The complex dialectal variation of Bulgarian is best described within three major categories; the detailed description below follows this outline.
The rubric Phonology describes the sound system of a dialect. Because the current forms ("reflexes") of historical Slavic vowels divide the region so systematically, they are used as cover symbols for current lexical distribution of these sounds.
The rubric Accent notes systematic differences in accent placement from the standard language; these are usually associated with grammatically-defined groups.
The rubric Morphology describes features of nouns, pronouns and verbs that differ from the standard language in particularly noteworthy ways.
CENTRAL RUPIC: RHODOPE: Pavlikjani
This is a special group of dialects, which takes its name from the ethnic-religious identity of its speakers: the Pavlikjani (Paulicians) are Bulgarian Catholics. Their dialect was grouped among the Rhodope dialect by Miletič (Miletič 1912) because it indeed displays significant Rhodope traits; yet at the same time, it also lacks a sizeable number of significant Rhodope traits. What is most interesting about the dialect is that the Bulgarian Catholics who speak it live in two regions quite distant from one another, separated by a major mountain range. The southern group, located near the city of Plovdiv, is here represented by the villages of Žitnica and Rakovski (formerly three villages with the same dialect). The northern group, located near the city of Svištov, is here represented by the village of Trŭnčovica. Yet despite this great geographical spread, the dialect is surprisingly uniform. Indeed, the major differences discussed below are not between the north and the south but rather between the two villages representing the southern part.
The list below summarizes the salient features representing the Pavlikjani dialect. It is based on the speech of the three villages represented on the site, with examples taken from the texts presented on this site.
Abbreviations: the capital letter refers to the village, as noted above; the following number identifies the text from that village (e.g. T1 = Trŭnčovica 1, Ž2 = Žitnica 2), and the number after the colon identifies the line within the text where the cited form occurs. The single letter R refers to the text from Rakovski (the informant is from the former village General Nikolaevo, one of the three that was merged into Rakovski).
• The historical Slavic vowel “jat” appears in stressed syllables as /e/ in Rakovski in and Žitnica, while in Trŭnčovica its reflex is the same as in the standard language.
Examples: b’èlim (R: 6), bèjə (Ž2: 7) // d’àdu (T2: 27), smèe (T2: 24)
• The historical sequences “ja” and “post-alveolar + a” appear in stressed syllables as /a/, except after the consonant /č/, where it appears as /e/.
Examples: jàdene (T1: 14), pijàvɨci (T2: 88) // kuč’en’a (R: 6), čèk (R: 27), ufčèrete (T2: 25)
• The historical Slavic vowels “back jer” and “back nasal” appear in stressed syllables as /ɤ/.
Examples for back jer: zɤ̀lvi (R: 39), dɤ̀š (T2: 78), rɤ̀š (Ž3: 15)
Examples for back nasal: kɤ̀štə (R: 43), pɤ̀t (R: 42), mɤ̀či (T2: 24), kɤ̀štə (Ž3: 18)
• The historical Slavic vowels “front jer” and “front nasal” appear in stressed syllables as /’ɤ/ in Rakovski, while in Trŭnčovica and Žitnica they appear as /e̝/.
Examples for front jer: d’ɤ̀n (R: 6) // dè̝n (T1: 53), dnè̝s (T2: 42), zè̝me (Ž3: 10)
Examples for front nasal: dev’ɤ̀tə (R: 37), p’ɤ̀t (R: 33) // pè̝t (T1: 19), nərè̝ždət (T1: 34), nərè̝d (Ž3: 11)
After post-alveolar consonants, however, both nasals appear everywhere as /ɤ/. This is the well-known “merger of the nasals”.
Examples: ušɤ̀tə (T1: 54), žɤ̀nnə (Ž3: 11)
The situation in Rakovski is thus like in other Rhodope dialects: the two jers and two nasals merge except for the mark of consonant softening preceding the vowel continuing front jer and front nasal. This is a significant difference between the speech of Rakovski and that of the other two villages.
• There is a very interesting series of vowel shifts, some found in the speech of all three villages, and some only in Rakovski.
