Bulgarian Dialectology as Living Tradition is a searchable database of oral speech representing the full range of Bulgarian dialects. It comprises 204 excerpts from a large corpus of material recorded in 78 different Bulgarian villages over the period 1986-2022. The majority of the material was recorded between 1993 and 1996 by a joint Bulgarian-American field team, headed by Georgi Kolev, Vladimir Zhobov, and Ronelle Alexander, which undertook two expeditions funded by IREX (International Research and Exchanges Board). The remaining material comprises recordings made by individual members of this team and their colleagues. In setting up the database, the team’s specific goals were 1) to make both the discipline and the material of Bulgarian dialectology available to a broader, international audience, 2) to focus on natural, spontaneous speech as the direct object of study, and 3) to use the tools of a relational database to give researchers detailed access to such speech samples. The coverage is, therefore, less detailed than that found in a traditional dialect atlas, and more selective than that of a national corpus. Nevertheless, the texts presented here give a sufficiently thorough sampling of the breadth of Bulgarian dialectal diversity. The real value of the site is in its ability to provide actual examples of the variability attested in natural speech (rather than categorical statements about dialectal isoglosses), and, through full annotation of each of these examples, to provide material for concrete research results based on actual attested dialectal variation.
The project’s contribution to Slavic linguistics is to return the focus of dialectology to its source in living, natural speech; to provide a broad, representative covering of this speech throughout the chosen region (Bulgaria); and to make this material accessible to a wide spectrum of users, not only in Bulgaria but also throughout the world. The availability of actual field recordings not only allows those who were not present at the moment of recording to experience that moment as fully as possible, but also helps to demystify dialectology, both for the general public and for linguists who work exclusively with standard languages. Furthermore, it gives an additional level of access for those dialectologists who, though accustomed to working with a broad span of variation, may still have had relatively little contact with dialectal speech in its natural village context.
Another goal is to make documentation of the process involved in the construction of this database available to interested scholars who might wish to create similar sites. This is possible because the site’s digital interface was developed using the open-source content management system Drupal. Thus, although the current project includes only material recorded within the Republic of Bulgaria, other linguists could readily create a similar site using collections of dialectal material from closely (or not so closely) related languages.
The idea of preparing a group of selected texts, and presenting them to the public as audio files together with transcriptions, translations and annotations, under the common title Bulgarian Dialectology as Living Tradition, was conceived of by Ronelle Alexander in late 2008, and the basic field team began work on the project in early 2009. The digital interface was created by Quinn Dombrowski in early 2011, using the open source content management system Drupal. Between then and 2022 Zhobov and Alexander worked on text preparation (with help from Kolev in the early stages), Cammeron Girvin contributed work on site design between 2013 and 2016, and a group of students, mostly from UC Berkeley’s Undergraduate Research Apprentice Program, did the majority of work of data entry. The site was opened to the public in beta version in 2016, and exited beta status in 2019. Data entry was completed in 2023.
Sources of Material
The bulk of the field recordings were made by the joint Bulgarian-American team (the late Maksim Mladenov was to have been part of the basic field team as well but participated in only one short expedition, in August 1992, prior to his untimely death in November of that year). The sites of all field trips were chosen only after extensive research in Bulgarian archives (and in particular the Bulgarian Dialect Atlas), and consultation with other Bulgarian dialectologists. All informants gave permission for their voices to be recorded on tape.
Most of the material presented on the website was recorded during the 1993 and 1996 field expeditions. The goal of the first trip, which took place in September and October 1993, was to make a representative sampling of selected southern, southwestern, and northwestern dialects: regions visited on this trip included Chirpan, Haskovo, Ivajlovgrad, Madan, Smoljan, Goce Delchev, Sandanski, Petrich, Kjustendil and Belogradchik.
The goal of the second large expedition, which took place in July 1996, was to incorporate students and to give them experience not only in field techniques but also in international collaboration. For this purpose, the original trio was expanded to include three North American graduate students and three undergraduates from Sofia University. Fieldwork on this trip focused more intensively on three separate regions: the eastern Balkan “Erkech” dialect, dialects in the central Balkan Tryavna region, and the Shiroka Lŭka dialect in the Rhodopes. A description of this joint expedition, together with studies resulting from the fieldwork, was published in 2004 in a volume entitled Revitalizing Bulgarian Dialectology, available electronically at http://www.escholarship.org/uc/item/9hc6x8hp.
To broaden the geographical coverage provided by material from these two basic trips, additional material was incorporated from recordings made on shorter trips made by one or more of these scholars and in some instances also by their students and colleagues. These trips took place between 1986-1989, 1999-2002, 2011-2013, and 2021-2022.