: Globalisation of the World and the Future of Bulgarian Literary Language, Introduction into Sociolinguistics, C., 2000, 199-208

M. Moskov: The Struggle against the Loan-Words in Bulgarian Literary Language, C., 1958

Jana Molhova: The English Borrowings in Bulgaruan, A Handbook on Bulgarian Lexicology, Nauka i Izkustvo, Sofia, 1979, 227-237

Hristo Purvev: The Foreign Lexical Means in Contemporary Bulgarian Literary Language, A Handbook on Bulgarian Lexicology, Nauka i Izkustvo, Sofia, 1979, 117-129

Lyubomir Andreichin: About the Role of Russian Language from the Soviet Era for the Development of Contemporary Bulgarian Language, Bulgarian Language Journal, 1957, book 5, 452-455

D.H. Schmeljov: Sovremenii Ruskii yazik, Leksika, Moskva, Prosveshenie, 1977, 266-271

Todor Boyadziev: Bulgarian Lexicology, Anubis, Sofia, 2002

Boyan Kutevski: Penetration of Russisms in Bulgarian as Sociological Propaganda Instrument, Electronic Journal LiterNet, 13.11.2004, N: 11 (60)

6.1. Modalitäten von Kulturkontakt

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For quotation purposes:
Mariya Bagasheva-Koleva (University Neofit Rilski in Blagoevrad): Cultural and Social Interchange of Vocabulary. In: TRANS. Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften. No. 16/2005. WWW:

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