First, the vowel /o/ is replaced by /u/ or /u:/ in stressed syllables in Rakovski.
Examples: ùsem (R: 26), ùrə (R: 17); ù:rə (R: 28), dù:r (R: 43)
Second, the vowel /e/ is raised to /e̝/ in stressed syllables in Trŭnčovica and Žitnica; in Rakovski it is raised even more, and is replaced by /i/.
Examples: mè̝ne (T2: 53), jədè̝m (T2: 56), səberè̝me (Ž3: 2), murè̝tu (Ž3: 21) // berìm (R: 5), sìlu (R: 3)
Finally, the vowel /i/ is retracted to /ɨ/ in all three villages.
Examples: nɨ̀tɨte (Ž3: 5), kɨlɨ̀mče̥tə (T1: 22), rəzbɨ̀rəjme (R: 41)
Some scholars, on seeing the latter vowel, have claimed that the historical Slavic vowel “jery” has been maintained here, just as in the Tihomir dialect. But this is disproven by the lexical distribution: all instances of /i/ (both those derived from original /i/ and original “jery”) are retracted to /ɨ/.
What has happened instead is an instance of what linguists call a “chain shift”, in which distinctions between vowels are maintained even as the individual vowels shift. Here, vowels of the middle level (/o/ and /e/) are raised to a higher level – in the case of Rakovski all the the way to /u/ and /i/. But the distinction between underlying /e/ and underlying /i/ is not lost, since the latter now shifts to its retracted variant /ɨ/.
• Unstressed vowels are frequently lost.
Examples: čètrɨ (R: 41), d’àt (T2: 94), tvàrə (Ž1: 7)
• The consonant /x/ is lost in most positions. In verbal endings it may be replaced by /j/.
Examples: ərìsət (R: 30), rànəd (T1: 42), òdə (Ž2: 1), bème (R: 2) // bèj (R: 2), zəvɤ̀ršij (R: 1), skàrvəjme (Ž1: 9), uràj (T2: 40)
• The consonant /v/ is lost before a rounded vowel.
Examples: dù:r (R: 43), kò (Ž3: 7), uòškə (T1: 8)
• The sequence /dn/ is assimitaled to /nn/.
Examples: žɤ̀nnə (Ž3: 11), glànnɨ (Ž3: 1)
• After labial consonants, /n’/ is inserted.
Example: bàmn’a (Ž2: 2)
• The accent advances to the final syllable in the definite form of some polysyllabic masculine singular nouns.
Examples: deverɤ̀t (R: 39), svekərɤ̀t (R: 44)
• The ending of feminine nouns, when stressed, is the same as the result of the historical Slavic “back nasal”, namely /ɤ/.
Examples: kusɤ̀tə (T2: 90), zem’ɤ̀tə (Ž3: 21)
These forms represent an interesting result in the history of Bulgarian, which gradually lost all case endings in nouns. At the penultimate stage of this development, feminine nouns had only two case endings (instead of the inherited seven), the nominative case and the so-called casus generalis, which continued the form of the accusative case – which ended in the historical Slavic vowel “back nasal”, and was used for all other meanings. In these dialects, it was this casus generalis that was adopted as the single form of feminine nouns (which elsewhere have adopted the old nominative case in /a/ as their single form.
• The future particle is žə or že.
Examples: žə vi kàža (R: 13), žə si tvàrə (Ž1: 7), žə kusɨ̀š (T2: 82), že jə dukàrəm (Ž1: 7)
The other two traits are specific to the northern and southern groups, respectively.
• In Trŭnčovica only, the plural ending for masculine nouns is /-e/.
Examples: ufčèrete (T2: 25), bɨ̀ulete (T2: 67) // kilugràmɨ (R: 23), dè̝kərɨ (Ž2: 6)
• In Rakovski and Žitnica the definite article for masculine singular nouns is /-ɤt/ (when unstressed, /-ət/ or /-ɤt/), while in Trŭnčovica the final /-t/ is missing.
Examples: deverɤ̀t (R: 39), dvòrət (Ž1: 8), kɤ̀rɤt (Ž2: 8) // gərbɤ̀ (T1: 21), umɤ̀ (T2: 18)