The Bulgarian and English [l]

There is a global phenomenon where the sound [l] is pronounced like a vowel, known as l-vocalisation. We do it in English, where the word ‘fall’ would sound a bit more like ‘faw’ in certain dialects like cockney or estuary English.

The French used to do it too, which is how they got from the Old French ‘bel’, meaning beautiful, to the Modern French ‘beau’, which came about from the [l] in ‘bel’ sounding more like a [w]. This explains how the masculine ‘beau’ sounds so different to the feminine ‘belle’.

L-vocalisation happens in Bulgarian too. It occurred in Old French because it came after a vowel at the end of a word, while the reasons in Bulgarian are more social than phonological.

In Bulgarian, [l] is pronounced more like [w] or [o] in informal/young and hip contexts, for example the word [malko] would be pronounced more like [maoko].

Since l-vocalisation happens with Bulgarian youths and a lot of London accents in the UK, you could say that it essentially acts as a passport for a Brit to sound young and cool in Bulgaria and vice-versa.


Little Bulgaria in London

Tuesday was possibly the most interesting day we have had so far on our Bulgarian adventure, as we were given the opportunity to experience a snippet of the life of many Bulgarians living in London through a visit to the Bulgarian embassy in Kensington. We discovered that the embassy is the centre of the community for many Bulgarians living in London, as it contains a church, the cultural institute and perhaps most importantly, a school. The head teacher kindly agreed to us interviewing her and she opened our eyes to how important it is to many of the Bulgarian children in London to attend the school in order to maintain and learn about their culture. This also helps them to keep the option of returning to Bulgaria when they are older open by ensuring they have the necessary diplomas and language level to thrive there. She explained that many of the children they teach can feel somewhat confused and alienated, as they do not fully understand who they are or where they come from, and the school can help them nurture and own their Bulgarian side, and introduce them to other children who are in the same boat.

It was incredibly interesting and inspiring to discover how important it is to so many Bulgarians in London that they continue their traditions and culture whilst also immersing themselves in British life. The embassy is in many ways a microcosm of Bulgaria and appears to be a haven for many Bulgarians living in London, allowing them to access their culture and traditions whilst in a foreign country.


How long is a piece of a string?

That question was perhaps one of many that ran through my mind as I stood facing my partner amidst our Bulgarian language class, genuinely fascinated by what was about to happen. We were each holding one end of a string, albeit it was actually two strings – one red and one white – tied into a knot at the centre. We had just witnessed our Bulgarian teacher ever so expertly fashion a beautifully twisted bracelet (as a representation of the famous Bulgarian martenitsa мартеница dolls) out of two pieces of string, and all we’d seen her do was merely twist them.

Now it was our turn to do the same. After several echoes of “which way do I twist?” “to the right?” “my right or your right?” we had at last mastered the basic art of making these lovely bracelets. And as a rule, you must give them to someone to wish them good health and good fortune, and not simply buy one for yourself – that defies the purpose. After that, we exchanged greeting cards that we tried to write in Cyrillic as elegantly as we could muster. This was perhaps one of my favorite language lessons so far, it was truly a shame that it was our last one.

The UnConference afterwards was also quite interesting; we’ve all been so engrossed with our own little groups we seemed to have forgotten about the ‘bigger picture’. Having people from the other strands come and present in such creative ways was great to watch, I especially enjoyed the display by the group representing Japan – who instead of choosing a word to agree on from the given ‘word bubble’ they found one to disagree on. Being able to offer a new and refreshing perspective so enthusiastically was something I found wholly endearing and definitely worthy of recognition.

-Ghadeer Emara

Divisions (or maybe not) – Bulgaria Day 4

Today we focused on the Roma with a morning lecture comprehensively and engagingly delivered by Michael Stewart. We learnt about the history of the Roma people, mostly focusing on the late 20th Century and the impact of Communism and its demise. The majority of the lecture was focused on a theme we’ve met often on this programme so far, that of divisions: divisions between the Romani languages and those spoken by the states they inhabit; divisions between the culture and lifestyle of Roma and non-Roma peoples; divisions between economic and social situations of the Roma peoples compared to other ethnic groups. In our group discussion we began to explore in what ways the economic and socio-political situation could be improved for the Roma peoples of Europe. We considered communication and understanding each other as important factors in this. However, as we delved deeper and discussed the film The Curse of the Hedgehog, we questioned how willing either side really was to learn about each other or make allowances for their differing cultures in order to affect any real change. Depressing as this is, it did make me reflect upon what Michael Stewart ended his lecture with: that cultures do not divide us but are actually a means of connection and exchange, using the example of Roma dance which is now being performed by many different groups from across Eastern Europe. This tied in with our afternoon lecture which focused on Romani as a language and its use in different situations. The highlighting of the use of words of non-Romani origins within Romani served to further demonstrate this idea of cultural exchange via language. So perhaps not so depressing.

Moving to the afternoon session, the language classes are actually starting to make sense. Hoorah! I think most of us remember the sounds of the Cyrillic alphabet without checking our handouts too often. We were taken along the Danube in Bulgarian, today, learning the locations and names of landmarks along the river. I hope at least some of this geographical knowledge sticks (as long as we remember the Bulgarian landmarks, I think we’ll get away with it!). We’re also starting to form sentences rather than just saying (with terrible pronunciation) disconnected words. In short: progress.

Tomorrow we film our interview for our documentary and prepare for our UnConference. Busy busy busy.


петък – Bulgaria Day 5

Today we had the pleasure of tasting Bulgarian food, as well as learning about delicacies of the nation. We learned the Bulgarian recipe for a traditional Bulgarian salad (Шопска салата) and it provided an insight into not only the language of Bulgaria, but also the culture of the people. This culture is vibrant and completely unique to the country and the food created even more curiosity regarding the Bulgarian culture amongst our group. The food went down a treat and we learned about other traditional foods such as Tapotop (cucumber and yoghurt soup), and КИСЕЛО МЛЯКО (another yoghurt-based speciality)

Although we were all nursing full stomachs, the tasting language session has made us all only more eager to begin the second week of the project, and complete our film, poster, and blog posts about such an interesting country.

We are all thoroughly looking forward to our long session of filming on Monday!